ComingSoon spoke to lead animator Mack Whiting about creating animated scenes The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special Stoopid Buddy with Stoodios. Whiting discussed the process of rotoscoping and which character he wanted to animate.
“In The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, the Guardians, on a mission to make Christmas a memorable one for Quill, head to Earth in search of the perfect gift,” the synopsis reads. The Marvel Studios special features Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan and Pom Klementieff, with Vin Diesel as Groot and Bradley Cooper as Rocket, along with Sean Gunn and The Old 97’s Michael Rooker and Kevin Bacon.
Spencer Legacy: For those who may not know much about animation, can you give us a brief overview of the process of animating this sequence?
Mack Whiting: absolutely. This particular project was truly unique in many ways, as I’m sure can be seen in the final product. James Gunn and Marvel initially reached out to a special animation division. They were already going to make it rotoscope style. They wanted to go back to the Ralph Bakshi films of the 60s and 70s that used this approach. For viewers or listeners who don’t know, rotoscoping is essentially the process of painting over live action footage. The initial process was a test that I animated using B-roll footage of Yondu from the original Guardians of the Galaxy The movie that Marvel brought us and through that process did a lot of research into the character design and what the overall style and look would be.
Marvel dug it. In talking to them, we all agreed that the only way to do it authentically was to film the entire scene in live action. So they flew Seth Green and Matt Senraich, the co-founders of Stoopid Buddy, and I out on stage at Georgia Sound to do a sequence with James Gunn, Sean Gunn – who plays Kraglin, and then they had a baby. Acting as a stand-in for young Peter, which was really cool, obviously an incredible experience. Marvel edited this footage and gave it to us [with] This edit based on our animation. Then, at that time, after the test was drawn up, it was clear [that] I wasn’t going to animate all of this on my own. So we tapped the talents of Studio Mosh in Australia and they helped us produce the full piece. It was just a really cool, cool experience.
I wanted to ask about Studio Moshi. Was this around-the-clock schedule difficult because even though no one works around the clock, the project is always running in different time zones?
Yes, it was unique. It was a labor of love. There was a lot of work. There were many paintings. So I actually find myself staying up until odd hours of the night working on this. So, ironically, in some cases, there was an overlap when I was still in Pacific Standard Time because they were working, but they were incredibly cooperative and very accommodating during that time. We would have regular check-ins, go over things, give notes, etc. Then they would go about their business and then we would meet again. So it worked out a lot better than maybe even we expected in that regard. It was great working with them.
Have you had any experience with rotoscope animation before?
Not easily. I mean, I’ve been working in this field for a long time, doing mostly traditional and turn-based animation. I’ve worked on a few live-action commercial hybrid projects where we’ve done animated footage, but it was more animated elements interacting with the live-action than a straight copying process, I think. It was interesting. It was a bit more difficult than I thought, because rotoscoping is a really great art.
It seems easy, like you’re just drawing what you see, but the hardest part is figuring out what you want detailed and what you don’t, because it’s a caricature of this real person or movement. So the test was also very helpful in that regard – figuring out how many frames do I actually need to draw? What items can I cheat on? Will this animation keyframe every two frames or every three frames? What can we get away with? Then also finding a design that was dynamic enough to represent the characters, but not so complex that it couldn’t be redrawn thousands of times.
You mentioned that it was an imitation of Ralph Bakshi’s style. Was there a particular Bakshi film that you really looked to for that style to help you with that?
Yes, definitely. Growing up, I was a big fan of that Lord of the Rings He produced the film. It is an incredible work. As I got older, I really liked it Red and ice and American pop And these things. I applied Red and ice Most of all. I just love Frazetta’s designs and movement and everything and the fact that there were characters that based movement and stuff on real people, but then had to create new designs and interpret the character designs. . I think it fell deeper somewhere American pop At the end of the day. It’s not as full or runny as this one.
He comes somewhere in the realm of cartoons, but he still listens to this stuff. Up until that point, one of the hardest parts of it was that we had Sean Gunn playing Kraglin there, but it’s a flashback sequence. So we actually had to create him as a teenager and sort of aging. That was one of the hardest parts of the process—using his performance and imitating him, but also drawing a younger version of myself, which was interesting. Likewise, the actor they had to play young Peter is not the original actor, because of course that actor – Wyatt Olaf – is now in his 20s. But James Gunn really wanted us to emulate and try to capture his look, so we had to use the current actor’s performance, but draw him in the style of the original actor.
that sounds like a challenge
Yes, it was, especially when it’s spread across 10 or 12 artists and you’re trying to keep everything consistent and everyone paints a little differently. Again, that’s where this rotoscoping comes in… the nuances of rotoscoping are really complicated. When you deploy multiple performers to maintain consistency. I think in the end we did a pretty good job of that.
My favorite scene was Michael Rooker smashing the Christmas tree. He gave such a lively performance. How was it for the team to animate this scene?
Oh my god. Well, right away you see that scene and everybody wants to work on it, but you also realize how terrible it is because Rooker was doing it on set with a fake Christmas tree. You want to respect that and it was a lot of fun. It was a ton of work, a ton of drawings. I think it turned out really great. Seeing it work in real life was incredible. This guy is everything you could hope for and more. He just brought it all the time.
That last scene is also really touching, mostly for the expressions. So what you told me was basically about drawing two different people for Peter, how did you keep those expressions so intact while rotoscoping?
Thanks for saying that. I think this is where the artistry and animated backgrounds come in. You try to mimic a live action performance, but also improve where you can. So we took some little creative liberties there. With animation in general or storytelling in general, but with animation in particular, because we’re drawing it, the focus is always on getting the audience to understand the intent, so there were a few times where we were doing facial expressions and things like that. Nature only to ensure that it was clear what was happening. This is such a charming and sweet little story. Everyone was very excited to work on it. We did our best to make it fair.
You’ve also worked on a lot of animation for DC and Warner Brothers, so what did it mean to play in Marvel’s sandbox a little bit? Especially the different characters you created with MODOK?
It was a thrill. It was, in many ways, a dream project. I am a child of the 80s. I grew up with comics and cartoons. Superhero stuff is my love. I personally don’t have a lot of time to watch a lot of content these days with kids, work, and other things, but I’m always up for superhero stuff. I am definitely a user of this. So I love it guards Franchise. Obviously, James Gunn is [an] Incredible talent and brilliant mind. Stoopid Buddy, with Matt Senreich and Seth Green, co-founders of this studio, was amazing. As soon as we met, we just hit it off and had a very mutual passion and vision for the piece. So all the building blocks that came together to work on this thing… Marvel has been extremely gracious and supportive of everything we’ve put out. It was truly a perfect storm and a dream come true project, no doubt.
What was James Gunn’s reaction when he first saw your project?
He was seriously involved in the whole process. We used to do weekly or bi-weekly reviews. I was showing him the character designs. We kept showing him the current footage. He was the biggest fan. He was really super supportive, gave very minimal feedback and was just a great creative collaborator. So it was pretty much continuous.
It’s always nerve-wracking when you meet someone you look up to and especially appreciate their hard work. I didn’t know how it was supposed to go and it was the best case, the most perfect performance. I think he could tell that we were very passionate about it and we put our love and care into it and he was very supportive the whole time. So that was really cool.
If rights and money weren’t an issue, which character would you personally like to make into an animated film?
Oh man, that’s a big question. I’ve had the incredible luxury and pleasure of working on some iconic superhero characters. I did a little bit of work on Batman and some other stuff on Superman. If eight-year-old me had known that this is where my career would take me, I would have been terrified. Another obscure character, and I know I’ve heard or read that there was a lot of fanfare for this one that I think would be really fun to play with in today’s modern society – and I don’t know why I always love this character even though he’s kind of There’s a misfit boy, there’s Buster Gold.
I just think I’m playing him as a modern day Jake Paul or something where he’s just an obnoxious jerk who uses social media to screw himself up, but underneath is a super vulnerable, unlikable superhero, but gives him some sort of redemption arc. Where ultimately he has to go through and save the world or save some situation would be pretty fun to play. So it’s on my short list for sure.