<I>Puss In Boots: The Last Wish</I>: Making DreamWorks Animation's Oscar-nominated feature
Kendra Ruczak
Issue: January/February 2023

Puss In Boots: The Last Wish: Making DreamWorks Animation's Oscar-nominated feature

DreamWorks Animation’s iconic swashbuckling feline returns for his greatest adventure yet in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, this new chapter follows the fearless Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) as he realizes his perilous pursuits have exhausted eight of his nine lives. Teaming up with his nemesis Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Salma Hayek) and a friendly pup known as Perrito (voiced by Harvey Guillén), the brave outlaw ventures deep into the Black Forest to seek the mythical Wishing Star that will allow him to restore his life supply.

Arriving 11 years after the original Puss in Boots, the film’s creative team took the visual style of this contemporary fairy tale world in an exciting new direction. The film’s character designs and environments were fully redesigned to achieve a dynamically detailed, painterly aesthetic. Visual effects supervisor Mark Edwards shared an inside look into the tools and techniques that were utilized to craft this visually stunning new adventure.

Edwards is a longtime member of the DreamWorks Animation team. 

“I've been at DreamWorks for 25 years now,” he reflects. “I started back really at the beginning of the CG animated features on Antz [1998]. I started as a technical director. I was more on the technical programing side and then switched to an artist role. I mostly focused on lighting in my career. I ended up doing lighting and supervising Flushed Away [2006], Monsters vs. Aliens [2009] and How to Train your Dragon [2010]. I was head of lighting on The Croods [2013] and then moved into a visual effects supervisor role on Kung Fu Panda 3 [2016], and Abominable [2019] — and now Puss in Boots 2.” 

Redesigning the style of a familiar character posed a major challenge to the creative team. 

“That was the issue with having a known character,” Edwards explains. “We really wanted to not lose everything that was special about him.” 

Adding new levels of aesthetic detail and stylization to the characters and environments required the team to redesign the entire animation workflow. 

“I think one of the biggest challenges with more stylization is, in a physically-based setup, you can build an asset in super high detail,” he adds. “You can drop it in anywhere and it doesn't matter. The camera should hold up. But with a stylized look, because you're doing things like paint strokes or breaking up edges or things that aren't necessarily going to work in every camera angle, you have to build it in a smart way to deal with that.” 

Edwards and his team built a new system to accommodate the film’s stylized, detailed visuals. This new system, known as LAD (level of artistic detail), operated alongside the already existing LOD (level of detail) system. 

“LOD is more about, if things are further from camera, we can optimize by lowering fur density,” he explains. “But LAD was more about, if we're focused on the center of the frame and that's where the camera action is, what if everything around it got looser, less defined, and more interesting? So we had all these kind of tools around that and built the infrastructure.”

Read the full story in the January/February/March issue of CGW.