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Toon Tuesday : "Shrek the Third" artists & technicians tried hard not to ogre-compensate

Toon Tuesday : "Shrek the Third" artists & technicians tried hard not to ogre-compensate

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Prepared for an ogre makeover?

Well, get ready to meet a new and improved Shrek in “Shrek the Third,” a widely anticipated summer blockbuster hitting neighborhood multiplexes May 18.

But if all goes as planned by the film’s creative team, you won’t notice the subtle improvements. You’ll simply enjoy a funny, entertaining story featuring the beloved animated green ogre, his princess bride, Fiona, sidekicks Donkey and Puss in Boots, and a huge cast of storybook and fairytale creatures — from crowd favorites like Pinocchio and the Gingerbread Man to new characters of Artie, Merlin, Snow White and others added to the franchise’s third chapter.

The original “Shrek” film began production nearly a decade ago. New computer models of Shrek, Fiona and other legacy characters were constructed for “Shrek the Third,’’ a task that fell to Lucia Modesto, character technical director supervisor, and her team.

Lucia Modesto, Character TD Supervisor on "Shrek the Third"
Photo courtesy of PDI / DreamWorks

“The hard thing about rebuilding Shrek is he had to be better, but look the same,” Modesto said. “The motor inside Shrek is all brand new and the outside is almost the same.”

These new models gave animators much more control over Shrek’s movements.

“For the first time, we have more serious acting moments in ‘Shrek the Third,’ ” said Tim Cheung, head of character animation. “A little bit of a change in the brow movement can change the entire attitude or emotion of a character.”

Modesto and Cheung are two of 10 key people who talked about creating “Shrek the Third” during a recent media event at PDI-Dreamworks Animation, just south of San Francisco International Airport.

PDI / DreamWorks Animation Studio in Redwood City, CA.
Photo courtesy of PDI / DreamWorks

The day began with director Chris Miller screening about 20-minutes of footage from the upcoming PG-rated film.

“Everybody is back. All of the original cast,” Miller said, referring to vocal talent Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews and others.

That continuity is also reflected in the film’s creative team. Many of them worked on “Shrek,” “Shrek 2” or both. Many remain working on the franchise with “Shrek the Halls” — a holiday TV special for ABC — and “Shrek 4,” both in the production pipeline.

“So much of the crew in place worked on the first two movies. It was a pretty well-oiled machine to step into,” Miller said. “I just had to give them the room to do what they do so well and stay out of the way.”

Miller, who was promoted to the director’s chair after serving as head of story on “Shrek 2,” revealed a few story tidbits as he showed about a half-dozen extended clips.

Shrek and Fiona are still in Far Far Away. They want to get back to their vermin-infested swamp, but Fiona’s dad, King Harold the frog, has taken ill. With Harold sick, Fiona and Shrek have agreed to take over the day-to-day duties of the kingdom.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

But it’s one slapstick mishap after another as poor Shrek gets a taste of royal life. There’s brave souls to be knighted, ships to launch and a sidesplitting bit of business involving a wardrobe malfunction.

Harold would like to see Shrek become king, but Shrek doesn’t want the responsibility of the throne. Before he croaks, the king tells Shrek the only other person who can be lead Far Far Away is Fiona’s cousin, Artie — an underachieving student at Worcestershire Academy.

So Shrek sets sail with Puss in Boots and Donkey to find the gangly teen. But before the giant ogre leaves, Fiona tells him she’s pregnant — another responsibility that Shrek’s not ready for, Miller said.

With Harold dead and Shrek away, Prince Charming elicits the help of the villains at the Poison Apple Tavern to seize control of Far Far Away, declare himself king and give the villains their long-denied happily-ever-afters.

The miscreants swoop down on witches’ brooms and storm the castle a short time after Snow White has revealed her gift to Fiona at a baby shower — a live-in baby-sitter who also happens to be one of the dwarfs. “Don’t worry,” she tells Fiona, “I’ve got six more at home.” The baby shower is attended by Fiona’s mother — Queen Lillian — Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella, a narcoleptic Sleeping Beauty and the ugly stepsister voiced by Larry King.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

“Prince Charming, voiced by Rupert Everett, is definitely the bad guy this time around,” Miller said. “In ‘Shrek 2,’ he was supposed to take over the kingdom. But it didn’t work out for him. He lost his mom and he’s got a major chip on his shoulder.”

As Charming’s minions search for Fiona, she and her guests escape into a network of catacombs. The rest of Far Far Away’s residents are not as fortunate.

The villains, including Captain Hook and Rumplestiltskin interrogate the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio — who has mastered a very lawyerly way of speaking — and the Gingerbread Man, whose life flashes before his eyes in another great scene.

“When you have all these characters, you want to spend some time with them. But at the end of the day, they’re there to support Shrek’s story,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, Shrek finds Artie, voiced by Justin Timberlake. Artie thinks about his chance to turn from zero to hero and accept the crown, but he runs away because he’s afraid of the responsibility.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

“This is where you begin to see how similar Shrek and Artie really are,” Miller said. “They share certain personality traits — very stubborn, very much outsiders. It’s all very difficult for Shrek to deal with.”

After crashing their boat on their way back to Far, Far Away, the foursome heads to the home of Artie’s former teacher Merlin, voiced by Eric Idle. The wizard agrees to help transport the gang to the kingdom. Unfortunately, his sorcery isn’t what it used to be ...

Puss and Donkey find that they’ve switched bodies in the mystic transit. Puss has Donkey’s exuberance and Donkey now possesses Puss’ swashbuckling charm.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

Eventually, Shrek, who’s now been imprisoned beneath a theater, uncovers Charming’s plot to change the outcome of fairytale history by putting on a play wherein he slays our big green friend.

This leads to Fiona and the other princesses having to save the day in an action sequence that turns more than one fairytale convention on its head. After the footage, we moved from one aspect of the production to another, meeting with the various creative talents.

The first stop was a session with production designer Guillaume Aretos and art director Peter Zaslav. They showed off several drawings, sketches and detailed models — Far Far Away’s castle, its catacombs, the Worcestershire Academy and the ship used by Shrek and the gang — built before the film was animated.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

Aretos elaborated on the difficulties behind realizing the new challenges the art department set for itself on “Shrek the Third.”

“Every Shrek movie typically happens on the span of three days and it’s a road movie,” he said. “Every time we travel to lots of places, which we shouldn’t do in a CG movie because it’s difficult. But we’re not very smart, so we keep doing it.

“We travel everywhere in this film,” he continued. “There are 82 locations and only 15 that we’ve used in the previous movies. That means 67 of them are new — places we’ve never taken audiences before.”

Zaslav explained that for “Shrek the Third,” the filmmakers and his team wanted to do something different with the environments.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation

So where “Shrek 2” was set in Far Far Away and that was based roughly on Southern European cities, architecturally speaking, “we wanted to do something different because Shrek was going through a period of doubt about becoming a father,” he said. “We wanted to give it a little bit moodier, slightly darker, colder tone. We looked up Northern European locations for inspiration. So we end up seeing a lot of fall colors that we didn’t see in Shrek 2.”

The pair also described how some of the artwork for the film was inspired by Old Masters, including a set piece borrowing from Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”

The second stop was a visit with Nick Walker, the head of layout for “Shrek the Third.”

Nick Walker, head of layout on "Shrek the Third"
Photo courtesy of PDI / DreamWorks

“I’m essentially the director of photography for the film,” he said. “CG films actually work more akin to a live-action film than traditional animation. We’ve obviously got a virtual set and a virtual camera shooting virtual actors on that set. So layout is the group that actually goes and figures out where that camera and those actors will actually be standing on the set.”

That camera work even involves a momentary jerk or not quite centering the frame on the action to make it feel more like a film that was shot, not composed in a computer. Another thing Walker’s team did involved recreating that sense of shooting a steady-cam shot on an ocean, creating special software that slightly lags the rolling waves and makes the action far more believable.

Another thing Walker talked up was an orbiting camera shot in key scenes to underscore one of the main themes of “taking responsibility.”

“It’s just that subtle little language thing,” he said. “It just helps make that moment feel right and appropriate and supports the overall concept of the theme of the film.”

After Walker, we visited with Modesto.

In addition to talking about rebuilding Shrek, she talked about making crowd scenes far more believable by creating a half-dozen basic male and female character models with thousands of variations. Not only were animators able to change things like eye color, hair styles and a whole host of costume pieces, but these basic models could see alterations in width of shoulders, hips, length of arms and legs, etc.

Tim Cheung, head of character animation for "Shrek the Third"
Photo courtesy of PDI / DreamWorks

The fourth presentation was led by Cheung, who said that his job is “to make sure the quality of the animation is up to par and consistent throughout the entire film.”

Working on “Shrek the Third” is “like working with an old friend,” he said. “You know the character, you’re familiar with it — but that’s a good thing because you can then concentrate on the performance.”

Still, there were challenges, especially animating the new character, Artie.

“I don’t know if anyone has teenagers at home, but teenagers are challenging,” Cheung said. “Their mannerisms, the way they carry themselves. You can’t make them too old or too young so kind of finding that balance was pretty tricky.

“Artie is very realistic and to have a character look realistic, you kind of have to have the animation to reflect the emotion to make it look believable. To do realistic animation is pretty challenging. ... The more realistic the character it is the harder it is.”

When we finished with Cheung, we headed into a session with visual effects wizards Philippe Gluckman and Matt Baer.

The team has mastered many of the water, smoke and fire effects in earlier Shrek films. The challenge for “Shrek the Third,” Baer said, was creating the visuals of Merlin’s magic. They also got to shoot reference footage of a burning bra to help animate a sequence involving the empowered princesses.

"Shrek the Third" producer Aron Warner and co-directors
Chris Miller and Raman Hui (L to R)
Photo courtesy of PDI / DreamWorks

After meeting with the creative staff, we sat down with Miller, co-director Raman Hui and “Shrek the Third” producer Aron Warner.

“It’s amazing working with this crew,” said Hui, a veteran of “Shrek” and “Shrek 2.”

“It was a great experience for me,” he said. “In the first movie, I was mostly concentrating on animation and helped a little bit on the storyboarding. In ‘Shrek the Third,’ I got to see the whole process.”

Warner, who co-wrote the screenplay with Miller, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, called the story for “Shrek the Third” a “natural progression of this guy’s life and his development as an adult.

“It’s very similar in tone to ‘Shrek’ and ‘Shrek 2.’ That’s not to say there isn’t a ton of humor to go along with it, but it feels a little more rooted in the story this time around,” he said.

“If something doesn’t make us laugh, it doesn’t stay in the movie. So there’s stuff that that appeals to both our more adult side and stuff that appeals to our complete juvenile, childlike sense of humor. We end up with a good combo just by going with our gut.”

Continuing, Warner said, “I guess the differences would be that there are a lot more characters. in ‘Shrek the Third.’ It’s a bit more of a character-driven story. There’s a really strong story to it that propels everybody along.”

  • i have no desire in seeing this movie.

    looks like dreamworks can not come up with anythingnew anymore. soon we will see shrek the eight with the same lame fart, burp and throw up jokes and just a bunch of rehashed gags.

  • They've changed and improved the animation but it isn't really visible? Well, I guess it still looks like crap than.

    "“It’s very similar in tone to ‘Shrek’ and ‘Shrek 2.’ That’s not to say there isn’t a ton of humor to go along with it, but it feels a little more rooted in the story this time around,” he said."

    Sure, dream on. "Shrek" movies have never been worked around a story, only around one stupid joke after another. And this movie is stuffed with stupid jokes, annoying parodies etc etc etc.

    And those voice actors, it's like the characters don't matter, but only the actors behind them. The only reason I'm going to see the movie is because I want to see if it is an improvement over the seriously bad "Shrek 2" and to hear Julie Andrews(:D !!). I'm definitely not going to see the movie because it has such a strong story and superb animation.

    Sigh, they should hire new screenwriters at DreamWorks and send the animation staff back to school. Why can't they just do what Pixar is doing? Develop a movie that is actually *good* and has mind-blowing animation!

  • Whoo boy!

    This film ain't even out and your dissin it already? Man, that's just harsh there.

    What ever happened to seeing something before passing judgement?

    I may not be interested in this movie or any of the other ones, but I would at least want to speak from experience before giving the thing the bum's rush.

    Is that just too hard for folks any more? Guess some of us just really want to be Jerry Beck, Al Lutz or Harry Knowles.

  • Micky,

    You're rushing to judge ...

    Now, I'm a major fan of good animated films -- "Shrek" was a delightful little surprise; but, except for the introduction of Puss in Boots, I was disappointed with "Shrek 2."

    Truthfully, I haven't seen enough of "Shrek the Third" to decide if it's good or not.

    What I have seen of "Shrek the Third," scenes from various points in the story, looks promising. And that was the consensus of about a dozen journalists, including myself and AP's entertainment writer, had after seeing the clips.

    I went into this assignment thinking "Shrek the Third" might be something my wife and I could wait to see on home DVD. Now, I'm looking forward to seeing the completed film in the multiplex. Maybe not as much as "Ratatouille," "Spider-Man 3" or "PotC: At World's End," but it's made it to my list of want-to-see summer films.

    I can assure you that if "Shrek" is to continue as a viable franchise ... it won't do so with "the same lame fart, burp and throw up jokes and just a bunch of rehashed gags."

    These are smart, creative, caring and driven film-makers ... They know the obvious.

  • I didn't actually say anything constructive about the movie, most of what I said could have been concluded without seeing the film you know.

  • “The hard thing about rebuilding Shrek is he had to be better, but look the same,” Modesto said.

    Yes, that must be a hard thing to do, since the original designs are so awkward and unappealing. It's really too bad they couldn't overhaul the entire look of the film, but I guess they're stuck with those ugly character designs.

    I still believe that trying to design so realistically only results in characters that pale in comparison to live actors. Also, there is an appalling sameness to most of the human characters. Just look at that still of Fiona and her Princess pals - the girls all look exactly alike, save for their hair-dos. Cinderella and Rapunzel are indistinguishable, and they all seem to look just like Fiona's mom, too. (And if that ain't bad enough, so does Artie!)

    Compare this with the wonderful character designs in both "The Incredibles" and the upcoming "Ratatouille". By taking a more fun, caricatured approach, Brad Bird has once again created a cast of characters that are distinct personalities, helped considerably by their contrasting face and body types. In short, these characters, though caricatured, come off as being more human than the realistic mannequins that inhabit the world of "Shrek". I must admit, I've never understood the mass appeal that the "Shrek" films seem to have to today's audiences. No accounting for taste, I suppose...

  • Not that I was a HUGE fan of Shrek 2 (I agree that it was a downhill step from the first one), but there are a few things they're being wrongly criticized for, here:

    "They've changed and improved the animation but it isn't really visible? Well, I guess it still looks like crap than."

    Pixar did the same thing between Toy Story and Toy Story 2... while most people wouldn't notice the difference (because the character model itself looks very much the same), the internal structure of the main characters was totally recreated for more variety in facial poses and gestures. Seasoned animators will notice the difference, but most people watching the movie won't even have it cross their mind.

    "Yes, that must be a hard thing to do, since the original designs are so awkward and unappealing. It's really too bad they couldn't overhaul the entire look of the film, but I guess they're stuck with those ugly character designs."

    I personally like the designs of the non-human characters, and the fact that the human characters are so realistic (while unappealing to some of us) probably has helped much more than hurt. There are still too many moviegoers who have the equation of "animated = cartoon = kids" stuck in their head, and the more adult something looks (storyline aside), the more of those moviegoers might consider seeing it.

    "Cinderella and Rapunzel are indistinguishable, and they all seem to look just like Fiona's mom, too. (And if that ain't bad enough, so does Artie!)"

    Artie looking much like Fiona's mom actually makes some sense, storywise... aren't they supposed to be related for him to have the opportunity to take the throne? I know if I was creating an animated movie with the volume of new characters Shrek 3 will have, I'd probably do the same thing to save some time... and it will be the way the characters act that will help distinguish them (look at Violet and Kari in The Incredibles, for instance).

    Look, I'm not particularly stoked about seeing Shrek 3... it's just that the majority of comments here were negative and somewhat undeserved.

  • Artie looks more like Prince Charming, actually.

  • I plan to see this for one reason - DRAGON IS BACK. The second-coolest dragon in the animated universe (next to Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty). Not that I don't like Shrek - he's got real personality, and so does Donkey. Heck, I like the Puss too. The only thing I'm dreading is if the film turns into a Disney slamfest - I've had it with that stuff. When Fiona threw the Little Mermaid to the sharks - well, that kind of killed that second film for me. I like parody and satire - I'm a big fan of South Park - but the second film made me want to say "Jeffrey Katzenberg, you got shat on at Disney. We know that. I suggest you deal with it one-on-one with a therapist and stop trying to get even on film". Jeez!

  • gigglesock said:

    "Jeffrey Katzenberg, you got shat on at Disney. We know that. I suggest you deal with it one-on-one with a therapist and stop trying to get even on film"


  • Geez you guys sure are coming down harsh on something nobody's seen in full yet.

    What's the deal?

    How come the harsh words for a movie (Shrek2) that made almost a billion dollars worldwide?

    I don't get it. The Shrek story is hugely popular, otherwise we wouldn't be seeing even be talking about the third installment.

    Sure, they've poked fun at some "Disney" characters/stories. But, in reality, a lot of the characters/stories aren't even "Disney", they're Mother Goose and Grimm.

  • Why is *** starred out?

  • GrumpyFan said:

    "How come the harsh words for a movie (Shrek2) that made almost a billion dollars worldwide?"

    Just because it made almost a billion doesn't say it's quality stuff ;) Not everybody likes "Titanic" (I did like it), even though it is the all-time highest grossing film. And don't even get me started on "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" which almost made $ 900 Million. God, seriously awful and flawed movie, worst yet in the series.

  • The quality of anything is ultimately an opinion shaped by personal preferences and knowledge.

  • I don't understand why Raman's last name is being printed as ***. I've never encountered anything like that. Pardon this attempt to see it in print: It's Raman H--u--i, without those dashes.

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