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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