Shrek the Third, the next installment of the DreamWorks/PDI green ogrefranchise, has been in production for three and a half years. A crew ofroughly 350 artists handled storyboards, layout, modeling, rigging,surfacing, animation, effects and lighting for the latest installment,with Shrek 4 to follow and a Christmas special called Shrek the Hallsalso due. Over the years, PDI has continued to make technologicaladvances.Where live-action storyboard artists work out spatial information, theShrek storyboard artists are more like scriptwriters, tasked withfinding the emotional beats, often working from a loose script oroutline. The layout department starts with storyboards and blocks outthe initial action, figuring out the best camera angles and where the”actors” should be standing.”We took care to handle the ‘camera’ as it was controlled by an actualhuman,” explained head of layout Nick Walker. “If Shrek jumps up andruns off camera, a human’s reaction would be a fraction of a secondbehind. Shrek’s head might partially leave the frame, he would notalways be centered in the camera view.” Though these moments areperfectly natural, they are essentially a mistake that has to beprogrammed in.In another example, Shrek, Donkey and Puss are on a rocking boat, butthe camera felt dead. “Fortunately, this building is full ofsuper-geniuses,” Walker commented. “Now it reacts like a Steadicam. Theship is given some oscillations and the camera is given the sameoscillations but slightly offset. As a result you wind up with a verysubtle but very accurate soft camera move that keeps the camera alive.”Multiple cameras are common. Sequences are broken down to about two tothree minutes, so a quick cutting sequence will wind up with about70–90 cameras. Some scenes are so continuous that, even though theymight treat it as three sequences, it’s essentially one long one withas many as 300 cameras total.The cast of characters has grown, and character TD supervisor LuciaModesto stepped up to the challenge. Her team handles rigging and addsall the deformations and controls, similar to adding skeleton andmuscles to the skin. They also handle all the hair controls—the way itreacts to its environment and slides over the shoulders.Good rigging requires foresight and talent. In the example of walking,we don’t consciously tell ourselves to bend the knee, lift the heel,the toe, and so on. We simply react to the needs of our situation.Setting up proper rigging helps to eliminate some of those steps forthe animators as well.In this film, Shrek must dress like a king, forced to wear high heelsin one scene. In heels, the body naturally shifts up and forward, andmoves differently to handle the shift of balance. Shrek was rigged toaccommodate two entirely different sets of movements depending on thefootwear required. But to the animators, this shift was completelytransparent, allowing them instead to focus all of their attention onacting the story out rather than the mechanics of skeletal andmusculature movement.Crowd scenes would become ridiculously cumbersome if each character hadto be designed and rigged separately, so PDI designed two males and onefemale whose physical attributes could be swapped from a library. Tocreate the varying facial features, the skull was created and overlaidwith a muscle structure and nose cartilage that defined the shapes ofthe face. The two male models have quite a few variations of skullshapes, muscle and nose cartilage. Women have many as well, with theaddition of multiple variations of the lips and shape of the mouth.With a variety of heights and girths stemming from the length of thebones and the muscle and fat padding, jaw lines, facial features, and alibrary of 2,500 costumes, scenes can be populated with 4,378additional characters without having to rebuild each one.When all is said and done, the same basic characters often are sittingright next to each other and still appear completely different, with aunique shape, facial structure, wardrobe, and animated personality.
Written by Renee Dunlop