Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a masterclass in animation

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The Disney Original Movie Tic and Tac: Rescue Rangers apparently managed to pull off a trifecta with a reboot of the Rescue Rangers franchise that won over original series fans, young audiences and critics when it premiered on Disney+ in May.

Directed by Akiva Schaffer (hot rod), Tic and Tac: Rescue Rangers takes place in a world where animated characters and humans coexist, and finds the titular duo reunited when one of their former teammates in the Rescue Rangers series disappears. With Chip portrayed in the more traditional, hand-drawn 2D animation style in the series and Dale getting a 3D makeover, the pair find themselves interacting with characters from different eras of animation over the years – as well than humans – while trying to solve the mystery.

Bringing all of these characters together and mixing a myriad of animation styles was no small feat for the Rescue Rangers team and Digital Trends spoke to the visual effects studio MPCthe film’s Oscar-winning production supervisor, Steven Preegto find out how they made it possible.

Digital Trends: I read that MPC worked on over 1450 VFX shots for the film. It’s a lot! Is it correct?

Steven Preeg: Yeah! I mean, there are bigger projects, like an Avengers movie, but it’s a Disney+ project where they come in and say, ‘Oh, it’s streaming, so there’s not quite the same budget as a feature film,” and you’re like, “Okay, well what’s the concession? » Movie resolution is the same or higher. It’s not half the number of shots or anything. This is a situation where, if it was a theatrical release, the visual effects budget would have been double. So it looked like a real feat.

Was it always intended to feature Chip and Dale as 2D and 3D CGI characters, respectively?

It was. When I first joined the movie, before it was green lighted and it was basically Akiva and me – there were producers in the background and writers, of course – we made a proof concept, about a minute long, and it was basically to show Dale in 3D and Chip in 2D next to each other. It was created to determine if it was going to work.

A snake dominates Dale in the first visual effects taken from the film.

How long did it take for you to get clearance to go ahead with this plan?

I think we finished the proof of concept in October. And at the end of December, I was on the film and it was lit green, so it was pretty quick to finish the proof of concept early in pre-production.

How did having hand-drawn animation, stop-motion animation, and so many other types of animation in the same film change your approach?

There was definitely a lot of research into what these things would look like together. We knew we couldn’t do traditional stop-motion with Captain Putty (voiced by JK Simmons), because he interacts with Ellie (Kiki Layne, portraying a human character) in real time. For Putty, there was a lot to studying stop-motion and looking beyond the obvious.

For example, should it have fingerprints that appear and change from frame to frame? If you watch something Aardman [stop-motion animation studio]you’re not going to see the thumbprints because it’s neater, but we wanted the animation to feel somehow manipulated, so we introduced more elements like that that you might see in a very neat.

Captain Putty searches Monty's apartment for clues.

We also knew there were a number of scenes that were going to be all CG. For example, with Bjornson (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), who was something of a Muppet character, the larger of his two scenes is an all-CG environment. We thought, “We’re not really going to make him a puppet, because we have to do the scene in CG later anyway, so we’re going to do it in CG as well.”

So we met a group called pile of puppets, which has former members of Jim Henson who have a lot of experience with the Muppets. We had discussions with them about the behavior of puppets, their limits, what a puppeteer thinks about when doing it, etc. And then we showed them animation tests as we went along and got feedback. There were a lot of requests like that because we really wanted this movie to pay as much homage to different styles of animation as possible.

The Bjornson puppet roams his kitchen.

How did you decide on the best way to handle Chip, since he represents this kind of traditional, 2D, hand-drawn animation style, but also plays such a big part in the film?

Chip was our biggest concern because we knew we couldn’t do a fully hand-drawn 2D animation for him, due to budget and time constraints. We looked into it and got offers, but that would have doubled our effects budget and added a year to post-production. However, we have background characters that are traditionally drawn, because they weren’t as editorially important as Chip, and it wasn’t a situation where the editing or the dialogue changed much over the time. So we tried to do a bunch of tricks to pay homage to hand drawn 2D stuff where we could.

It feels like bringing those traditional styles into the modern effects production environment in some ways…

Yeah. We would have loved to do traditional animation, and netizens like to say, “Well, why didn’t they just do this hand drawing?” And that’s like saying, “Why don’t we go to Mars?” You can say that, but there are aspects of filmmaking that just don’t allow it – two of them being money and time.

Early visual effects shots of Tic and Tac leaning on a railing.

Were there certain characters or scenes that proved to be more difficult than others?

I’m not sure there were any specific scenes that we had trouble with, as Akiva was very good at planning everything. We [previsualized] the whole movie. Every shot… we had to plan, because we had half the money you would expect, with the expectation that you still wanted the highest level of quality. We had to make sure we weren’t wasting money or time.

And with COVID right in the middle of everything, we ended up having a very short filming schedule. A lot more was pushed into the visual effects in terms of the environments, and I think between a third and a half of the movie is all CG.

Chip and Dale look around a dark cheese shop.

It’s surprising, because it doesn’t feel so heavily CG.

It’s good to hear. Akiva had this idea that he didn’t want us to feel like we were watching small characters. He really wanted it to look like a regular buddy-cop movie, and every once in a while you pull the camera back and realize they’re so small. In terms of shooting style, shot selection, and framing, it felt very much like a Michael Bay movie, with that kind of camera work. So we had to do it digitally because Akiva wanted us to feel like we had little foot-sized cameramen and small cameras.

He did such a good job of keeping order and only allowed reality to come in when he wanted to. For example, when we’re in Monty’s apartment with Putty, there’s kind of a panic when Ellie comes out the window. You suddenly realize that you are in a very small building. Before that, you kind of forgot that you were in this little world.

The human character Ellie looks out the window at Captain Putty.

I loved it when the characters went to the strange valley and recognized this particular era of animation. Did you feel like you had to step back to do him justice?

Oh, sure. I myself have been involved in a number of weird projects in the valley so I feel like it’s less about making fun of it and more about acknowledging that there was a period of time that we as an industry have had to go through to get to this point. When the proof of concept was done for that scene where they first met Bob (voiced by Seth Rogen), Akiva kept saying, “No! Must look worse!” He even started to suggest he was going back to something like PlayStation 2-style models for the character.

We eventually got to a place on the proof of concept where he was happy with it, but then we started the actual project and the digital assets had been redone again to be a bit more flexible. So the process started again. They were too good. I kept telling them, “Akiva will cancel this if you don’t reduce it.” But getting artists to intentionally make their work worse takes a lot out of their egos.

Early visual effects shots featuring several characters in the Uncanny Valley Factory.

This film is such a journey into the history of animation. Did you come away feeling like you learned something new about certain animation styles?

I did it. So many different people from so many different worlds were involved. The guy who drew Roger Rabbit in our movie originally worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, for example. Having people who could talk about the good old days helped a lot.

There is an episode of Rescue Rangers we see right before they have their closing party in the movie and go their separate ways. This episode is a made up episode, but it was meant to look like one of the original episodes. We brought this guy Uli [Meyer] who was really old school and knows his stuff. Akiva has very specific ideas about what he wants, and he would say, “Can we do this? So what [Uli] might say, “Well, the old show wouldn’t have the budget for that, so it wouldn’t be done that way. They would have cheated a little, and that would be it.

Chip and Dale fix a high-tech sensor in a visual effects foreground.

I want to ask you a question about something I read just before the interview. Was Jar-Jar Binks really in the movie at some point?

It was! Jar-Jar was originally the character of Ugly Sonic. There were a number of different points in the script where things changed over the years. With all this setup of Ellie looking like the villain, there was a version of the script where she really was the villain. Some of that “It never aired in Albany” misdirection was, at one point, an actual clue that they uncovered. It’s interesting to see how many things change during a film.

Glad it’s confirmed! A thing I can confirm is that Rescue Rangers indeed aired in Albany, NY. I know because that’s where I grew up. I even messaged one of the writers about it, who I apologize for misrepresenting my city..

[Laughs] Yeah, there were a couple of things that were historically inaccurate, and that was one of them for sure: it aired in Albany.

Glad to be able to set the record straight!

by Disney Tic and Tac: Rescue Rangers is available now on the Disney+ streaming service.

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