Crafting the Enchanted Universe of ‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’

Copyright DreamWorks Animation

After more than a decade, DreamWorks Animation undertook the task of creating a new chapter for the beloved character Puss in Boots, all while staying true to the established world and hero character. In “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” Puss and Kitty Softpaws embark on a perilous quest to recover the magical Wishing Star, delving into a contemporary fairytale landscape. This work was showcased as a Production Session at SIGGRAPH 2023, which explored the innovative tools and techniques employed to bring Director Joel Crawford’s and Production Designer Nate Wragg’s vision to life, emphasizing the fantastical elements of the story. Each department pushed the boundaries of VFX techniques, incorporating edge breakup, graphic rims, textured FX, sharpened cloth folds, and updated character design to realize this captivating, storybook-inspired world.

SIGGRAPH: How did the production team approach the creation of “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” to create a unique and captivating world after more than a decade away from this story?

Mark Edwards (ME): From the very beginning this story was conceptualized as a fairytale, and that idea drove every aspect of the film’s design. We continually asked ourselves what kinds of imagery evoke a fairytale aesthetic. That naturally led us to the early European illustrations and paintings where many of these characters were first imagined. Then, on top of that, we blended in modern influences like anime-style timing or FX elements.  

SIGGRAPH: What elements were emphasized in the film to enhance the storytelling and bring the characters to life?

ME: Our team rethought how we normally treat every workflow and put a twist on that to help emphasize the film’s unique look and feel. During action sequences, the animation flows into a stepped version to allow for graphic silhouette poses and snappy timing. In lighting, we took advantage of cheated rim lights with bold color choices to enhance readability of the characters, and at the same time used filters and other custom techniques to simplify background environments. Specific moments like Puss’ panic attack were amplified by camera lensing and a chromatic aberration effect. Everything was in service to the story and immersing the audience in this world. 

SIGGRAPH: Explain how you used a range of tools and techniques to produce the film’s impressionistic look.

ME: We realized that every “normal” approach wasn’t going to work, so as much as possible we bent our tools to fit the desired aesthetic. In addition, we created new tools like “CEO” that allowed lookdev artists to break up standard CG model edges with looser rendered points to approximate the imperfections of paintbrushes. Other examples would be specific brushstrokes for eye highlights, stylized depth of field bokeh elements, and hand-drawn 2D/3D effects with additional textural detail.

SIGGRAPH: The “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” team pushed the boundaries of typical VFX techniques while staying within existing workflows. Tell us how you achieved that.

ME: Given our compressed schedule, Baptiste Van Opstal, our head of look, worked closely with our department heads to implement techniques that augmented tools but stayed largely in a 3D space. It was important that we were creating assets from modeling and lookdev that retained these design elements which downstream departments like CFX and lighting could reliably work with. Controls were added to each new system to handle arbitrary camera setups so artists could fine tune them like any other parameter. Our creative team was incredibly collaborative as well, and allowed our artists the freedom to bring new ideas to the table which continued to push elements beyond the original concepts.

SIGGRAPH: What advice do you have for those considering submitting to SIGGRAPH 2024 Production Sessions?

ME: Showcase the unique and inspirational aspects of your work, along with the failures that happened along the way. Highlight what is new and different about your approach and also provide details so others can learn and adapt it to their work. 

Are you ready to showcase your production excellence? Submit to SIGGRAPH 2024 Production Sessions by Wednesday, 21 February.

Mark Edwards is a VFX supervisor on “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.”

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