Interview: Raman Hui
Hui was a supervising animator for both ANTZ and Shrek.
Raman Hui started his animation career at Quantum Studios in Honk
Kong where he worked as a cel animator. Soon thereafter he moved
to Canada where he attended Sheridan College to help increase
his experience and knowledge in computer animation. He soon found
himself creating hand-drawn animated productions for TV commercials
in Toronto. In 1989 Hui started full time at PDI (later acquired
Joe Tracy from Digital Media FX (dFX) caught up with Raman
Hui to specifically discuss the character Princess Fiona in PDI/DreamWorks
What were your exact duties as Supervising Animator of PDI/DreamWorks
My job was to work very closely with our group of 27 character
animators and the directors. The directors and I would come up
with ideas and directions for the performances. Then I would work
with the animators to achieve the goals. It's very fun to work
with such a great group of talented animators. We're very close
and it's like a family. Every day we had an hour meeting in the
morning for all the animators to show their works and we would
talk about the performances and gave comments and suggestions
to make the performances stronger. We also had an afternoon session
for the animators to show their works at their desks.
also worked as a Supervising Animator for ANTZ. How did
the two differ in terms of challenges, design, and presentation?
Working environment wise, they're very similar. I got to work
with the same group of animators who also did an amazing job on
ANTZ. The big difference for us was the huge range of characters
we had on Shrek. In Shrek, we had to animate an
ogre, a gigantic dragon, a talking donkey, a very human like princess,
a gingerbread man, a puppet and so on... In ANTZ, most
of the characters were ants. The big challenge was to jump from
different characters and still be able to make them all performe
together. Sometimes it could be hard when you're animating a human
character and then the next day you might have to work on a dragon.
For each character, it took us few months of testing and practice
until we felt totally comfortable with the character. The fun
part was when we all felt like we knew the characters and we could
look at an animation test and said "That's not Shrek. Shrek
would never do that." or "Yes, that's definitely Shrek."
It has been widely reported that the initial character design
of Princess Fiona was "too real" and had to be "scaled
back." What was some of the strategic thinking related to
this move and how was the problem handled and resolved?
The reason we wanted to make Fiona less human like was to make
sure she could work well together with the rest of the characters.
Since most of the other characters in the movie were fairy tale
creatures, we made Fiona less human to blend her into the cast.
That also made Shrek and Fiona falling in love visually much more
acceptable. We ended up making Fiona's eyes a bit bigger than
a real person and also her skin a bit smoother too.
So is Princess Fiona's looks (as a human) based on a real person?
Princess Fiona wasn't based on any real person. We did do a lot
of different sketches and also a lot of different scupltures.
We probably had done over 100 scupltures of Fiona before the directors
picked the final design. We also didn't want to make her too much
like Cameron Diaz. We wanted to use Cameron's voice and a different
face but with a touch of Cameron's body movement to create a totally
unique new character.
Princess Fiona character did a great job in portraying her attitude,
reactions, and emotions. How was this accomplished and what were
some of the challenges in accomplishing it?
We paid a lot attention into details of her movement. When we
animated her walk, we made sure that her weight was put on the
right side of her body at each steps. We also spent a lot of time
on all the little movements on her face so the audience could
tell little subtlety of whether her smile was embarrassing or
sincere or sarcastic. We had a very complex facial system that
totally allowed us to achieve that. We even added very little
detail like when she opened her mouth, the corners of her lips
would stick together before they're all opened.
What did you use for your facial animation system?
In Shrek, we used our own proprietary software to create
the facial system. It's an advanced version of the facial system
that we used in ANTZ. We have all the muscles built in
her face and that allows us to animate her to very fine details.
We had about 500 facial controls in the system.
It seems that some of Cameron Diaz's traits (like certain hand
movements seen in her interviews) appear as part of the Princess
Fiona character. How much of the character is based on the voice
artist and did Cameron Diaz act out scenes for the production
We did look at a lot of the references we taped when Cameron was
recording the audio. These references were very inspiring and
they always helped us to push our animation. Whenever we saw something
that Cameron did and fitted the movement, we would try our best
to capture that in the animation.
Tell us a little bit about some of the challenges faced in the
fight scene that spoofs The Matrix. How hard was it pull
off a the realistic character fighting movements and how was it
We do have animators in our group who know Kung Fu. With that,
we could talk about different moves and how we could apply that
to the animation. It was really fun to do and actually it might
take less time to make a computer generated character to do really
good Kung Fu than training a real person to do the same moves.
Shrek has reached several milestones including the fastest
animated film to reach $150 million at the Box Office and it is
one of the highest grossing animated films of all time. It received
kudos from both critics and audiences who have seen it. In addition,
the reach has gone well beyond parents with children. What is
the reaction of those who worked on Shrek to this continual
great news? Did you expect Shrek would do this well before
it was released?
We didn't know what to expect. All we cared about most of the
time was to do the best we could with the time we were given.
We put a lot of our hearts in the movie and we hoped it showed.
It's very nice and touching to know that the audiences like the
movie; especially when we went to watch the movie in a theater.
The reactions were so unbelieveable. We're so happy they like
the characters we created. I guess it's the same feeling when
everyone tell you your kid is wonderful and they like your kid.
of audience reactions, at showings of Shrek the biggest
reactions tend to come from the scene with Fiona and the bird
and the scene where Shrek and Fiona turn a frog and snake into
balloons. Who devised these creative scenes and are animators
allowed to give suggestions to "advance/enhance" scenes
they are working on?
Everything was allowed during the process. We could suggest a
lot of ideas while we were animating the movie. Sometimes the
ideas worked, sometimes not. What we tried to do was to capture
the moment when we analysed the storyboards, we also had to make
sure we had to make the animation as funny as the storyboards
if not more. It was challenging and a lot of fun.
Will we see the human Princess Fiona in Shrek 2?
The truth is, I don't know. I think it's too early to tell what's
gonna happen in Shrek 2. Would you like to see her?
I think a lot of people would like to see Princess Fiona back
in human form in any sequel - she was a well developed and refined
character. Wait... how did I become the interviewee? So, Raman,
can you let us in on any hidden PDI references or inside jokes
that may have been put into the film?
There are not many PDI hidden jokes in the movie. But there are
times that we may laugh more than the regular audiences because
we know the people who did the voices of certain background characters.
For instance, Andrew Adamson, director,was the screaming voice
of the big head fellow who was greeting people in front of Duloc.
Our Head of PDI, Aron Warner, was the voice of the wolf.
What advise would you give to someone who wants to break into
the business and work within the animation industry?
Hui: There're a lot of colleges and Universities that offer
classes in Computer Animation. Good and strong computer animation
comes from a lot of practices, if a school offer a lot of equipment
and facilities for the students, that will allow them to learn
and practise the animation.
I also think
the very fundamental elements like drawing and sketching are still
very important. One thing that I found very helpful is to appreciate
things around me more often. You can be in a bus looking around,
you see this child talking to her mother. If you think about animating
a character to move like that child, you will realize life is
amazing. You have all these natural, spontaneous character movements
in front of you everyday. To capture that is a lot of hard work
when you animate. Remember that plastic bag in American Beauty?
We sometimes look at people around us and studied the movements
and charateristics. Please try, you'll realize it's amazing.
you for taking the time to share your insight with Digital Media
FX readers. We look forward to your future work at PDI/DreamWorks
(c)copyright 2001 Joe Tracy / Digital Media FX.
All Shrek movie images (c) DreamWorks.
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