Inside Walt Disney Animation Studios, there’s a real-life replica of the arcade movie-goers will see come November 2 when Wreck-It Ralph hits theaters. This real arcade celebrates the golden age of gaming with classic quarter-munchers like Q*Bert, Galaga, Pac-Man and even a functioning Fix-It Felix Jr. 8-Bit arcade game (designed by a classic game veteran for Disney marketing).
In order to bring this new computer-generated 3D film to life, the team at Disney worked together to blend the latest effects with computer animation. According to Adolph Lusinsky, director of look and lighting on Wreck-It Ralph, the effects work on this film dwarfs anything Disney had done in previous films.
“We had to create three believable videogame worlds in this film,” said Lusinsky. “We worked with Mike Gabriel to go over rules of each world. Niceland, which is Ralph’s 8-Bit World, uses simple shapes and repeating patterns. Sugar Rush, which is Vanellope von Schweetz’s world, is more about cartoon physics and charming candy landscapes. Hero’s Duty, which is home to Sergeant Calhoun, is all about state-of-the-art realistic effects.”
Cesar Velazquez, effects supervisor on the film, said it was important that the stylized worlds of Niceland and Suger Rush retained their unique style. A 2D animator did draw-overs of the effects, which offered a different take from what a simulator would offer.
“We wanted to maintain the charm of each individual world so that everything remained cartoony in Sugar Rush, as an example,” said Velazquez. “Sometimes there were subtle differences with how a cloth simulator brought King Candy’s curtains to life versus how animators would draw it.”
There’s a sequence in a Niceland penthouse apartment early in the film where Ralph accidently destroys a 30th Anniversary cake. The team took a real cake and dropped it and then hand-animated the way the cake exploded for the film.
“With Niceland we wanted to retain simple textures and shapes, which was actually a challenge for us,” said Lusinsky. “We want the film to have a certain amount of richness, so not being able to add details like brick textures in the 8-Bit world was tough.”
One game world that allowed the team to go all-out was the first-person shooter world of Hero’s Duty. Velazquez said this world was more straight-forward computer animation.
“Hero’s Duty is about realism,” said Velazquez. “It’s about giving viewers the sense of the fog of war. We layered a lot of effects like smoke, steam and debris to give movement and make you feel like these characters are in this war. Flashes and sparks were added later to finish off this dark and eerie world.”
One of the most important effects in the movie comes in the form of a central character, von Schweetz. Like Ralph, she’s an outcast in her game world. She’s a glitch in the program and the other racers won’t allow her to take part in the game. The glitch comes to life through a flickering effect that happens throughout the film.
“The initial timing of the glitch effect was set up by animation so that the effect would support and accent her emotional state,” said David Hutchins, effects supervisor on the film. “We mix in a slightly different pose that reinforces that. We created her geometry and built that glitch effect in that place. They added the glow and lens glare in lighting. It’s something that stayed in the 3D world. It’s not a post-process effect, so in stereo you can really feel the building blocks come apart and back together. The glitch is a reflection of her emotional state. She has different glitches depending on whether she’s nervous or very sad.”
Having seen 30 minutes of the film, Von Schweetz and Ralph really come to life thanks to strong, emotional performances from Sarah Silverman and John C. Reilly. Disney had these two actors record their lines together to bring the animation to life in a more realistic manner. And coupled with the amazing visuals, it certainly looks like the process worked.
John Gaudiosi has spent the past 20 years covering the $75 billion videogame industry for top international print, online and television outlets like The Washington Post, Wired, Playboy, AOL, Yahoo!, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today Weekend, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters, Forbes, NBC, CBS and Geek Magazine. He specializes in the converge of games and Hollywood. He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife and dogs and can be reached at JGaudiosi@aol.com.