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Feathers, Fur and Fire in Free Birds


By Henry Winchester


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Date Added: 5th November 2013

126_tid_reggie_04.jpg
 
Reggie's wings were a complex layer of controls. At the very top layer, animators only had to worry about four main controls to pose the majority of the feathers


126_tid_jake_4_deformingGuides.jpg
 
Deforming guides were created for Jake's wings and tail to blend the motion of the hero and body feathers

The view from the top


Digital supervisor Scott Peterson oversaw the whole production with David Esneault, and he was keen to keep to schedule while delivering a huge amount of varied characters – both avian and human. In addition to the challenge of creating feathers, the film's average character count is 10, and there were lots of crowd shots.

"We built our entire cast of characters off of a base set of about 20 meshes”


To tackle the problem, ReelFX used a set of basic character meshes which could be altered to create new people and beasts. "We built our entire cast of characters off of a base set of about 20 meshes,” he says. "There's something like 50 different turkeys in the end, but they had point compatibility with a base set of seven.”

Working this way meant that most of the teams creating the film came in ahead of schedule – something of a rarity in the world of animation. The AVIAN system came into its own, too, with the team adding feathers to the birds in a mere couple of days, when two weeks had been scheduled.

"Whenever possible we used the exact same mesh,” says Scott. "When you see the president, later on in the movie there are these three huntsmen who are actually built over his mesh, but they look nothing like him at all. These are tricks that we've learned over the years, because we did a lot of client-based work, and they can be extremely picky.”

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This is a pre-simulated sequence based on smoke by location

End credits


Much like the titular turkeys, ReelFX enjoyed a certain amount of freedom when it came to Free Birds. "This isn't for the studio, we're making it for ourselves. I think there's a learning curve there where you've got to pull back on your own desires," says Walter.

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The final elements are approved and sent to the compositing team to be combined with other render elements


"For the first time we got to push ourselves," says Scott, echoing Walter's sentiments. "One of the tricks with a client is to find out what the client wants and to try to get there as quickly as possible and move on. Now is our chance to raise the bar; we could look at our work and call attention to certain details. We could spend more time to make it more story-driven."

Free Birds was also Monika's first job at ReelFX, and she appreciated being able to create AVIAN from the ground up. "Everybody contributed, everybody came up with solutions, and in the end I think we made a really great film – it's funny, it's entertaining – I like those kinda movies! We're really proud of it."

Free Birds is released on 1 November in the USA and 29 November in the UK.

Related links


ReelFX website
The Free Birds movie official site


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