“Beauty and the Beast”: How Digital Domain created the main character

Digital Domain was responsible for creating the most difficult character of the movie - the Beast. Steve Preeg, Animation Director at Digital Domain, told RENDERU.COM about the new technologies the studio used for animation, about creating environments in the movie and the main challenges the artists faced.

RENDERU.COM: How did it feel for you personally to work on such a special project, the ‘tale as old as time’?

Steve Preeg: To have the chance to work on a classic like Beauty and the Beast was truly a privilege and frankly a little intimidating. So many people love this story and the Disney animated version that trying to live up to it was going to be a huge challenge. Walking in the footsteps of the great Glen Keane was also an honor as well. Projects like that don't come around very often, so we were very lucky to be such an integral part of it.


Image: Disney

RENDERU.COM: Now onto creating the Beast: could you tell in detail how you worked on this character? How did you use motion capture? Did you use new technologies? How did you work on his posture, mannerisms and clothes?

S.P.: The Beast was the biggest challenge on this project and took a lot of talented people in every department. We didn't use motion capture in the traditional sense; the decision to make the Beast fully CG happened very close to the start of principal photography, so even if we had wanted to set up motion capture cameras on every stage we wouldn't have had time. We put Dan Stevens (the Beast) in a suit with trackable patterns and used him as reference for body motion and overall movement. Obviously the beast has a bit of different proportions than Dan (even when Dan was wearing his "large" suit and stilts), so there was some adjustment done in animation to make that work. We did use some of our new technology for the facial animation called Direct Drive. This allowed us to capture much more data on Dan's face than a traditional set of motion capture markers and get a much better match on the Beast from the start of animation. This was also an enormous help in getting Dan to come across in the performance and saved a huge amount of time in animation. His posture came mostly from trying to match the feeling that Dan gave us on set, while the fur and clothing were then simulated on top of that animation. There were a number of outfits, some of which were quite complicated to simulate (like the tattered cloak that he wears up until the wolf fight).


Image: Disney

RENDERU.COM: Which challenges did you face when creating the wolves in the woods surrounding the Beast’s castle?

S.P.: The wolves were tricky for a few reasons. First of all, Bill Condon (the director) wanted them to feel real but also slightly smarter than a real wolf pack would be, so we spent a lot of time in previsualization and post-visualization mapping out how they would "direct" Belle to her demise. For example, blocking the path to force her towards the ice where they knew the horse wouldn't be able to keep his footing. Another tricky aspect with the wolves was working with their speed. The set of the forest was on a stage in London, so we had limited space to get horses and the carriage up to speed. In many of the shots, the horse or carriage is only going 10-15 mph. A wolf can run roughly 30 mph, so we had to try to adjust strides or camera moves to try to make it feel like they were still running fast and still barely catching up to the cart or horse. Fur and skin simulations were also an added complication as an animal running full speed has a lot of skin and fat sliding around their bodies that can really look strange if it's missing.


Images: Disney

RENDERU.COM: Overall, did you try to stay true to the original 1991 film in creating the characters and environments? And if yes, was it difficult?

S.P.: We stayed true to the 1991 animated film where Bill wanted us to. There were aspects Bill wanted to keep and others he wanted to change. For example, in the 1991 feature the Beast sometimes runs on all fours at certain points, which Bill was very clear that he didn't want to replicate. The fangs were also much more pronounced in the animated version, and while Dan was given a whole new set if teeth to wear while we captured his face, it was decided that it changed what he could do too much to use them other than in rehearsals to get into character. We were careful to not tread on the 1991 classic, but simply update the character in places that Bill felt was needed.


Image: Disney

RENDERU.COM: How many people were involved and how long did you work on the project?

S.P.: I was on the project for just under two years. We had hundreds of people on it over the course of the show, though not all of them for two years of course. I think at the beginning it was just me and a producer, then we slowly built up to our full team. Animation itself was about 25 people at it's peak.


Image: Disney