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Immersed in Movies: Saldanha Gets Animated Over Rio

Awards
by Bill Desowitz
December 14, 2011 4:29 PM
2 Comments
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Rio
Rio

If "Rango" is the front runner in the animated Oscar race (it took the LA Film Critics Assn. Awards last week), then "Rio" is the dark horse. It's original, lively, musical, richly animated, and boasts Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway as the voice talent for the romance between two mismatched blue macaws.

It was a personal project for Carlos Saldanha, the Rio native and Blue Sky Studios vet, director of the first two "Ice Age" sequels. Saldanha was passionate about accurately capturing the look and feel and rhythm of the beat of the Latin American paradise that is so dear to his heart.

Yet it took a long time to gestate. Saldanha first started thinking about "Rio" 10 years ago, but had to abandon the idea of a hero penguin after that trend came and went, switching to the brightly colored blue macaw appropriately named Blu (Eisenberg). Then, once he had his story in place about Blu's fear of flying ("Adapt or Die"), Saldanha and his Blue Sky colleagues had to figure out the complications of feathers and cloth and animating humans on a large scale, and, most crucially, how to render Rio just right.

Another starting point for"Rio" was its infectious Brazilian score (composed by John Powell in collaboration with the film's music guru, legend Sergio Mendes), which inspired the animators. "The combination of the two created this overwhelmingly beautiful experience for all of us during the process," Saldanha suggests. "It was painful but well worth it. And I had a big responsibility being from Brazil to make it authentic. One thing that always kills me is that when I watch a movie about Rio or Brazil, I instantly know that it's [inaccurate], or that they take a lot of creative liberties that doesn't make it feel right. And I wanted to erase those mistakes. I wanted to make a movie personally and for Brazilians or people that have been to Brazil to feel like they were there. And for people who have never been there, they would look at the way it exists."

Saldanha and the animators were consumed with every detail from the historic landmarks right down to mosaic sidewalks. "The complexity of creating a city is very daunting," Saldanha adds, "especially a city where it's not very uniform. It's a city that has very specific landmarks, and nature is very complicated--like mountain ranges and plants and forests and trees and birds."

Thus, Blue Sky had to create the entire city from scratch in the computer, intertwining the concrete jungle with the Rio jungle. They had to populate the hillsides in the vista views to construct the lush landscape, creating a new technology for displacement, like taking a splotch of paint to make it look like a crop of trees rather than having to propagate hundreds of thousands of trees across the hillside.

When it came to the birds, meanwhile, Blue Sky had to first create software just to adapt the fur technology perfected on the "Ice Age" films for feathers in the creation of 12 species of birds. And then the hero birds required special rigging for the wings that double for gesturing.

However, for its stylized-looking humans, the Connecticut-based animation studio focused on new sub-surface lighting techniques to create pleasing skin. This was part of a global illumination effort to light the entire movie in a beautiful way.

But for the director's ambitious recreation of the famous Carnival parade in all its glittering glory, Blue Sky had to create a whole new cloth and simulation department. "The biggest thing was that I wanted to do humans with costumes and not only a few humans but 40,000 parading and dancing Samba in the middle of the avenue, all in sync and all in the tempo of the music and with big floats and with feathers," the director explains.

Of course, the timing of "Rio" couldn't have worked out better for Saldanha, Blue Sky, and Fox, as Rio has become the host city for the 2016 Olympics.

"I remember arriving in Rio for a meeting to discuss the movie and it was the same day that Rio was announced to be the city for the Olympics," the director fondly recalls. "So in a way it got us off on the right foot and the momentum has just grown from there."

Now let's see if the momentum will lead to an Oscar nomination.

Awards
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More: Awards, Awards, Oscars, Animation

2 Comments

  • Jay Lo | January 7, 2012 12:14 PMReply

    I loved the movie Rio and I have watched it a few times since its release. I watch this with my son or while we do errands he can view it. The Sling adapter has allowed me to enjoy TV more than I ever did. I never watched TV due to a busy schedule. With this flexibility, I can access DVR recordings, set up times and delete as well. I can stream to my iPad or other portable devices. I keep my son busy watching cartoons while I do some shopping. I watch my shows while on break at work. I can stay up with the local weather or the latest game score. I don’t know what I would do without my portable TV. Working over at DISH has allowed me to get to know and use this product all the time. The TV everywhere option is offered free to new customer for a limited time.

  • Mollie | December 15, 2011 5:08 PMReply

    Well to be honest, I am one of the few people who didn't enjoy this movie too much. I didn't find it original at all. The plot line was uninteresting, predictable, and horribly cliched. And the characters weren't all that memorable to me. Although I did love the scenery and animation, plus the music. When your watching the film, it makes you feel like your really there in Rio. Plus some of the romance between Blu and Jewel were cute. Although it was also fairly shallow and lacked more character development.

    But that's just my opinion. And being the big Ice Age fan that I am, I am quite happy for Blue Sky Studios. They came really far in their films and I am proud. I hope the 4th Ice Age film and their upcoming films show an even greater sign of achievement and gratitude for the company and its fans. With that said, congratulations Blue Sky! You did a spectacular job once again!

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