A young boy stands on the pavement in front of his house with a large polar bear sat next to him

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Framestore was proud to deliver stunning VFX for critically acclaimed Disney+ title Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.

Key to the team’s role as creative partner was bringing to life key character ‘Total’ - a photorealistic 1,500 pound polar bear who had to be seamlessly integrated into director Tom McCarthy’s deadpan, quirkily matter-of-fact universe. Timmy Failure was the first Disney movie to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

Concept Design
Effects Simulation
Creature Design/Art Department
Visual Effects Supervisor
timmy failure hugging his polar bear friends face while crying

VFX Supervisor Nicolas Chevallier worked with Framestore’s previz, animation and VFX teams across the entirety of the film’s VFX. “Total represented a fun and really interesting challenge,” says Nicolas. “Rather than the anthropomorphic characters audiences often see on screen, Total is an actual polar bear, even if the situations he finds himself in are entirely un-polar bear-like. 

On working with Oscar-winning filmmaker Tom McCarthy (Spotlight, The Station Agent), Chevallier notes, “It was a very collaborative relationship. It really imbued the process with a sense of creative alchemy. Tom was totally involved and went out of his way to meet the team, which made for a truly privileged relationship.”

Every aspect of Total is rooted in natural animal behaviour, which meant we had to pull out all the stops when it came to conveying emotion or imbuing a situation with Tom McCarthy’s note-perfect humour.
Nicolas Chevallier
VFX Supervisor
timmy failure holding a box under his arm while walking through a neighbourhood with his polar bear friend

In order to create the perfect photoreal polar bear, Framestore’s Capture Lab team visited Ontario’s Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat. The team found ‘their’ polar bear in Inukshuk, a characterful, 15-year-old male. They captured hours of footage and thousands of photos of Inukshuk and his peers, gathering reference to match anatomy, muscle, wrinkles as well as facial expressions and physical behaviour.

The modelling team then headed to the Natural Heritage Campus in Gatineau, Quebec to collect skeleton proportion ratios between male, female, young and old bears, which was crucial to building accurate anatomical structures. Once Total was ‘shot ready,’ the animation team built on the Capture Lab’s reference footage with their own research, ensuring Framestore’s creatives had an encyclopedic understanding of bear behaviour. “We wanted Total to be as real a bear as he could possibly be,” says Chevallier. 

Pretty much everything you see him do has a direct reference in nature, and the level of exacting detail our animators put in to achieve this was absolutely mind-blowing.
Nicolas Chevallier
VFX Supervisor
actor winslow fegley as timmy failure holding up a piece of paper with the words 'failure inc. official detective license' scribbled on it. there is a polar bear sitting next to him outside of a porch

Framestore created a fully-furred render of Total, and placed this directly into the edit for post-visualization. This allowed McCarthy to have an accurate representation of what his final character would look like. “We were able to pinpoint how we could improve Total’s interactions and connection with Timmy to support the duo’s relationship throughout the story”, explains Chevallier. Not only did this allow for a faster turnaround but it also allowed the team to previz the bear’s volume, scale and location within each frame. “We nailed the look of the bear early on and pretty much stuck with it”, says CG Supervisor Pierre-Loic Hamon. 

McCarthy’s deadpan humor is intercut with moments of complete stillness from Total, which led to one of the team’s biggest challenges: creating a sense of life in Total whilst being utterly still. The team carefully analyzed the perfect range of motion to accurately depict Total’s wordless behaviour. the rigging and creature effects artists developed new technology which enabled an infinite range of motion dynamics for the polar bear’s facial expressions “We found this approach very successful”, says Chevallier. “A lot of the challenge lied in reining things back.” “We had to suppress some of our CG instincts and make Total’s interactions as realistic as possible by carefully analyzing the muscle, fat and fur as well as the power in his stride. Subtlety was key”, says Hamon. 

timmy failure sitting at the back of a car with his polar bear friend peaking its head through the window at the back

Another challenge involved capturing the polar bear’s white fur, collisions and light scattering in various situations. “We were able to gather hair sweepings from the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat as a reference, which were useful given the fact that polar bear fur is visually distinctive - it is hollow and transparent, with air bubbles that trap light to bounce around, creating its distinctive look”, explains Hamon. “White as a noncolor absorbs a variety of light sources and subtle variations, and so we were particularly attentive to each reference and color timing of Total in every single shot”, says Compositing Supervisor Laureline Silan.

Both the Groom and Look Development teams pushed research and development to find the perfect balance between optimization and light transmission, which differentiates polar bear fur from other types. The bear boasts close to 11 million strands of hair that came into contact with varying amounts of water so multiple groom variations were crucial to ensure continuity within the story.  “There was a huge focus on small imperfections that made the character more alive, more realistic”, says Chevallier. From adding particles, detritus and hair to focusing on creating an asymmetric face, no detail was too small in finalizing the character’s overall look", says Hamon. 

We built the exact same bear our client had envisioned, down to particular mannerisms and quirks that were instantly recognizable, from the head turns to the way he stops and stares.
Pierre-Loic Hamon
CG Supervisor

Renowned for being an award-winning creative studio, Framestore relishes tackling creative, artistic and technical challenges, and Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made presented a unique opportunity to collaborate with an Oscar-winning filmmaker on the team’s first fully realised non-anthropomorphized CG polar bear featured in this heartfelt quirky film.  

Directed by McCarthy, with Richard McBride as Overall VFX Supervisor, the comedy-drama is an adaptation of the popular book series written by New York Times best-selling cartoonist Stephan Pastis. The film follows 11-year-old boy Timmy Failure who believes he is the best and brightest detective in his Portland, Oregon hometown, running the Total Failure Inc. agency with his partner, Total.


Tom McCarthy's Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, Disney+ gets another great feather in its cap, as the movie is a hilarious and heartwarming story that the entire family will be able to enjoy. - Cinema Blend

It’s endlessly fun to watch Timmy’s imagination spin various high-stakes scenarios out of the low-stakes situations he finds himself in. - Decider

Timmy Failure explores how kids use their imaginations as a buffer against the hardships of growing up in ways that are funny, smart, and heartfelt. - Screen Rant

Polar bear steals the show in ‘Timmy Failure’. - The Columbian


actor winslow fegley as timmy failure holding up a piece of paper with the words 'failure inc. official detective license' scribbled on it. there is a polar bear sitting next to him outside of a porch