DreamWorks Animation series “Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous,” coming to Netflix on Sept. 18, immediately immerses viewers in the universe of the popular franchise — shaky camera shots, a roaring Tyrannosaurus rex and characters fleeing stampeding dinosaurs.
As we pull back, however, viewers can see the bedroom of young Darius (voiced by Paul-Mikél Williams), who’s playing a video game as he’s about to go off to Isla Nublar with other teen campers (and is soon to face similar terrors).
The meta opening is a grabber, but for CG lighting/compositing director Kathy Tran, whose job is to use subtle shades of light and color to give a show its look, the degree of difficulty in distinguishing between the world of a video game and an animated “real” world was high.
It took three tries to achieve the desired effect. The feedback from executive producer Scott Kreamer and supervising producer Aaron Hammersley on Tran’s first pass at the scene was that it didn’t look “gamelike enough.” So Tran studied first-person survival games such as ARK: Survival Evolved and The
Forest. She boosted color saturation in the Jurassic World video game, adding green to the environment — more grass and foliage around the dinosaurs. Kreamer, though, felt the game now had too much saturation.
Tran was able to balance things out by adding a noise saturation layer — a very small pixelation of colors that keeps things from looking too rich. “Without that element, the images were too clear,” she says.
In Episode 3, Tran worked with the animation team to deliver a scene in which campers Darius, Brooklynn (voiced Jenna Ortega), Ben (Sean Giambrone) and Kenji Kon (Ryan Potter) tour the park. The scene, an homage to the original “Jurassic Park,” in which the characters meet the dinosaurs for the first time, begins with overcast skies that progress into a storm. Tran’s goal: “How do I make this more majestic? It needed to feel authentic and inspiring,” she says.
Using V-Ray 3D rendering software on the Maya graphics application to achieve photorealism, and then compositing the images with Nuke, she added sunlight shining through the clouds. “I kept adding in layers of rays and atmosphere to give it that look,” Tran explains. She’s quick to praise CG animation director Daniel Godinez for his camera tracking and layout of the scene. “Those movements helped emphasize the volumetric rays coming through the clouds because you can see them moving with the camera,” she says.
The most complicated sequence came in Episode 6 — a waterfall scene with bioluminescent parasaurolophuses that needed to be delivered just as the pandemic was forcing crews to work from home. “I didn’t have my station set up to do color calibration to review my shots,” Tran says. But the IT team soon got her up and running.
“Water sequences are the hardest to do,” Tran explains, “because they involve incorporating multiple elements into the FX.” The sequence includes foam and mist, which use a massive number of rendered particles. “We added all of these elements to the FX to help make the shot look more compelling.”