The western boasts several firsts, including an unlikely bug-eyed chameleon hero starring in the first animation film for both “Pirates of the Caribbean” helmer Gore Verbinski and industry vfx powerhouse ILM.

“Doing an animated film was completely new for so many of us, so there were a lot of challenges,” reports production designer Crash McCreery. “Gore and I are huge Western fans, especially the classic Westerns with the dense, gritty atmosphere, so our approach from the start was to make a Western first, then an animated film second.”

The team began by focusing on the characters and a photo-real style “that I don’t think had been done to this extent before,” McCreery says. “We kept telling ILM, ‘Put more fuzz on it,’ meaning we wanted to get away from that typical, hard-edged shiny CG look. We wanted frayed edges on the costumes and a blurry line between characters in the foreground and background, so that it all felt far more filmic than the usual animation.”

To achieve this look, the team broke time-honored toon rules of texture and palette, even going so far as to use desaturated colors. “It probably helped (that we hadn’t made an animated film before) as we just kept pushing to get what we wanted,” he says. “We didn’t set any limits as far as rendering capabilities, and ILM was with us the whole way. People have asked us, ‘Where did you shoot it?’ but it’s all animated. Now that we have the pipeline worked out, we’re discussing other possible projects as we all loved the animation process.”

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’