What makes The Incredibles such a great movie is the ability of the animators to balance the ‘Super' with the mundane. Everyone we spoke to about making Incredibles 2 mentioned this aspect. Even the effects department that helps craft the action scenes. We sat down with Story Supervisor Ted Mathot, Layout Supervisor Mahyar Abousaeedi, Animator Kureha Yokoo and Effects Artist Amit Baadkar to discuss the anatomy of an action scene and took a closer look at what is involved in the process.
Thank you to Disney Pixar for bringing me out to California to Pixar Studios to learn more about animation for the Incredibles 2 press event.
The action scene that the team discussed with us is the runaway train scene where we get to see Helen (Elastigirl) using the new Elasticycle. This is one of my favorite aspects of the new movie because it adds another layer to the Supers that we haven't seen before. Evelyn Deavor creates new tech for Helen to help bring Supers back into the limelight as a positive thing for the city. The scene shows Elastigirl using her abilities in a fast-paced new way but also makes callbacks to some of the ways she uses her powers in the first movie.
Starting the Animation Process with a Story Reel
All animated movies start in storyboarding which as simple sketches of the basic scenes for the movie. This is the blueprint of the entire production. Story Supervisor Ted Mathot explains to us that the action scenes start with a story reel that helps to communicate what they want the finished film to look like. They use a lot of temporary aspects including music, voices, and sound effects in these story reels so that you get a full feel for the direction of the scene. So they have the basics of the action scene but Brad Bird sits down with the team to think about how they can make it even better.
So the team decided to add in the police to tap into the main focus of the film which is why we need Supers again. The police get stuck in traffic and Helen gets tangled up with them but has the ability to squeeze through the hard places that the police cannot and keep pursuing the train.
Then the aspect of balancing the Super with the mundane comes into play. While Helen is speeding through Municiberg chasing the runaway train she gets a call from home. It is moments like these that you see Helen as more than just a Super, she is still a mom that has to deal with silly things like remembering everything for your family.
The last thing the team wanted to highlight was Helen's abilities for stopping the train. The way she stops the train is important because she was only able to do this because she is Elastigirl. She can get into the small spaces and turn herself into a parachute. That's what makes her the perfect Super for the job.
Challenges in Animating an Action Scene
Layout Supervisor Mahyar Abousaeedi talks to us about some of the challenges the team faced in runaway train scene. It was a challenge to make the Elasticycle even faster. Speeding up the scene presents problems with some of the effects being lost. Another challenge was the way Helen was jumping from building to building. They described it as if she was a flea jumping from rooftop to rooftop, so they had to space the buildings out a little further to make the stretching effect of the Elatiscycle splitting all the more amazing. They also introduced a turn into the sequence to help break up the scene more.
The turn also added new stunts and some vulnerability to Helen to remind you that she is still human. It's character development that we love to see in movies, even in animation. Helen is always thinking ahead and doesn't just act.
Learn About the Elasticycle
Animator Kureha Yokoo is a motorcyclist herself, so she was able to collaborate on the creation of the Elasticycle and bringing it to the life in animation.
She describes the Elasticycle as an extension of Helen and that it showcases her strengths and Super abilities. When you first see the Elasticycle in action it looks like a simple motorcycle. The special features of the design aren't noticeable at first until you see the bike in action. The team had to work out different aspects like where you put your knees when the bike breaks apart, or how does the mechanism work where it disconnects.
Sub Effects in Incredibles 2
Effects Artist Amit Baadkar and his team are in charge of making things like fire, smoke, explosions, and sparks. Tire smoke is a supporting effect that doesn't take away from the main action but supports it to make it look better. You don't want to draw the audience's attention to the tire smoke. Explosions are a primary effect or what they called a ‘hero effect', you want viewers to notice it.
When Helen breaks through the window you see glass flying everywhere. Because of the speed of the chase, you couldn't really see the glass so effects team broke some of the rules to make sure the effect was noticed. Some of the things they did were making the glass shards bigger, reducing the blur that happens from the camera movement, and increased the lighting to make them shine a bit more. Action scenes like the Elasiticycle train scene are hard on the computer so the team has to break it up into chunks called clustering. This allows it to render properly without taking up a lot of computing power.