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Sony Pictures Digital Productions Applies Finishing Touch to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

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Sony Pictures Digital Productions' Sound and Colorworks units handled much of the post work for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.
Sony Pictures Digital Productions’ Sound and Colorworks units handled much of the post work for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.

Postproduction work for Sony Pictures Animation’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, the sequel to the 2009 animated feature, was completed by Sony Pictures Digital Productions (SPDP) on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City. SPDP talent oversaw sound editorial, sound mixing, color grading and editorial finishing for the animated movie, working alongside their counterparts from Sony Pictures Imageworks (SPI) and Sony Pictures Animation, who created the film’s final animation. It is the latest project to use an integrated workflow linking production, animation, visual effects and postproduction operations on the Sony lot. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 released nationwide in 2D and 3D Sept. 27.

“Artists and technical experts from within Sony Pictures Digital Productions came together to create a gorgeous, fun-filled, comedy adventure that is a worthy successor to the original Cloudy,” said Bob Osher, president, Sony Pictures Digital Productions. “Availing themselves of the latest technology and working together in a collaborative environment, they have raised the bar for creative imagination and technical execution. I’m thrilled audiences worldwide can now enjoy the results.”

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is larger in scope than its predecessor, featuring many of the same memorable characters while also introducing new visual elements including the fantastic food-animal creatures – “foodimals” – ranging from “cantalopes” and “flamangos” to intimidating “cheespiders.” Several new locations have also been added such as a colorful bioluminescence plant-filled forest, a syrup and pancake breakfast bog and a salsa river with pico de gallo foliage as well as the urban metropolis of San Franjose.

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SPI’s effects artists faced formidable challenges in creating some of the environments. The effects team employed cutting-edge particle generating software to simulate a variety of phenomena particular to the imaginary world of Swallow Falls, including a lake filled with coconut milk and a bog of maple syrup.

“The artists who do that stuff are the ‘mad scientists,’ the brightest of the bright,” explained Pete Travers, Sony Pictures Imageworks’ visual effects supervisor. “They have to understand the mathematics of the problem, but they also need an artistic eye.” Travers points to a sequence where the heroes are traveling down a river in a police vehicle and encounter rapids. According to Travers, simulating the chaotic motion of the water “required an incredible amount of calculation, bouncing molecules, tension and fluid cohesion, and all of it needs to be taken into account.”

The foodimals were a central preoccupation of the film’s sound artists. Supervising sound editor Geoffrey Rubay and his team helped to evoke the personalities of the creatures through a myriad of inventive vocalizations and sound effects. Nearly, all of those sounds were produced from organic rather than digital sources. In fact, recordists and Foley artists employed real food – lettuce, celery, watermelons and so on – to produce many of the sounds heard in the film.

LR-3Colorworks_Cloudy2_04Attaching sounds produced by fruits and vegetables to the foodimal characters made them appear more lifelike. “We use sounds from the real world because they’re familiar,” Rubay explained. “When you hear them, your brain recognizes that it’s heard that sound before and concludes that what it’s looking at must be real.”

The film’s soundtrack was mixed by veteran re-recording mixers Michael Semanick and Tom Johnson on a dubbing stage on the Sony lot. Along with the sound effects and dialogue, the mixers worked with musical elements from composer Mark Mothersbaugh.

The film’s colorful visuals and the non-stop action plot prompted Semanick and Johnson to take a restrained approach with the soundtrack. “Visually the movie is full. There is a lot going on,” Semanick explained. “If we had put sound to everything, it would have become a wall of sound and may have pushed audiences away. Instead, we were very careful and only used sound that helped the story. We hit the things that needed to be hit and drew attention where it needed to be drawn. We created dynamics. We let the quiet parts be very quiet, so that the loud parts didn’t need to be so loud. We let it breathe naturally.”

Picture postproduction was completed at Colorworks, Sony Pictures Digital Productions’ digital intermediate facility. Colorist Trent Johnson applied the final color grade, working under the supervision of directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, production designer Justin Thompson and Travers. “On an animated feature, if the artists have done their job, the DI should proceed very smoothly, and it was very much that way on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,” Travers said. “Trent was very good at addressing subtleties both within scenes and between scenes to create a consistent look.”

Postproduction work was aided by the close proximity of the animation, visual effects, sound and digital intermediate teams. Efficiency was also boosted by a common workflow that gave all parties equal access to production assets.

As Johnson explained, picture and sound files for the film were stored on a vast shared storage environment called the Sony Production Backbone. “We were involved with Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks early on in the production to create a seamless pipeline,” Johnson said. “All of the data comes to us from the Backbone. We received updates and fixes in a fraction of the time it would take to send a drive or use an FTP. That was very helpful during the grading sessions as it allowed us to provide the directors with immediate results.”

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 picks up where the original film left off. Inventor Flint Lockwood thought he saved the world when he destroyed his most infamous invention – a machine that turned water into food causing cheeseburger rain and spaghetti tornadoes. But Flint soon learns that his invention survived and is now creating foodimals. Flint and his friends embark on a mission to battle hungry tacodiles, shrimpanzees, hippotatomuses, cheespiders and other foodimals to save the world.

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