About The Production (Cont'd)
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.
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
faces the filmmakers found most appealing. Herbst and Lyons developed an
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
Similarly, they created a hair-shading system specifically for animal, rather
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
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
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
throughout to give the film a "shot" versus "rendered" look.
The yetis live in a beautiful natural landscape where blue sky meets the
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,
Named after a World War II rocket launcher used on the Eastern front, the
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
system whereby the animators employed tools to automatically and seamlessly drop
of snow down into any environment, based on programmed variables like wind
of snowfall and relative "stickiness" of the objects to be coated.
Other key visual effects involved the handling of steam and clouds, fire and
Stonekeeper's robe of stones, which was particularly complex as it represented
but interconnected layers on top of the character.
TELLING IT IN SONG
"The Only Thing Stronger than Fear is Curiosity"
"Smallfoot" features Niall Horan's new song "Finally Free," which became the
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,"
The director and his brother, Wayne Kirkpatrick, recently collaborated on the
musical comedy "Something Rotten!," which earned Tony, Drama Desk and Outer
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"
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,
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
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
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
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,"
Common as a rap, in which Stonekeeper takes Migo into his confidence and reveals
ominous truths about the history of their community.
The movie also includes a karaoke version of the '80s hit from Queen and David
"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
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
Throughout, the Kirkpatricks worked closely with "Smallfoot" composer Heitor
multi-talent who preceded his successful scoring career as a member of the band
The process was synergistic, with Pereira influencing the songs and the
the score. "Cues for Meechee's theme became part of 'Wonderful Life,' Migo's
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
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
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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