For its behind-the-scenes look at the complex logistics of Christmas present delivery, the team on the 3D CG comedy (co-produced by Sony Pictures Animation and U.K. stop-motion darling Aardman Animation) went appropriately big: “large sets, large scale, large amounts of detail to try to raise the bar on the visual look and ‘believability factor,’ which was the big challenge,” reports visual effects supervisor Doug Ikeler.

“The look of our film is fairly distinctive, and it adheres to this formula we worked out. I really pushed for a very textural look and we painted very hi-res,” he says.

The film has more than 1,400 shots, including tricky water and cloud effects, and took 300 artists working at full capacity four years to complete. “The size of our geometry was huge: over 30 unique sets, including two cities and the North Pole,” he explains. “Before, you’d limit the data, but we’ve turned a corner. Now, we’re setting up ‘super-rigs’ that are nested into larger rigging systems, like the sleigh scenes where the animators can animate each reindeer and all the harnessing, so you get this very cool hierarchical rigging.”

It helped that the team had the muscle of Sony Imageworks’ Arnold renderer to assist them, since the Aardman team back home in Bristol was more accustomed to the lo-fi approach of animating by hand.

“With the character animation, we can now give animators interactive tools to pose and shape faces,” he says. “We did video dailies every morning, and it was a very efficient system. Now that we’ve established the pipeline, we’re all set up for ‘Arthur 2,’ if and when.”

Animated pics boost property values
Whether working on a shoestring hand-drawn project or pushing the limits of computer-generated technology, this year’s offerings overcame major challenges in bringing their animated visions to screen. Here’s how:
‘Arthur Christmas’ | ‘Chico and Rita’ | ‘Gnomeo and Juliet’ | ‘Rango’ | ‘Wrinkles’ | ‘Rio’