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"Stuart Little: A Tale of Fur, Costumes, Performances, and Integration: Breathing Real Life Into a Digital Character

Written by Adam Newhouse and Adham Hussain, Photographs by Adam Newhouse


The organizers: Jay Redd and Jim Berny

Most of us think of Stuart Little as that cute little mouse with human traits, but Monday at SIGGRAPH, curious attendees learned about the real Stuart Little from the highly talented team of developers that created this mouse among men. When preparing to speak about the personality of Stuart Little, speaker Henry Anderson recalled a quote from the book, "One morning when the wind was blowing from the West, Stuart put on his sailor suit and his sailor hat, took his spyglass down from the shelf, and set out for a walk, full of the joy of life and the fear of dogs." To him, this showed that Stuart was concerned about his appearance and that he portrayed human emotions such as courage and fear.

The goal throughout was to create a "believable leading character." In order to do this, the design team had to be able to create a realistic-looking character with human traits, emotions and reactions while keeping enough of his mouse-ness to not make him seem too human. The task of creating the realism of Stuart Little was a very difficult task, indeed. Developers spent many months working on Stuart's body, making sure that it was proportioned just right, figuring out how many fingers worked best, deciding how long the ears should be, etc.

Early on in the process, the animating department held an audition; they created a simple room and some props, and allowed anyone at Imageworks to submit an animation using the room, props, and an early version of the Stuart Little model. By doing this, they gave people the opportunity to try their hand at character animation if that's what they really wanted to do. You can see some of these auditions on the Stuart Little DVD.

Another thing they had to develop was Stuart's fur. By the time they finished developing the fur, they had 25 maps controlling different attributes and a detailed color map to create the "fuzzy" feeling of the pinkish skin that would normally be present under the white fur.

They also had to decide what to do in 3D and what not to. Most of the props and objects that Stuart interacts with throughout the movie were 3D, such as the car, toothbrush, and suitcase. Scale was another thing they played around with. The boat models were actually six feet long instead of the three-foot boats that were portrayed in the movie; they needed to be this big so that the camera could get close enough to the water to get the shots that were wanted. Stuart's room in the Stout's mini-golf castle was 24 inches across in interior shots even though it was only 6 inches from the outside.

They ran into some problems with showing where the mouse was looking at particular moments, but they used a combination of three things to suggest where he was looking: shape of eyelids, the brows, and the position of the highlight on his eye (even though the eye was just a black sphere; if it had a pupil, Stuart would have looked a little too human).

At the end, some "lost footage" was shown, which ranged from scenes that got cut from the movie (including a tour of the Little's house upon Stuart's arrival and his first breakfast with the Stouts) to outtakes similar to the ones at the end of A Bug's Life.




The presenters, from left to right: Jim Berny, Henry Anderson, Scott Stokdyk, Jerome Chen, John Dykstra, Jay Redd

 

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