WAY OUT OF THE BOX
"Joel Aron tuned into the esthetic of the picture really early," says Slevin. "He got to know the film, the director and the producer really well - he got to know where and how they wanted to invest the 3D."
ILM veteran Joel Aron had been a CG supervisor for four years when this spring he was promoted to digital production supervisor on Chicken Little - a change for a guy who considers his work more creative and out-of-the-box. As it turned out, Aron was given a mandate to think way out of the box to make this project work. "We just kept pushing and [Disney] started to see the evolution of what we were able to do," Aron says. "Alan Trombla, Judd Parsons, David Humphries and I worked together to develop something in a matter of weeks.
Although ILM could not "touch" Disney's Chicken Little content, they did get every element they needed to create stereo 3D: Disney's final comp; all their geometry (they did everything in Alias Maya); all their rendered layers; and their Apple Shake script. "We got all that and we built a module within 'Zeno' [ILM's proprietary animation system] so you would be able to launch a Chicken Little version of Zeno, and it would automatically have all the Disney geometry in it for that shot," Aron says.
LOOK BUT DON'T TOUCH
"We were not able to go into their elements and change anything they had done." Aron says Slevin and he assured Disney executives that "no matter what, our render of the right eye is going to look exactly like your final comp, which is being treated as the left eye. There was not a lot of margin to play with - we would go in and play with the depth. There was a lot of trickery done with the depth - we would foreshorten things; make them look longer; we'd make something look deeper. When we were close up on Chicken Little, we'd send the background with a different depth so that the background looks like this big world and Chicken Little looks like you're up on him really close." It's kind of a "vertigo effect" that Aron loves from his favorite movie, Jaws.
In some respects the stereo processing could be automated - artists on a given shot could select a layer (background, foreground or other), select its relevant geometry and, simply put, "hit render." The process benefits from parallel camera rig technology developed by ILM's stereographic guru Phil McNally. The parallel camera process also provides a more natural viewing experience and prevents viewer eye fatigue.
Aron and company (the crew would fluctuate around 60 in number, sometimes more) got more creatively involved in certain shots. You'll see one very tense scene where Chicken is at bat in a close baseball game. Aron set the background very deep and brought the star's head so close "you feel like you're inside Chicken's helmet."
Aron's group also wrote tools within Zeno "that fill in the pixels that maybe weren't there or may not be visible from the [newly created] right eye. If the character had hair, feathers or whiskers sticking out, Zeno had to figure out the depth of those and render it from the right eye."
"It was tremendously fun," Slevin says now. "It took us back to our legacy of innovation - we had to figure out something that we'd never, ever done before. Not just shot-specific challenges, but 'How the hell are we going to do this?'"
"It allowed us to give Mark Dindal his vision of the 'tiny little chicken in a gigantic world,'" Aron says. "That's exactly what Dindal said when he saw the first stereo test from ILM. 'Oh! This is exactly what I've been trying to get across in this entire movie!' It works really well with a movie that wasn't intended to be in 3D."
"You almost get immersed in the screen," says Chuck Viane. "You almost feel like you're part of the actual frame of the movie. That's what made it happen."