Blending Worlds: VFX of the Film
Most first-time director's efforts are not complicated by performing in their
film or coordinating the appearance of a character that would be computer
generated and layered in during postproduction. But MacFarlane did not find the
added tasks especially daunting. "I come from 15 years of animation, so there
was a preexisting comfort level," he notes. "Yes, the CG-3D animation is a
little different from my background in 2D animation, so there was a bit of a
learning curve at first, but it was pleasantly surprising how easy it was to
turn the dial and adapt my brain to that kind of thinking.
"I've got a phenomenal team that was unbelievably innovative and continued to
be innovative into postproduction," he continues. "We've asked them to do
something that in a comedy is relatively untried: Forget everything you know
about Pixar or DreamWorks-style animation, and make this character move with
human gestures the same as everyone else-not a lot of squash and stretch, not a
lot of cartoony stylizing in the actions."
Strapped into his Moven suit just off set, MacFarlane performed Ted's
dialogue and gesticulations in scenes between the bear and the other main
characters. "But there are many cases that the gestures were not and could not
be mine," the director notes, "because when all the big action is taking place,
it's impractical to do that on a mo-cap stage; you have to animate it. Since a
lot of Ted is mo-cap that incorporates my gestures, the challenge for the VFX
team was to make everything seem just as realistic. It's the hardest thing in
the world for animators to play it subtle and play it real. I've spent years
trying to get my guys at Family Guy to get there, and when you add the 3D
element, it's a whole other animal. I was very comfortable with their talent and
their ability to pull this off, and they were enthusiastic about it."
Clark describes how the bear was filmed and ultimately created for the
screen: "Since Ted doesn't actually show up until postproduction when we
rendered him, we had to create a series of 'passes' as we filmed each scene to
record the information. First, we did a 'stuffy pass,' which required placing a
stuffed bear in Ted's position in a scene to give the actors an indication of
where the bear would be. This helped
them to understand what their characters are seeing and where their eye line
"After that, we recorded our 'eyeline pass,' placing into the scene an
eyeline reference tool [basically a stick with two dots representing Ted's eyes]
so the actors would look at the correct place where Ted would eventually be
rendered," the producer continues. "At that time, Seth was off camera in a Moven
suit that tracked his body movements by transmitting, via radio frequencies, the
location of each of the sensors placed on him, instead of requiring a volume of
cameras to film it. He was miked traditionally, and his voice was recorded in
the same space and time as the actors so that the result was authentic and
immediate and dialogue could overlap."
Clark describes how a third on-set "pass" was filmed with Creative-Cartel's
Civetta camera. He shares: "It's a new technology that allows you to take
360-degree photographs of the set and create a digital reference of the lighting
scheme and 3D geography around you. We used that intensely on every shot in
which the bear appears. It's a two-minute recording of the actorless set that
allowed us to obtain a record for the teams of animators creating the bear's
performance to have as a reference of the lighting in the scene. This allowed
them to create seamless lighting on the bear."
This allowed Ted to "physically" interact with the environment. For example,
if MacFarlane needed Ted to sit on the couch, the pillows were depressed. If he
needed the bear to run across a bed, they created depressions in the bedclothes
where his footsteps would go. This interactive environment created less
separation between the CG character and the live-action role.
Production designer Stephen Lineweaver was also tasked with reinforcing the
notion that Ted is just like everybody else in his world. He emphasizes that
carried over into the set design: "One thing that we were conscious of was
organically building different levels for Ted to be able to appear at others'
heights at any given point-unless he's supposed to be imposed upon by somebody,
then he was on the floor. In order for him to appear on the same level, should
Seth want to film a two-shot with another character, there were nooks and
crannies in the apartment to which he can climb. That was an interesting design
problem that I hadn't dealt with before."
Naturally, MacFarlane's actors found sharing the screen with a bear that
wasn't there to be a challenge. Shares Wahlberg, who had to train for weeks with
a stuntman to capture the moves needed in his motel fight with Ted: "It took a
little while to get used to, but once we got into the swing of things, I started
feeling very comfortable with the idea of just acting opposite the stuffed bear
or the little stick with the eyes on it. Of course, having Seth in the room
doing the voice was also very helpful."
"You act against nothing," echoes Kunis. "If you're lucky, the first take you
get a stuffy 'pass,' but then they pull the stuffy away and you're literally
acting against air."
"It's just you with a stand," adds Ribisi. "There is a fascination with the
idea of making a movie almost in the way of doing theater, where it's just you
using your imagination."
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