The latest film from Blue Sky, the animation studio behind the Ice Age films, Robots and Rio, is Epic. And, yes, it’s also rather epic. The film was adapted from William Joyce‘s book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs but it beca...
The latest film from Blue Sky, the animation studio behind the Ice Age films, Robots and Rio, is Epic. And, yes, it’s also rather epic. The film was adapted from William Joyce‘s book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs but it became an intensely cinematic experience in translation.
I definitely think it’s Blue Sky’s best piece of filmmaking to date, and when I met up with the director, and the studio’s head honcho, Chris Wedge, I had a lot of questions about the many clever and effective tricks employed to pull it off.
If you haven’t seen the film’s trailer, I would recommend you watch it before reading on.
Click here to view the embedded video.
Now, here’s some of Wedge had to tell me. This gets a little technical, but I think it really does underline the consideration that went into making this story come to life for audiences.
In English our film is called Epic. This title was always meant to be used ironically because it’s a big story in a tiny world. When I started thinking about the movie, and this was over a decade ago, the idea was that you’d find this world in the forest, hidden by virtue of scale, and when you get down in there, the forest is transformed into something familiar but alien. I wanted to find all sorts of ways to create the experience of something we’re familiar with becoming fantastic.
There’s a powers of ten transition, a fractal transition into this world where the detail becomes more immersive as we get in deeper. Fern trunks become tree trunks, pebbles are rocks, water works at a different viscosity and speed. When trying to explain the logic of how this world works and why we can’t see it, I was standing at my kitchen sink one day and a bird came up to make nest under the eaves of the house. But it was moving so fast, its wings were moving so fast, I thought “That’s it. They just move too fast to see.” There could have been a man riding on that bird it was just too fast for me to see him. When you watch a hummingbird, sometimes it stops just long enough, but when they fly in a straight line, they’re just gone.
The inverse of this in the film is that when the leaf men look at us, they just see these big, slow giants. When we go down to their scale – and the audience isn’t always aware of this – the whole world is moving slower. That helps with the changing of our world into an alien world. Crickets sound like Loons off in the distance, echoing, and the wind sounds thicker, the ambience sounds fatter, and that’s how we get that sense of scale even though we’re tiny. You can see a character get thrown violently into water and what comes up looks like a chess pawn, a little splash that goes up and down and sounds huge and sloshy.
That’s the kind of macro photography that I wanted the leaf men to live in. There were a lot of decisions to make about lenses and depth of field and the speed of things in the background. I decided that when we’re in with the leaf men we would use normal lenses, normal to them, and shoot it as though the camera was to their scale. The depth of field we used was normal, how audiences are used to seeing it, so in the wide shots, focus is deep and in the close ups, we focus on faces. This gave us much more control over our eye tracing from shot to shot, which we needed, as usual.
But in the transitions is where we had to great creative. There are moments where we transition from big world to little world and the camera actually moves from a human character to one of the leaf men, or vice versa, and that’s where we had fun, changing lenses mid-shot. There are all sorts of zooms hidden in there, zoom dollies, and depth zooms in 3D.
There’s a moment in the movie, a big set piece where the two worlds get together, and the transition is happening not just spatially, between being two inches tall and six feet tall, but also in timespace. There was a lot of sound design in there, helping to accentuate the perspective shifts, and a lot of lens changes. In