Teaming up with Warner Bros., LEGO® System A/S, Lin Pictures, DC Entertainment and Vertigo Entertainment, the Animal Logic team delivered the 2nd feature film from the LEGO® movie franchise – The LEGO® Batman Movie.
Featuring an all-star cast, including Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes, LEGO® Batman tells the story of the movie’s protagonist, who despite his material wealth, is going through a bit of an existential crisis. As the story unfolds, we see how he gradually sheds the tough guy mask, adopts a kid, builds a family and develops ‘ships.
To bring this movie to life, the Animal Logic team embraced what they learnt from The LEGO® Movie and upped their game, both technically and stylistically to create a more visually arresting and complex movie. The new challenge for this project was taking that 75-year Batman legacy and making a film that could sit alongside some of the best from the storied franchise. If The LEGO® Movie was all about fabulous technicolor and the superficiality of Bricksburg, The LEGO® Batman Movie sought to achieve a film-noir style and darker palette to reflect the darker identity and crime ridden streets of Gotham City, a character unto itself. As Chris McKay stated “I wanted to say that our Batman had been around in Gotham City for 78 years and that, somehow, our Batman was the entire history of Batman,”
And now for some number crunching stats! The LEGO® Batman Movie took over 500 crew a total of 9153 days to complete – in other words, it would take one person 25 years to animate the film! Using a library of 3180 different bricks, the Animal Logic artists were able to build a city for some 451 characters to inhabit.
Animal Logic was already adept at implementing a realistic stop-motion computer animation style as shown in The LEGO® Movie, described by Head of Animation, Rob Coleman, as ‘emulated stop-motion.’ Director, Chris McKay wanted The LEGO® Batman movie to keep the stop-motion aesthetic but also to loosen up the LEGO® rules “so we stop thinking about them as mini-figs. I wanted the action to be elevated with more expressive gesturing. And I wanted the animators to observe the actors’ behavior more to ‘juice up’ the brick animation.”
According to Production Designer, Grant Freckelton, it took many months of research into the Batman legacy and mythology of Batman related films, comic books and toys to really get into the psyche of Batman and understand what they were dealing with. Fortunately, Animal Logic had several stakeholders on hand including DC Entertainment who would play a big role in helping hone the characters, vehicles, environment designs and concepts which would appear in the finished product through the copious amounts of reference they happily provided.
The expansive nature of Gotham City meant that Animal Logic’s pipeline had to handle brick-building on a whole different scale. According to CG Supervisor Damien Gray, no brick (pun intended) was left unturned when it came to creating a high level of realism. For example, a jitter algorithm would be applied so that brick structures wouldn’t be perfectly aligned, with gaps and crooked pieces, as you would expect from real life bricks. Animal Logic’s powerful animation pipeline also enabled the artists the ability to focus on the minute details, including adding textures right down to a single brick. Damien points out, “we ended up generating 81,854 textures”, such as maps of scratches, dirt and even fingerprints.
So much of the final look and feel of a movie depends on lighting and cinematography. To achieve the film noir style put forward by director Chris McKay, lighting supervisor, Craig Welsh went through a research process that involved studying live-action films to see what might work in particular scenes or shots. In addition, decisions had to be made on how it would be filmed. One of the challenges was to give viewers the impression that real LEGO® brick sets and Minifig characters were being filmed. This in turn led to questions on how the film should be lensed. In the end, it was agreed that it should be lensed from a human scale in a LEGO® world as Craig explains that “it’s a more natural feel for storytelling, and everyone understands the language. To further add to the real world feel, artists were provided with a ‘lens kit’ created in house which gave them the ability to add effects such as stray light, flaring, dirty lenses and other aberrations that come with real photography. Much of the creative vision could be realised thanks to Animal Logic’s proprietary path trace renderer, Glimpse. Without Glimpse and an impressive datacenter, the film would have taken 6,550 years to render on a single CPU!