beyonce (epic)

Queen “B” Beyonce plays Queen Tara in “Epic.”

*Just before the release of the captivating animated “Epic” on Blu-ray and DVD, a select group of reporters spent the day on a tour of the massive Blue Sky Studios, that is also responsible for “Ice Age,” “Rio” and “Horton Hears A Who!”

After the tour at the Studios’ headquarters in Greenwich, Connecticut those members of the press were then privy to the ins and outs of the steps that lead to the awesome animated final product. After the tour Director Chris Wedge, Production Designer Saul Couch and Art Director  Mike Knapp sat down and answered any questions members of the press corps had. But before the interviews, we were astounded by the process that went into putting the characters on screen. The tour included five stations: Sculpting (Art) with Vicki Sauls, Rigging with Sabine Heller, story with Warren Leonhardt and Animation with David Sloss.

The rigging process was mesmerizing as we looked at Sabine set up points on virtual models so she could make them move like the real thing—make them smile, frown, show their teeth, or any other movement that particular character is known to do. And the movements are not ideas the animators pull out of their hats. They all study nature very carefully from not only their nearby outside surroundings but trips to the Audubon Center in Greenwich. Their observations and trips are realized in the formidable figures and creatures in “Epic.” Part of the tour was to consist of a trip to the Audubon Center for a nature hike led by Wedge and a park ranger but torrential rains ruled that out unfortunately.

Exploring the decorated cubes indoors was just as exciting, nonetheless. The work environment at Blue Sky is conductive to the exemplary work they produce. The lights, unlike most offices, are dimmed. In fact, animators compete in that comforting environment for the most engaging cube. Decorated cube themes include that of the “Epic” jungle, a pirate ship, a replica of the Drunken clam from Family Guy, a tiki hut, a hunting lodge, and the mayor’s office from Horton Hears a Who!

In addition to “Epic,” Blue Sky Studios is responsible for “Ice Age” and “Rio.” The team at Blue Sky is also comprised of Dr. Eugene Troubetzkoy, who has a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Columbia University and worked as a nuclear physicist to create computer simulations of nuclear particle behavior and Carl Ludwig, an electrical engineer who worked at NASA on the tracking systems of the Apollo mission’s lunar module. With that in mind, The Film Strip asked Wedge, Couch, and Knapp when they sat down for the interview
session what they thought the draw was for people like Troubetzboy and Ludwig to get involved with animation? The trio’s response no doubt reflected their team members who were not there:

“Well, if you ask people around here I think you will find that even the people that have mostly used their technical chops at work are fascinated by what they do and they love that it’s going towards creating a movie like this as opposed to searching and sorting data. They look at what they do as facilitating art. So I think if you had a conversation with any of them, they will tell you they’re incredibly passionate about what they do. They talk way over my head every day but if you get in a conversation about light and color and how things react to them, you will see how they inspire how we shoot things.

“I’ll put it another way. A lot of the emotion involvement in the movie comes from the art direction you’re not actually paying to but it’s supporting the story. We are the guys that just think visually and cinematically. But to get this stuff to work, we got other people that dig much deeper down to make the flower pedals cells sparkle  by examining the physics of what happens at that level. There are programmers that are using crazy, algorithms to simulate the motion of every  hair on a character’s head. So they are down there doing this crazy programming and you just see numbers and things on their screens but they’re thinking about a level of detail that is very visual and technically creative. So they’re all in there understanding exactly what it all adds up to and I think that’s the draw, those kind of renaissance people with both lobes pulsing in synchrony.”

A good example of this says Wedge, is the colors associated with Beyonce’s character Queen Tara. Knapp added, “The story is developed over several years. There is a great range of vivid colors against saturated tones. We designated certain shades of green for Queen Tara specifically that nobody else gets. You only see those tones when she is in the scene and only if it’s appropriate to the emotional point of the story at that point.”

The Blu-ray Combo Pack, Deluxe Edition Blu-ray and DVD are now available. The Blu-ray combo pack comes with an exclusive coloring and story building app that gives kids the power to create their own Epic story. One of the features nature lovers will also enjoy is “Birds, Bugs and Slugs: Forest Explorer (Blu-ray only), where a journey into the forest puts you in touch with the real-life counterparts of the “Epic” world. For interviews with the “Epic” cast, check out THE FILM STRIP story, ‘Colin Farrell

A very merry mixer

Last month when most of the city was sweltering from the heat, partygoers were in the Jimmy Room, with an outside pool, atop the James Hotel in New York cooling off at a Christmas party dubbed Another Very Merry Mixer. Guests were invited to “Come see what Fox Home Entertainment has in store this holiday season!” Upcoming holiday season’s Blu-rays and DVDs were unveiled at that time; a few of which have already been released for those who like to shop early. The party was hosted by Richard Parker and Kavita Smith from HK Strategies and James Finn, VP of Corporate and Consumer Communications at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The titles were listed by categories: FOR THE LITTLE ONES: Strawberry Shortcake: Bitty Mysteries, Home Alone:The Holiday Heist. FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY: The Croods, Big:25th Anniversary, Shrek the Musical, The Bible: Christmas Edition, Turbo, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Dragons: Riders of Berk Nightfurry Giftset.  FOR GROWN UPs: The East, Homeland Season 2, Vikings Season 1, The Way Way Back, The Internship, American Horror Story: Asylum, The King of Comedy:30th Anniversary, Burn Notice: The Complete Series.  FOR THE MAN IN YOUR LIFE: Fright Night 2: New Blood, Predator 3D, The Wolverine.  FOR COMEDY LOVERS: Modern Family Season 4, The Heat, The Simpsons Season 16 and FOR THE ROMANTICS: Heart of the Country.

Marie Moore is a syndicated veteran entertainment journalist who reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]