Discovering Ratatouille – Creating The Animation

A few weeks ago, we had an exclusive interview with some of the people that contributed to the creation of Disneyland Paris’ all-new mini-land “La Place de Rémy”. In this article, Pixar animator Andrew Schmidt (“AS”) explains how the animation for the attraction came to be.

Attention, the following text contains spoilers.

DD: How many scenes are there in the attraction?

AS: I believe the attraction features nine different scenes.

DD: What are the main steps in creating a scene?

AS: We start with storyboards. Then you go into like a virtual, what we call “sets and layout”. And then on top of that, you built the animation.

DD: Did you use the exact same models as in the original film?

AS: Yes, we used the exact same models. We even went back and used the same animation program that we had back in 2007 because now we’re using a much more updated version. We did that to have the same look and feel as the movie and just because a lot of the characters haven’t been updated for the new system yet.

DD: What kind of challenges were faced when creating the animation?

AS: One of the challenges was the overall length of the shots. Take, for example, the scene where Remy runs through the kitchen. In the movie, this scene is told in cuts. You know, he moves, it cuts, he reacts. We didn’t have that. For the attraction, we had to do a straight through for 45 seconds. And then there is this overall timing of getting things right as well. You have to animate and time the characters crossing, passing and then dropping things. Everything has to drop at the right time because the way the ride camera moves is already set. You don’t have a chance to stop it. In a film, you’re allowed to alter certain things, alter the camera or make changes. But with the ride, you can’t do that. You have to work with what you’re given, because the timing of the ride is so precise. I mean really down to a second. So you have to animate to this ticking clock.

DD: How do you do the testing as you work along? Are you having some test audience?

AS: Just ourselves. Basically, the idea was storyboarded out. So you have the major plot points. You know you have these goals to hit throughout the scene. Because the ride is being broadcast on these giant screens, we would look at it, we would animate, simulate it on our screens at work. They are pretty big, 30 inch screens, but it’s nothing compared to the ride. The ride screens are huge! So they had a couple of places set up down in Glendale with these giant screens and things like that so we would come down and collaborate with the Imagineers. And show Tom Fitzgerald what we’ve done and see if it worked, the timing was right, not just in the animation, but with the ride.

DD: Did you do anything special to get acquainted with the way rats perceive the world?

AS: I looked at a lot of video reference. And we also came down to WDI’s “Digital Immersive Showroom” (“The Dish”). This virtual-reality technology allowed us to test the things we had in mind before construction. “The Dish” is just mind blowing. Even if you’re staring at your screen this close and Remy is that big, it doesn’t do the same thing as when you suddenly see this wrap around vision.

DD: Did Pixar do any other projects specifically for 3D before?

AS: This is the first thing I think Pixar has done that is specifically for 3D. Because usually when we do our movies, 3D is used to just enhance the film a little bit. We don’t want to make a spectacle of it. But the “Ratatouille” attraction is about the spectacle! You know, this one, you want the hand reaching out. So, it’s the first time we pushed it.

DD: How long did the rendering of the footage for the attraction take?

AS: I believe it took as much time as to render the entire film. And that’s because of the huge screens and the high resolution.

DD: How long does the whole attraction take?

AS: Just under five minutes. And the attraction will appear differently when you take it several times. The ride is designed, depending on which car you’re in, you will see something different. You’ll get a different viewpoint. They are mostly the same, but there are subtle differences!

DD: Could you point out a very special detail in the attraction that can be easily overlooked?

AS: There is a hidden element. I don’t know if I should tell you or not…

DD: Can you give us a hint?

AS: I just say, in every Pixar film we’ve made…

DD: The Pizza Planet Truck!?

AS: Yes, indeed (smiles). It’s in the attraction… it’s in there somewhere!

DD: Are you going to ride the attraction one day?

AS: I am. I’m hoping to get there in September. It will be my first time in Disneyland Paris. But it won’t be the first time in Paris…

Photos: (c) Disney.

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