News Column

'Turbo,' Monsters University Changing Animation's Look

June 16, 2013

Gregory E. Miller

Even though many of this summer's animation titles look familiar - most are prequels or sequels or some variation thereof - they all stand apart from their previous incarnations, simply because the technology behind the films continues to rapidly evolve. Whether it's more detailed appearances or more realism, groundbreaking advances provide ever more elaborate eye candy, as seen in this roundup of the season's biggest animated titles.

Turbo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) in "Turbo"

TURBO

Opens: July 17

With "Turbo," director David Soren says he set out to make "The Fast and the Furious" for snails. His shell-wearing hero dreams of racing in the Indy 500.

As the setting for much of the film, the Indy 500 presented a challenge that was literally huge. The 2.5-mile oval track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the world's largest single-day sporting event in terms of capacity, with more than 250,000 seats. That means the animators had to create a heck of a lot of people to fill 'em.

"It's just a sea of people, all the way to the horizon, practically," says director David Soren. "There's an excess of 350,000 people there at a time, sometimes more.

"Our crowds department pulled it off [by creating] a card system that allows you to blend fully modeled, three-dimensional crowds with flat cards of huge swabs of crowds."

That allowed filmmakers to render seamless shots in a fraction of the normal time.

"In one shot in particular, we have 478,000 characters, which in the past just would have been impossible to do," says Soren. "It would have taken weeks to render."

Disney/PixarSulley (left, voiced by John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) in "Monsters University"

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

Opens: Friday

Nearly 12 years after "Monsters, Inc." taught kids to love what goes bump in the night, scarers Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) return in the highly anticipated prequel with a whole new look. In the original, the protagonists were middle-aged. The new film finds them in their freshman year of college.

"We needed to make sure that while we changed them and made them younger, a little thinner, a little brighter, we needed to make sure they were as recognizable as the original Mike and Sully," says producer Kori Rae. "In 'MI,' Sully is kind of a pro athlete. In this, we wanted to make him just a little more slender and a little more gawky and gangly like teenagers are."

Returning to the characters more than a decade later also meant technological advancements at Pixar could make the characters look even more realistic. One particular area of improvement is the fur technology - Sully now boasts 4 million hairs, as opposed to the less than a million he had in the first.

"It models real animals," says supervising technical director Sanjay Bakshi. "There's a really short thick undercoat of fur, and then there are guard hairs, which is the longer hair on top. We look at things from the natural world and try to imitate them to make the character more believable."

Gru (left, voiced by Steve Carell) and Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig)

DESPICABLE ME 2

Opens: July 3

When audiences first met evil mastermind Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, in 2010's "Despicable Me," the hurts-so-good villain struck a chord with audiences thanks to his biting wit and faulty moral compass. But by the end, Gru did a 180, becoming a family man to three adopted orphans.

"That was a challenge for us," says co-director Chris Renaud. "How do we take this character who is kind of a lovable villain, who definitely loves being bad, and how do we maintain that when obviously at the end of the first film he's turned a corner?"

For Renaud, it meant finding means other than world domination for Gru to channel his aggression.

"Any parent has bad days," he laughs. "So finding that little bit of gruffness or cynicism - you don't have to look too far. We just looked for where does Gru direct that perspective? Is it at a neighbor? Somebody new he meets at work?"

Gru's Minions, meanwhile, are still along for the ride, but Renaud is cryptic about their role: "We find [Gru] repurposing the Minions less to building rockets and committing acts of villainy," he says. "They're still a big part of his operation, but what his operation does is vastly different."

Vexy (from left, voiced by Christina Ricci), Smurfette (Katy Perry) and Hackus (J.B. Smoove) in "The Smurfs 2"

THE SMURFS 2

Opens: July 31

Hardcore Smurfanatics may recall Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) is unlike her blue brethren. She was created by the evil Gargamel (Hank Azaria) to infiltrate their ranks.

"But Papa saw the good in her, so with smurfy love and a secret potion, [he] transformed her into a true blue Smurf," says director Raja Gosnell.

Gosnell, who directed the first "Smurfs" film, used Smurfette's story as the sequel's launchpad. In the film, the Smurfs head to Paris. Along the way, they meet the Naughties (voiced by Christina Ricci and J.B. Smoove), two decidedly not blue characters to bring Smurfette back to her roots.

"The best way to define what is smurfy is to create something that is not smurfy and see how they interact with one another," says Gosnell.

Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) in "Planes"

PLANES

Opens: Aug. 9

It's perhaps a vote of confidence that "Planes" is headed to theaters: It was first intended as a direct-to-DVD spinoff of "Cars."

So it was quite a shock to director Klay Hall when he heard of Disney's plan to give it a theatrical release: "After I got up off the floor and the blood rushed back into my head, it was a pleasant surprise," laughs Hall.

"Planes" is a passion project for Hall, whose father was a Navy pilot: "We went to the air shows down [at] the local airfields all the time," recalls Hall. "We'd grab a Coke and a couple of hamburgers and we'd sit there at the end and watch the planes."

Having grown up around aircraft, then, it's no surprise Hall was a stickler for accuracy in the aircraft structure and movement in the movie.

"We did a ton of research on aircraft and how they're made," he says. "From the internal structure down to the wing roots and the way the landing gear works . . . All of that was figured into the movie to make the flight as believable as possible."

But that's not to say "Planes" is rigid. "After all, we do have airplanes with eyeballs on them," laughs Hall. "It keeps it fun, but it also makes it more believable for the folks out there that have experienced flight."

Originally published by and GREGORY E. MILLER.

(c) 2013 The New York Post. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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