Wreck-It Ralph won't be in theaters until November, but the buzz for Disney's upcoming animated film has already begun. Directed by Rich Moore (The Simpsons, Futurama), the movie stars John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch as video game characters whose lives are more complex than what players see on-screen.
Wreck-It Ralph is a hero's journey story set inside video games that never actually existed. It's a tribute to arcade life, with each world reflecting a different generation of video games, from '80s 8-bit to '90s whimsy to today's hyperrealism.
Last week, I was invited to Disney's animation studio for a press day surrounding Wreck-It Ralph. We were treated to an excerpt from the movie and, more importantly, we were able to spend some time with the creative team behind the forthcoming film to get an idea of what went into this unusual feature-length animation. Obviously, video games were a huge influence on Wreck-It Ralph's story and style, but there's much more to the movie than that. Check out a breakdown of some of those influences.
All around Disney's studios, you could see inspiration material for Wreck-It Ralph. In one of the rooms, there were clips from Japanese fashion magazines documenting the fierce style of the teens and young adults who hang out in the Harajuku section of Tokyo. These fashions served as the basis for the animated wardrobes of the characters from Sugar Rush, a racing game within the film. The references to Japanese street fashion are subtle but distinct. The go-kart-driving girls wear bold colors, not terribly far off from what you would see in brands like 6% Dokidoki. They pair bold patterned tights with skirts and big shoes.
San Diego Chargers
Part of Wreck-It Ralph takes place inside Hero's Duty, a fictional first-person-shooter game. The idea wasn't so much to mimic what's out there. Instead, "How does this look to the characters that live inside the game?" was the pressing question, according to effects supervisor Cesar Velazquez. "For them," he says, "it's a real war."
For the film's animators, the challenge came in making the characters of Hero's Duty move like heroes. Wreck-It Ralph's executive producer, John Lasseter, suggested that they head to a San Diego Chargers game.
"We went to a Chargers game and went down on the field and watched them warm up and took video reference of them to see how these people day in and and day out do something incredibly difficult and incredibly physical," says supervising animator Zach Parrish.
Wreck-It Ralph features references to a lot of different styles of video games, but from what I've seen, there always seems to be something linking together the art throughout the movie. That's Disney at work.
Of the first-person-shooter universe of Hero's Duty, Parrish says, "We still wanted to have that Disney caricatured feel, but have the essence of that hyperrealism that people associate with those kinds of games."
Velazquez mentioned that the team revisited Disney classics like Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella while working on the Sugar Rush scenes. "We really drew upon the legacy here at Disney Animation," he says.
Antoni Gaudí's architecture
Sugar Rush is frequently described as a Mario Kart-style racing game set in a sugar-filled world. Disney's animation team didn't want this world to look like your typical candy fantasy, so they took an unexpected design influence from one of the best-known architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Antoni Gaudí.
Lorelay Bove, visual development artist for Wreck-It Ralph, was raised in Spain and was instrumental in bringing inspiration from the famed architect into the movie. The whole team got in on the Gaudífication of Sugar Rush when they traveled to Barcelona for a research trip. You can spot the influence in the curved desserts that mark the landscape of this fictional video game.
The Gaudí influence went beyond the structures of Sugar Rush. Adolph Lusinsky, director of look and lighting, says that cathedral lighting, as well as some of the "reflected light" within Gaudí-designed homes, found a way into Sugar Rush as well. "There are a lot of softer shapes and curves," he says of this distinct universe within the movie. "It kind of goes hand in hand with the Gaudí design."
There are a lot of desserts in Sugar Rush, everything from pie to ice cream cones to chocolate. The idea was for the team to create a sugary sweet world that was different from what cartoon-watching audiences had already seen. So they traveled to Cologne to visit a massive, international candy trade show. At the show, the exhibits were divided by country, with each nation offering a different way to satisfy your sweet tooth.
"What's fantastic is that each one of those countries has a unique thing about how their candy is made, how it looks, the textures of it," Lusinsky says. "It was fantastic to see and bring back all of these things for the movie."
The film contains a lot of references to sweets from the United States, Japan, Spain and other countries. One of the most difficult things to capture in the movie was the sort of hard, translucent candy that glimmers in the light. "[Disney's] software developer spent a good month or two months writing the algorithm to calculate the way the light refracts through the hard candy," Lusinsky says. "It's a really complex thing. It's really heavy to render."
He adds that they had to be "smart" about using hard candy in Wreck-It Ralph. "It feels like you see it a lot in the movie, but you really don't. "
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It goes without saying that video games of all genres are important to Wreck-It Ralph. Fortunately, many members of the team have been playing video games since childhood. It never hurts to have a refresher course, though, so there's an actual arcade inside the studio filled with the classic '80s games. There are also multiple arcade-style versions of the Fix-It Felix game, whence Wreck-It Ralph originates. They didn't stick to just the early '80s or '80s-like games, though. Parrish mentions that Street Fighter, Mario Kart, Super Mario Galaxy and Call of Duty titles figured into the research as well. "There was a lot of video game play," he says, jokingly adding, "It was rough."
Video games affected different departments in different ways throughout the process. Lusinsky mentions that Niceland, Wreck-It Ralph's home world, is inspired by "limitations," specifically the technical limitations of 8-bit video games. "The backgrounds of those games are often black because it would take computing power to put color onto those video screens back in the '80s," he says. "So when you're outside in Niceland, there's a lot of black sky."
For the animators, Super Mario Galaxy became an important point of reference as well, particularly for the time spent in Sugar Rush. "I really went through and saw how they broke it down, their cycles and how they did their transitions," he explains. "I really tried to emulate that as closely as possible while, again, having the full richness of a Disney animated feature film."