Creative studio Framestore provided a range of VFX and animation work for Universal Pictures’ Dolittle, starring Robert Downey Jr., and its menagerie of fantastic creatures. In a vivid reimagining of the classic tale of the man who could talk to animals, Downey plays one of literature’s most enduring characters. The epic adventure is now in cinemas worldwide.
The Framestore team enjoyed working on the feature, which called for some challenging set pieces, lively animation and full-CG shots. For the production, Framestore created Dolittle’s adorable stowaway, a full-CG sugar glider called Mini (voiced by Nick A. Fischer), as well as an army of photo-real carpenter ants and the distinctive blue, bug-eyed dragonfly, James, voiced by Jason Mantzoukas. “It was great when Jason came on board because he improvised a lot and we were able to react to that when animating,” says Robert Allman, VFX Supervisor. As a result, the character grew in popularity throughout postproduction and was added to more scenes. His large, frog-like eyes on the side of his head give him an eccentric, cartoony appearance, although the team wanted to keep a level of realism. “His close-ups are quite something,” adds Allman. “We spent time on the little details that the audience pick up subconsciously—his wings catch the light when he moves, and he has these little particles of grit on his body to give him the photorealistic treatment.”
The team was also tasked with large full-CG environment builds. One of these environments is Monteverde Port, an island in the Mediterrean ruled by pirate king Rassouli—where pirates and animals live together in harmony. Monteverde called for many departments to collaborate and bring together a variety of skill sets—building digidoubles, CG boats, the surrounding ocean and moving trees, as well as adding flying seagulls. “With its brightly painted buildings, the town itself is based on Maltese architecture,” explains Allman, “but it couldn’t look like a holiday village; we needed to break it up to make it look interesting.” The team added Madagascan jungle plants, a variety of bespoke statues of the Pirate King Rassouli (that reference sculptures including Socrates in famous thinking pose) and created maps to plot out the main areas, docks and market squares. In true Dolittle form, a cast of photo-real creatures—including a baboon, bear, monkey, wolf, hyena and toucan—were built and animated by the team for the sequence.
Framestore’s art department not only helped to visualise the mystical Eden Tree Island in early concepts, but also the Eden Tree—a fantastical life-giving tree. The tree went through many iterations to get to a design that would tell its story in just a few shots. Housed in a bioluminescent pool, the tree draws up magical essence to produce its fruit. “I used inspiration from David Attenborough’s Life that Grows, which shows the bioluminescent sea in Tasmania,” adds Allman. “Little silkworms with strips of bioluminescence descend from the branches, giving the tree its ethereal feeling.