DALLAS — Reel FX (reelfx.com), an animation studio with 25 years of work to its credit, recently took on a franchise that’s twice its age. The studio partnered with Warner Bros. to create the animated Scoob! feature, marking the first time Scooby-Doo has been adapted entirely in 3D.
Reel FX has a staff of over 500, spread across locations in Dallas, Montreal and Hollywood. The studio’s repertoire of cinematic work includes Ice Age, Looney Tunes and Book of Life. Reel FX’s animation supervisor Bill Haller says the studio employed a remote workflow to complete Scoob!, which was released on video on demand - rather that theatrically - last May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Haller joined Reel FX seven years ago, and while working on The Book of Life movie, fell in love with the studio’s artist-led ethos. He found it remarkable that every member of the team had a platform to contribute ideas.
“I feel like Reel FX is a place where artists can have a solid chance of seeing their ideas materialize,” he explains. “At other major studios, you have to go through corporate channels and it’s difficult to see artists’ ideas accomplished…Here, you can have a story idea and even end up directing it – you can contribute more than I ever expected!”
With such a long history behind it, the Scooby-Doo franchise has entertained fans that span multiple generations, inspiring budding animators the world over, and Haller is no exception.
“The Scooby-Doo universe is a big reason behind why I wanted to be an animator,” he notes. “It’s what I grew up with. You hardly ever get the opportunity to work on projects that inspired you to get into the business. So as soon as I saw it, I knew right away that I wanted to work on it.”
Working with Tony Cervone was another big pull for Haller when joining the project. His directing history for Warner Bros. – specifically his work on Scooby-Doo – meant Reel FX could draw upon a rich well of knowledge and stay true to the fundamental characteristics of the franchise.
“I was really excited to meet Tony,” says Haller. “He’s a long-term Warner Bros. director and was the brains behind a good portion of the more-recent Scooby-Doo content. He’s also been a big part of the Looney Tunes projects too.
“Every director is a little bit different, and as a supervisor, you don’t know how long you might be working, so it’s worth getting to know them. Luckily, there was a huge amount of chemistry that we shared straight off the bat. We knew we could work together and create something great. Not everything stands the test of time like Scooby-Doo, and we wanted to ensure that we made something that helps it last another 50 years.”
With extensive knowledge in both 2D & 3D animation, Haller and Cervone proved a successful partnership for the movie. But Scooby’s jump into three dimensions wasn’t the smoothest of transitions.
“Nobody knows how to draw these characters better than Tony Cervone,” says Haller. “To have him look at our work and evaluate it and draw over things, to learn the language of the characters, it was so helpful. But translating the 2D drawings to 3D was a learning process for both of us.”
The first thing the team did was create a direct reference comparison.
“We looked at the cycles that were created in 1969 and tried to emulate them in 3D and see if they translated,” Haller explains. “One of the things we ended up working out was Scooby-Doo only looks good from three angles: from the front, the side and a three-quarter turn. Anything in-between and he becomes a totally different character. Apparently, animation teams from the past encountered the same problem.”
The studio’s different departments all use SyncSketch, having realized its benefits. It was clear that the studio needed a review tool with strong drawing capabilities that could enable this level of artistic feedback. As Haller was managing several large teams in three locations, it also needed to facilitate a seamless remote workflow.
“We knew we needed to be mobile when it came to doing reviews,” he recalls. “I would be spending the majority of my time in Montreal to be with the new crew, but I also knew I would need to be in LA and Dallas – the same was true of Tony. We needed some kind of review system that was solid enough, and quick enough, that we could be in different places.”
SyncSketch (https://syncsketch.com) is a realtime collaborative media review solution that uses the cloud. Users can review media offiline or synchronously with teams across the world. After being introduced to SyncSketch, Haller was convinced that the tool could revolutionize reviewing sessions, allowing them the freedom to work across multiple locations. The team could even complete review sessions when stuck in different countries.
“So I’m at Annecy Festival waiting for Tony, he’s in London, my crew’s in Montreal, and we also had people in Dallas, but we needed to complete an animation review that day,” Haller recalls. “We also needed to be able to draw over shots and upload shots on the fly, and with SynSketch, we could.”
With previous experience working at Reel FX remotely, Haller was confident in the studio’s abilities to adapt to the new social distancing measures with an effective remote setup. He found that the studio setup could accommodate a remote team from anywhere.
“I was really impressed with their remote pipeline capabilities – I could be at a beach in Hawaii and be animating shots for this company if I really wanted to. The ability to be able to adapt to working remotely so easily was really cool.”
While it was challanging at first, due to the studio having 500 people that needed to make the remote workflow transition, their IT department got things up and running quickly.
“Some of our animators have actually relayed how much they like the new setup,” says Haller. “I think it’s a real tribute to Reel FX’s past remote work that they’ve been able to transition so quickly. It’s been much smoother than expected.”
Scoob! represents five years of work.
“This is really the first 3D rendition of Scooby-Doo and the Gang in its 50-year franchise, so it’s a bit of a turning point,” says Haller. “We are so excited that WB was able to release this movie on the original release date despite our current situation. Hopefully everybody will be able to see our work on the big screen at some point. There are so many fans and I find everyone has their own Scooby-Doo story to tell.”