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December 2014
Issue: September 1, 2013

Cover Story: 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2'

By: Daniel Restuccio
CULVER CITY — Sony Pictures Imageworks’ Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 — directed by Kris Pearn and Cody Cameron — is the much-anticipated sequel to the hit 2009 movie that takes the original tale of Flint Lockwood’s food machine gone awry into the realm of mayhem caused by “foodimals” (food animal hybrids). 

Taking over the reigns from Cloudy directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the duo worked intensely for over three years on the first Cloudy: Pearn as head of story and Cameron as a story artist. When Pearn got the directing nod, “I was in England actually,” he recalls. “I was overseas doing the Aardman project (Arthur Christmas) and I think the first time I got a call I was in a bush by a river. I couldn’t hear because it was windy and I was like, ‘You want me to what?’” 

Cameron was working on Open Season 3. “I was directing that at the time,” he adds, “and Chris (Miller) and Phil (Lord) also wanted me to direct. I worked with Kris for so long, when I found that we’d be paired up I thought that was going to be great.”

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

Pearn got the animation bug as a farm kid growing up in Southern Ontario, watching Looney Tunes and drawing cartoons. “When I got to high school, I realized people actually made a living doing this,” he says. He studied animation at Sheridan College in Toronto. “When I graduated, there was so much work for 2D animators, it was just a great time to kind of be learning the craft.” After being a story artist on many animated TV shows, he eventually landed at Sony Pictures Imageworks. 



Cameron’s grandfather, Bob Youngquist, was a Disney animator from 1935 to 1970. “I used to watch him draw and I was really inspired to do the same thing. From a very early age, I was mimicking what he was doing and really wanted to get into animation.” Cameron went to CalArts, worked at DreamWorks for over seven years, and then landed at Imageworks. 

THE STORY AND LOOK

Cloudy 2 picks up just 60 seconds after the first Cloudy film. “We had a lot of tempting food from the first film that we didn’t use,” recalls Cameron. “When we talked about working on the second one, Kris was mentioning strawberries and I was talking about pickles, but then it kind of moved on to doing food/animal hybrids. These things started to happen pretty easily — when you have a watermelon and an elephant, then you have watermelophant.” 

Character designer Craig Kellman came up with a lot of the portmanteau food names and the designs for many of the creatures, including the bananostrich, hippotatomus, flamangos and susheep.

On the technical side, Pearn notes, Imageworks is really good at doing “real” in the context of matching a CG Spider-Man character to the live-action version. “What the challenge was for the first film was to give a really cartoony style that felt right in the world.” 



The look of the first film was distinctly influenced by the “This is…” books of Miroslav Sasek. “When we came in to this film, one of our design challenges [was], we were going to an organic space, something not covered by Sasek,” describes Pearn, “We looked a lot at (Disney animator) Mary Blair, because she had that graphic style that would sit nice with what Sasek did. We also challenged the art department on the Imageworks side to come up with a way to give it the look of a painting.” 

Production designer Justin Thompson spent a day painting with the entire art and production design team, as well as the directors, to create swatches, brushes and textures that would be used for the movie’s final backgrounds. Imageworks’ visual effects artists also scanned brush strokes from paintings and applied them to the foodimals.

This was combined with a technique called “depth styling”: a 2.5D system where, as the camera moves forward, things pop out of a flat space and become three-dimensional. As the camera moves away from the background, things will flatten out and become a matte painting.  

“What I noticed is a lot of CG-animated films are getting more stylized,” says Pearn, “which I love. What we were trying to do is make it feel that you really want to see the brush strokes.”


Co-directors Pearn and Cameron.

Cameron and Pearn also felt that in the first movie, the “background characters didn’t get the same amount of love” as the main characters. “If you watched Cloudy, one of the things that made us feel like we could do better was the diversity of the crowd characters,” comments Pearn.

Very early in the Cloudy 2 production, says Pearn, character designer Kellman worked with the Imageworks CRAM (Crowd Asset Management) team to come up with a system where they would design five or six male and female characters and then merge, morph and randomize between the character elements to create thousands of variations. “They could just punch in numbers and it would spit out these crazy characters,” Cameron notes. “Some of them didn’t work, but you could go through and select the ones you wanted to keep.”

Pearn is also proud that on the production side, they successfully implemented a process that got conversations going early on between the 2D design team, the 3D design team and the layout team. 

“In CG, because of cost, you can only build so many props or so many characters,” Cameron notes, “where in traditional animation, if you want it, you can just draw it and it’s there. With 3D animation everything is storyboarded up front, and we have animatics, and we only build really what we need. We do design sets and build sets, but you don’t have to build everything.

“I think we ended up getting pretty much everything we wanted,” recalls Cameron, “but you have to think about how important the gag is and if you want to build a prop just for that gag.”



Animation supervisor Alan Hawkins says the team used custom versions of Autodesk’s Maya, as well as The Foundry’s Katana. The Phase 2 Face Rig tool was updated, allowing changes directly to character features. Body rig tools were also enhanced. The studio built up their library of pre-made poses and walks cycles from Cloudy with new tweaking tools and custom controllers. Historically, Hawkins says animated movies have 40 to 50 animators over a period of a few years, but for Cloudy 2, they had about 100 animators each working over five months.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 opens September 27.