G - FORCE - Preschool Guinea Pig Becomes 3D Masterpiece


Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, well known for producing great stories brings his first 3-D film to the big screen with G-FORCE, a comedy adventure about a covert government program to train an elite team of guinea pigs in espionage and arm them with the latest high-tech spy equipment in order to determine the fate of the world. Tapped for the G-FORCE are guinea pigs Darwin (voice of Sam Rockwell) the leader and soldier genetically created by Ben the scientist, Blaster (voice of Tracy Morgan), and Juarez (voice of Penelope Cruz) the martial arts expert and Speckles, a star-nosed mole and computer expert (voice of Nicholas Cage).  Other G-FORCE agents are Mooch, the fly capable of sending audio visual to the G-FORCE and Harry the cockroach.

The idea for producing the movie came from a preschooler that brought home the classroom guinea pig for the weekend and described how cool it would be if the guinea pig could be a secret agent and do cool things like James Bond. His father is Hoyt H. Yeatman, Jr., Director of G-FORCE who agreed with his son and began creating visuals of the characters in order to develop the idea that was later taken to legendary Producer, Jerry Bruckheimer who saw the project as “something fresh, fun and something that would reach out to a younger audience’.

Hoyt’s son was 5 at the time and now 11 years old with a speaking part in the movie. A lot of time has been put in to developing the movie which originally was filmed in 2D and converted to 3D in a way that has never before been seen by moviegoers who are in for an experience that is exciting for children as well as adults.

The initial planning stages began with researching James Bond type gadgets that could be used by the characters, in this case guinea pigs. What was revealed is that most of the gadgets exist now and are being use by various governments. For instance when 12 squirrels were used to infiltrate an Iranian Embassy equipped with radio controlled surveillance equipment. Also, throughout history animals and insects have been used in surveillance according to Hoyt. Some of the research information was obtained from the DARPA (Defense Advance Research Projects Agency) that has experimented with Hybrid Insect MEMS (HI-MEMS) or mini brain probe injection into the brain of fly’s during the pupa stage making them capable of sending visual or radio data to the spy master.

(L-R) Juarez, Darwin

Hoyt said that using research the characters were then created: Darwin as the squad leader using the voice of Sam Rockwell wants to really be a special agent and feels special because he was genetically created by Ben , the scientist of the bunch. Blaster with the voice of Tracy Morgan is an adrenalin junky with lots of movement, the weapons expert with tons of attitude and created special challenges for the production team; Juarez with the voice of Penelope Cruz is the sexy martial artist and gymnast of the group; Speckles with the voice of Nicolas Cage is a star-nose mole and has a nose with a tip resembling that of an octopus, small eyes, a genius with limited eyesight but a brainiak computer expert with special computer keyboard skills. Speckles can receive data that’s sent to the G – FORCE by Mooch, literally a fly with lots of energy and nano tech that flies around sending audio visual to the team, the reconnaissance expert. Finally there is a cockroach named Harry that is made cute and can mimic the behavior of a squirrel or puppy. Other voices are Jon Favreau and Steve Buscemi; other cast members are Bill Nighty, Will Arnett and Zach Galifianakis.

G - FORCE sets itself apart from other 3-D movies in a number of ways, illustrating how a live movie can coexist within an animated environment. Most other movies are all animated. G-FORCE is a mixed hybrid and although it revolves around the main character and as Jerry Bruckheimer films are full of action, using today’s technology was another challenge to capture using the traditional big rig camera technology of 100 years ago. Producing the fast paced movie in 2-D and then converting to 3-D required over 2000 cuts in the 85 minute movie. That presented a lot of creative challenges compared to a Pixar movie having 1100 cuts.

According to Scott Stokdyk, Visual Effect Supervisor, G-FORCE presented the team with an amazing opportunity and marriage between Jerry Bruckeimer films and Disney. It is kid friendly with a sophisticated look presenting no other movie like it, bringing our world with the unique perspective of the guinea pig, a level people are not really used to. Rob Engle headed up the 3-D conversion of the movie.

The audience will see a lot of attention to detail as demonstrated in the G-FORCE trailer presented during the press conference in both 2D and 3D. The visual effects were really cool and I will agree with Scott when he says, “If you see one giant live robot action movie this is the one you should see”.  The unique camera feel for CG and live action. They used sophisticated rigs to take the audience into the world of the fly (Mooch) or the guinea pig as a guinea pig cameraman, enveloping the characters to suck the viewer into their world. For instance the layers and textural feel of the layering of fur and CG water that rolls off the hair or the guinea pig and appreciating the hair and water rolling off the character and into the audience is really spectacular. It’s a kid’s movie that brings people into it as adults and kids.

According to Troy Saliba, Animation Director, G-FORCE is driven by the characters. During production it was important that the guinea pigs feel they are guinea pigs and not make them muscular as would be expected of an agent but have tiny arms and legs doing secret agent stuff that is fun to watch. This was another challenge in design, changing small parts of the animal so that they could work with them such as angling the eyes a little forward and working with the buck teeth that effected various mouth shapes and the fact that guinea pigs have 3 toes and 4 fingers, it was important to keep the number of digits but move one finger around so that they had thumbs. Also since they had to act like guinea pigs but do things considered human like standing up, unlike real guinea pigs that have long femurs. Finally playing up the lighting in the iris of the eye was important in some scenes of the movie when creating a feeling of emotion. Several additional challenges had to be worked out.

The next challenge was figuring out how the guinea pigs should run which Hoyt decided should scrabble along like real guinea pigs, an idea that really works in the movie.

Another challenge was the different levels of stylization presented by the various personalities of each character as well as the voice work. Darwin for instance is the straight man, refined, soldier and leader; Bucky had a lot of energy and required more styling and exaggerating acting requiring a balance to capture the voice performance but still live with other characters.
Another was the physical acting performance to do an Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible stuff with short legs and all the action of Jerry Bruckheimer movies in a kid friendly with cute animal doing all of these things according to Scott.

Other challenges involved deciding whether to use a stuffy as an animal when being handled by a live person, which is the easier option, or to use the real thing and risk getting bit. There was a noticeable difference in how the two animals are handled by a live person especially with regards to the human posture differences. The decision was to use a live guinea pig, no actors were bit!

The next challenge was the actual real acting and all had a great sense of timing. They were the ones that actually brought life and a sense of spirit to the character. Some were schooled for hours to find character mannerisms. Sometimes video reference was used but no motion capture to act out a scene.

Another challenge was with the character Harry the cockroach and trying to make what would be a gross insect that most would want to step on and make it cute and friendly using movements where it acted like a puppy or squirrel but have the physical features of a cockroach.

G-FORCE had tremendous challenges and creative obstacles to overcome by the team of artists, painters and graphic designers. No one described it better than Rob Engle, 3D Visual Effects Supervisor when he said that.” G-FORCE brings a new way to connect with the audience in ways harder to do with traditional 2D.  The film was a perfect marriage or perfect 3D movie. With much  experience as Sony Imageworks with 3D films, first was Polar Express which was credited with kicking off the wave of 3D new renaissance. Disney has a long history as well pioneering digital projection in 1995 with Chicken Little. Bringing together Disney Imageworks with  and Jerry Bruckheimer with action adventure films and Hoyt with technical and visual effects supervisor. It’s exciting and comes out on the screen as the marriage of 4 forces being a great project to the screen”.

The trailer describes G-FORCE as “about a research scientist that’s working to develop technology communication between humans and animals. An amped up spy movie using guinea pigs as main characters… real secret agents... official agents of the FBI, shot like a normal movie converted to 3D later”.

According to Troy one creative tool is using interactual spacing or separation between the left and right eyes in a virtual CG world created using a pair of cameras. The first step is to decide how far apart the cameras need to be. Separated, enhances the depth of the scene allowing the set to move into the audience space. Sometimes breaking the movie frame allows it as well. Convergence is the rotation of the camera allowing us to move the space backwards and forward. We take 2D single camera photography and build a virtual world or computer world. G-FORCE will literally take your breath away.

Apparently the decision to take the 2D film and make it 3D was made about a year ago. It had been done before but no one taking a digital effects film in its entirety, a hybrid technique. Taking 2D plate photography with traditional film cameras, adding dimension to the plate and adding integrating our CG rendered characters to the plate. The best of two worlds. .High quality rich depth of rendering CG characters but shooting in 2D. So using any camera rig they want and afterwards have all the flexibility to tune 3D to get the best 3D tones.
The challenge was bringing the audience into the guinea pigs world.  In the cage with the guinea pig and you actually feel that you are in the cage with the guinea pig! “We are trying to get dynamic range to the audience space but leave room for the wow moments to remind the audience that you are watching 3D and can reach out and grab something. At the end the 3D is amped up!

How do you bring these moments into the audience?
Since the film is a 235 movie or wide screen released as a flat movie in a letter box with a black frame.  The geometry allows objects to go over the mask.  It defines what comes out into the audience. Even in 2D it feels like the action comes out into the audience space. Really powerful in 3D it makes the audience jump. The fly is brought into the audience as well.

Press Q & A:

Did your son get credit (for presenting the idea for the movie)?
He had a voice to the mice. He didn’t really understand. He was 5 years old and now he is 11…purposely showed him a little bit. It was exciting for him to go to Disney and record.

What was the price difference between doing it in 2D and then the hybrid... the price difference instead of shooting 2D?
Not really known…did two days shooting pace rigs, Avatar is being shot with, and most advanced system for 3D...immediately it’s about the technology. 20 minutes to change a lens and restrictive. We decided to move on as a 2D method of going 2D to 3D has been done most in post. No one has done anything of this scope. 2D to 3D you have ultimate control in post.

The disadvantage of shooting 3D is everything has to be done twice… We build a 3D world that already matches what they are doing. The cost becomes diverted into the process…We use cameras the size of a 5lb bag of sugar.

Tell us about the invention
We use a HDR cam like a light probe. Rarely is light information gathered. CG or CGR. This captures light information, later Sony software derives physical light form that. This insures you the light are more dynamic.

Who does G-FORCE go up against?
The bad guy is Saber. Like a Bill Gates, was in military and now an appliance king of the world. Making washers and toasters the FBI is concerned he is up to no good making military chips and goods. The G-FORCE uncovers the plan brewing which is to take over the world… it really is guinea pigs saving the world.

What was it about the story Jerry that told you it would be a great film?
“I just felt it was something fresh, fun, something that would reach out to younger audience”

The 500 artists are they defined as doing cells or CGI and how many actually drawing or do both computers and CG?

“About 326 people on the 2D crew from comprising plates to animators to lighters to compositors. The 3D crew was about 180 people. The team includes those that do paint, work lighting and compositing”.

The 3D crew. Was it a challenge to find those people given the lack of (3D) training available for people in this industry?

We are exercising all the skills that we normally use on a normal live action visual effects movie. Scott mentioned roto, print, compositing; tracking and all the skills are things that are normally used. We use them to create a different kind of effect. The alternate view of the other eye, we went out looking for people that could do that.

At the conclusion of the Q & A we were given the opportunity to preview a few minutes of G-FORCE. The unanimous reaction was WOW! This is one 3D movie that you don’t want to miss whether you are an adult of kid looking for something exciting, unusual and a visual experience that you won’t forget. It’s not just a movie but an interactively stimulating visual and auditory experience.

 I must agree that some of the best ideas must come from listening to our kids for they have a tremendous mind for imagination and when their ideas are combined with the creativity and experience of Jerry Bruckheimer, Hoyt Yeatman, Jr, Rob Engle, Scott Stokdyk, Troy Saliba, 500 dedicated artists and magnificent voices, the results are that it produces something truly magnificent that will hopefully bring families together in theaters for a great experience.

During the 5 years of production and post production over 500 artists worked to bring the vision to life working in teams and small groups. The artists were drawn from blockbuster visual effects movies like Spiderman and combined them with an action feel and animation feel creating a great hybrid with the best of both worlds and animation. What was created is a movie bringing the audience into a new world while bringing the world of the guinea pig to the audience with a unique perspective of the guinea pig

Sony Imageworks
Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films

CAST: Bill Nighy, Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis with the voices of Nicholas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Jon Favreau, Penelope Cruz, Steve Buscemi, Tracy Morgan
DIRECTOR: Hoyt Yeatman
SCREENPLAY BY:   The Wibberleys and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Tim Firth, based on a story by Hoyt Yeatman (credits not final)\
PRODUCER: Jerry Bruckheimer
GENRE: Comedy-Adventure
RELEASE DATE: July 24, 2009

SOURCE: Press Conference, Sony Imageworks, May, 27, 2009

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