Up close with Spike Jonze
The Wild Things’ facial CG was so critical to the film that Jonze moved in with Framestore for a few weeks at the end of production. Rather than showing each stage of each shot to him, the team showed longer sequences so that he could judge the performances as if they were actors.
Framestore’s greatest achievement here was “bringing to life the emotional, humorous, frightening and loving characters that had been living in our Spike’s head for seven years,” says senior VFX producer Tripp Hudson. “I think the only way we made that work was [because] Spike was here. He gave us the facial direction to animate and composite the performances; he sat with our artists and tweaked expressions to create the performances he desired – in the same way he would have worked with the actual actors on-set.”
Top The static expression of the Carol suit (left) was then manipulated to give subtle facial performances. Below A facial tracking model of Douglas, and the finished result (inset).
What breathes life into the film is the Wild Things’ distinct personalities: viewers build up an emotional bond with the characters. What Sirio Quintavalle is most proud of though, is the way the team made one of less central Wild Things a memorable character, when he could easily have slipped into the background.
“The Bull only had three lines and otherwise he was always lurking in the background,” he explains. “So it was felt that it would be easier not to build and track a model for him but to animate him entirely in 2D. Although it was easy enough to move his face around, getting the performance that Spike required was entering new ground for the compositing team. However, armed with mirrors and ample help from a lead animator, we managed to pull it off.”
As well as the exceptional facial animation work, Framestore contributed hundreds of other VFX shots, from CG dirt in the flying clod fight, to matte paintings and sea storms. The result is one that will stay with viewer when the latest VFX-driven blockbuster is just a distant memory. And what could be higher praise for fantastic visual effects?
Making KW cool
“The greatest creative challenge I had was how to make KW look like Spike wanted her to,” says 2D supervisor Sirio Quintavalle. “She was meant to be an effortlessly cool and attractive girl, but her puppet was probably the ugliest of them all. We struggled for ages, but the more we strayed from the puppet the more distorted and grotesque she became.
“We came up with the very simple solution of using shadows to narrow her face and reduce the prominence of her chin, and cosmetic fixes normally used in fashion shoots to smooth out her skin and remove the bags from under her eyes. This transformed her into the beautiful Wild Thing that Spike had originally intended her to be.”