Bruckheimer and Yeatman Talk Guinea Pig VFX

Uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Oscar-winning vfx supervisor-turned-director Hoyt Yeatman (The Abyss) led an informative behind-the-scenes press session about the making of Disney’s upcoming guinea-pigs-as-secret-agents movie G-Force on Wednesday. Held at Sony’s Imageworks facility in Culver City, where the bulk of the film’s vfx work is done, the panel also included animation director Troy Saliba (Monster House, Anastasia, Titan A.E.), Oscar-winning vfx supervisor Scott Stokdyk (Spider-Man movies, The Hollow Man) and 3-D vfx guru Rob Engle.

Bruckheimer opened the session by talking about how Yeatman first came to him with the idea for the movie. ‘This is an idea that his six-year-old son pitched to him four years ago,’ he said. ‘He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if our guinea pig was a special forces agent?’ and that’s how we got the idea for the film.’

The enthusiastic Yeatman said he was very excited to lead the team on realizing the concept, noting that the film offered numerous challenges on the technical front, but also allowed him to create a movie that featured soft and cuddly characters that were also cool, had amazing design potential and told a fun thrill ride of a story. The director noted that in addition to the task of bringing to life the film’s main operatives’Darwin (voiced by Sam Rockwell), Blaster (Tracy Morgan), Juarez (Penelope Cruz) and Speckles (Nicolas Cage), the vfx team had a plethora of gizmos and gadgets to re-create as well as animating a Lassie-like fly named Mooch and a clever cockroach. He added, ‘It’s really an animated movie that co-exists with a live-action adventure’it’s a very mixed hybrid.’

Hybrid Worlds for Nine-Inch Critters

‘Our main goal was to bring audiences to this world with a new perspective’which is that of a nine-inch-tall guinea pig,’ said Stokdyk, adding that a team of over 500 artists (drawn from talent that had worked on both strictly CG-animated movies and visual effects artists) worked on delivering the film’s state-of-the-art effects. ‘We created hybrid worlds and fully synthetic environments and paid a lot of attention to details like wind blowing through the characters’ fur or Mooch’s [the fly] flight sequences.’

Animation director Saliba spoke about how the team dealt with the inherent tendency to make the characters look more athletic because they’re action stars. ‘But we wanted to make sure that they looked like guinea pigs’their eyes are on the side of their heads like prey. But we used a more stylized approach’Guinea pigs have three toes and four fingers, but our characters needed to hold their tools, so we made one look more like a thumb … and they are able to stand on two legs’and we lightened up their irises to be able to read the subtlety of feelings in their eyes.”

Leaping Out of the Big Screen

Rob Engle, who has played a big role in the re-emergence of stereoscopic 3-D in the past few years and supervised the 3D releases of Sony’s Beowulf, Monster House, Open Season and The Polar Express, spoke about how the film offered a new way to use the technology to connect to audiences. ‘Because in 3-D every shot is really a special effects shot, we took the 2D plate photography after the film was shot and created the 3-D experience in post,’ he noted. ‘You can use any camera rig you want in 2D. Then you leave room for the wow moments, such as the big battle sequence towards the end of the movie, to really play out the depth in the audience space.’

Yeatman pointed out that using the current technology available, it’s much more cost effective to shoot the film in 2D and then make the transformation to stereoscopic 3-D. ‘You have so much more control, and it would be so much more costly to shoot everything in 3-D. You need a quantum leap…a shift in technology because it’s difficult to shoot in 3-D right now, that’s why there have been so few live-action 3-D movies out.’

The panelists agreed that we were going to see some unification of standards for home entertainment 3-D delivery in the next three years, but didn’t think that home systems were ever going to replace the theatrical experience. ‘After all, 3-D works best when it’s on a big screen,’ concluded Yeatman.

Disney’s G-Force will open in theaters nationwide on July 24, 2009.