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Feathers, Fur and Fire in Free Birds

By Henry Winchester

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Date Added: 5th November 2013

Another scene in which the turkeys must escape from a flaming underground lair proved equally tricky for Walter. "The whole set's on fire, in every shot there's fire,” he says. "We didn't want to run a simulation on every single shot, so we ended up developing a tool that would instance pre-simulated fires throughout the shot, which proved to be difficult in itself because to fill the background we had tons of fires in here. We had thirty or forty individual fires, and these are all volumetric, and getting that to work with the memory was quite challenging.”

These fire simulations were used across several sequences as a generic drop in element

Here the artist would render fire and smoke layers and check for errors

Feather and fur

Meanwhile, feather and fur character supervisor (which has to be one of the coolest job titles ever) Monika Sawyer was facing her own problems creating a semi-realistic way of creating the turkeys' plumes. The answer lay in AVIAN, the proprietary software ReelFX built for the film.

"We went to a turkey farm, which is always fun – field trips!”

"The great thing about AVIAN is that it's the first system that I've ever worked with that is actually real-time feedback inside your Maya viewport,” she says. "So all the way down to every single individual barb of every feather, our artists could see in real-time without having to render.”

Reggie's final fur groom contains over 30 different feather clubs and approximately 6.2 million hairs

Research was also important to the team, and despite the film's cartoony look it still needed a degree of realism. "We went to a turkey farm, which is always fun – field trips!” she says.

"We took a lot of video, a lot of photography, we ended up getting some real feathers in the studio. We definitely wanted to make sure that the underlying structure is based off of real life. They all have quills, they all have barbs, they have downy feathers at the end, they have all the basic elements of turkey feathers.”

The default rig for the animators

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