Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, the live-action reimagining of the beloved original 1955 film, is the ultimate tale of [puppy] love against the odds. We were honoured to be the lead VFX studio on the film, working on over 550 shots of high-end VFX, including the two leads Lady and Tramp, voiced by Justin Theroux and Tessa Thompson.
Outstanding Animated Character in an Episode or Real-Time Project
As the feature film tasked with launching Disney’s much-anticipated streaming service, Disney+, the emphasis was on creating photorealistic images and believable performances that not only evoked the charm of the original film but also showcased the very best that our craft and technology has to offer. The performances of real dogs Monty and Rose were captured on set for each scene. The team built pitch-perfect digi doubles of each of the lead dogs, along with the supporting cast, including Isaac, Jock the Scottie, Trusty the bloodhound and puppies Ollie and Dodge.
“It wasn’t enough to look great, it had to be able to match up to all of the idiosyncrasies of a real creature, and a real creature that our crew and director were intimately familiar with.”Kyle McCulloch - VFX Supervisor
They began with Lady, a cocker spaniel, says Arslan Elver, Animation Supervisor, “the brief was clear - they wanted our CG dog to intercut with footage of the live-action dog, Rose, so it had to be perfect.”
Framestore created an improved fur system called Fibre, and the team worked to painstakingly customise the groom to match the dogs from shot to shot. “I have built creatures before but this wasn’t just a full-hero build, it was also a digi-double build,” explains Kyle McCulloch, VFX Supervisor. “It wasn’t enough to look great, it had to be able to match up to all of the idiosyncrasies of a real creature, and a real creature that our crew and director were intimately familiar with.” Framestore’s London team looked at hundreds of clips and footage of Rose to identify her characteristics and quirks, constantly iterating the modelling, rigging, texture and creature FX to strive for the closest match and most seamless transition with the real dogs as possible.
Framestore also completed key shots of Tramp, the lovable stray. Framestore’s team in Montreal took on the challenge of creating the perfect match for Monty, with a custom set of eye shaders, detailed face shapes and muscular systems to help deliver the performance required for a variety of different scenarios. Tramp's fur changes from scene to scene, so the team had to create many variations to the fur to satisfy the different looks in the film. “His fur had an incredible amount of detail,’ explains Robert Winter, VFX Supervisor. ‘It was sensitive to the time of day, the weather - even whether he’d just had a drink of water.”
Trusty the bloodhound also bought his own specific challenges. His extra skin, coupled with a huge amount of wobble, meant that the creature FX and simulations artists were constantly researching the breed and considering how the skin moves with different poses, the amount of flesh that bunches up under the skin around the neck and the mechanics of the jowls and their drool. All of these elements were dissected and used to emulate the minutiae of detail needed to create a believable CG version of Trusty.
“His fur had an incredible amount of detail. It was sensitive to the time of day, the weather - even whether he’d just had a drink of water.”Robert Winter - VFX Supervisor
The biggest challenge for all of the dogs was the same; delivering the emotional performance required, while keeping them on model with the real dogs that were shot. Animators were careful not to push the performance to the point where it looked unnatural or cartoony, instead it needed to be subtle and realistic. “Originally we were looking to have a more almond shaped eye for Lady,” says Elver. “but it just wasn’t Rose.” The team also couldn’t fall back on creating mood boards to standardize the portrayal of emotions for their characters. “If you translated the original performance of the real dog it just wouldn’t work,” adds McCulloch. “We developed our own language based more on emotion, than the poses.”
The dogs needed to talk to each other and emote, without breaking the believability that a real dog is performing. Little tricks helped - the dogs panting to convey laughter or the whole body of the dog shaking when breathing heavily. Lady’s distinctive ears were used to help her express herself and Tramp’s performance was exaggerated at times. “We had to perform some extreme emotions with Tramp,” explains Thiago Martins, Animation Supervisor, “but we added subtleties to the delivery and used his big expressive brows.”
Director Charlie Bean was heavily involved in feeding back on the performance of his cast; he knew the subtleties of their personalities and could quickly pick up when something broke the reality of the shot. “Working with Charlie was amazing,” says Martins. “He has a very creative mind - it was a real collaboration to find the look and performance of these dogs.”
A few sequences were daunting on first approach, including the shots of the puppies play-fighting in the snow. What is a moment of pure delight on screen was challenging to orchestrate with the CG snow, CG puppies and a lot of interaction. The team watched hours of youtube videos of puppies to ground the scene in reality. “The scene terrified me at first but it looks amazing and shows the essence of the real puppies,” says Winter. “Our animators really captured it and it's impressive to watch.”
Some sequences pay homage to the original animated film, including the much-loved spaghetti dinner date sequence. “I was so excited that we got to do it,” shares McCulloch. “It’s a sweet moment that hides all of the tech that went into it. Hundreds of artists worked together to achieve this sense of realism.” They also crafted a photorealistic fully-CG hilltop overlooking the London cityscape, with a sprinkling of Disney magic.
Framestore’s team of 350 across London and Montreal worked on the film, which was released on Disney+ in November. The final product is a spellbinding, heartwarming story that showcases the sheer talent and technical problem-solving that went into the production. The team was delighted to have the chance to produce some of the most complex photoreal creatures at Framestore yet. “Our dogs were pretty dazzling to use in shots,” adds McCulloch. “It got to the point where we questioned if it was a real dog every time, which was both strange and amazing.”
"The remake’s pooches are adorable, the story is sweet, and the CG animation of the live-action dogs’ faces and bodies works to not challenge the film’s reality"IGN
"You can tell when the animals are talking or are going through a range of emotions. It's quite convincing and natural"Business Insider
"Lady and Tramp's sharing of a spaghetti dinner is even more charming than you remember"Comicbook.com
"What might have been a paint-by-numbers remake is given sparkle and charm"The Week