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About The Production (Cont'd)

"Holy Wowness!"

Two of the most notoriously difficult elements to animate are fur or hair, and water in all its forms, including ice and snow, and "Smallfoot" is rife with all of these. Kirkpatrick concedes, "There's no way you can tell a story about yetis in the Himalayas without hair and snow and ice. Migo alone has more than 3 million individual strands of hair and lives in a world of rocks, snow and ice."

Migo's final hair count was 3.2 million strands, while his outsized comrades clocked in at 2.5 million for Meechee and Fleem, 5 million for Kolka, 1.3 million for the robed Stonekeeper and a whopping 9 million for the super-sized Gwangi.

In a field that's constantly refining and innovating to meet creative demands, "Smallfoot" inspired animators to push the boundaries even further. "There was a lot of R&D," Kirkpatrick continues. "Just to get the hair looking real and moving would have taken 200 hours for one frame, so we had to find a way to get that time down. We had three densities of snow because every time a yeti walks through snow it leaves footprints. Things get kicked up, and that's FX." Throughout production, Kirkpatrick worked closely with key members of the creative team, most notably visual effects supervisor Karl Edward Herbst of Sony Pictures Imageworks and the company's senior producer, Skye Lyons, who has an associate producer credit on the film. He also reunited with co-director Jason Reisig, with whom he'd previously worked on "Over the Hedge" and whom he calls "one of the top animators in the world," to collaborate on the technical and artistic aspects downstream while he focused more on the story and performances.

The "Smallfoot" yetis had to convey warmth and humor without compromising their impressive proportions, all of which figured into their design. Bonne Radford says, "We steered away from what would look like an ape or a bear, what traditionally we thought people might imagine a bigfoot or a yeti to resemble. We gave them long legs, which gave them the ability to leap. That also released us from the laws of physics and we used that to our advantage for physical comedy. Overall, the yeti character designs are really loveable. They look soft and inviting. You just want to hug them."

The yetis' body structure was based on ovals, from their torsos to their eyes, with pear-shaped faces the filmmakers found most appealing. Herbst and Lyons developed an entirely new software system for the eyes, which Lyons vividly describes: "It allowed us to squash, smear and stretch the head and eyes as much as we wanted while the iris and pupil shape remained exactly the same."

Similarly, they created a hair-shading system specifically for animal, rather than human hair, that allowed them to change from strand clumps to individual strands, enabling much higher fidelity in detail and qualities like texture and softness. This was particularly useful to keep hair simulations from breaking up amidst the film's style of heightened action and the various degrees of wind velocity that might blow back a yeti's coiffure-such as when he's barrel-rolling down a mountain or sailing off a cliff.

To offer an idea of the detail involved, Reisig outlines, "After the character animation was done, we ran simulations on each of them to capture the natural dynamics of a piece of hair, fur or cloth. Meechee, for example, was our most complex character. She has long flowing hair that creates a kind of dress, and another layer on top that looks like a shawl, and a braid on top of that. All these elements overlap and interact with each other so, whenever there was a change to the character, those situations had to be run again."

Making the mostly white-haired yetis pop against their environment of snow and ice was another factor, largely accomplished with lighting. Lyons explains, "We would either enhance the snow color, for example, make it more golden, or enhance the character's color with a rim light to create more of a visual break between them and the snow. Generally, we kept the snow a shade darker, so the yetis would be the brightest objects in the scene." Lighting was also used throughout to give the film a "shot" versus "rendered" look.

The yetis live in a beautiful natural landscape where blue sky meets the mountaintops and there is nothing to see below but billowing clouds. Everything is clean, cool and visually inviting- a veritable frozen paradise and made-to-order playground for the "Smallfoot" action. For the animators, all that snow was a formidable challenge-whether falling, lying on the ground, or being kicked up by active feet-which led to more innovation from Lyons' team, namely the Katyusha.

Named after a World War II rocket launcher used on the Eastern front, the proprietary Katyusha software proved a more efficient way of getting high resolution of granular snow. "The idea is divide and conquer," says Lyons. "Shoot a lot of small rockets-or in this case, snow-at one time instead of one big one." Also making its debut on "Smallfoot" was a snow-padding system whereby the animators employed tools to automatically and seamlessly drop large swaths of snow down into any environment, based on programmed variables like wind direction, amount of snowfall and relative "stickiness" of the objects to be coated.

Other key visual effects involved the handling of steam and clouds, fire and fireworks, and Stonekeeper's robe of stones, which was particularly complex as it represented two independent but interconnected layers on top of the character.


"The Only Thing Stronger than Fear is Curiosity"

"Smallfoot" features Niall Horan's new song "Finally Free," which became the first single from the film's soundtrack. Playing over the final credits sequence, "it touches on the themes of the story first introduced and so creates a perfect bookend and a great way to end the movie," Kirkpatrick says.

The director and his brother, Wayne Kirkpatrick, recently collaborated on the hit Broadway musical comedy "Something Rotten!," which earned Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations in 2015, including Best Original Score, as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album. Together, they brought their songwriting verve to "Smallfoot" with five original compositions.

The film's buoyant opening number, "Perfection," performed by Channing Tatum, introduces audiences to Migo and his life with a sly wink to the audience, as it becomes clear that what he's saying doesn't exactly match the facts. "Instead of a lot of exposition," notes Requa, "there's this guy walking through his village, singing about how you should push all your questions deep down inside and how that's completely perfect, and you're thinking, 'Wait, that's messed up!' And boom, the audience gets it immediately and it's funny."

For Kirkpatrick, "The general rule is to ask, why are they singing? And the answer would have to be because the scene gets you to a point where the best thing to do next is sing it. It elevates the emotion, it elevates the comedy, it allows you to go into a surreal and otherworldly place and takes you to new heights."

"Wonderful Life," performed by Zendaya and "Wonderful Questions," performed by Zendaya and Tatum together, represent another perspective by making the point in an uplifting, powerful way that it's curiosity and new ideas that make life worth living. Things then take another tonal shift with the double-entendre "Let it Lie," performed by Common as a rap, in which Stonekeeper takes Migo into his confidence and reveals some ominous truths about the history of their community.

The movie also includes a karaoke version of the '80s hit from Queen and David Bowie, "Under Pressure," performed by James Corden with lyrics cleverly revised to help Percy try and persuade his producer to see things his way. Finally, the Kirkpatricks' "Moment of Truth," performed by pop singer CYN, sums it all up in a rousing, upbeat finale.

"Music is insanely important to this story because of how it reveals plot and character in a powerful way. There's a lot of world-building that needs to happen," says Glenn Ficarra. Throughout, the Kirkpatricks worked closely with "Smallfoot" composer Heitor Pereira, a multi-talent who preceded his successful scoring career as a member of the band Simply Red. The process was synergistic, with Pereira influencing the songs and the Kirkpatricks influencing the score. "Cues for Meechee's theme became part of 'Wonderful Life,' Migo's theme became part of 'Perfection' and Stonekeeper's theme became part of 'Let it Lie,'" Kirkpatrick says. "Wayne would come to Heitor's studio while we were working on our songs, and they'd go through the demo together. Approaching it as a composer, with the orchestration, he kept urging us to go bigger. He elevated everything."

"For movies like this, animated family movies, the music really reveals the souls of the characters," Pereira responds. "It's a beautiful thing to work with musicians that understand the power of melody and appreciate it when you bring your own in and create this tapestry of counterpoints. There is a narrative for each character that is a story inside the story, and the melody you start with will not be the only version of it. It will need to be happy and comedic, it will need to be sad, it will need to be hopeful."

Most of all, it's fun. "I hope audiences enjoy this glimpse into a fun and lively world like none other," Kirkpatrick concludes. "It's such a charming story. We had an incredible cast and an amazing team pushing the boundaries of digital animation to assemble this movie, and I believe people are going to fall in love with these endearing characters as much as we have."


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