Video games have been around for five decades now, since invading arcades in the ‘70s. Walt Disney Animation Studios has been exploring the rich history of games with its latest 3D computer-animated film, Wreck-It Ralph, which opens November 2nd. The movie follows the journey of an 8-Bit bad guy (in the game world of Fix-It Felix Jr.) named Ralph who just wants to be liked. What transpires is an adventure across multiple arcade games that shows the evolution of gaming through the years.
Mike Gabriel, art director on Wreck-It Ralph, has over 30 years of animation experience. He directed Pocahuntas and The Rescuers Down Under and designed the castle logo that you see before every Disney movie. With Wreck-It Ralph, he found a brand new challenge in video games.
“My goal was to make the audience forget it was a video game movie,” said Gabriel. “We don’t want the audience wishing they had a controller in their hands.”
There’s also the negative stereotype around video game movies, in general, as Hollywood has churned out a lot of bad movies over the years. But gaming continues to grow in popularity, and Disney realizes there’s a huge audience of gamers out there. After all, Disney Interactive makes games.
“We put a lot of things in there for gamers,” said Gabriel. “We kept characters the same throughout the worlds so they don’t change as worlds change. Ralph remains an 8-Bit character even as the game worlds improve. We wanted to keep the audience invested in these characters.”
Wreck-It Ralph offered a serious challenge for animators with over 150 characters. And that’s not including the thousands of cameos from real game protagonists and antagonists that appear in the game. There are also four unique worlds that the central characters explore.
Gabriel said his team built each world around shapes. The 8-Bit world, Niceland, has a pixel grid feel to it with lots of squares and clean layout. And yes, there is pixilation just like in the game world. The color scheme was a combination of vivid colors and black. Ian Gooding, art director, said the level of detail in the film is amazing.
“The video game interiors and environments are supporting characters in the film,” said Gooding. “They tell you a lot about story and characters. Everything in Niceland reflects the limited capabilities of ‘80s processors. We have square olives in the martinis in the penthouse penthouse. We actually have curves in this world with wallpaper designs and lights, but we made them with aliasing so they have pixilated edges. Even the pock marks in the stone and brick are square.”
One of the challenges with the environments in the film was to create the illusion that people actually live here. The concept of the film is that when the arcade closes for the night, the game characters punch out of work and go home to their lives. The Nicelanders like contemporary architecture, which serves as a humorous contrast to their Weebles look.
Game Central, which is the game’s version of Grand Central Station, was built on verticals. Everything is shaped like a plug, since this is literally where all the plugs from the arcade machines meet up. This area also makes for the perfect avenue for all types of game characters to intermingle.
Hero’s Duty, which is based on the latest first-person shooter games, was designed around triangles. It’s a very hostile atmosphere with fog and flying debris. It’s also the home for the Cy-bugs that end up wreaking havoc throughout the film’s plot. Gabriel said even these bugs were built around triangle shapes. Ridley Scott served as inspiration for this game world.
The art team created the ‘90s-inspired kart racing game Sugar Rush around circles and soft pastels. Lorelay Bove, visual development artist, said Candyland serves as an inspiration for this racing world – although there’s no gingerbread or candy canes. The Spanish artist also found inspiration from Gaudi. A team of animators traveled to Barcelona to study the architecture to bring the rhythmic movements and flow of shapes and patterns to the game levels.
“We took Gaudi and the modernist movement and used it to reinvent the candy house in a new way,” said Bove. “We also traveled to the international candy fair in Cologne, Germany, where we found patterns and inspiration.”
All of these worlds’ patterns converge at the end of the film, but we’ll keep those details under the vest for now so everyone can enjoy the full movie experience in theaters.
To be continued in part 2
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.