Navigation Bar - Text Links at Bottom of Page


Production Information (Cont'd)
When it comes to character creation and design, Culton takes her craft with the utmost seriousness. This work ethic and passion goes back to her first feature, Toy Story, when she was in her early 20s. "A bunch of us from CalArts moved up to Northern California," Culton says. "This was the first computer-animated film, and Pixar wanted 12 animators to start on the same day; I was one of those. We had to learn UNIX, and every day, we'd come in and software would be either broken or enhanced. It was so hard every day, and none of us knew at the time that CG was the way that the world was going."

The filmmaker's passion for inventive storytelling extended to the creation of one of that studio's most beloved characters, Jessie, from Toy Story 2. All her hard work proved worth it, not just on a creative level, but a humanitarian one. "I'll never forget that after the film came out, letters started coming to the studio and they were posted on the wall," she continues. "They were, 'My kid fought cancer because he thought he was Buzz Lightyear and could go to infinity and beyond.' I realized the power of movies then. We give our lives to these things, and I knew I didn't want to ever be on a movie that was just sheer entertainment. They have to mean something."

This discipline and affection for the art of animation was not lost on the film's actors. "I've learned that great animators are extraordinary observers of behavior," says Sarah Paulson. "A gesture, look or a walk they've observed can be animated, and therefore transformed, into something we the audience recognize as shockingly human. I asked one of the animators if he stares at people all the time-not just the ones he's animating, but people in general to get a sense of movement and how tiny gestures communicate story. Animators must be wonderful observers, which is not that different than great acting, when it's brought to you by people who observe human behavior and reflect that back. When it's effective, we are moved by a nuance we see as something a family member, friend or we ourselves might do."

Over the course of production, Yi evolved from a younger kid to an older one. Although much of her character's core design has remained the same, for the filmmakers it's been like watching a little girl grow up into a young woman of 16. One of the reasons was that, in order for Yi to do odd jobs and earn money by herself in a large city in China, she needed to be this age.

Early on, the team sent the designs to Pearl Studio for feedback and to get Yi feeling like an authentic, independent teenager in modern-day China. "For me, Abominable is next level in that it's obviously a Chinese girl in a story set in China, but it's also not about that," Chou says. "It's an amazing adventure, and this wonderful story about this girl and a Yeti. Yi happens to be Chinese, and they happen to be traveling through the country. It's just great, organic storytelling."

Making Yi both specific and universal was key. "These characters are very authentic to their country and nationality, but they are also archetypal-so relatable to every kid," Culton says. "That's a fine line to walk when you're designing characters. We wanted both. Even with Yi's haircut, we had storyboard artists who interned from China, and we asked them to come up with cool hair designs for her. They came up with her current bob, which was so unexpected."

It was important for Culton to have her heroine's clothes be fun and playful and not something typically girly; still, the accessories were the toughest to tackle. "In order to take Yi's violin on the journey, her backpack became a big thing," Culton says. "It's a challenge in CG to have something like that be on your lead character the entire time-taking it on and off and pulling the violin out of the pack." Turns out that creative necessity is the mother of invention. "We asked ourselves: 'What if you could put her backpack on your head and it would turn into the face of Everest?' Peng puts it on his head so they can play 'monster' together. It has button eyes and a nose, as well as a face mask that replicates Everest."

With his thick, ruffle-able white fur, Everest himself was, without a doubt, the single hardest character to bring to life on the production. "The normal thing would be to have this Yeti talk, possibly sing and be anthropomorphic so we could relate to him in that way," Culton says. "I wanted none of that. We wanted Everest to be on four legs, and then two whenever needed."

The idea that the mystical, magical creature could roll up into a ball whenever he wanted was an idea of Everest character designer NICOLAS "NICO" MARLET, who designed on How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda and was also lead designer on Yi. Marlet drew creativity from his pack of adorable pups. "Nico has been a good friend of mine for decades," says Culton. "He has three fluffy little dogs, Shih Tzus and Malteses. I swear that the inspiration for Everest was his fascination with them. Nico just made them gigantic.

"You can see them in the hair that comes down over Everest's face," continues Culton. "He evolved from a character that was a little more edgy and monster-ish to more charming and cute. That evolved with the story as we realized Everest is a kid. He became a little bit more approachable."

Culton's actors appreciated the painstaking attention, and that our Yeti is dualistic in every frame of the film. "Everest is really just a big fur ball, and I know audiences are going to find him so cute," says Albert Tsai. "At first, you find him a little scary, but he's really a best friend to everyone, especially Peng."

By far the most challenging aspect of Everest's design, over the seven years of the film's development, was the look of his white fur against white snow. Still, this painstaking attention to detail was worth every moment of the production. Buirgy says, "All of the things that came together to make Everest look as good as he does-from Nico's initial character designs to our modelers, led by our head of modeling, JEFF HAYES, to our riggers, to John Hill, our head of character animation, and to the amazing animation supervisors we have-all of those things made Everest work so beautifully."

Because Everest is a non-speaking character, there needed to be so much nuance through his performance. "We had to make sure everyone understood the potential of his character and keep him alive, even though he doesn't have a lot of dialogue," says Wilderman. "It's more, 'How's he reacting to this line, or is he curious about something else while they're talking about over there?' We'd talk through a lot of this with the story artists and explore that to keep the sequences. This ensured that something wasn't just a set piece, it allowed for a bonding experience."

Even though growling vocalizations could be hard on Joseph Izzo's throat, just reflecting on the beloved beast makes the performer smile. "You look at the posters and design and just want to hug him," Izzo says.

For most of the film Everest is the only Yeti we see, until a thrilling moment near the end of Abominable where we glimpse Everest's parents shrouded in the Himalayas. "Yetis never show themselves," Culton shares. "They're really good at covering their tracks and disappearing into the snow...that's why people don't know they exist.

"These Yetis, for one moment, are willing to show themselves to these kids who brought their child back home. It's almost the gift in return that they're willing to be vulnerable and show themselves...just for a moment, just for these kids," Culton continues. "They step back and disappear, just as if Yetis never existed. It's that special glimpse that you give the audience along with these kids. We feel like we've brought Everest home. We get to keep the secret, and we're bringing the audience in on the secret."

Abominable VFX supervisor Mark Edwards has been with DreamWorks Animation for more than 22 years, spending the majority of his first two decades at the studio working in lighting and effects. Elevated to his current role during production of 2016's Kung Fu Panda 3, Edwards partnered with the majority of Jill Culton's production departments to help realize his director's creative vision for this film.

From modeling, surfacing and character effects to the decisions about how to build out landscapes-not to mention simulations such as the evolution of Everest and Yi's magic, as well as final lighting and destruction scenes such as the Himalayan avalanche-his department's contributions permeate the animation. Sharing his experience during production, Edwards says, "It was the most challenging film I've been on, but the crew was so capable. It was so fun to give them creative guidance and to let them go and do their best work."

Echoing his fellow crew and the film's cast, the VFX supervisor found his experience with Culton and co-director Todd Wilderman to be quite the educational one. "Jill and Todd involved our department early on with story brainstorming and allowed us to be a part of evolving character arcs-including effects and location designs for where Yi and her friends travel with Everest," Edwards says. "We would discuss each story scene, their thoughts about the location and how the magic would work for that sequence, as well as how we would build up Everest's magic over the course of the film. They were open to taking the best of new ideas from all the crew."

Edwards also worked closely with production designer Max Boas, with whom his crew would share art-design ideas and puzzle through how they would build pieces in layout, as well as elicit the ideal elements from the lighting and surfacing divisions. Ultimately, they would review the final lighting and provide wrap notes at that end stage.

To take this intricate work from the theoretical to the practical, let us walk through a scene that demonstrates how the VFX department dovetailed with the rest of Abominable's production.

Within the Leshan Buddha sequence, during which Yi has a breakthrough about love and loss, Edwards' goal was to create an artistically elevated, yet realistic, portrayal of this actual location just east of Leshan City, Sichuan Province. This scene showcases how Everest guides Yi to play for her father, to let out all the sorrow that she's been holding inside...and celebrate this new chapter she's beginning. For the VFX division, it was crucial that they craft the scene to scale, with head of layout Robert Crawford helping to figure out how they would shoot the characters and magic to make them feel integral to the setting. "We looked at the textures and foliage to make sure we could build those assets to reflect the real world," Edwards says. "We developed how Everest and Yi's magic would effectively create the field of flowers that blossom and grow as she plays."

Partnering with head of effects Jeff Budsberg's division, Edwards and his team tested how the flowers would bloom as Yi's confidence in her playing builds, the variance they would need and how the magic would affect each element within the scene. "A lot of that is based on the timing of the musical cues, when the flowers would sprout and fill in," Edwards says. "We did a lot of work mocking up the timing to make sure Jill was happy with how that plays out. We also partnered closely with lighting supervisor SONDRA VERLANDER and digimatte supervisor DANNY JANEVSKI to figure out the lighting and matte painting direction. It's a tricky scene, and-as Yi releases her pent-up emotions and finally grieves her father-we wanted it to go from overcast, somber and gloomy to bright and cheerful. This meant working with lighting, surfacing and digimatte to transform everything from the initial blue-gray color palette to a sunny one."

Premo and MoonRay
Producer Suzanne Buirgy acknowledges that none of this would have been possible without proprietary DreamWorks animation technology: "The software we've secured is incredible," Buirgy says. "This combination of Premo, which is an amazing animation software, and MoonRay, a near-real-time rendering one, created wondrous animation renders that look incredible. It's stunning that we are able to have representative lighting in them, which allowed us to look at scenes early on versus waiting for lighting later."

Co-director Todd Wilderman was wowed by just how quickly the software allowed the team to understand what final sequences would look like. "Using Premo, head of character animation John Hill and his team moved so fast with the animation," Wilderman says. "There are a lot of long shots and complex acting in this film. Back in the day, you didn't have full fur when you were animating. You almost had something slick that looked like the Michelin Man. To experience Everest actually having full fur that made him look exactly the way he does in the movie...when we were just blocking out animation and approving performance? It was a dream. It allowed us to see the scene for what it was, make decisions quickly and approve animation much faster-and know it wasn't a leap of faith. What we were seeing was what was going to get rendered and lit. Suddenly, he is in full costume. Same with the kids; they had full-on hair and weren't just geometric shapes."

Bringing Animated Life to Key Characters
When it came to delivering the visual effects for all things Everest, the journey for the production crew was equal parts challenge and discovery. "Everest was fun to figure out, as he's both a technical challenge and a creative one," Edwards says. "He starts out the film as beastlike and needs to be scary at times-as well as a massive, cute, cuddly, furry, fuzzy Yeti. We knew he had to be super-appealing and bond with audiences, but he's also technically difficult to animate...including getting his light fur to feel correct and shade properly." To perfect this, Edwards' artists worked closely with the film's R&D teams to integrate a new hair-shading model. This ensured that each strand felt correct and that there were the ideal number of light bounces scattering to keep Everest, according to Edwards, "nice and light and fluffy."

Meringue-y fluffiness intact, the expressivity and wonder of our beloved Yeti proved to be a conundrum of its own. "As Sandy Kao, our rigging supervisor would attest to, there were a lot of rigging challenges in building a face that could essentially open almost in half," Edwards says. "Everest has a giant mouth, and we had to keep his underbite and protruding teeth while feeling the lips and not losing volume in the face-all while making him cute and appealing. Those were complex problems to solve."

Because so much of Everest's character animation depends upon the negative space surrounding him, the VFX crew had to use every composition trick in the book to make sure the other characters were reading ideally as clear as possible.

The team collaborated with art director Paul Duncan and labored a great deal on the nuances of white fur against clouds or snow; that allowed the production to have the visual palette to read Everest over myriad white materials in each scene. To accomplish this, Culton's artists employed a great deal of light and shadow treatments, including gaps in clouds or rocks in snowy areas, to make sure Everest stands out-or blends in-brilliantly.

"Paul used to say that creating Everest was like drawing a polar bear in a snowstorm," Wilderman says. "His team found elegant ways, especially when we get to the Himalayas, of using shadow. For example, with a shadow side of the mountain that Everest is against-when light is hitting him-they'd use light against dark to pull Everest out when we needed. Then, there were other times when you wanted him to blend in, so he's hiding in plain sight. We show how the elements are why no one has found a Yeti...and that maybe these creatures are actually out there after all. It's through this camouflage and magic affecting nature that we have never seen them."

Even though animating Everest around other characters was tough-regardless of whether they were in a snowy environment or a warmer climate-the Yeti was even more complex to bring to life when he was solo on screen. In a pivotal sequence when Everest is surrounded by flurrying snowfall and whipped wind, the production designer utilized a phenomenal reference of a light, airy, colorful palette that was more pastel in nature. "We used color, as well as value structure, to pop Everest off the screen," Edwards says. "For example, we'd use orange over purple or pink over blue. Those were trickier than environments where he's with the kids. In those sequences, he's the one we had to tone back a bit to make sure the kids come forward as the center of attention."

One of the standout characters for the VFX supervisor was the film's heroine herself. "Yi turned out exceptionally well," Edwards says, "and what animation has achieved with the subtleties of her expressions is awesome." As did his fellow department heads, Edwards found perfecting Yi's movements when playing her stringed instrument to be some of the most laborious. "The violin controls and beautiful playing were some of the most challenging to put in," Edwards says. "I remember when they brought in a violinist for animation reference to play Yi's theme, and everyone was emotionally charged by that. One of the supervising animators, Ludo [LUDOVIC BOUANCHEAU], started taking violin lessons and really embraced the proper playing style to make sure the character was accurate."

As a sizable amount of Abominable has close-up shots, head of character animation John Hill and his animation supervisors were tasked with making the film's characters especially appealing. "With Yi, we spent weeks and weeks on her hair, silhouettes and finding her character in a graphic way so that we could maintain her overall," Edwards says. "Even her shirt color and pattern evolved. We wanted to stay true to the Chinese cultural aspects and took that to heart. Red is a symbol of heroes, and eventually we landed on her having a shirt that color, as she's our hero."

Edwards echoes director Culton's comments about the struggles that became Yi's backpack. While imperative to shelter her beloved violin, adding an omnipresent element that moves, sways and jostles with your lead character could occasionally hamper production. "Early on, Jill did sketches with Yi's backpack that would allow Peng to wear it on his head and look like Everest," Edwards says. "We took that sketch and made sure it'd eventually work that way. We went back and designed it around that thought, even though there were so many complexities to it."

It's impossible for the visual effects supervisor to discuss Yi without bringing up what he declares is his proudest moment of the years of production. "It has to be when Yi is on the bridge and she finds the resilience to climb up and grab her violin," Edwards says. We channel all her magic, mingled with Everest's magic, to bring him back. It's visually demanding, but I feel like effects, digimatte and lighting made that work so powerfully."

Yi's Mom and Nai Nai
With three generations of family in the same home, the visual effects department had its work cut out for it when deciding what moves, expressions and particularities should fit Yi, Yi's Mom and Nai Nai as they interacted. "Creatively, with Yi's Mom, we wanted to make sure that she fit in terms of age," Edwards says. "We did a lot of work with modeling, surfacing and character animation to make her fit that way. For example, you don't want to add deep crow's feet but do want to get a bit of age in there to underscore a parental figure."

When it came to Yi's colorfully wise grandmother, the creative team found that giving Nai Nai a robust figure and tracksuit made her that much more interesting to animate. While they made sure that Nai Nai's desired range of motions and simulations worked with her-and those with whom she lovingly feeds her dumplings-Edwards' crew was pleased to learn that her cloth and skin reacted properly to adjustments. As with all things Abominable, cultural sensitivity was paramount. "Everything ran through Peilin Chou and Pearl to make sure we were being culturally accurate," Edwards says. "Nico Marlet initially designed Nai Nai with a bun and grey hair. We got a lot of feedback that that's not necessarily what grandmas in China look like. Many love to keep their hair dyed black. We ended up changing Nai Nai to make sure she felt modern and proper."

Peng and Jin
One character whose animated code was wildly complex to crack was Peng. With spiky hair that betrays its cowlicks the second a lock leaves a brush, Peng spends his journey roughhousing with best friend Everest. Wonderful for the audience, but complex indeed for the visual effects division! "Peng was particularly challenging in terms of his hairstyle," Edwards says. "Nico had done a graphic, almost manga hairdo for him, but translating that into 3D and making sure it moved reasonably took some iterations. We did a lot of work where we'd tone down the reflectivity of the hair and how flashy it would get when Peng's flipping it around-just to make sure we kept the graphic quality. That was a little complex."

Perhaps more than any other character, Jin goes through an arc that finds him, at least in terms of maturity, 180 degrees from where we meet him at the beginning of the journey. "Jin was challenging in his overall transformation," Edwards says. "He starts the film one variant with a slicked-back hairstyle and vest-proper and clean. By the end, he's in a completely different state, which mirrors his overall arc but in a physical way. Tracking his variants and dealing with all the different dirty shoes, losing his vest and adding a new hairstyle...all that was challenging but fun for him."

Dr. Zara and Burnish
Jin and Peng weren't the only principal characters to grapple with haircare in Abominable. For brilliant zoologist Dr. Zara, the long trek to the Himalayas showed its wear and tear on her coiffed look as well. "Our big challenge with Dr. Zara was her hair," Edwards says. "She changes her look over the course of the journey, so we needed to develop two distinct styles and merge them together over a reasonable transition." Fortunately for the VFX crew, the character effects team, led by Damon Riesberg, took those seemingly effortless transition shots and made them work beautifully. "It was tricky to have Zara's ponytail move in a realistic way-all the while holding onto the graphic nature that Nico wanted-and making sure that when her hair was down, that it felt and looked natural."

While Zara has all the curls, her employer's strands were limited to the back of his head and his wildly bushy eyebrows. "Burnish was interesting in that he was very stylized, which we all loved from Nico's design, but we had to make sure he could fit in our world as well," Edwards says. "We had to do a lot of massaging to scale to make sure that his head wasn't too big or that he wasn't too short-so he'd fit well with the other characters. He also evolves over Abominable. We changed out some of his props, like his pickaxe-what it meant, where it came from and how he uses it. All these story points influenced his character, as well as how he moves and interacts."

Elevating Landscapes
Race Across the City
Delivering motion and movement to Everest's wild trek across Yi's massive urban Chinese city were some of the more creatively head-scratching months of production for Culton's team. To find inspiration, the group of animators (and lifelong pupils) did what students have done for centuries: They took a field trip. "Early on in lighting, we went to the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale, California, to study reference and see how signs interact with white-fur samples," Edwards says. "We were inspired by this saturated-color palette and how all these big signs could interact with this giant city landscape."

As they were building and attempting to replicate a metropolitan city across multiple lighting environments and situations, the visual effects supervisor's crew had to be strategic about their builds. "We did a lot of research on types of structures and signage that would bring believability," Edwards says. "It was big kudos to our head of modelling Jeff Hayes, and layout and set-dressing teams-led by DAVE VALERA and executed by RHIANNON WILLIAMS-who put the city together."

Once Culton and Edwards walked Rhiannon through the steps where Yi and Everest were traveling, and structural pieces Yi and her friends would find on their journey throughout the city, Rhiannon filled in the gaps. "She did a phenomenal job of set dressing these bits and pieces to give this perfect feel," Edwards says. "From the apple carts and scooters to the air-conditioners and piping. Plus, surfacing, led by LISA SLATES CONNORS, added a whole new layer with the signage." Throughout the course of production, the crew leaned on Pearl Studio for authenticity and expertise. "Pearl artists created a number of authentic advertising signs," Edwards says. "We propagated those throughout the city. Lighting, supervised by our head of lighting Michael Necci, then took it to the next level. We had this tremendous art backdrop in terms of the color palettes."

Canola Waves
Inarguably one of the most spectacular sequences in Abominable is the scene in which Everest's magic allows Yi, Jin, Peng and the young Yeti to surf a wave of gorgeous canola flowers and escape from those with nefarious intentions. For the animators, they were just as surprised by the results as the characters asked to ride the florae-infused rapids. "When we started that, we had no idea what it would be," Edwards says. "Even with the concept of 'riding on a canola wave,' we asked, 'What's a canola wave look like?' Luckily, our head of effects [Jeff Budsberg] did a very early test in which he took a water simulation we had and propagated flowers and foliage on top of it. That simulation indicated what would and wouldn't work, in terms of detail and motion."

For this sequence, the animators borrowed as much from the properties of water as they did from snowfall during the Himalaya scenes. "One of our FX leads, MICHAEL LOSURE, started translating all of our water language into, effectively canola-flower language," Edwards says. "This gave us a spray of petals and pollen-replicated water spray, and we had a certain weight that revealed the green underneath. We could also track our heroes but feel the water weight, as well as big-foam characters of flower petals once the large wave was revealing. Even when the four principals are coming down in the last wave crash, we looked at a surfer references to make it translucent right through the wave; volumetric techniques replicated that through the canola to give the scene a nice ocean-wave feel."

For director Culton and co-director Wilderman, the illusions created by the team exceeded all expectations. "The magic was all so whimsical and specific to this movie, all created from scratch," Wilderman says. "Across the board, every department plussed it along the way. When we'd see the characters in lighting and it all came together, I was just blown away; it was better than I could have ever imagined. For example, when you watch these maverick fields of canola in a gorgeous landscape, and you experience this surreal monolith move through like a tidal wave? It was stunning. It's so humbling to have worked with such an amazing crew."

Bamboo Forest
The animation for Yi and Jin's moving breakthrough scene in the bamboo forest was inspired by an unlikely source. To accomplish his envisioned intention, Edwards looked to one of his favorite films. "We were designing the set around an emotional moment," says Edwards. "I love in American Beauty where cinematographer Conrad Hall shot a scene where the computer screen has reflection lines like prison bars. We wanted this isolated spot to feel almost like a prison for our two characters. To do that, we took away a lot of the color palette and made it monochromatic; that gave Yi this space to talk to Jin. It turned out to be this great little set, complete with layers of depth in stereo that feel incredibly intimate."

Clouds of Koi
As our heroes inch closer to the Himalayas, Everest enacts his magic once again to allow them to soar above the land on billowy Koi fish comprised of clouds. If the visual effects supervisor thought turning canola fields into waves was a challenge, he never could have fathomed the hurdles concomitant with cloud Koi. "I mean, these were tricky!" Edwards says. "Similar to the canola waves, you talk about riding these fish clouds but don't really know what that means. We did a lot of early tests with FX lead DOMIN LEE, prototyping how we would make it work. It was a lot of making sure that the fish shape stayed reasonably cohesive...yet ephemeral enough that they looked like they were clouds. Jill and Todd were very specific that if it was simply flying in the sky, it would feel too off, and not grounded enough."

Just as pondering neon signage helped to inform Yi's big-city home, so would examining the behavior of cumulus layers amid valleys dictate this sequence. "We looked at time-lapse footage of mountains where clouds would fill in these valleys and almost form rivers," Edwards says. "We decided to have a cloud river that the characters are almost 'swimming' up. That helped us to keep them grounded, not out in space. It also allowed for this effects interaction, and I think it became one of the most beautiful sequences in our film."

Authenticity and Easter Eggs
Creating Modern China
It was crucial to the production that the film accurately highlight Chinese landscapes and culture, from the glistening buildings of the big city to the countryside, with beauty, artistry and precision. That process was divided equally between DreamWorks Animation in America and Pearl Studio in China. Production designer Max Boas would work with the team at Pearl Studio on specific design elements-like Yi's apartment and bedroom-and together, the teams would go to painstaking lengths to make it as realistic as possible. Boas and his team in Glendale, California, sought out the input and feedback from the team at Pearl throughout the course of production. This unique East/West creative collaboration between the two partner studios brought a vibrant China to life through animation as it has never been captured before on the big screen.

Culton and Wilderman went to China a number of times to immerse themselves in the nation's culture. "Our first trip was 10 days, and we spent it on a photo safari in the city and outskirts including river villages," Wilderman says. "On a couple of occasions, people would see this large group, and they would ask our tour guide, Maxine, what was going on. They were so welcoming and would invite us into their homes. That happened at apartments in the city, as well as at a grade school and middle school. In one smaller village, this man invited us into his house and showed us around. It helped us so much with the design authenticity, and making our apartments and sets feel like the spaces in China where kids like Yi, Peng and Jin are growing up."

The film is packed with little nods and grace notes to Chinese culture. For instance, for a scene near the end of the film, the DreamWorks Animation Glendale team had created a family dinner scene with Yi and her family. It was lovely, but the Pearl team immediately spotted an inconsistency: The table wasn't nearly full enough. "Members of the Pearl team said, 'No Chinese grandma would ever feed that little food to her family! You need four more dishes on the table!'" Chou says, laughing. "Then they'd shift out plates for bowls-it was an ongoing dialogue from early on all the way to the end to ensure authenticity and accuracy across the board. There are dozens of Easter eggs like that in Abominable, but what's cool about them is that they're not plot points...they're just there because it's authentic to a Chinese home-from food to games and bamboo scaffolding to scooters."

Building the Cityscapes of China
Bamboo Scaffolds and Golden Arches
In Abominable, the city skyline is filled with details typical of a modern Chinese metropolis. Signs dotting the skyline advertise tea shops, popular international supermarkets (with imported goods), Huazhu Hotel (one of China's largest hotel brands), authentic specialty food restaurants, and even McDonald's. (Fun fact: China reportedly has the third most McDonald's restaurants in the world-after only the U.S. and Japan.)

Despite how modern Chinese cities are, they're also teeming with traditional elements. Bamboo scaffolding is still commonly used when renovating old buildings, for example. So, Yi's building features this type of scaffolding, which both she and Everest use to scale the building. Traditional Chinese medicine shops-such as acupuncture, fire cupping and massage-are also common on the streets of big cities and can be glimpsed in the film.

Box Car Bonanza
Teetering Towers of Transport
When Yi runs across the street on her way home in one scene in Abominable, you'll see a car completely overloaded with boxes. These types of cars or bikes are still a common sight throughout the country. While people are buying cars in China faster than any other country in the world, it is still very common for families not to own cars. Instead, many opt for electric scooters (like the one Jin and Peng ride) or even bicycles, which they park inside their apartment buildings, and which eagle-eyed audiences can see in a scene set in Yi and Peng's apartment building stairwell.

Good Fortune, Upside Down
Inside Yi's Apartment
In China, one Chinese character you often see hung on doors is the character that means "good fortune." This character is featured on Yi's apartment door. In China, this character is often intentionally hung upside down. This is because in Chinese the saying, "good fortune is coming" sounds homophonically the same as "good fortune is upside down." So, there's a fun superstition that if you hang your "good fortune" character upside down, then good fortune will come to you.

In one hallway scene with Yi, Jin and Peng, you see red posters hanging around the door of one of the apartments. This is a very common sight within China because the words offer hope and wishes for the coming year. They are usually hung around Chinese New Year, but many people leave them up year-round.

Yi's apartment is full of things typically found in a Chinese home. Wall calendars are still a very popular item, and the filmmakers feature one in the kitchen-something Nai Nai surely put up. There is also a wall calendar in Yi's room-this one features a pig because Abominable comes out in the Year of the Pig (2019). A large water thermos and other tea-drinking accessories are also present-and their specific style and aesthetic would make any Chinese person feel right at home.

People in China never wear outdoor shoes when inside the home, but they are also almost never barefoot. Instead, they opt to wear house slippers that they change into right at their entryway. The film features all our characters wearing these typical house slippers when they're hanging out at home-they can be seen most clearly in the last dinner seen of the film. In addition, Yi's hallway features a rack for outdoor shoes-a typical accessory right outside the front door of any Chinese home.

Dumplings to Donuts, Soup to Buns
Street Food and Good Home Cooking
Street food is always present in any Chinese city. They are foods that are sold off carts or in tiny shops that are right on the street. Classic favorites include cold noodles, lamb kebabs, youtiao (a Chinese donut) and pan-browned dumplings. The filmmakers are proud to feature all of these beloved Chinese street foods in the film.

Even though street food is delicious, the Chinese consider the best food to always be that which is cooked at home. Chinese buns are a bread-like steamed dumpling that can have a variety of fillings. In Abominable, these are Nai Nai's signature dish (beloved by both Peng and Everest!), and Nai Nai's specialty is pork buns. In the film, we see her cooking them by placing them in a steamer set atop a giant wok.

At the end of the film, Yi and her family sit down together at last for a homecooked Chinese dinner. This is a symbol of her family finally coming together. Family dinners are always shared family-style, and each person will have their own small bowl (no plates). The meal is typically quite plentiful, and it is common to have a greater number of dishes than people. In South China, dinner will usually be finished with soup, which is featured in the meal at the end of the film.

From Nai Nai's infamous chicken soup (placed at the center of the table) to her Coca-Cola chicken wings, to her bok choy with shitake and braised fish, to her braised prawns, garlic sprout pork, the table is a feast for the senses.

Games People Play
Rock, Paper, Scissors
"Rock, Paper, Scissors" is a favorite children's game in China as well as in the U.S., so a scene where Peng is playing it with Everest on the train is definitely authentic to China. The filmmakers thought it would be a fun opportunity to integrate some Mandarin into the film and chose to have Peng say, "Rock, Paper, Scissors" in Chinese.

One insider fun fact to note is that in China, the game's name takes on a slightly different order. So, when Peng calls out the game in Mandarin on the train, he is authentically scrambling the order to say, "Scissors, Rock, Paper!"

Fix You
The Healing Power of Music
Yi's manner of expressing herself is through her music, and that's ultimately what bonds her forever with Everest. She won't play her violin for her family; she only plays for herself. Yi's almost stuck in suspended animation, and that is her attempt to keep her dad's memory alive. When Everest comes to her, because he's wounded and scared, she grabs her violin to soothe him. But by helping him, what Yi is also doing is opening a crack in herself, which helps her heal in return.

Their shared musicality draws out the defiant spirit of both. In turn, Everest's sound brings back the music in Yi. When he gives her Yeti hair for her violin string, he passes on the knowledge that she's always had that power to heal herself. Composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, who most recently crafted the signature sounds for Wonder Woman and Aquaman, the Abominable score is both gorgeously haunting and wildly uplifting.

For the score, Culton found a kindred spirit in her producer. "Suzanne and I share a bond in music, which is as big to her as it is to me," says the filmmaker. "It's the emotion of the movie, and it sets a tone. I'm so proud of the fact that we did a musical without breaking into song, but Abominable is ultimately a musical. With those components, Suzanne's been such a great resource. We licensed the Coldplay song 'Fix You,' which was so perfect for the theme of the film." The song is integral to the scene where Yi discovers that her violin is broken. "Suzanne was able to bring STARGATE, the powerhouse producing team she worked with on Home, to give it a delicate twist."

Buirgy explains that the music of the film is inextricable with its narrative: "Sometimes, when you're listening to a record you think, 'Today, this song resonates with me.' Then, the next day, it's another song. That's how I feel about Abominable. There are so many different pieces of it that I can't pick the one that is my favorite."

One that rises to the top for the producer is when Yi discovers Everest on her roof. "The animators needed to animate to a theme," Buirgy says. "When Yi is playing the piece where she's trying to soothe Everest, the animation has to match exactly. You can have someone trace over an animation cell, but you'd lose the soul of it-even if you were exact in the execution."

Not only did Gregson-Williams prove integral to bringing Yi's theme to its crescendo, he complements the work of Joseph Izzo's vocals by serving as the humming voice of Everest, which serves as countermelody to Yi's theme. "Rupert is so lovely and incredibly talented," says Buirgy. "He wrote the violin theme, and he enlisted a brother-and-sister team of violinists [CLIO GOULD and THOMAS GOULD] to play the music throughout so beautifully." Of note, Buirgy appreciated the composer's subtle use of guitars and the occasional synthetic sounds, as well as the deceptively humorous saxophone for Burnish's theme.

Clio Gould celebrates the dedication from her DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio filmmakers to perfectly reflect the deft, delicate motions and lines of those artists in her line of work. "This is quite an unusual, lopsided position to spend your life in," Gould says. "I've always felt that our bodies grow around the violin like a vine growing around a pipe. I understand that the animators were forensically analyzing how a violinist plays, because if it was approximately right then it wouldn't have that wonderful feeling. It's been an absolute labor of love, and everyone involved has been incredibly concerned to get those tiny details so authentic."

The violinist, who has led symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras in her own right, shares that Yi's signature sound is steeped in centuries of history. "I'm lucky to have been able to borrow an amazing Stradivarius," Clio Gould says, "so that's what you're hearing on the soundtrack. It's a 300-year-plus-old instrument that's been doing its job for all that time. The violin is difficult, and not something that gives away all of its secrets very easily." She empathizes with her on-screen avatar, a fellow struggling string musician. "Every violinist goes through years and years of not making the sound they want," Gould says, "and then suddenly it all gels and then it gives so much back."

The filmmakers also brought in CHARLENE HUANG, who originally worked with SUNNY PARK in DreamWorks Animation's music department, to deliver reference for key sequences. "When Yi plays the violin by the Buddha, it's the most amazing sequence of animation," Buirgy says. "That and the sequence between Yi and Jin in the bamboo forest-supervising animator Ludovic Bouancheau and animator GUILLERMO CAREAGA created that."

The composer acknowledges that he's a massive fan of his collaborators, marveling at how seamlessly facile it appears for Abominable's instrumentalists to ply their trade. "When Yi picks up a violin, you see her connecting to it, but when you see these guys pick up their violin, it's not a bit of work," Gregson-Williams says. "This is connected to them, and the vibrations and everything. The violin is a part of their lives."

One of Gregson-Williams' most cherished sequences in the animation is Yi's rebirth at the Buddha. He walks the reader through the scene, and the power of musicality therein. "When Yi and her friends arrive, there is nothing of color, nothing alive in terms of vegetation," Gregson-Williams says. "What Jill wanted, as Yi plays, was for the magic and the wonder of the violin piece to build and swirl. As the vegetation becomes life, the colors emerge. The piece had to reflect that, so Yi plays her violin gently to the tune. As the tune becomes more excited, then magic start to happen. The music travels over the Himalayas and delivers you home."

Gregson-Williams' intertwining Yi and Everest themes are central to the moment when Yi realizes that Everest has, without her realizing it, taken her to every place that she-and her father-wanted to go. "Yi realizes they've been on this journey," Culton says. "She thought they were lost, but now we have this feeling that Everest orchestrated this entire thing. It's why people get teary-eyed in that moment. We've waited and waited, and we've gotten to know this girl. She spills her guts to Jin, telling him that her family is so distant, and she doesn't know how to fix it. When Jin says, 'Maybe they're not the ones who are so distant?,' Yi has a 'heart-hit' moment where she realizes she's been the one causing this all along."

Right after that sequence, our heroes realize they're at the Leshan Giant Buddha, and Everest pushes the violin toward her. "Yi says, 'I wish my dad could see this,' and he's pushing the instrument toward her," Culton notes. "Everest is basically saying, 'Play for him. Play. Let it go.' Then, she does. You've been waiting for this moment. She couldn't do that at the beginning of this film; she had to go through this emotional journey to get herself to that place."

For Michelle Wong, who grew up playing piano and studying classical music, the nuanced decisions of the composer and artists were deeply welcome ones. "The sweeping classical piece Yi plays almost brought me to tears, it is so incredibly scored," says Wong. "To hear classical music being composed for an animated film is so exciting. I have such a deep love for it, and you don't get to see many animated movies utilizing this type of music-or for the main character to play this type of instrument."

Not only did Gregson-Williams employ instrumentation, but the composer wove in a good deal of literal humanity into the Abominable score. A choir brought in the fantastical scene when Yi uses her violin to create her own magic, is accompanied by Gregson-Williams' string arrangement of Coldplay's "Fix You." "This choir is part of the emotional backbone of the film," Gregson-Williams says. "We've used them in more of the magical moments. In addition to Everest's humming-which is the answering phase to Yi's theme-there was something lovely, ambient and guttural about the addition of these human voices."


Home | Theaters | Video | TV

Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.

2020 8,  All Rights Reserved.


Find:  HELP!