In Disney’s animated film “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” tech CEO Marc Weidell (Justice Smith) unveils his newest invention, the B*Bot, a revolutionary robot designed to become a child’s best friend by learning their interests through social media. What could possibly go wrong?
London-based Locksmith Animation teamed with Double Negative (DNEG) to build the machines at the center of the movie. With a pill-shaped body, two simple arms, hands and two wheels that served as legs, the B*Bots started to come together.
“The B*Bots were inspired by the iPhone revolution where all the functions appeared on a screen versus a more or less sophisticated hardware,” VFX supervisor Philippe Denis tells Variety. “The shape design was simple but the functionality unlimited.”
Building the titular, malfunctioning Ron — while visually simpler — was far more elaborate than the other machines. While he couldn’t download skins, Denis explains that the team developed an inner design for him so he could be read through his translucent shell — subtle enough so that the activity inside his body did not compete with his performance. Denis says, “[For Ron’s face], the goal was to make it as easy as possible for animators so that they could be fully creative and come up with new ideas throughout the production of the show.”
Additionally, different graphics for skins were designed with what kids are inspired and captivated by today. Denis and the team created hundreds of skins throughout pre-production, with 132 designs making it into the movie. The B*Bot skins were not only static textures; they needed to be animated with the rest of the body to deliver their performance.
“To limit the scope of work, we divided the B*Bots into three categories: hero, loopable and static. We had 12 hero skins, 20 loopable skins and 100 flat skins,” Denis says. “The hero skins needed to perform a variety of poses that corresponded to the lip sync. The different poses and transitions were created by the motion graphics department. The rigging department incorporated the skins into the rig for the animators to trigger.”
The team’s standard pipeline doesn’t introduce motion graphics until the final phase, which is compositing, but like Ron and Barney’s friendship, it was not a plug-and-play situation.
Without motion graphics, they wouldn’t have a visual or a story. Instead, both animators and the VFX team focused on bringing motion graphics into the fold from the get-go. That meant allowing the performance of the characters to be equally dependent on motion graphics and animation.
Says Denis, “Integrating the motion graphics — which are graphic designs that move — into the 3D space was our number one priority. The traditional Maya pipeline was centered around geometry and hair, not moving colors and screens.”
But to match the art direction, the animators needed to animate the motion graphics. Denis explains, “Not only were they an expression of each B*Bot’s character, but they were also a crucial storytelling device. Without them, we’d have minimal work to show the directors and would have to caveat everything.”