Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 was one of the most visually impressive animated features of 2013. Boasting an unabashedly UN-realistic look and more colors than a quadruple rainbow, Cloudy 2 was a wonderful reminder of just how gorgeous non-photo-realistic cartoons can be. With the digital download of the film going on sale today, it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Cloudy 2's Art Director, Dave Bleich, one of the key brains behind this brilliant spectacle.
But first - an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette, exclusive to Animation Scoop, and not part of the forthcoming home entertainment release.
Ju-osh M.: One of the things that everyone is responding to about Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is that it's a cartoon that actually looks, well, CARTOONY. With so much of the animation industry on this bizarre quest for photo-realism, you guys went the opposite route, pushing the unreal, the caricatured and the candy-colored. Can you tell us what prompted you go this route?
Dave Bleich: Thank you. True, many animated feature films today adhere to more cinematic approach through lighting and shot design -- and there is nothing wrong it that!Cloudy 2 *is* a cartoon. It's fun, it's bright and extremely colorful. So we had to develop a visual language that supported such a story, and it shows in its overall design, animation, color, texture and lighting.
Luckily, we had a launching pad from [the original] Cloudy to help us get started. One of our challenges was to make the film even more luscious and dynamic but not appear flat. With a film like Cloudy, it's easy to get carried away by making everything super bright and saturated. We had to be conscious of how we aligned the environment color with an accent color, like smaller flowers and plants. Ideally, we wanted to make sure that the designated environment palettes sparkled but did not compete with the characters.
A choice we made early on was to make sure each set had its own individual color palette and that the characters would be lit with white light. The intention here was to not only make the characters pop on screen, but to also make the viewer feel as if they, too, were exploring the island with Flint and the gang. In earlier tests, we found that colored lights were muddying up the color of the characters and the environments. For example, when we first meet Barry, I wanted the audience to follow the little bouncing red dot throughout the sequence. For that, we designed the entire environment location palette in blues, purples and accented pinks, with the characters being lit with white light. In doing so, we made Barry 'pop' on screen without compromising the color palette of environment. All of these design decisions had to be made to support the story. This is where a color script was essential in guiding us along the way through the film.
Ju-osh: Well, Cloudy's colors are AMAZING. Everything looks so rich, so vibrant, you'd swear you could reach out and scratch-n-sniff the screen. Besides Froot Loops and Skittles, what else was used as inspiration for the film's color palette?
Bleich: Mary Blair's Alice and Peter Pan work was a definite influence on the island design, but I'm a huge Maurice Noble fan. And since Cloudy is a cartoon, I felt this was the perfect opportunity to mix his influence into this already fun complex and colorful world.
Another huge inspiration was how we applied texture to the film. The visual development team spent one Friday afternoon early in production creating hundreds of textures with traditional media -- watercolors, inks, crayon, pen & ink, gouache, etc. We then scanned all of these into the computer and generated a library of textures and brushes to work from. I really wanted to have as much traditional looking texture as possible. Paint software packages today are great in simulating traditional media and have incredible tool sets to work with. However, I wanted to use traditional as much as we could. I believe it gave the film a richer palette and enhanced the its overall color.
Ju-osh: Over the past ten to fifteen years, the animation industry has come to rely more and more on color scripts. Would you mind explaining them briefly, and how they were used in the production of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2?
Bleich: Of course! The color script is a visual representation of the film through color. These should be small paintings with big broad strokes. These are not fine art or detailed illustrations. The details will come later and obviously enhance the palette.
[Color scripts are] something that I feel the production designer and/or art director should create for any film. I believe a strong color foundation is vital to the visual success of any film. What's also wonderful about them, it gives the director a quick glimpse of what his or her film will look like -- and that's pretty exciting. For Cloudy 2, I had the color script for the entire film completed three months before we started production. The color script allowed us to see each environment's palette as a whole. It gave us the choice to make one set pink and yellow, because the next scene would flow better with blues and purples and so on. Another thing to be conscious of is that story changes happen. The color script gives us a clear guide on how to make adjustments to the film's palette while still protecting our overall design.
Ju-osh: There's this subtle yet striking effect used in Cloudy 2 where objects viewed up close look relatively realistic, yet as the camera pulls back, they look more and more cartoony. Who came up with this concept, and how was it achieved?
Bleich: It's something we as 2D artists have always strived for when we created animated films. The VFX supervisor, Pete Travers, and his amazing team at Imageworks developed this technology that we referred to throughout the film as "depth styling." I don't have all of technical definitions on how it works, but honestly, I cannot say enough of how thrilled we were to have such a tool. This little bit of technology made the film look even better and I cannot thank them enough. It was huge for us and shows up terrifically in 3D.
Ju-osh: Last but not least -- in fact, it's probably the MOST eye-gasmic element in a movie chock full o' eye-gasmic elements -- the 'Foodimals.' They not only blend animals with edibles, they mix Henson-esque character design with Mary Blair's whimsical use of color and shape with the surreal silliness of Dr. Seuss. Would you share a story about their creation...name a few of your favorites...and maybe the tell us one or two Foodimals that didn't make the cut?
Bleich: That's all from the twisted brain of the character designer, Craig Kellman. The directors gave him assignment on a Friday, and he came back in on Monday morning with over a hundred foodimals' names and rough drawings. They were hilarious! He is incredible. My favorites are the leek and the tomato. The leek is cracks me up. But the tomato is the only foodimal that I had the opportunity to paint for the movie, so I take a little pride for that and the huge role the tomato played in the film. :)
Ju-osh: Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, Dave. There were a lot of great visual MOMENTS in this year's cartoons, but IMHO, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 was the most visually sumptuous FILM. I'm looking forward to seeing what you do next!