In the summer of 2020, with the studio building closed and all staff working remotely, Studio AKA was commissioned by Disney to create 7 minutes of feature quality 2D animation to complement existing shots in the Disney+ film GODMOTHERED. The film had lost the last weeks of shooting to lockdown, and a crucial sequence at the end of the story was missing!
Working with Director Sharon Maguire, AKA had to devise a world that would feel integral to the film, feel very much in the tradition of Disney animation, but have its own unique identity…
Godmothered tells the story of Eleanor, an enthusiastic but inexperienced fairy godmother-in-training, who sets out to prove people still need fairy godmothers. Despite the story’s modern twist, when we first meet Eleanor, she firmly believes all that’s required for living happily ever after is a glittery gown and finding true love.
To reflect Eleanor’s good-natured, wide-eyed naivety, we opted for classic traditional 2D animation, using CG backgrounds to add depth. The colour, staging and lighting drew heavily from early Disney features, and as we would be entering this world through the pages of a live-action book, layers of texture were added to the animation to give it more of a storybook, illustrated feel. Along with slightly edgy character designs, the result is something that feels both familiar and new.
Coming onto a project late in the day can be daunting. Not being part of the team’s journey up to that point brings with it the risk of not ‘getting it, of being way off the mark with ideas, or offering up solutions that have long been discounted. But coming late also means a looming deadline and little time for indecision or holding back. Fortunately, the amazing team already on the film coped well with the deluge of storyboards and layouts.
Studio AKA assembled a stellar team of animators, all of them working remotely, to deliver this ambitious project. Art Director Gergely Wootsch and production designer Dermot Flynn were tasked with reimagining the existing live-action world as a stylised animated environment, rooted firmly in the tradition of storybook illustration with nods to Disney classics like 101 Dalmations. It was essential to keep a graphic quality to the artwork that would be consistent throughout the sets, most of which were CG, and the characters that would be animated in traditional 2D.
Designing characters is challenging, more so when they have to bear a resemblance to real-life counterparts. In the case of the world-weary older fairy godmothers with their crazy hair and gothic attire, this was relatively easy to crack. Eleanor was more of a challenge. Designer Nikolas Ilic had created a richly textured style for the character design. Eleanor would need to fit into this world while still bearing some resemblance to the star of the movie – Jillian Bell. Jillian has such a sunny disposition in the story that we knew in large part her personality would be captured in the animated performance. Nonetheless, we needed to resolve the look upfront. From cartoony origins to the final design, she went through a number of iterations before the director was satisfied we’d found Eleanor.
Once our characters and world were in place, the 40 strong animation crew, led by supervising animator Aya Suzuki, made use of detailed models and expression sheets to help breathe life into the various characters. Rough animation was created firstly for approval of performance. The animation was then cleaned up for colour and texturing. The level of detail often required a team of clean-up artists on a single shot.
By the end of the movie, Eleanor has learnt that happiness doesn’t have to last forever and that it comes in all different shapes and sizes. This slightly less rigid, more open and accepting view of life is reflected in the pupils she’s seen teaching in the animated epilogue. The future of Fairy Godmothering is in safe hands…
The beautiful animation work is part of a coda at the ending in the movie – and as a bonus – a longer cut is also available as an ‘alternative animated opening scene’ in the extras section on Disney+!
Studio Animation Credits:
Creative Supervisor & Animation Director MARC CRASTE