How ‘Mitchells’ ‘Raya’ ‘Luca’ ‘Flee’ used 2D in the CGI mix

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Many of this year’s biggest animated films wanted to take bold stylistic risks that would set them apart from what audiences expect from modern CG animation. In their quest to take the next leap forward, they turned to a style known for its warmth and imperfections: 2D animation.

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” “Luca,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” and “Flee” — all Animated Feature Oscar nominees — found something they needed for their 2D stories. Whether the style matched the imperfection of the characters themselves, added warmth, or established a different look for a specific sequence, he became a crucial inspiration.

In “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”, the filmmakers fell in love with concept art created by production/character designer Lindsey Olivares and decided they wanted a hand-drawn, slightly quirky look for the film. . They needed to establish a new style that brought together CG technological innovations and 2D drawing styles. There wasn’t really a plan they could follow to bring the two together, so they dug in and did a lot of R&D. The merging of the two can be seen in the 2D designs that appear above Katie’s head to reflect her chaotic way of thinking or the not-so-defined look of the trees and foliage around the characters and the imperfection of their clothing. .

“We wanted it to feel like you were hand painting every frame,” says director Michael Rianda. “There was a lot of testing and showing it to each other and showing it to the public and trying to kind of focus and get to that sweet spot. It’s kind of new and different and breaks the formulas, but it still works.

Producer Chris Miller adds, “We worked with the team that figured out how to make ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ look like a comic book and now decided, instead, that we ‘ I’m going to try something totally different, which makes it look like you’re inside one of these beautiful hand-drawn illustrations.

2D Sequence “Raya and the Last Dragon”
Courtesy of Disney

The makers of “Raya and the Last Dragon” also wanted a distinct look for a flashback sequence at the start of their film. In it, dragon magic, wars, and the quest for a sacred object are traced through time using flattened-looking figures drawn from traditional shadow puppets similar to those used in storytelling. Chinese.

The sequence was in development for a long time throughout the filmmaking process because it pushed so many boundaries. It wasn’t until later, when the lighting was added, that they realized everything was going to turn out the way they wanted. At this point, they felt it added something unique to the overall story, according to director Don Hall.

“Very early on, we decided that we were going to try to take big stylistic turns,” explains helmsman Carlos López Estrada. “That meant with the tone of the film, with the voices of the characters, with the music with the cinematography, the editing schemes. When you think of an epic Disney princess, I think you immediately think of a certain look, a certain aesthetic. We really wanted to challenge that by making the film unexpected, including lots of references and more contemporary filmmakers that wouldn’t immediately come to mind. I think those [2D] the sequences came from this desire to really like trying things. We realized we had the prologue and we have all these fantastic sequences that are like a step away from the reality of the film. We wanted to find ways to do something that looks visually very different from what we had done before.

When deciding to tell the story of a sea monster boy who appears to be a human on land in ‘Luca,’ director Enrico Casarosa turned to some of his favorite works by Hayao Miyazaki and British films in stop-motion featuring the characters of Wallace and Grommit. . It became a big departure from the signature style that audiences expect when they see the Pixar name.

“I feel like it’s the perfect antidote to what I don’t like about computer animation, which can be a bit chilly,” says Casarosa, who found he wasn’t no need to completely rewrite the software to get the look he wanted. “What’s amazing about computer animation is that it’s very immersive. But I wanted to bring that sense of something that’s designed and bring the warmth to CG animation.

Filmmakers worked with existing pipelines and software to make adjustments where needed. Since “Luca” is set in Italy, Casarosa wanted buildings that looked like 15 coats of paint and a sense of texture that suited the coastal areas explored by the characters. The animators took several passes to make the city look aged and painterly.

“Once buildings and other things are well constructed, it’s really about how you light them,” Casarosa explains. “And we did some interesting little things around the edges of the shadows, for example. We tried so many things and did something quite new in rendering to make the edges of the shapes very shiny.

In the documentary ‘Flee,’ director Jonas Poher Rasmussen took a full 2D stylistic approach to his story of an Afghan refugee who is about to marry her boyfriend and begins to reminisce about the difficult early years of her life. life. The film is up for Animated Feature, Documentary Feature and International Feature. It also won the IDA Award in 2021 for Non-Fiction Film.

The story is told in a confessional style in which Rasmussen asks his friend Amin about the life he led before being placed in a foster home near where Rasmussen grew up. Although he has done well and is looking forward to his marriage, Amin is still afraid of being exposed to his traditional biological family.

The director decided that 2D animation would be the most effective way to deal with the memory of trauma as Amin tells his story. The sometimes uneven and unique lines seemed to him to be the best approach.

“I think there’s something about that kind of hand-drawn approach that I could feel was very human,” Rasmussen says. “Because they are human beings doing the drawings and they are different animators, we will have different variations on how to draw the same character. So it moves a bit but there is also a lot of life. I think that, especially for the sequences from which you dive into your traumas, we really needed something warm and human. I think we added something to the movie with the 2D because we could get into those emotions of his fear or the things he didn’t want to talk about in a softer way, like his emotions of being a 12 year old boy years old who was really afraid of what was happening and of the war.

“With 2D you get this very emotional, very tactile feeling that you might not get with other things, so I think that’s the real reason for using 2D in this story. We had a small team of about ten animators and it seemed like a long time to work like that but it was worth it for the story.

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Concept sketches of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”
Courtesy of Netflix

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