VFX and Animation
Production VFX Supervisor Nick Davis, MPC VFX Supervisor Ben Jones, and Animation Supervisor Greg Fisher led MPC Film’s VFX and Animation team to craft 1055 shots for the movie.
MPC Film were invited to be part of the filmmaking process from day one, helping to conceive a custom production workflow which would enable director Thea Sharrock to realize a story predominantly led by animals, with large passages of script absent of human performers. Davis met with the filmmakers in 2017 to build the blueprint and plan the visual effects requirements for the project, which included designs for the characters and environments, planning Virtual Photography, previs, and overseeing the complex VFX and animation work that was to be crafted by MPC Film’s artists.
Technicolor’s Pre-Production Studio
Technicolor’s Pre-Production studio in Culver City, Los Angeles, began by drawing up concepts for characters including Bob the dog, Frankie the seal, Snickers the Poodle and Thelma the parrot; environments including the mall and jungle; and additional art for sequences’ frames. The Art Department also helped visualize a bespoke ‘Ivan’ version of the famous Disney Castle opening.
The One and Only Ivan had two distinctly different shoot phases. The first was a traditional set and location shoot and the second was a Virtual shoot for the full CG shots – approximately half the movie.
The virtual production process started with Black Box rehearsals with puppeteers and a motion capture performance artist for Ivan. This enabled Sharrock to block the sequences and approve the set design before shooting. A two-week motion capture stage shoot took place to capture Ivan’s physical movement using pre-recorded playback from the voice actors to govern the pacing of scenes. Puppeteers played the other animals to give the actors eye lines and a rough blocking layout for MPC’s animators.
Once motion capture scenes had been selected, they were turned over to the animation team for layout animation. The motion capture data for Ivan led the blocking; however the characters were all then animated by hand.
Davis explains: “Once the master scenes had been animation approved, the clips were then used to drive MPC’s Genesis Virtual Production toolkit. This enabled the filmmakers to utilize Virtual Reality tools to capture the data through the eyes of a virtual set of camera tools. Using dollies, camera heads, cranes and steady-cam, the filmmakers were able to shoot the master scenes on a stage and view the pre-recorded animation clips from any chosen perspective.”
MPC’s Environments team
A large part of MPCs work involved meticulously replicating the primary ‘Backstage’ set as a digital model, so that the filmed footage and full CG shots would blend seamlessly. In addition to the primary set, MPC’s Environment team also built full CG shots of the African plains, the exterior of the ‘Big Top Mall’ and CG extensions of dense jungle. A lot of care was taken to match the full CG shots to the cinematic look and feel of the live action sections of the movie; each of the camera lens’s distinctive features were replicated and used, and subtleties like lens-breathing during focus shifts were included on full CG shots to give added film realism.
Many shots in the movie take place at night, and the backstage environment in particular was shot with very shallow depth of field, with lots of light sources and reflective materials like water, glass, glass bricks, etc. The artists at MPC took great care to make the materials, depth of field, atmosphere, reflection, and refraction of glass and water all appear as physically correct as possible to achieve a realistic, beautiful, and immersive environment.
MPC’s Character Lab team
Sharrock’s brief for Ivan and the other characters was for them to be photorealistic, talking animals – but it was critical that they connect with the audience and deliver the humor and emotion that is so essential to the story. For much of the movie, Ivan is confined to a cage. In order to make the audience feel that they are there with him, the filmmakers wanted close-ups on his face. It was therefore crucial that Ivan’s face was crafted to the finest detail.
MPC’s Character Lab team spent a huge amount of time researching gorillas, learning about their bone structure, muscles, the subtle nuances of their movement and behavior, and most importantly their eyes. Ivan’s eyes had to speak figuratively to the audience and his thoughts and emotions needed to be expressed through subtlety of expressions. One handsome gorilla in particular named “Zawadi” became a favorite, and a main reference for Ivan. From chickens to elephants, and all of the other animals in The One and Only Ivan, a balance had to be struck between true animal behavior and an engaging, emotional performance.