How the painting-like animated sequences in A Monster Calls were created by Glassworks Barcelona

Last month we covered how MPC created the tree monster for A Monster Calls, but Glassworks Barcelona was also working hard on the creative direction of two animated tales born from Conor’s paintings, used throughout the film's narrative.

A Monster Calls is based on the Patrick Ness novel. It follows Conor’s (Lewis MacDougall) emotional journey of dealing with his single mother’s terminal illness by the help of an imagined tree monster. Watch the trailer here.  

Two metaphorical fables are used as animated interludes throughout the film to help to understand the reality too difficult to explain through traditional narrative. The tales shouldn't be mistaken for independent parts of the main plot.

Instead, they act as metaphors for themes in the film such as the fear of loss, the difference between good and evil, or that things aren’t always the way they seem. 

Working with Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona, post-production house Glassworks Barcelona was asked to create an animation "visually new and outstanding" to depict these tales. 

The animated tales link to the paintings made by Conor, so both pieces had to be integrated within the artistic imagination of the main character. The art connects Conor to his mother, who eventually dies of cancer. The tales build the outline and the colour of Conor’s paintings. 

A team of more than 30 artists from different artistic disciplines worked tirelessly throughout a year and a half to produce the 3D work, which included modelling, texturising, rigging, illumination and animation. 

Over 250 concepts for the two tales were designed by Headless. These became the foundations of Glasswork’s job – to test the shots, techniques and trial and error where necessary to translate the visual ideas drawn on paper into moving images.

From the pictorial drawings a 3D animation was created, keeping the integrity and style of illustration from Headless’ concepts.

To integrate the two worlds - reality and Conor’s animated paintings - the aesthetics in both had to match.

For example, the first tale uses a similar technique to watercolour, producing a less realistic design. Everything is flat and has no textures. But the second tale is similar to stop-motion or miniature methods so the transition to the real world is more organic, to the point where both reality and this tale coexist during the house destruction scene with Conor. Glassworks Barcelona also produced the VFX for this scene.

“We wanted the transitions from one shot to the other to be a continuum, to be linked as an animated sequence shot,” says head of 3D Javier Verdugo. After the work was finished on each frame, they were painted again to bring out the drawing style.

Glassworks Barcelona has worked with brands like Toyota, Heineken, Samsung and EA Sports.

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