The Making of Shrek

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Princess Fiona and Shrek
After the team had brought the characters up to a high level of stylized realism, they also needed to bring the environments up to that same level. “It was a big challenge because the film predominantly takes place in an outside world that is fairly rich and detailed,” he noted. “We wanted to make sure that the environments were alive and they didn’t feel like static matte paintings. We wanted leaves to be blowing in the wind, grass to be blowing and interacting with characters. In rendering that is a big challenge because you have hundreds of thousands of blades of grass in a scene and millions of leaves and an inordinate amount of data. So the rendering computation times were much greater than they had been on Antz.”

In terms of traditional visual effects, one of the major hurdles was creating fire. “It’s set in medieval times and fire plays a big role,” Bielenberg said, “and being a fairy-tale we have to have a fire-breathing dragon. In the beginning we considered using live-action elements, which is the traditional approach. Very rarely has CG fire been used in a major way, but we decided early on to use a CG approach. We studied backdrafts and live-action fire, and then for torches we looked at Olympic footage. We analyzed the fire frame by frame, and then figured out ways to render it. That was very successful and is pretty groundbreaking for CGI.”

Evil Lord Farquaad.

To create realistic fluids in such scenes as Shrek’s mud shower the team used PDI’s Academy Award-winning Fluid Animation System (FLU). With this as a basis, the team refined and customized the system to produce complex fluid interaction with characters and simultaneous simulations of fluids with varying viscosities.

Supervising animator Raman Hui’s tasks included, “working on realistic human characters like Fiona and at the same time working with a big range of characters that are so different,” he stated. “We have a big ogre, a human, a donkey, a dragon and they all have different set-ups for us to animate.”

Hui supervised a team of 25 using in-house software called e_motion. “We did a lot of work on character and set-up, and then kept changing the set up while we were doing the animation,” he noted. “In Antz we had a facial system that gave us all the facial muscles under the skin. In Shrek we applied that to whole body. So if you pay attention to Shrek when he talks, you see that when he opens his jaw, he forms a double chin, because we have the fat and the muscles underneath. That kind of detail took us a long time to get right.

“Most of the animators on Shrek are the same animators who worked on Antz, so the good thing was that we had much better experience when we started on Shrek,” he noted. “We know how the pipeline works. We know what we can do to get things done. And Jeffrey Katzenberg was really excited about the project and really wanted us to do good work so he gave us more time on this project. We ended up spending more time animating than we had on Antz and it shows.”

“When I watched the whole [film] put together, I really cared about [the characters]. It's weird, because you animate characters everyday, and then suddenly when you see them get cut together it comes to life.” — Raman Hui

The result, said Hui, is “cutting-edge animation, and I’m so proud of being part of this project because I think it’s a great story and I like all the characters. When I watched the whole [film] put together, I really cared about them. It’s weird, because you animate characters everyday, and then suddenly when you see them get cut together it comes to life. It has nothing to do with you; they are just there by themselves, trying to solve their problems. It’s a great feeling.”

In terms of visual effects, Bielenberg agreed that Shrek is “a giant leap forward from what they did in Antz.

“At the start, the directors said they wanted it to be five to 10 times the complexity of Antz, and it is.”

One of the things that was significant was that the story team, the production designers and directors worked without worrying about the constraints of computer animation. They designed and told the story that they wanted to tell without worrying whether it was difficult or possible and then they could pass that onto us and that certainly pushed us to push the envelope, which is what we did.”

Warner agreed that the team succeeded in what they set out to do, and added that the biggest problem was, “combining all this technology that had never been used before into a schedule that was fairly aggressive. Two and a half years is not really a long time for an animated film. It’s very hard to budget a production like this based on new technology, but we actually brought it in on time and budget.

“I think Shrek has changed the paradigm of what a CG animated film is,” he summed up. “Have we broken into new ground? Absolutely — for about ten minutes. But then the next CG film will come along and do it all over again. That’s what’s so exciting about the medium.”


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