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Quint's second visit to the Mouse House for BOLT! With Pics!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the second part of my continuing coverage of the production of Walt Disney Animation’s BOLT. I hope you were able to give my introductory visit a read, the one where I shadowed John Lasseter for 2 hours as he worked with the directors and animators to fine-tune new scenes and give pointers during the script meeting for new lines, jokes and character moments. I was able to swing up to LA just after Comic-Con and pay another visit to the Mouse House for my next visit, this time with director Byron Howard (co-director Chris Williams was laid up with the super-geek virus that he caught at Comic-Con) for a couple of hours as he looked over new or tweaked shots with all the individual animators. My time at Disney was rescheduled, moved back a few days from when it was supposed to be. As a result it butted against a previous commitment, so the visit was cut a little short. I was supposed to be a part of the “Sweat Box” which I was told did not, in fact, involve a naked fight with Viggo Mortensen, unfortunately, but rather a creative meeting with the heads of departments on the status of BOLT. I’m told on my next go ‘round at Disney that might be a possibility, but for this report you will read about my experiences as the individual animators brought their daily work in to be reviewed by Byron and give the overall impression of how the day to day is run on a flick like this.

Starting above and continuing through the length of this article you’ll see four pictures with this article that will detail the visual evolution of the animation from beginning (storyboard) to rough layout to rough animation to final lighting. The character in question is Rhino, the ADD hamster and Bolt’s biggest fan. Hrmm… fat with orange fur… fanboy… Nope, don’t know where I was going with that. Anyway, I was led into the screening room where Byron Howard was, surrounded by the animation department heads, sitting next to the device that sportscasters use to mark plays and stuff on a moving screen. Howard first explained why everybody was bearded. Apparently they were (at the time) two weeks away from finishing animation, so they were all not shaving, keeping their “play-off beards” until that was done. And then, when it comes time to shave again they were going to draw different kinds of crazy facial hair styles out of hat and force whomever draws it to shape their beards into that and wear it to work for a day. I told them they have to include the Hitler-stache… I mean, you need to have at least one that everyone dreads as they pull it from the hat. I think they said that the Hitler was nixed. Why not call it The Chaplin? Man. Fuck you, Hitler. Ruined a perfectly good mustache for everybody else. So, with that silliness out of the way, the ground rules were set up. In this room, if a shot is approved, everybody claps. If something falls onto the floor, everybody claps. Apparently the room has a curse on it that magnetically pulls things off of people’s laps and sends them crashing to the floor. I almost had it happen to me before I left, but thankfully my cat-like reflexes saved me from being applauded.

Before the main group of animators (about 60 people) were brought in, the heads looked over the shots of the day, which ranged from rough animation to damn near finished, from a half a second long to many seconds long. The clips were all scattershot, from all over the picture. On the top of the shots were information… number of frames in the shot, animator’s name/initials and any extra info. On one of the shots, up top was a “Hi, Quint!” so apparently my visit wasn’t secret. So, hi back to whomever that was! Just like on the last visit, what impressed me was the intense attention to detail. They broke down every scene into frames, saying one aspect of Bolt’s movement must have 4 frames more to look more realistic, or a few less frames, etc. I wish I could describe whole scenes for you, but these were really just pieces. Sometimes it was Bolt scratching behind his ear for a few seconds, sometimes it was Penny in danger, kicking off some ropes… There was one bit between Bolt and Mittens where bolt’s stomach is rumbling. Remember this is a new sensation for the dog who has been under the illusion that the TV series he’s been starring in since he was a puppy is real life. So, he’s freaking out, convinced that he’s been poisoned by the cat (all cats are evil). He pins Mittens to the ground demanding the antidote and she’s forced to try to explain hunger to the dog, trying to conceal her amusement.

One thing that did stand out to me as being really cool was watching Byron use the light pen and board to illustrate his specific thoughts. I’m fascinated by people who can draw and draw well. There were moments when Byron wanted Mittens’ head turned a little more, so he’d just freeze the image and draw the angle he’s thinking of… and skip forward a few frames on the video and sketch another outline and again and when they played it back at full force you’d see flashes of what he’s looking for over the rough animation, moving itself. I was once against struck on how friendly and collaborative the environment was. All the animators were free to throw in their thoughts, but nobody seemed snarky. Everybody was supportive and working towards the same goal. I didn’t feel any tension… not that there’d be anything overt while a reporter was visiting, but you can feel it if it’s there. Before I had to take off, they had just finished the dailies and asked if I wanted to see a scene from the last visit, a continuation on the progress of the LA pigeons. You can read a full breakdown of my experiences as Chris and Byron pounded out this scene with Lasseter and the writers in my first report. The scene had progressed from storyboards to rough grayscale animation in the month since the previous visit and it was just as funny. In fact, Kraken was with me and experiencing all this for the first time and the LA pigeons had him gut-laughing. I guess there’s something about scummy Hollywood douchebags that really work onscreen. I was able to see a few finished moments before having to run out and the animation was gorgeous, almost as shocking to the eye as going from a dark room to sunny garden. As an example, here’s the final pic of Rhino, with full lighting and texture:

Thanks again to the folks at Disney, Andrew Runyon, the dearly departed (from Disney) Jack Pan and of course the Bolt team (including Byron, Lino and all the animators) for letting me observe them at work. We got another visit in the works for next month, which hopefully won’t be truncated like this one was. Keep an eye peeled! -Quint

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