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Reinventing The Circus, Zooster Style
What do you do when the star of your show suddenly loses confidence in his abilities? You start losing yours. At least that's what happened to the performers of Circus Zaragoza after Vitaly's bravery took a backseat. A disastrous performance in Rome convinces Alex that the circus troupe is need of an intervention - and reinvention - if they are to have any real chance of getting back home to New York.

And reinvent it they do. Though the filmmakers found enjoyment in creating scenarios that had the Zoosters interacting with the human world, Darnell says, "There's plenty of humor in the idea of an all-animal circus, which is what Alex has in mind." Ben Stiller puts it this way: "The circus animals stopped taking risks. Alex has this brainstorm that the way to reinvent the show - to differentiate it from all others - is to reignite the performers' zeal, which they've lost. He tells them, 'We don't need humans because we've got passion,' then he uses his imagination and experience to pull it off."

The filmmakers pulled out all the stops when they created the movie's new and improved "Good Circus" sequence - in which all the animals' hard work blossoms in front of an appreciative London audience - showing off the filmmakers' creativity and the power of 3D to spectacular effect. They weren't bound by any conventions of what a circus should look like. In fact, they intentionally created the impossible.

Conrad Vernon recalls that "As research, we went to see Cirque du Soleil's 'Iris,' which was amazing. We took pieces of our circus that we really like and asked ourselves, how do we update this? How do we do something circuses have never done, while using animation in a unique way? That was tough, because Cirque du Soleil can do so much. You know, I saw a girl laying down on her chest, running around her own head - stuff that's a cartoon, basically. We had to say, 'okay, we need to one-up them.' That's when we came up with the idea of being a little more abstract with everything, having cross dissolves and slow motion and fades and doing things that are literally impossible to do right in front of your eyes."

Set to singer Katy Perry's jubilant "Fireworks," the conceptual scene showcases the circus animals and Zoosters in kaleidoscope fashion, spinning, leaping and flying through the air with joyful abandon.

Eric Darnell says, "The wonderful thing about the circus is you're not grounded. You've got a whole three-dimensional space to move in. In the computer, you don't have to bring in a crane or a dolly or a helicopter. You can just move that camera wherever you need to in order to get the shot you need, so the circus became this wonderful canvas to create this eye-popping 3D. It fits in with that whole conceit."

Vernon continues, "Eric, Tom, and I sat down with production designer Kendal Cronkhite and art director Shannon Jeffries to talk concepts that we really liked, such as what if Gloria and Melman are on a tightrope? Maybe they're on a musical staff. That's why we have five strings in the scene and maybe they're dancing up and down those five strings like staircases. Kendal took the concepts we talked about back to the team, pitched them out, and their visual brains just took 'em and ran with 'em. They came back with some art and we added more ideas to that. It was less about a specific design rulebook that we played by and more about how we could conceptually come up with something that would be visually stunning. After that, we let the people who came up with the design put it in the world for us. And that's what they did."

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