Animation by Mikros Animation
To stay true to the spirit of the original series, the artists adopted a differentiated style to animate the characters and the environments. The almost full CG version of the environments was achieved through an organic mix of high-end and traditional techniques, combining strong asset building, workflow flexibility and visual inventiveness. To preserve the individuality and personality of each protagonist, the team at Mikros Animation had to re-think the design and animation of the 3D characters, so that the characters could act, move, perform – and deform – and do all kinds of crazy stunts.
“Tim Hill really understands the world of SpongeBob; he has the franchise’s DNA [in him], but he let us, the artists, a bit loose,” says Jacques Daigle, Animation Supervisor at Mikros Animation Montreal. “So we all had the opportunity to propose our artistic approach to him and his team. As an animator, this type of movie comes along only every 5 or 10 years in a career – and we laughed a lot while working on this visual feast of color, comedy and fun.”
Complying with “safer at home” policies in spring 2020, Mikros Animation was able to deploy the necessary solutions within days that allowed secure and remote work from home, including 240 artists dedicated to The SpongeBob Movie with teams working in collaboration in Montreal and Paris.
VFX by Mr.X
Also working in collaboration was Technicolor’s MR. X, tasked with marrying the animated world with the live-action world in The SpongeBob Movie. The MR. X team worked on the opening shots of the film to create a full CG transition from the real world into the cartoon world. Partnering closely with Mikros Animation, MR. X developed the design for the live-action parts of the film; then the Mikros Animation team would use these assets in the full CG world.
MR. X worked on compositing all of the characters in all of the live actions shots in the film, using the animation and renders from Mikros. One of these characters is Sage played by Keanu Reeves. Here, the MR. X team worked to composite the actor’s head into a tumbleweed, creating one the film's most notable cameos under the sea.
MR. X also worked closely with Technicolor Colorist Jason Fabbro as he completed color finishing for The SpongeBob Movie, as well as Technicolor Producer Julian McDougald. As with Mikros, it proved beneficial having both sets of work in-house, as it facilitated back-and-forth on the shots they were working on, enabling them to quickly troubleshoot any issues and fine-tune as needed without risk to the tight deadline.
Color by Technicolor Post-Production
Fabbro, who has quite a bit of experience as Technicolor’s go-to colorist for animation, explains how color-grading animation differs from grading live-action:
“With animation, a lot of it is about the very small details, where you’re making sure the characters’ very specific colors are tracking through every scene and lighting set-up. Different animators will work on different shots in the same scene, so I have to go in and selectively adjust things to match the shots and make everything consistently flow through a scene.”
Citing a specific challenge the filmmakers faced, Fabbro explains: “There’s one scene in an area called the Aqua Lounge, and there were a lot of things in that shot that they decided they wanted to change as far as color and the way it was lit, but they didn’t have time. So I was supplied mattes and we went in and – in two days – dialed that look specifically to that whole sequence.”
At this point in the pandemic, the team was working remotely using TechStream, with only Fabbro in the color theater to see how it looked on the big screen.
“At some points, we had 10 people on TechStream at once, and it performed well, enabling us to get the job done. One of the other nice features with TechStream is, in addition to using it on your IOS device, which most of our clients do, a decoder can send a signal to a monitor. I tweaked one of our 65” OLED monitors to match the color on the theater screen and we sent that to the director, Tim Hill’s house. So he was able to look at it on a big monitor and have it look pretty much exactly as in the theater. Granted, it’s pretty close on your IOS device, but this way we could ensure Tim was seeing exactly what I was seeing. Confidence-wise, he was super happy.”
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is available on Netflix beginning November 5 (except in Canada and the US – where it’s coming to North America in 2021 on CBS All Access).