Back in July I took a trip to California to attend the red carpet premiere of Christopher Robin and also to promote the launch of Avengers: Infinity War on Blu-Ray. That wasn’t everything we did on the jam-packed all expense paid trip. We did one other thing and that was to spend the day at Disney Animation Studios. When I visited Disney Animation Studios I met with the team behind the upcoming Ralph Breaks the Internet movie. I was able to learn about so many things that went into creating a movie like this one. I cannot wait to see the fully completed movie when we take Andrew for his birthday in November.
Sure, there are more steps than just three to create The Internet in a movie but for this posts purposes I am going to talk about 3 sessions that I was part of where we met with people from Story, Art and Production for the movie. I’ll break everything down below.
Step 1 – Craft the Story – STORY DOWNLOAD
There are trillions of stories on the Internet. How you found this blog post out of all of them is amazing. With so many stories to tell how do you tell one that is so compelling that you make a follow up to one pretty spectacular story like Wreck-It Ralph. We met with the story team for a STORY DOWNLOAD session. The people that we learned from were Josie Trinidad (Head of Story), Jason Hand (Story Artist) and Natalie Nourigat (Story Artist), and they explained the unique roles that the story team played not only in developing a new adventure for Ralph and Vanellope, but also in envisioning the ever-evolving world of the Internet.
Story is a continuous process. The story team works throughout the entire production cycle. Movies start with idea from directors. The story allows them to explore the different aspects of Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship. The story team and heads of story craft the story. Once the story is crafted they head to scripting. The story team tracks the character arcs of the individual characters. Characters, wants needs visual gags, entertainment are explored. Then quick sketches are done to figure out action and camera work. The Story Department constantly shares ideas with each other. The ideas go to Storyboarding where story artists draw sequences of the movie. Then they have pitch meetings with the storyboard drawings. The story artist does the acting of the dialog. Then everyone contributes to the story with new ideas. The story is revised and these pitch meetings can happen again.
The story goes to Editorial. Whoever is in the editorial room does the scratch voices. So the story writers need to be artists, actors and much much more. The team has fun in editorial. The team takes all the storyboards, scratch voice recordings and clips and puts it together into a rough movie and it gets screened by employees. They watch the movie. Everyone is supportive and contributes ideas to make the movie better. Then a meeting happens with the story trust where they get more notes and ideas. There are a million different ways to make things better. The team is always trying to find the best idea. They repeat this process all through production, always trying to create the best possible movie. There were 10 of these screenings through the process.
Josie, Jason and Natalie talked about what they wanted to do with Ralph and Vanellope with regards to The Internet. They wanted them to go viral. They started out with a version of the meme “two kinds of people”. Like are you a Ralph or Vanellope. This did not feel authentic and so they keep looking for the next way that Ralph and Vanellope could go viral. Then they went with the idea of The Meme Factory. The Meme Factory was a place where Netizens are producing content. this was where all the viral videos were produced. The story folks saw that there was just so much content out there that there has to be some sort of factory churning it out. There they wanted to have Ralph doing a bunch of gags. This did not work because it felt pretty cruel. It was more mean than funny. Ralph was getting hurt a lot. People did not enjoy it. They wanted the Internet to feel fun.
The next idea was The meme generator. The idea was that Yesss’ brain could come up with the next viral thing. She would get three random ideas and then add Ralph to the mix to make the viral videos. We saw a few clips that they came up with. They were funny but just not getting to the way they wanted the movie to go. They even had an unboxing video of Ralph unboxing angry bees. This one finally worked with everyone. They then realized that the video was familiar and everyone got it because it was a YouTube genre. They realized that what they would do was have Ralph do some of the viral videos that are around on the Internet. Cooking videos, Video Gaming videos and more. The funny thing is, to me, is that what they discovered was the essence of why a meme works. Everyone can relate.
Within story there were fifteen artists. 10 screenings. 45 sequences total. Of those 45 sequences they started with 153 and over 100 got cut. There were 7883 total sequence versions, 283,839 storyboards drawn. They said that 1000 ideas can be had just to get that one great idea that will spark the right idea.
We had time for three questions. the first question asked was “How do you deal with your idea getting rejected?” They explained that you must develop a thick skin because you have to throw out ideas all the time. It is part of the business. Everyone is trying to make the best movie possible. Sometimes even that one idea will lead to the eventual idea. The bad ideas can help the right one. The next question that was asked was if they would fight for a rejected idea and when they would do that. They will fight for an idea when something does not feel right for a character. I was able to ask the last question. I asked how many hours on YouTube they spent, and if they found a unique voice on the Internet and that person needed to be in the movie. They were quite coy about this. They did tons of research on the different genres of videos. They did not mention if there may be YouTube stars in the movie. I suspect that there may be.
Step 2 – Creating the Location – THE WEB’S WIDE WORLD
Every story needs a setting. For Ralph Breaks the Internet the setting is not the tiny world of Litwak’s Arcade as it was in the first movie. The location for the follow up movie is exponentially larger. To learn about how the setting of the Internet was created we sat down with Matthias Lechner (Art Director, environments), Larry Wu (Head of Environments) and Ernie Petti (Technical Supervisor) to talk about the daunting task of turning the abstract concept of the Internet into a complex, thriving metropolis
Designing the Internet as a world was exciting but also a bit daunting. The group went to Wilshire One which is the Internet hub for Southern California. They discussed how the information of the real world gets packaged and then sent to the Internet via a telephone wire. That information can go to an optical hub and when it hits that it breaks the lightspeed barrier and the characters hit the Internet. When they land in the Internet they arrive at the Internet Hub. The light of fiber optics get broken down into different color wavelengths. So the Internet hub has these points of color where the Net Users arrive. The inspiration for this look is those large undersea cables sliced open so you see a circular cable with all those fiber optic points. Each one of those is a way to land at the Internet hub.
The director of cinematography even shot various pieces of hardware from overhead to get a look and feel of a large expansive city aerial shot. There is a lot of inspiration both from websites and browsers as well as physical hardware. Each building represents a website and within each one is a large expansive world. The larger more popular websites are the larger buildings. they wanted to make sure that each building had variation. They even made mock flythroughs of the city blocks to see if they could execute a large city like this. When they went to render everything their render engines did not like that. The times were way too long to scale to making an entire movie. They had to find ways for their renderer to handle the sheer amount of stuff. They extended their renderer and whenever they found one element they duplicated it across the city and they were able to scale this without eating up all the time a the render farm.
The fun of this world is in the details. There are so many different things that you will see throughout the world like the traffic lights like the three dots on the top of your web browsers. All the signs are international because the Internet is international. A Net User may only travel on light beam connections in self driving cars. Netizens have various ways to go from place to place from drones to a mail truck to recycling truck. The group had to come up with a guiding system and signage.
To make the world even more expansive and busy they have little booths all sorts of things that people can do from a music story to Internet cafes. There are screens everywhere. The entire art department came up with different things on the screens, not just for the one movie but the entire art department. They also created a ton of videos, the entire animation department created those videos. They then developed a whole new pipeline to randomly automatically populate to those screens all around the Internet. They also had to have the flexibility to change out different screens as needed.
Then there is The Deep Web. That is all the archives and more. At the bottom are a bunch of discarded things. Then when you go deeper you get to the seedy underbelly of the Internet. The Internet that they created is not only expansive as far as the eye can see on the horizon but it is also vertically deep as far as the eye can see.
They also talked about the website Oh My Disney which is a Disney website and they made the outside look like a futuristic Disney castle and even put large hotels around it. Inside they have areas for all of the Disney properties. They took inspiration of the princesses area from the special room that people can stay at within Disney. Very special people.
156 Master sets, unique environments, 6000 unique individual assets, They brought in assets from all their past movies as well for a wide variety of things they needed. 100,000 elements in the balcony shot as seen below. That does not even include the Netizens and Net Users in the shot. On a typical day 1.9 million renderer hours had to be done to achieve that.
After the presentation we were able to ask some questions. The team created so much more in the same amount of time it usually takes to make a movie. There were things that were unusual to this movie in that having access to the entire art department for some time and then the animation department as well. Then using older environments and up-scaling them for the movie. For instance they used Zootopia, Bolt and even more. There are little hidden jokes everywhere.
I asked if any of the master sets was the most challenging. They said that they were all pretty equally challenging but the Internet itself was the toughest.
Step 3 – The Supporting Roles – POPULATING THE INTERNET
You cannot have a movie without a cast of characters. Every single character has a role to play in the larger movie. Have you ever watched a movie and noticed an extra in the background doing something interesting. each one has something to contribute and when you are making an animated movie each character must be created. So we talked with Cory Loftis (Production Designer), Dave Komorowski (Head of Characters and Technical Animation), Renato dos Anjos (Head of Animation) and Moe El-Ali (Crowds’ Supervisor) explore the process of creating the inhabitants of the Internet, from the “Netizens” to the “Net Users”. These guys has the task of Populating the Internet.
The designers envisioned the Internet as a three-dimensional space and you can be looking ahead and there is foot traffic, you can look down and there is more foot traffic, look up and even more. There are a lot of characters in the film. Let’s populate this and see how many characters we are talking about. 150,00 characters for a single shot of a small part of the Internet. In comparison in the first movie, Wreck-It Ralph, there were 223 unique characters and 421 variations of that character. On this movie they started with pulling everyone over from the first movie. Then they populated the Internet and the new character 434 unique characters and 6,752 variants. On top of that they made color changes, designs on t-shirts, skin color, hair color and from that they got over 500,000 unique options in the film.
Since the first movie so many of their animation techniques have changed and evolved. both Ralph and Vanellope got upgrades to their designs. In the image above you can see some of them but there are so many more that you won’t really be able to notice unless you are looking with a very fixed eye. There were slight changes to hair and the way that Ralph’s body looks as well as thought about the physics on how to move his body. There were rips to his clothes and little frayed bits that are much more pronounced. It gives everything a much richer quality.
The world needs to be populated by people who live and work within it while I may feel that I live on the Internet I am merely a user of that tool. Within Ralph Breaks The Internet there are people who live within the Internet. They do all the jobs like place hearts on tings that you or I like. They move emails around the Internet or they check you out of websites.
for you or I we are representations of ourselves online, we are avatars of ourselves but at our essence we are users of the the Internet. We are Net Users. Net users are what we would be online. The team showed us some hilarious little videos of Net Users interacting with Netizens.
We also learned about a department called the crowd department. They needed to create it in order to direct large crowds of characters in the movie. That department was created during Zootopia and has been a part of the movies since then. The had to create algorithms to make characters move around in a scene and even program how people who were doing nothing would react.
We learned about Yesss. She runs a business on the Internet and is the authority on what is cool. She constantly changes clothes and hairstyles to be the most current. She is digital and they came up with ways in which she was digital. There are things like her dress being digital or even a coat made of fiber optics. She is receiving data from everywhere directly to herself. They modeled on of her jackets after Cruella De Ville. Her clothes fade off an on and her bracelet floats and rotates around, even her earrings float. They captured the mannerisms of the actor as well.
Then they showed us Knowsmore. He is not only a character but he is a mascot for the website that he works for. They worked on graphic 2D designs for his eyes and they animated his eyes by hand, hand drawn. Everything else is CGI. They could do anything with his expressions. We saw a test of Alan Tudyk playing Knowsmore. We started to ran out of time at this point but then had time for a few questions. I asked if they would set up a Net User Generator where people could make their own Net User avatars in the style of Ralph Breaks the Internet. They said no but were pretty tickled by the question.
The Ralph Breaks the Internet Trailer
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RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET arrives in theatres everywhere on November 21st!
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