"Madagascar: Bringing a New Visual Style to the Screen", An Overview
An overview of the course "Madagascar: Bringing a New Visual Style to the Screen", presented at the 2005 annual SIGGRAPH Conference
The CG animated film Madagascar broke away from the stylized reality of “Shrek” and brought some traditional cartoon quirkiness to 3D. In this course Philippe Gluckman, Kendal Chronkhite, Cassidy Curtis, Milana Huang, Rob Vogt and Scott Singer of DreamWorks Animation described the creative and technical processes they used to create a ‘cartoon in 3D’.
Kendal Chronkhite, the Production Designer, provided some insight into the creative influences that shaped the style of Madagascar. Cartoons from the 50’s and 60’s, such as “Yogi Bear” and “The Flintstones”, as well as illustrations from the Golden Books by Alice and Martin Provensen, provided a major source of inspiration.
The Character Designer, Craig Kellman, had never worked on a 3D project before this project. This was actually an asset since Kellman brought valuable 2D influences to the design of Madagascar’s characters. In order to give a cartoon feel to the 3D characters they were given, they pushed proportions. For example, they gave Gloria (the hippo) tiny hands and feet and exaggerated nostrils. Alex (the lion) was given a long body with short legs, small eyes and a big nose. They also used hard edges in some instances, such as on Alex’s hands and arms; for the eyes they used eyelids that did not meet in the corners of the eyes but instead had the appearance of shutters (with four corners instead of two). Chronkhite and Philippe Gluckman, the Visual Effects Supervisors, both talked about another element of the characters’ designs: spirals. Spirals are present in many of the character’s nostrils and on their elbows. These spirals became a repetitive element throughout the movie, showing up on the ends of tree trunks and in other unexpected places (such as in mist and smoke).
The environments of Madagascar also have their own striking visual style. Inspiration for the jungle environment came from the French painter Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings (where the plants are oversized and have bright green leaves and accents of primary color). Chronkhite explained how the environments changed to fit the mood at various points in the story. In the zoo, all the colors are muted and the lines are all straight with many verticals lines to exaggerate the feeling of entrapment. Furethermore, even the trees are fenced in around their bases. In contrast, the Madagascar environment is rich in color and utilizes more curving fluid shapes. Chronkhite also pointed out that they used subtle changes in the flora to reflect the mood of the characters. In upbeat moments there are upturned flowers and in sad moments the plants droop towards the ground and are less vibrant in color. One difficulty encountered with the environments was that the characters’ tended to blend into them. This was solved by having light shine through gaps in the trees (as if a spotlight was illuminating the characters in a very theatrical manner). This lighting helped to visually separate the characters from the environments.
Animating Madagascar’s animal stars presented many challenges. Milana Huang and Rob Vogt explained some of the technical obstacles that arose during this process. The style of this movie called for a lot of squash and stretch in both the faces and the bodies of the characters. As such, the riggers needed to ensure that the characters rigs could support such extreme poses. For the facial rigs they used the facial system that had been created by Dick Walsh as a base, making some adjustments to accommodate the necessary added range. Among the adjustments was adding extra bones and moving the muscle connection in the jaw out further from the characters heads. In order to preserve surfaces’ integrity, during extreme squash and stretch, an elastic network was implemented. This meant that when they moved one area of a surface, the movement propagated across the surface. Vogt also explained that due to the squash and stretch, volume preservation was an issue in Gloria the hippo. To solve this problem, they used a tool call balloon volumes that helped them restore Gloria to her original volume. Another daunting challenge was that multiple characters had to be rigged so that they had the capability to act as both bipeds and quadrupeds. In the case of Marty, the zebra, this was accomplished by adding an extra wrist joint that could be blended on and off (depending on if he had to walk on four legs or on two). This extra joint gave him a much more natural and visually appealing silhouette when moving as a quadruped. As for Alex, the lion, he presented his own set of challenges. Vogt explained that Alex’s tail had 48 joints. In order to make these simpler to animate, the team created 6 control sliders that the animators could use to pose the tail. A similar system was used in Melman the giraffe’s neck. Also, Alex’s perpetually well groomed mane created even more challenges. To control his mane the team used 354 guide hairs and 10 ‘magnets’ (that each affected a zone of hair). An issue they encountered with this system was that the hair density changed when doing head squash and stretch.
One of the most memorable scenes in Madagascar is the Lemur rave party. Philippe Gluckman explained the difficulty of rendering a large crowd of furry creatures. Fur takes a large amount of memory to render (which meant they could only have a handful of characters with fur in a shot at one time). In order to solve this problem they had to find a way to give the illusion of fur. They did so by creating a fur shell that had a much simpler geometry. From a distance the characters had a believable furry appearance.
The course Madagascar : Bringing a New Visual Style to the Screen had a great balance between creative and technical information, making it appealing to a broad audience. It gave an intriguing overview of many aspects of the film: everything from the visual inspiration, to the rigging and rendering difficulties encountered during production. Rob Vogt, Milana Huang and Philippe Gluckman did a great job of explaining the technical issues in a way that made them easily understandable, and Kendal Chronkhite gave fascinating insights into the influences that shaped the visual style of the film.