With tropical birds — and their colorful plumage — front and center, “Rio” relied on getting the CG feathers just right, says director Carlos Saldanha. “Even though we’d done fur before, we had to do a lot of innovation and develop a lot of proprietary technology, such as a special tool called Voxel. Instead of just having one hair follicle, we had one that sprouts out to many, creating the impression of a feather, and then we multiplied it for the whole body (applying) a lot of controls to simulate the wind and elements.”

Complicating things further was the fact that all those feathers weren’t just for the birds, but also for costumes in crowd scenes. “The Carnival parade has over 40,000 characters, so there was a lot of technical work to make sure it all rendered and looked right,” Saldanha reports. “We put that in the middle of production so we didn’t get hit with last-minute problems.”

As if that weren’t challenging enough, Saldanha continues, “we also had to build this version of Rio, with all the people and cars and buildings, and then the surrounding forests and jungle. Rio has very distinctive mosaic sidewalks, and we built a software tool especially for that. It’s a constant evolution of tools, some of which we built for the ‘Ice Age’ films. Blue Sky is probably the only studio that truly uses radio-city and ray tracing to give our films that unique look. Our next films, ‘Ice Age 4’ and ‘Leafman,’ have already benefited from the R&D we did on this.”

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’