Sony Pictures Imageworks VFX Supervisor Karl Herbst, Animation Supervisor Kevin Webb, and their team of artists were excited to collaborate with Warner Animation Group and take on the challenge of animating formidable characters and creating unique environments for "Smallfoot," an animated tale about a BIG myth-understanding!
The filmmakers’ vision of creating emotionally driven performances balanced with a sense of the Loony Toons lineage was an exciting challenge for Imageworks artists. First, artists had to visually determine scale, with the Yetis standing much taller than the human characters.
To visually enhance the height difference, we found that we needed to see the individual hairs of the Yetis. To achieve this we developed a new hair shader which allowed artists to create a higher fidelity to our hair and expand the number of looks. The hair dynamics pipeline also was updated to support the wider range of performances and the density of furry characters in each shot.
Meechee’s multi-layered braids added another level of complexity as they needed to be posed and simulated to get the specific motion the filmmakers were looking for. We approached her design with the idea that her long body hair was a dress made of two panels of cloth, layered over each other on both the front and back. We then setup a process in which our animators could control these panels as needed to pose the complex shapes as she sat or spun.
A significant part of the Stonekeeper’s development was establishing a balance with the number, size, and distribution of the stones he would wear. They needed to feel monolithic while being flexible enough to allow freedom of movement and not encumber the character’s emotional performance. Our goal was to always provide fluid motion while enhancing the sense of the weight he was carrying.
The environments presented a number of challenges given that much of the film takes place outside in wintery world. Yeti Village is made of a combination of rock, ice, snow, and clouds, and required a variety of volumetric effects.
Our team begin by breaking the environments into a subset of source shapes that could be combined in any fashion to build Yeti Mountain, Yeti Village and the surrounding environments. Surfacing artists created materials that could be applied to any set piece allowing for quick creative decisions about what was rock, snow and ice, creating many different looks.
The filmmakers wanted to use falling snow as a way of depicting the cold environment rather than relying on the icy breath of our characters. To tackle the many different types of snow and ice needed throughout the Yeti and Human worlds, we developed many different systems of interactive and falling snow.
For major interactions like sliding or tunneling through the snow we developed a new tool called Katyusha. This new system combined rigid body destruction with fluid simulations to achieve all of the different states snow can take in any given interaction. Then rendering these simulations as volumetrics gave the complex lighting look the filmmakers were looking for.
The Human City was a complex backdrop to a number of significant moments in the story which necessitated the development of new tools. The filmmakers wanted the city sequences to be set at night and have the appearance of a fresh snowfall.
This required over 30,000 lights made up of neon signs, backlit windows, street lights, and billboard spot lights. Our team took on this challenge by breaking the city elements into a collection of component parts - everything from doorknobs and trash cans to building floors and rooftops. These base pieces were then used to create the full city. Once the locations were set, we added a coating of recently fallen snow.