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About The Production
Hotel Transylvania 3 represents a huge step forward for the monsters - and the animators - with the biggest adventure by far. "This film is a lot bigger than the first two films - it eclipses them in scope and scale," says Tartakovsky. "There are all kinds of new locations. We get to see the Bermuda Triangle, the lost city of Atlantis, an underwater volcano - these are the grand-scale places that monsters can go to take a break. It's comedic spectacle."

Of course, not everything is different. "It's exciting that we get to really see what's beyond the hotel - but because we're on a cruise, which is a hotel on the water, we still get to do all of our hotel jokes," laughs Tartakovsky.

Naturally, the third film in the franchise continues the "pushed," cartoony style of animation that is Tartakovsky's trademark and a characteristic of the first two films. "Genndy's animation style really breaks physics," says the film's VFX Supervisor Michael Ford. "So, the question is, how do we use our tools to unbreak it?"

It all starts with the storyboards. Where other films employ a storyboard artist to make a rough plan, Tartakovsky boards the entire film himself (roughly), with the artist drawing over his sketches. "I've worked for a lot of directors and they're nothing like Genndy," says production designer Scott Wills. "He sees the movie and knows the movie he wants to make. You can watch the animatic [a cut of the film created from storyboards] and it's very clear what he wants. It's because Genndy comes from TV, where the storyboards get sent overseas to be animated; everything has to be planned out. He does the same thing in features - the storyboards are really the template. Everything is very clear and he knows what he wants."

Tartakovsky also takes writing credit for the first time in the franchise with this film, sharing credit with Michael McCullers. "A lot of Genndy's sensibility is written into the bones of this movie," says Senior Animation Supervisor Alan Hawkins. "On the previous two films, we always had to look for ways to work Genndy's magic into the scenarios with a lot of dialogue. With this movie, there's a lot less dialogue and a lot more is dependent on the visuals. There are all kinds of crazy locations that help the visuals go that much further - like an underwater volcano or dancing your way through a bunch of booby traps."

A good example is the Gremlin Air sequence. As the family flies together to their surprise location, they are on a plane for monsters - one populated and flown by Gremlins. An ancient bomber that has been rebuilt over and over again, the sequence was a chance to throw in as many of Tartakovsky's sight gags as possible. "There was a real attention to detail throughout the film," says Ford. "If you look closely on the "Gremlin Air" plane and how the seats are constructed, there's duct tape that's been slapped on, there's wear and tear, each seat is a different color and a different kind of material. The plane is all cobbled together - there's plywood on the floor with wires above and below and each one of those wires was simulated so they move around adding to the chaotic nature of the sequence. We wanted it to feel real, tactile, in a cartoony way - there's a lot of detail that goes into making it feel real. Not entirely photo real, but our version of reality - real in the world of Hotel Transylvania."

For the Imageworks team, the underwater volcano represented an exciting challenge - and, at first, an intimidating one. "When Genndy first told us about the underwater Volcano, you could hear a pin drop in the room," laughs Ford. We worked hard to create a fun underwater world that our characters could explore.

Part of the challenge was how to design a location that fit neatly into the world of Hotel Transylvania. "The movie has a bright and colorful look, so the volcano couldn't be dark and scary. But you look at what underwater volcanoes really look like, and it's dark and scary," says Wills. "I just had to start painting it without a real idea in my head of how it was going to look. When I did that, I had the idea that it would be red underlit, and it's very pretty and bright." Ford and his team were then able to dress the location with coral and kelp to add the details that make a location seem real.

Similarly, the location of the Bermuda Triangle represented a challenge for the filmmakers. Despite a relatively limited screen time, the location represented a challenge in every aspect, from the huge waterfalls to the ridiculously tall tower of ships that have met their ends there.

"It's a joke in and of itself: the Bermuda Triangle is a literal triangle in the middle of the ocean, with thousand-foot waterfalls falling into an abyss," says Ford. "How do you create a thousand-foot-tall waterfall that's cascading into a big hole in the middle of the ocean? How's that going to look There's no real reference for that."

And then there are the ships. "We had to build all of the ships that we were eventually going to destroy and decay" Ford continues. "We needed a believable structure that we could shoot from all angles, but make it feel big and make it look like it had been there for a long time. It pushed our team to use all of the tricks in the book to make the massive pile of boats look impressive, but ultimately not take itself too seriously to stay within the comic style of the movie."

The climax of the film takes place at Tartakovsky's vision for the lost city of Atlantis - a cartoonishly large monolith that rises from the sea, protected by its crooning kraken.

Once again, we wanted to give the location complexity and detail that would make it feel like a real place in the world of Hotel Transylvania. "The city of Atlantis rises thousands of feet from the sea, so logically there's a ocean theme for the casino," says Ford. "The casino itself is a giant aquarium - it's all glass, with fish and whales swimming above and below us. And of course we also added in all of the casino elements that you'd expect to see: bright lights, gaming tables, slot machines. For each of the slot machines, we created motion graphics - so that when a character pulls a slot machine, the screen actually animates. And there are dozens of different machines so there was a lot of artwork generated for each machine and it really adds to the feeling that the audience is in a real place."

Adding complexity to an already complex world was the fact that all of these sets - the cruise ship, the volcano, Atlantis, to name a few - were on water. "Genndy's cartoony style doesn't necessarily lend itself to the physics of real water that our software likes to emulate," says Ford, "and every single location has some sort of effects or simulation component to it. For example, not only is the cruise ship moving on the water, but it has an Olympic size swimming pool on it that we have a volleyball game in. Along with this we also needed to solve for really big impacts of large characters like the Kraken moving and dancing through the water."

The kraken's effect on the water also offered a challenge that was equal in size to the monster itself. "It sounds weird to say, but if things are too big in the computer world, it starts to break and fall apart," says Hawkins. The simulation software just isn't made to work at the extremes.

The solution, says Ford, was first to look a reference footage of large scale water events to see how it behaves. "Our effects team looked at crashing waves, we looked at boats getting launched to sea or other large objects hitting the water, like giant ice structures falling into the ocean. In all of the reference, there's a lot of water vapor that gets generated and the water tends to get very aerated and white. We really paid attention to emulating that vapor layer and that helped push the look into something that felt right," he says.

From there, Ford continues, the "effects team needed to find new ways of simulating water with Genndy's unique animation style. We can play with time in our simulations - so we slowed down the speed at which a giant tentacle hits the water so that the splash wasn't as explosive. We did multiple simulations -one simulation when the tentacle hits the water, another when it's under the water and blended them, mixing multiple elements together, to create the look that Genndy wanted."

With the sets and locations designed, Hawkins and his team could bring the characters to life. In Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, two new main characters led the way: the ship's captain, Ericka, and her great-great-grandfather, the legendary monster hunter Abraham Van Helsing.

"Genndy came with a strong idea on Ericka from the very beginning," says Hawkins. "When she's in deception mode - when we don't know that she's evil - she is very sweet and all of her dialogue sounds very pleasant, so we animated her as soft and warmly as possible. We kept her very calm and slow and smooth, in a way that characters don't usually move in the Hotel Transylvania world. When you're first introduced to her on the boat, you see her move in a way that's a little outside of the style of these films. But when she gets into her evil reveal, she starts moving a lot more sharply and quickly, her lines are less soft and rounded, and she gets a lot more straights in her posing. It was important to Genndy to create a character that's a match for Dracula, not just emotionally but physically. Dracula is our most pushed character - he can do almost anything - and so with Ericka, we had to find a way to do that as well. When she's being really evil, she's doing some pretty extreme stuff that is on par with what Dracula can do."

If Dracula and Ericka are the most pushed characters in the way they are animated, then Van Helsing is likely the most pushed in the way he is designed. "That's Craig Kellman," says Wills. "He's one of the best character designers in the business. Every version he gives you is a home run. He gives you designs that are so over the top and outrageous - and Genndy became his champion and didn't water them down, especially with Van Helsing. It's nice to see what Craig drew get up there on screen."

"His body is a machine, so it's rigid and that saved us a lot of time," says Hawkins. "All the emphasis on animating him went into his face and hands. He's got a lot of jowly bits, so it was a bit of extra work animating his jiggle and overlap. We tried to keep him funny and silly and just a little gross - he's still the bad guy, but someone you can laugh at."

There are changes to the main characters, too, as all of the characters get a costume change for their vacation. "Some of the wardrobe changes made the animation easier, and some of them made it harder," says Hawkins. "Dracula, for instance, has his little short-shorts and Hawaiian shirt, which made it easier for us, because one of the biggest challenges in animating him is the cape - the cape is almost a whole character in and of itself. Mavis was a little harder because she has a sundress that is less form-fitting than her other outfit. We had to work closely with the simulation department and make sure that her structure underneath made sense so that the clothing relaxed into shapes that were appealing."


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