Wednesday, January 13, 2010

cloudy with a chance of meatballs!

here is my story on the animated movie "cloudy with a chance of meatballs" and the filipino who worked on designing some of the characters in the film.

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The gastronomic side of a movie

By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent
(The Philippine Star) Updated January 12, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Say you are planning something for the weekend and you ask someone what the weather forecast might be. Then, instead of rain or sunshine, you are told that the weekend will be cloudy — with a chance of meatballs! Now, wouldn’t that be one delicious weekend? You got cream pies, burgers, pancakes, ice creams, and pizza, among many other delectable goodies, falling from the sky; it is one delightful weekend to look forward to, indeed!

Sony Pictures Animation conjures this interesting and mouth-watering scenario with its latest offering, the animated 3D film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which opens in theaters Jan. 27.

In the movie, the seaside town of Swallow Falls is plagued by a weakening economy and diminishing food supply. Their major industry, the Baby Brent Sardine cannery, has closed for good and the town is left with the remaining sardines as their only food source.

To solve this grim situation, an enterprising young man, Flint Lockwood, whose previous inventions have turned into disasters, decides to invent a machine that will convert molecules from water into food. The invention would have been successful had it not suffered a major setback: During a test run, the machine explodes, destroys the town, and rockets into the atmosphere.

The town becomes an angry mob and everyone turns against Flint — but not after the sky turns gray and cheeseburgers start raining over the town. The people celebrate and Flint becomes their hero. It would turn out to be a fleeting celebration. The machine soon takes a life of its own and starts to churn out more food and eventually threatens the entire world. Flint and his gang now have to devise a solution to disable the machine. Would they be able to do it? You’ll have to see the movie to find out if our hero makes it.

The movie is a fun and exciting adventure for the entire family. Scenes of meatballs and other delicious foods hurtling towards the town is one spectacular and tempting sight. Those who made watching their diets their new year’s resolution are sure to have a good time feasting on the gastronomic sight without adding on the calories and extra pounds!

Credit for this eye-popping display of movie magic goes to the young pair of filmmakers who expressed how much fun they had making this movie. “It’s like making a very expensive student film,” says Phil Lord, who with Christopher Miller, shepherded the making of this movie over a period of three years. Yes, it took three years to make this movie! “This journey actually started for us when we were seven years old after we read the book. It’s our earliest example of how to do whimsical sort of humor.”

And would it still surprise anyone to know that a Filipino helped design how the movie will look? I guess not.

John Butiu (pronounced Boo-too-wee) and his team from 3D Visual Development started work on the movie more than three years ago. Before the film gets made, the producers and director, working from the storyboard, commissions a two-minute clip of the movie which will be used to decide the look of the movie and sometimes even dictates whether a movie gets green-lit at all. That’s what our compatriot John does.

“We do a two-minute short version of the film so that the producers, directors, and bigwigs who are going to make the movie can see if it’s going to look like the movie they want to make. That way they can tell how the characters look like, the lighting, the environments,” John tells this writer one morning a couple of weeks ago during a tour of the Sony Animation Studios inside the Sony lot in Culver City. “I personally worked on the main characters like Flint, Sam, Brent, Tim, and the character called Mr. T, (who is really based on the famous TV character actor),” he adds. There was a character designer who worked on the initial design of the characters and John improved on the design, animated the characters, and rendered them in 3D. Sounds easy to do, eh?

Not so. The two-minute clip is called the pre-visualization process. “It is not as highly rendered as the final film but you can tell the lighting, the color, and the characters,” says John. Designing the characters, mixing the colors, and rendering the 3D animation took John and his team six months to complete.

Thanks to the humungous box-office hit Avatar, 3D animation is now considered a major industry in Hollywood and John is happy to be at the forefront of it.

John, who recently became a first-time father and whose family hails from Davao City in Southern Philippines, initially wanted to become a car designer and studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena before dropping out due to financial reasons. His career in Hollywood was somewhat fortuitous.

Together with some friends he got his start in Hollywood at the Rhythm and Hues Studios in Marina Del Rey where he did character modeling works on the movie Babe and a host of other TV commercials. He later moved to Disney and worked on Chicken Little, among others. From Disney he transferred to Sony where he worked on two high-profile franchises: the Harry Potter series and the Narnia Chronicles.

When 3D started making a comeback in the late ‘90s, John was prepared and knew how the technology works. “When I quit school, I taught myself the 3D side of animation because since I didn’t graduate and go to school, I didn’t have a 2D portfolio just yet, so I started working on character modeling and I just built from there.”

All he did professionally until he moved to 3D Visual Development was 2D stuff. For those unfamiliar with the term 2D here is the most elementary explanation: All movies are considered 2D, or two-dimensional, unless they are specifically labeled as 3D or three-dimensional.

Over time, the machine got faster, software became much easier to use and all one did was to simply just press a button or use this pen-like instrument that allows the animator to draw and sketch directly on the screen. John makes it clear, however, that “just anyone can push buttons or anyone can learn to light but if you have the skill to draw and design that makes you a designer.”

John’s work on this movie and the recent blockbuster 2012 gives him the chance to further improve his craft while enjoying how his art has completely evolved since he started in the business more than 10 years ago.

But even with the availability of the most advanced technology all art forms still rely on basic talent. In the case of animation, it’s the skill to draw and the eye for color coordination that sets the difference. And to anyone who wants to get into the business, John has the following advice: ”Take classes, go to school, do research on-line, and just start doing it.”

Will we ever see a Filipino character soon in an animated film? “Of course, yeah, I’d love to do it,” John excitedly declares. ”But it really depends on what the director wants. It will be cool to see little Johnny on screen!”

Perhaps soon, when John starts directing movies, we’ll see images of ourselves being silly, being brave, being funny, or just being cute on a big Hollywood film.

Until then we have John’s work to enjoy on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which features the voices of Anna Faris, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, and Mr. T, himself.

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