After meeting with the producer and director Tinkerbell And The Legend Of The Neverbeast (I posted the interview yesterday with them), I also got to meet with the story Story Artist Ryan Green and Animation Supervisor Mike Greenholt. Again, I was shocked into how much work and research goes into animation. Who knew that animation was so much hard work?
Ryan started off telling us what a story artist is what they they do. It is a position that most of us didn’t know about. He also told us about how they drew the Neverbeast:
A Story Artist usually works with the Director, the Writer, and the Head of Story. We’ll sit in a room kind of like this, and we’ll throw around story ideas and try and figure out where we want to take the story. Then, when we set it, the Story Artists will run back to their computers, and we’ll draw up a bunch of panels. We bring them back together and cut them in a reel. We look at them and ask is this looking good? It’s usually no, and then we go back and we do it all again. We actually cut about 4 or 5 different full movies. You saw the last version of it, so there’s a bunch that never make it to the public.
I work specifically with a lot of the Fawn and Neverbeast moments in the movie. We get a lot of inspiration from Diane Fosse who went out to the wilderness to research the gorillas. Fawn knows every single animal in Pixie Hollow except for this one guy. It’s interesting that when we started, we didn’t even really know who he was. We didn’t know what he looked like from the front or the back.
We just had to start asking ourselves what is he and what’s under that fur. I actually have a degree in biology, so I was able to give a little bit of insight into what might be underneath the fur. As we were starting to draw, some of the Story Artists were drawing the hump on his back, kind of like a cat might have, like that arched back. Others were drawing it more like a bison so we had to say all right enough with the differentiation and let’s come up with one solid type of animal that we’re dealing with here.
We ended up, because of story reasons, saying like we want to have a solid base for those wings to pop out. We decided to go to the zoo and research some animals that have similar body types. Here at the LA Zoo, we looked at hippos and rhinos. If you look at either of those animals from the front, they have a big mass upon top and then like a wine glass, their legs are kind of underneath the Center of Gravity. That allows for them to not wobble so much when they move around.
One of the first design changes we did was to move his legs in a little bit more. That helped out with the efficiency of the walk cycles. The farther you have the legs out, the more he’s got to swing, so it’s better just to keep those legs underneath as much as possible.
We did a lot of research on what type of legs we wanted. We started with an elephant leg knowing we wanted a giant enormous type of beast, and an elephant leg has similar proportions to a human leg. It’s got a long thigh, a long calf, and then a really short foot.
For story reasons again, we needed him to kind of dig into the ground, and we thought it might be good to have some toes on there. We gave him more of like a hippo leg or a cat leg, so he could actually do some running, and it wouldn’t look silly like he’s just shuffling along.
The tail is another important design element. He’s standing on these 4 legs with all this weight, and the tail almost became like another appendage for him. We got a lot of inspiration from the porcupine tail. You know, they can curl up and wrap onto things. They can grab onto a log and hang on. For awhile, we thought we might just keep his tail curled up underneath his body and just reveal it at times, but it looked a little weird and looked more like he was a shamed dog so we just decided to leave it hanging out.
The third important part that his tail brought to the table was for motion because we designed this big glass eye for him that Fawn could look into, and it was almost emotionless. You didn’t know what was going on back there. She just saw her own reflection, and a way to get emotion out of him would be through other body parts and one big one was his tail. If you’ve ever had a cat that gets angry, you know that their tail just starts twitching and has little odd mannerisms like that. We wanted to make him feel somewhat menacing in a way, so that when Fawn first met him, he was a little scary.
We started with a bunch of Shark teeth and then as the story progressed, we realized that he needs to bite off some Snog Grass Sap and chew it up and make a, kind of like a paste to build these Towers so we decided let’s keep it bizarre. Let’s give him lots of rows of teeth, but we’ll put in some molars in there so he can actually grind up the food.
Mike told us:
The big challenge for animation was to make him seem believable. Even though he’s a fantasy creature, he had to feel like he was living and breathing in an animal. Our first challenge was to just make him move like an animal. We looked at rhinos and buffalo just to look at big heavy animals, and to see how they move and what makes them feel heavy. We studied that and just applied it to a walk. We knew he had this big tail that he sort of held in a curl so it’s like how do you make that feel natural? We just did exploration until we got to a walk that just felt like a very old creature. From there, we went to a run. We looked at a rhinoceros and how do they charge? They’re very, very heavy and very, very big, but they can move very fast. We looked at that, but we knew we had a sequence where he’s chasing Fawn through the Forest and he’s almost like a Puppy loping after its Master. We wanted to put just a little bit of that playfulness into this run.
He kind of slaps the ground like a little Dog would too. If he’s moving quickly, the tail is not going to hold its curl anymore, but just be almost like a whip like action. We see that in the chase sequence.
The first big challenge was just to make him move like an animal. From there, we had to make him emote like an animal. The thing we didn’t want to do was make Gruff look like he was a man in a costume or someone wearing Makeup. He had to act but he had to act like an animal. We did a test just showing his range of motion for his face. A person smiles and frowns, but animals don’t do that the same way that people do. We limited his facial expressions and controls to what can an animal do. It can sneer. It could open its mouth. A lot of animals have a lot of muscles in their brow, in their ears, and nose. We just tried to play up those.
We had that, and it’s like OK now we need to give him some soul. A huge inspiration was my wife’s dog.
We put a lot of controls around his eyebrows, so we could just move them with subtle nuances to give furrows to it or shifts when he looks back and forth. That helped us just get his face to emote more and feel more malleable and alive.
The next big challenge was his tail. His tail, it’s a big part of his design and it’s important to the story. He picks things up and moves things. We had to have a lot of controls over it, so we could get the shapes to it. Our approach was to treat it almost like an arm. There were times when animating his tail was such a challenge that we started by just drawing it first. It was much easier to just draw out the animation and get the performance that we want and then use all the controls to just line up to the drawings.
Ryan told us that the whole process is about 3 and a half years! Ryan also told us that they do reuse some of the fairies:
Yeah. What’s nice is that Tinkerbell is Tinkerbell from the previous movies. It’s almost like hiring an actress back. Some characters are new. We have the scouts which are brand new Characters. Fawn has been tweaked a little bit, because she’s a main character. We just gave her more facial expressions just to get a range of acting out of her.
After hearing about how they animated Gruff, we asked if Gruff one of the hardest things they had to animate. Ryan told us:
Yes he was. He was one of the most fun too, because he doesn’t speak. His whole performance is animation, and so the animator can’t rely on a voice to carry the performance which is a challenge but is also a lot of fun.
The ending of the movie is very emotional and the animators are working on these scenes where the characters are devastated so it’s emotionally taxing. In order to make the character have a realistic performance, you have to go there in your own brain.
We also asked if they draw any inspiration from the voice actors and their gestures or movements in animating their character.
The voice is recorded before we animate, and they always take video reference of them. We’ll just watch it, because when people talk, they have mannerisms — either things they do with their mouth or their face, and so it’s great to just see what they do. Also, just the shapes that their mouth makes, it’s a good reference to have that.
We also asked them what were their favorite parts of the movie. Ryan told us:
I enjoyed the strange sight sequence. It’s where Fawn’s basically bonding with the Never Beast and trying to figure him out at first, and by the end of the song, she’s basically figured out that he’s trying to build these Towers and she’s helping out a little bit and he’s tolerating it so it’s the first little moment that they’e actually bonding.
Mike told us:
I think there’s a lot of them that I like. One that stands out is the hawk attack at the beginning when we get to see the Scouts do what they’re good at. It’s a great action sequence, but to see how they work together and what they do, it was a lot of fun to work on.
This was another amazing interview that I learned a ton from! It was cool seeing how they figured out how and what of the characters. Did you learn anything from my interview? Are you a Tinkerbell fan? A Neverbeast fan? Will you be seeing Tinkerbell And The Legend Of The Neverbeast?