Familiar faces get digital makeovers

CG crews incorporate new tools, techniques

When CG crews return to beloved characters on films like “Shrek the Third” and “Spider-Man 3” they face two great challenges — incorporating the new tools and techniques developed between the sequels and creating a version of the character that is still familiar to the audience.

Raman Hui, a supervising animator on “Shrek” and “Shrek 2” and now a co-director on “Shrek the Third,” says it’s all about balance when he comes back to the not-so-scary green ogre.

“We’re still using keyframe animation done by hand,” says Hui. “Our pipeline is smoother because we’ve worked things out. But as far as big changes go, I think there is a limit because it still has to be the Shrek that you know.”

Hui and his team worked on refining Shrek in small ways that made the character more emotionally evocative.

“In Shrek’s eyeball you can see the refraction of light in a way that makes it look more real,” Hui explains. “And his skin is a bit more translucent so it appears more like a living creature. These were things we really couldn’t quite accomplish before.”

Spencer Cook, animation supervisor on “Spider-Man 3,” also returned to his main character with an eye on making him better, but still believable, in the world created by the director.

“You always want something the audience has never seen,” says Cook. “The basic process for us is still the same keyframe animation, but we have greater processing power, so now we’re trying more complicated shots while still having Spider-Man look like Spider-Man through it.”

One of the big leaps on “Spider-Man 3” was the increased use of CG faces in animated sequences, says Cook, also a lead animator on “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2.”

“By the second film, (helmer) Sam Raimi was saying he wanted to connect with Peter Parker more onscreen by seeing his face,” Cook notes. “It would have been impossible then, but with the processing power we have today you can look into Peter Parker’s face when he swings through the city.”

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