Share & Connect
Most first-time director’s efforts are not complicated by performing in their film or coordinating the appearance of a character that would be computer generated and layered in during postproduction. But director of new comedy ‘Ted’, Seth MacFarlane, did not find the added tasks especially daunting. “I come from 15 years of animation, so there was a preexisting comfort level,” he notes. “Yes, the CG-3D animation is a little different from my background in 2D animation, so there was a bit of a learning curve at first, but it was pleasantly surprising how easy it was to turn the dial and adapt my brain to that kind of thinking.
“I’ve got a phenomenal team that was unbelievably innovative and continued to be innovative into postproduction,” he continues. “We’ve asked them to do something that in a comedy is relatively untried: Forget everything you know about Pixar or DreamWorks-style animation, and make this character move with human gestures the same as everyone else—not a lot of squash and stretch, not a lot of cartoony stylizing in the actions.”
Strapped into his Moven suit (motion capture technology) just off set, MacFarlane performed Ted’s dialogue and gesticulations in scenes between the bear and the other main characters. “But there are many cases that the gestures were not and could not be mine,” the director notes, “because when all the big action is taking place, it’s impractical to do that on a mo-cap stage; you have to animate it. Since a lot of Ted is mo-cap that incorporates my gestures, the challenge for the VFX team was to make everything seem just as realistic. It’s the hardest thing in the world for animators to play it subtle and play it real. I’ve spent years trying to get my guys at “Family Guy” to get there, and when you add the 3D element, it’s a whole other animal. I was very comfortable with their talent and their ability to pull this off, and they were enthusiastic about it.”
Producer Jason Clark describes how the bear was filmed and ultimately created for the screen: “Since Ted doesn’t actually show up until postproduction when we rendered him, we had to create a series of ‘passes’ as we filmed each scene to record the information. First, we did a ‘stuffy pass,’ which required placing a stuffed bear in Ted’s position in a scene to give the actors an indication of where the bear would be. This helped them to understand what their characters are seeing and where their eye line should be.
“After that, we recorded our ‘eyeline pass,’ placing into the scene an eyeline reference tool [basically a stick with two dots representing Ted’s eyes] so the actors would look at the correct place where Ted would eventually be rendered,” the producer continues. “At that time, Seth was off camera in a Moven suit that tracked his body movements by transmitting, via radio frequencies, the location of each of the sensors placed on him, instead of requiring a volume of cameras to film it. He was miked traditionally, and his voice was recorded in the same space and time as the actors so that the result was authentic and immediate and dialogue could overlap.”
Clark describes how a third on-set “pass” was filmed with Creative-Cartel’s Civetta camera. He shares: “It’s a new technology that allows you to take 360-degree photographs of the set and create a digital reference of the lighting scheme and 3D geography around you. We used that intensely on every shot in which the bear appears. It’s a two-minute recording of the actorless set that allowed us to obtain a record for the teams of animators creating the bear’s performance to have as a reference of the lighting in the scene. This allowed them to create seamless lighting on the bear.”
This allowed Ted to “physically” interact with the environment. For example, if MacFarlane needed Ted to sit on the couch, the pillows were depressed. If he needed the bear to run across a bed, they created depressions in the bedclothes where his footsteps would go. This interactive environment created less separation between the CG character and the live-action role.
Production designer Stephen Lineweaver was also tasked with reinforcing the notion that Ted is just like everybody else in his world. He emphasizes that carried over into the set design: “One thing that we were conscious of was organically building different levels for Ted to be able to appear at others’ heights at any given point—unless he’s supposed to be imposed upon by somebody, then he was on the floor. In order for him to appear on the same level, should Seth want to film a two-shot with another character, there were nooks and crannies in the apartment to which he can climb. That was an interesting design problem that I hadn’t dealt with before.”
Naturally, MacFarlane’s actors found sharing the screen with a bear that wasn’t there to be a challenge. Shares Mark Wahlberg, who had to train for weeks with a stuntman to capture the moves needed in his motel fight with Ted: “It took a little while to get used to, but once we got into the swing of things, I started feeling very comfortable with the idea of just acting opposite the stuffed bear or the little stick with the eyes on it. Of course, having Seth in the room doing the voice was also very helpful.”
“You act against nothing,” echoes Mila Kunis. “If you’re lucky, the first take you get a stuffy ‘pass,’ but then they pull the stuffy away and you’re literally acting against air.”
“It’s just you with a stand,” adds Giovanni Ribisi. “There is a fascination with the idea of making a movie almost in the way of doing theater, where it’s just you using your imagination.”
Image Courtesy of Ted