Animation: Framestore brings 'Paddington' to life
Rob Goodway, Framestore
Issue: February 1, 2015

Animation: Framestore brings 'Paddington' to life

LONDON — Anyone who knows Paddington will have a good idea of what he looks like. Floppy hat, duffle coat, button eyes — details you might have variously picked up from Peggy Fortnum’s original illustrations, the BBC’s stop-motion animation or the rows of wellington-booted cuddly bears that stand in toy shops. But despite the many looks the bear has had since his creation by Michael Bond in 1958, Paddington has never had to look real, or interact with real human characters. That is, until Heyday Films and director Paul King decided on a film adaption of the famous books. That’s where Framestore (  came into the picture.

“It was challenging taking on such an iconic character,” says Andy Kind, Framestore’s visual effects supervisor on the film. “There are a lot of looks for Paddington, and everyone has their favorite, so we spent a lot of time on the design before we found something that hit the mark.”

The live action was shot at Elstree Studios and on location in London, as well as Costa Rica for the jungle scenes. During the shoot, the VFX team back at Framestore was hard at work perfecting the look of Paddington. “There was a lot of responsibility finding a photo-realistic design for a bear that people have so clear in their minds,” says animation supervisor Pablo Grillo. 

“We were keen to bring him into the real world so he would sit into the live action and, we hope, people will connect with him,” he adds. “Being anatomically correct meant we needed more detail compared with the simplicity of the original designs, which often had just two dots for eyes. We had to think about things like his wet nose, teeth and muzzle, but still make sure that what we created carried that simple essence of the original Paddington.”

King briefed the animation team on who Paddington was before they started work, focussing on every nuance of his personality. “We tried to maintain this spirit in the way we crafted the performance. “The hope was that rather than filling every moment with movement and unnecessary detail, you could just run a little wind through the fur to keep him alive and really hold some quiet moments,” says Grillo. “In contrast, we have his reactions to some of the more silly situations — to water, to marmalade, and the various conditions he’s put in. A lot of the humour of Paddington is watching him being put through the ringer.”

Furry creatures aren't new in VFX of course, but when they're the star of the show, you know you need to be top of your game. Framestore uses a proprietary hair system, fcHairFilters, which was originally developed for the polar bears in The Golden Compass back in 2007. At its heart, it’s a node-based evaluation framework where nodes (filters) can be connected arbitrarily to form a directed acyclic graph where the hair data flows along the edges and gets manipulated by the nodes. In addition to hair or feather data, the nodes can also receive other data, such as geometry or functions that change filter parameters on a per-hair basis.

The system has been developed continuously since 2007 and for last year’s crop of hairy movies (notably Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as Paddington), Framestore introduced a fourth major version, which substantially sped up the grooming process.

The improvements allow us to decouple memory requirements from the actual number of hairs in the groom and a groom can be computed with a small memory footprint that is independent of the total size of the groom. Other changes have included refinements to sharing memory between filters, and improvements to allow multiple artists to work on the same character.

One challenge during the creation of the fur effects on Paddington was the many interactions of fur with other objects that get in contact with Paddington or the other bears (including, in one sequence, Sellotape!). To handle all of these shots efficiently, we extended our toolset to be able to generate data right inside the fur system and then pass it to other packages. 

Typically, image maps are passed into the fur system to control certain aspects of the fur, but now it is also possible to write hair attributes back into a map and then use this map outside the fur system, such as for influencing simulations, for example. Another new feature is the ability to create particles on hair, which can then carry data from its parent hair out of the system. Such particles can serve as locators for instancing geometry (bread crumbs, twigs, leaves), they can serve as starting positions for droplets inside fluid simulations (including the shower in the movie), or they can be used as indicators where a particular part of the hair actually is on a certain frame.

We also expanded our set of tools to allow TDs to do final finishing up touches to parts of a groom as it can always happen that the simulated hair doesn't exactly behave the way it is supposed to and the shot still requires some manual intervention. This requires a quick way to select the offending hair and some means to change it locally. Besides simply using the same tools a groomer would use, it is also possible to make the hair visible to Maya and then apply Maya tools, such as a deformer, for example.

After grooming a furry character, the groom data is brought into fDynamoHair, our in-house fur simulation tool. Over the previous year we've substantially improved fDynamoHair, devoting considerable time to improving how we detect and resolve collisions, and how the simulator takes advantage of multi-threading.
However, with the increased complexity of the Paddington groom, and quantity of simulation controls, the fur-on-fur interactions became a bottleneck. So, for our Peruvian friend and family, we integrated a new algorithm to mimic the internal repulsion and friction forces of the groom. At each step of the simulation, density and velocity fields are created and stored on a sparse volume. Finally, the friction and repulsion forces for each hair are computed from those volumes that is faster than the naive hair vs. hair collision.

Our work is most noticeable where you see furry characters in close contact with each other (as they hug for example), with digital clothing (especially the famous duffle coat), and in shots involving fast motion.

Paddington’s appetite for accidental destruction results in long moments of physical comedy and some difficult VFX moments. He gets wet an awful lot — in the rain, in the shower, in the toilet. Those sequences were the most complex tasks in terms of visual effects and there were a number of them.

Fur and water are difficult things to create individually, so combining them multiplied the challenge. With the elements simulated using different propriety solvers (fLush for water and fDynamo for fur) that had never needed to speak to each other before, a whole new workflow had to be developed to allow interaction between the two.

The FX team would begin the process with a water simulation on top of a hairless Paddington model, which created a wet map, showing in black and white where Paddington comes into contact with water. This was the passed to the Creature Effects (CFX) team, who used it to drive the fur, making sure that in wet areas it was made to fall and clump a lot more. As soon as the dynamic for the fur was done it was passed back to FX for them to place droplets into the fur and the water dripping from it. The look would then be perfected in Lighting and Comp, who would add extra droplets at key moments in 2D.

There was a lot of fine-tuning to be done of course, as CFX supervisor Juan-Luis Sanchez explains, “The first issue was what does Paddington look like wet? We did it as it would technically happen at first, but then you lost some of what was Paddington, especially around his eyes, so we had to go back and recover his character. We blended between two or three different versions of his fur, which ranged from dry to soaked, depending on where he was getting wet. The important thing was to hit that balance between realism, the character and the comedy.”

Of course all this water results in the classic animal in a bathtub moment as Paddington shakes himself dry in two, ultra-detailed, slow-motion shots. “We really had fun with it and played up the comedy of his jowls shaking and the water flying off,” says Sanchez. “We added something extra with an fLab simulation (Framestore’s in-house fat solver) to give the ears that extra level of flap you see.”

Key to selling the shot was getting a genuine reaction from the kids. “It wasn’t a high-tech solution,” says composting supervisor, Anthony Smith. “We got a broom handle about the height of Paddington with mop-heads fixed to it all the way up. We put it in the bath, soaked it and spun it around, so we had real water hitting real kids and a real reaction. In the comp later it meant we had to remove this spinning mop-head contraption we had built, but it was the best way to do it.”

A shot of Paddington licking Judy Brown’s face was accomplished in a similar way, with Pablo creeping on-set to delicately wipe a paintbrush the size and shape of Paddington’s tongue across her face, leaving the perfect, slobber-like mark. The approach meant we had to deal with the consequences of having to remove the paintbrush, but it avoided intensive facial tracks and simulations of the liquid running down her face.

After Paddington shakes much of the water off, the Brown children use hairdryers to finish the job, which required careful placement of Paddington to make sure they were aiming in the right place and some tweaks to the groom the make his fur longer so it would show the effect of the hot air more obviously. The end result is pure comedy, as Paddington is turned into a three-foot, fur-ball. “It was just one of those crazy shots where we had to push it a bit further,” says CG supervisor Ben Loch. “We didn’t even go through our normal pipeline for that and simulated every single hair instead, so that was an extremely heavy sim.”

The introduction of Paddington’s famous blue duffle coat was another big VFX challenge, requiring an invisible transition from live action to CG coat as it is swept around Paddington’s shoulders by Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters).

“We knew this would be a big shot, so watching Julie on-set was bit nail-biting knowing that just a few seconds of her movement would determine the difficulty level of what had to be done,” says Smith. “We could have had a stand-in to receive the coat, but we decided to use an eye-line stick to prevent obscuring Julie, to prevent lots of reconstruction in post. The eye-line stick gave Julie a good reference for Paddington’s position and height, and fortunately she did a great job of wrapping the coat over the imaginary shoulders.”

The process of transitioning the live action coat into a CG version that wraps around Paddington was a real collaboration between departments. “The moment Paddington starts to interact with the coat, it had to move in a way other than just dangling as it did on-set,” adds Smith. “So we tracked some key parts of the coat — the section Julie was holding and the fabric between her hands, along with the front sections of the jacket. We determined we could keep these live action for as long as possible and use them to help reveal the CG coat exterior as they closed around Paddington. All of the other parts we would simulate with nCloth.

“As Paddington puts his arms through the sleeves, all parts of the coat that would be influenced by that interaction are simulated. We began the composite with a first pass at this and fed back to CFX on where the transitions, which happen in stages on different parts of the coat, were working, where they could be improved, and where we could assist in comp, by reanimating Julie's arms into better positions for example. We had to have a very productive feedback loop going between comp, CFX and lighting to get the best results.”

“It’s moments like that that I’m most proud of,” says Kind, “where hopefully no one will really notice what we did but maybe wonder afterwards how it was done.”

Vicon motion capture system ‘bears’ it for Paddington

OXFORD, UK — Vicon’s ( T-Series motion capture cameras were used on the new feature film version of Paddingtondirected by Paul King and co-written by original creator Michael Bond. The film follows Peruvian bear Paddington, voiced by Ben Whishaw, as he journeys to London and finds a new home with the Brown family (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins). 

In order to help bring the famous bear to life, filmmakers turned to UK-based post studio Framestore (, with studios also in LA, New York and Montreal, which in turn employed Vicon’s T40 optical camera system to explore the movement of Paddington bear during the pre-production and pre-visualization stages. The system provided the animation team with realtime feedback and allowed them to visualize and develop the interactions between the cast and the animated bear.

“The Vicon cameras enabled us to act out entire scenes in realtime during the pre-visualization stages,” says Gary Marshall, motion capture supervisor at Framestore. “This provided us with the flexibility to guide the creative process and produce key poses, and illustrate movement with greater accuracy. Using the system gave the team instant feedback on what scenarios were working well in a shot, and also how the timing and performance of the different mocap performers vastly affected the character of the bear — ultimately advancing the character development of Paddington.”