SAN FRANCISCO--On March 4, "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski's latest film, "Rango," will open in theaters everywhere. Starring Johnny Depp, the movie is a Western that's 100 percent CGI. It's the first-every fully animated film for the Industrial Light & Magic visual effects house. But with Verbinski's direction, ILM set out to create a style that made the animation look like it was live action.
As part of his Road Trip at Home series, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman visited ILM last week to find out how to make a digitally animated film look like live action.
This is one of dozens of character cards that were created to allow the teams working on "Rango" to get a sense of the characters they were dealing with. This is the card for Rango.
This is a storyboard of a scene involving Rango (left), played by Johnny Depp, and Beans, played by Isla Fisher. Over the next three slides, you can see how the imagery for the scene developed from storyboard to finished frame.
This is the final rendering of the frame in the scene with Rango and Beans. Here we see all the lighting elements, as well as the backgrounds, textures, and other things that make the animation in "Rango" appear almost as if it is live-action footage.
This is a screen grab from a "Rango" animation sequence in which the title character and a friend run from a belligerent hawk. Rango is inside a glass bottle, and his friend is seen with his image distorted through the glass.
One technique the ILM team used to create the characters for "Rango" was to create 3D maquette models, like the one on the left. With these, they could see how the character will look from all sides before they animate its details.
In order to properly convey the sense that the town of Dirt is a Western-worthy town, director Gore Verbinski asked for a look and feel that conveyed the sense of dirt and dust one might see in the desert. The goal was to make the town look like it would in a live-action film.
Another technique used in the film to make it seem like live-action was to build in digital sun flares and other effects that one would see in a normal film when the sun is shining directly at the camera.
In keeping with the run-down feel of a Western, the "Rango" crew wanted to make sure the animated characters' eyes didn't have the clean and fresh, ping-pong ball look seen in most animated films. While some characters did have large eyes, "if they were ping-pong balls, they'd been in a couple matches and hit the floor a few times," said associate animation supervisor Kevin Martel.
In a bid to make the lighting seem realistic, ILM made many of the high-noon scenes in the film appear to have shadows that slashed across characters' faces, as they would if they were wearing hats in the sun.