Time Travel and Suiting Up for Science Fiction

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Kevin Carney, Character Effects (CFX) Artist, talks to JHI about the CFX in Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Dreamworks Animation’s full-length animated feature based on the classic characters from the 1960s television series, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

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What was your role?

I was a CFX (Character Effects) artist on Mr. Peabody & Sherman. I developed cloth garments for a few characters and worked on shots in the film, doing cloth and hair simulation. I also worked on the Rocky & Bullwinkle short film, which will be released at some point this year, maybe on the Peabody DVD. I have been at Dreamworks Animation for 7 years.

What was the extent of CFX work in the Mr. Peabody & Sherman?

Almost every shot in Peabody & Sherman has some CFX work in it.  Any shot that has a character, usually has CFX. Most of the characters have cloth or hair, which we simulate.  There were 1,415 total shots in the movie, and 1,236 had cfx work in them.

We probably set the record for most hero and generic characters in a Dreamworks Animation movie. Every historical time period they travel to in the WABAC machine (France, Egypt, Troy, Italy, New York, etc) has a whole bunch of hero and crowd characters that all need unique clothes and hair. In addition, there were a few locations and characters that we developed cloth for that didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie.

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Could you talk about the grooming for Mr. Peabody’s thick coat of hair/fair?

Peabody’s fur was set up by the Character TD (Rigging) department and the surfacing department. CFX did not have to do a lot of work with his fur, since it was pretty short and didn’t need to move much. There were a few outfits Mr. Peabody wore in the movie (an apron, a chef’s hat, a greek toga, etc) where we had to add collision of the cloth onto the fur.

From the CFX perspective, were there hero characters that posed significant challenges?

One of the most challenging  CFX tasks for this film was Penny’s hair. She has long, blonde hair and, Rob Minkoff, the Director, had a very specific look in mind, which was a challenge to achieve. Her body proportions are very non-human which added to the difficulty — her head is gigantic, her neck and body are tiny. The groom and simulation for her hair went through many months of development to get the look approved. Her hair needed to obey gravity and physics, up to a point, and look very graphic. This was art directed per shot, and was a specific blend of cartoony and reality. We ended up using a combination of different hair simulation tools to achieve the desired look.

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The movie takes you to many locales, periods, and costumes…how did you art direct the CFX for the costumes from all the different periods in history?

We spent a lot of time building a huge “wardrobe” of clothing outfits for the characters to wear, for each historical time period. The Art department gave us lots of reference drawings and photos of what they wanted the cloth to look like. We built many crowd character outfits. We usually built a master version on a normal-size body, then made scaled versions to fit onto short, tall, fat, and skinny versions of the character so the crowd could be more varied. This took many months of work before we started on actual shots for the movie.

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Does the same artist/TD work on all the CFX elements of a shot — hair, cloth, environments?

Usually one CFX artist will handle all the cloth and hair for a shot. CFX also handles lots of environment simulation work, like flags, curtains, tablecloths, etc. And we usually handle wind and prop interaction. Depending on the show, certain items are handled by the CFX dept, other things by the FX dept. FX always does all the fire, smoke, water, particles etc. And, FX usually handles foliage, but sometimes CFX does it too. For example, on the movie, The Croods, CFX did the foliage interaction with characters walking through jungle bushes and grass.

 All production stills © 2014 Dreamworks Animation LLC.

 Interview by Shish Aikat

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