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Madagascar: Shape Shifters

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“They’re talking animals in a cartoon universe which once people accept that, you can get away with a lot.” - Craig Kellman, Character Designer.

The Madagascar cast of animals are all designed to be a little distorted and exaggerated. Due to this freedom, the designers pushed the animation of the characters to extremes for comedic effect. The animals could squash and stretch just like they were made of rubber bands.

“The animators were afraid of breaking bones...it was hilarious” - Kendal Cronkhite, Production Designer.

Transcript

I think the thing that appeals to me most about the Madagascar movie is the comedy. 

The animation is funny, everything about it, it’s all kind of exaggerated.  It’s all big and bold.  From the very beginning it was really graphic.  I was always trying to take that sensibility and put that into this film, just constantly reminding us that they’re not real, they’re talking animals in a cartoon universe which once you do that, people accept that, you can get away with a lot. 

They were designed to be more a 2D graphic kind of representation.  But in the world of CG, you have to make sure the shapes even though they’re really extreme and broad can look good from any angle. 

We brought in sculptors and I remember we sculpted in clay.  It was fantastic. But, you know, these characters have a lot of sharps.  They’ve a lot of edges and so how does that translate in 3D?  Do we leave a corner on the character or do we smooth it out?  We were putting clay on it.  The sculptor would come back from lunch and go, “What? Who’s been messing around with my sculpt?” And we’d be in there.  Sometimes I would just chew on them.  I would just gnaw on the sculpts.  But we ended up sculpting all four of the lead characters and they maintained all that edgy graphic quality that was in the designs. 

To learn what is cartoony is a whole new language for everybody.  Alex holds his tail up shaped in sort of U U.  It doesn’t drag on the ground and should never drag on the ground.  When he walks it goes, “Da ding, da ding, da ding,” it just should bounce along with him and early on in the animation they were letting the tail was dragging on the ground and sweeping in the wind and his hair was in the wind.  I’m like, “Oh, no!”  It’s like, “Boinga, Boinga, Boinga!”  

You really had to keep pushing and pushing and say, “No!  When he lands on the ground, he could get this flat and then spring up again.” 

They were afraid of breaking bones. I’m like, “You know they’re not real and you know Marty’s not real!” 

When we got this first facial animation test of Alex and you could see him acting in the most extreme and crazy way and that was it.  It was like, “Okay.We get it.”  It can work.