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Making an animated film look live action (images)

Road Trip at Home: For "Rango," ILM's first fully animated feature, the task was to make it look like live action.

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Daniel Terdiman
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1 of 21 ILM/Paramount

Rango character card

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.

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Rango

The character of Rango is played by Johnny Depp in the new all-digitally animated film by "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski.
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Rango and Beans storyboard

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.
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Rango and Beans layout

Here, we see how the image for a scene between Rango and Beans has evolved from its original storyboard to what is called a layout.
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Rango and Beans final animation

Here, we see the final animation version of the scene between Rango and Beans. After this, the artists at ILM take the image and fully render it.
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Rango and Beans final rendering

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.
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Bad Bill and Rango storyboard

This is a storyboard for a scene involving Bad Bill (left), played by Ray Winstone, and Rango, inside a saloon in the fictional Mojave Desert town of Dirt, where the film is set.
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Bad Bill and Rango layout

This is the layout of the scene between Bad Bill and Rango.
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Bad Bill and Rango final animation

This is the final animation of the scene between Bad Bill and Rango.
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Bad Bill and Rango final rendering

This is the final rendering of the scene between Bad Bill and Rango, as it is seen in the film.
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Running in a bottle

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.
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Glass half broken

In another screen grab from the bottle sequence, we see Rango and his friend still running, with the glass bottle having broken in half.
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Maquette

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.
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Rango in dirty Dirt

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.
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Sun flares

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.
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Rango's eyes

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.
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Landscape

The live-action look and feel of "Rango" is evident in this landscape-at-dusk frame.
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Big fish

An image from "Rango," the new film from "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski. The film is the first-ever fully animated feature for which ILM did the visual effects.
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Bad Bill

A scene from "Rango," which stars Johnny Depp in the title role. Depp plays a chameleon who gets lost in the Mojave Desert.
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Eyes

Another image from "Rango."
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Shadows

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.

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