Animating the Indy 500 with ‘Turbo’

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Turbo, DreamWorks Animation’s latest 3D film, hits theaters today with an all-star cast including Ryan Reynolds, who lends his voice for the film’s main character, Turbo, an ordinary garden snail with speedy aspirations.

Turbo is directed by David Soren, who makes his directorial debut, but is far from a newbie in the world of computer animation. This DreamWorks veteran was previously a story artist for Over the Hedge, Shark Tale, and Shrek. It’s no surprise, then, that Soren hired Dario Franchitti, four-time IndyCar Series champion, to be a technical consultant for Turbo, which features numerous race scenes including one set at the Indianapolis 500.

Making the racing sequences as authentic as possible has been a high priority for the film’s animation team, which includes Computer Animation grad Jack Geckler. Jack was part of the animation team for Kung Fu Panda 2, which was nominated for a 2012 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

He is joined by two other Full Sail grads in the production of Turbo: Film grad Shawn Bohonos and Game Development grad Stephen Cooney. We caught up with Jack before Turbo’s premiere to learn about the production of this summer’s big animated release.

Full Sail: Can you tell us a little about your role in the film?

Jack Geckler: I was a crowds artist on this film. I had just come off being the lead crowds artist for Rise of the Guardians and came onto this film about halfway through its cycle. Our role as crowds artists is to support the hero animated characters in the film.

Say for example you were watching Kung Fu Panda and Po was on the screen surrounded by villagers. Po would be animated by our animation department and [the crowds artist] department would handle all the other characters. Now this can sometimes be just two guys standing right next to the hero character or 100,000 people filling the stands of a stadium. Our department is somewhat of a hybrid between animation department and the FX department.

I was initially tasked with one of the [most complex] shots we would have on the film, as it involved the pit changes at the big race. The shot is a combination of a large crowd (stands, background characters and other pits) and then a small crowd which would be the pit crew themselves acting like an actual pit crew. I get extremely excited when I get handed these challenging shots and am really happy with the end result.

FS: What were some of the ways this film broke the boundaries of what DreamWorks has done before?

JG: I think for our department at least it was on the sheer number of crowds. We have done other movies with thousands of characters before, including Megamind, Madagascar, and How To Train Your Dragon, but to replicate the Indy 500 you need a massive number or characters, and you need for it to all look as if you are right there with them.

The typical approach would be that, if you were to see 100,000 characters, then you should render all of them, which obviously takes up a considerable amount of disk space and also render time for our lighting department. So, instead, we ran with the idea of using what the visual effects industry has been using for years and came up with our own “card” or “billboard” solution for any characters in the stands who were at a far distance or out of focus.

This is a similar technique used by game studios, and it allowed us to speed up render times and focus on the main crowd characters that needed the most attention. This, of course, isn’t groundbreaking but was certainly a step in the right direction as far as pushing the crowds in our movie to numbers we hadn’t been able to before.

FS: What are some of the behind-the-scenes details that most movie-watchers have no idea goes into the creation of Turbo?

JG: I think something a lot of people don’t realize is how long it actually takes to make one of these movies. I think it becomes easy to think that since we have at least one movie out a year it must just take that long to make one, but in actuality it takes years and a ton of preparation by hundreds of people to get these movies made.

Also, on this movie in particular, since part of it takes place at the Indy 500, a lot of the crew went to the race and talked to the racers to get our movie to feel as close to the real thing as we could. This movie takes place in the real world, unlike Kung Fu Panda or How To Train Your Dragon, so you spend a lot of time on research and reference to not leave out any details to the fans of racing who will catch all the little pieces. It’s a beautiful movie and I think audiences and race fans alike will love it.

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One thought on “Animating the Indy 500 with ‘Turbo’

  1. Kristin McHam says:

    I love computer Animation 🙂

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