The Science And Artistry Of 'Epic'

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By Katherine Erlikh

As a geek, I love it when the things I get fangasms over are really detailed. I go crazy for the tiniest details in an episode of "Sherlock" or "Supernatural"; I could spend hours analyzing the "Avengers" movie. As a music geek, I could spend days and weeks extolling the virtues of an album that is so well put together, that its theme reverberates through the entire thing from the booklet to the last note. This, of course, applies to movies, and "Epic’s" Media Day (arranged specially to celebrate the 8/20 Blu-ray/DVD release of Epic) gave me a glimpse of just how detailed the movies coming out right now are. Take for example "Epic" – it took a whopping decade to make the movie a reality!

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"Epic" is a movie created by Blue Sky Studios, creators of the "Ice Age" franchise. The premise of the movie is that a teenage girl gets shrunk and recruited by a nature spirit that rules over the forests and the two-inch tall “Leafmen” that live within. As part of the press day, we were given a tour of Blue Sky Studios in Greenwich, CT, and an insight into just how much work goes into making a CGI movie with three-dimensional characters. There are animators whose only task is to design the textures of the fabrics; there are physicists whose job is to develop techniques that make CGI more realistic. Currently, Blue Sky Studios boasts the most advanced rendering software used in production.

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I found myself very fascinated by the creation process, and all of the different stages that went into making a movie. Epic’s character design process, for example, involved physicists studying the petals of flowers and the way they reflected light, just to create a dress for one character. The architecture of the towns and residences found in "Epic’s" world are specially designed to resemble an environment you would find in nature. Characters are designed specifically in a way that is meant to suggest to the viewer, if you were to spot them in the forest or your backyard, you would not think anything was out of place because their camouflage was so fantastic.

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Creating a movie such as Epic takes a long time. As I previously mentioned, it took about 10 years to bring the movie to fruition. The riggers (such as Senior character Technical Director Sabine Heller) often end up working for months on setting up what is essentially a CGI character’s skeleton and muscle, making sure that the character is able to perform any and all motions that the animators would need them to. We were told that Nim Galuu, for example, took several months longer than a normal character would, because he had six arms, six legs, and unusual body structure. While there would be more reference for movement for a human or humanoid character that an animator could work with, a character so far removed from humanity would require just a bit of improvisation. Additionally, an animator would normally complete about 2-3 seconds of animation per week; at that speed, progress can be a little slower when compared with a traditionally filmed movie. Currently, Blue Sky Studios have movies planned all the way through to 2018.

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Possibly my absolute favorite part of the tour was the assortment of stunning sculptures and models collected around Lead Sculptor Vicki Saullls’s office. I was astonished to see how realistic and alive they seemed; it was as if the characters were ready to come to life, even though they were rendered in gray clay. Some models are sculpted by hand; others are created using a 3D printer. These models are often used for the creation of action figures, toys and tie-in materials.

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I find it absolutely fascinating, what sort of things can be brought to life, using these techniques. "Epic" is a very beautiful, highly detailed movie, and I look forward to the innovations in CGI that are certain to come from Blue Sky Studios.