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THE ROAD TO ELDORADO

Digitizing El Dorado
The animators took the blending of traditional and computer animation to a new level in "The Road to El Dorado." To help achieve that symbiosis, traditional and computer animators worked side-by-side, rather than being split into separate departments, which, as Don Paul says, "generates mutual respect and an energy that brings everyone's best work forward."

In the past, background paintings would be completed before being scanned into the computer. For "The Road to El Dorado," some traditional artists used state-of-the-art 2-D digital painting software for a process digital supervisor Dan Philips called "tradigital." He explains, "They took preliminary rough base paintings, scanned them in and did the rest of the painting digitally. This allowed them not only to make revisions faster, but they could also take different pieces of the background and reassemble them for an entirely new background."

Using the exposure tool, developed by DreamWorks and Silicon Graphics Inc. and first utilized on "The Prince of Egypt," the layout department, led by Lorenzo E. Martinez and Damon O'Beirne, was able to achieve 3-D camera moves on 3-D sets that were combined with 2-D paintings.

There was also a leap forward in 3-D animation crowd scenes in "The Road to El Dorado." Paul explains, "Normally, your main and middle-ground characters are traditionally animated, and only the background characters are computer generated. In this film, we have brought CG characters center stage, which is something I'm really proud of. We were very meticulous in modeling them so they would appear identical to the traditionally animated characters, and not look like they exist in different formats. The facial expressions and the performances of the CG characters are so much better than was done in the past. These are all stepping stones to bringing 3-D character animation to the forefront."

Another tool that was employed for the film was Elastic Reality Warp (ER Warp), which has been used primarily in live action for morphing sequences. In animation, it permits the artists to warp images to give the illusion of subtle movement without re-animating frame by frame. There are myriad examples of ER Warp throughout "The Road to El Dorado": leaves bounce as Miguel hacks his way through the jungle; the sail of Cortes' ship bends in the wind; Tulio's back flinches as a leech is pulled from it; and many more.

In the animated world, water is one element that has consistently posed challenges because, by its very nature, water involves a tremendous amount of movement at different speeds and in different directions simultaneously. One of the most daunting sequences in "The Road to El Dorado" involved Tulio, Miguel and Altivo going overboard into the ocean directly in the path of Cortes' galleon. By applying gradient light and shadow to 2-D water, sequence lead Jeff Howard was able to create depth and scale in the ocean as it swelled and ebbed.

Big bodies of water, however, are not necessarily the most difficult to animate. In fact, the tiniest splashes have often been the most testing. For this film, Doug Ikeler, the sequence lead in a scene called Crashing the Gate, developed a new system called Spryticle, which enabled him to obtain the most detailed splashes of water possible.

The Spryticle process begins with a 3-D particle system, which is like little dots in virtual space. Spryticle then turns each dot into a 2-D card, called a sprite, on which are images, in this

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