In some ways, "Shrek" is your classic fairy tale. It has a hero, a beautiful princess, and a dastardly villain. Unlike the fairy tales of old, however, the hero is an ugly, ill-tempered ogre, the princess is not all she appears to be, and the villain has some obvious shortcomings.
"Shrek" producer and DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg notes, "'Shrek' kind of looks at all the fairy tale traditions we grew up on backwards, and takes great fun turning all those storytelling conventions upside-down and inside-out."
Producer and head of PDI/DreamWorks Aron Warner continues that a lot of the fun in "Shrek" comes from lampooning some of our most beloved fairy tale characters, and even throwing in some Mother Goose favorites for good measure. "We basically took every fairy tale in the book and turned it on its side. Nothing is sacred; every fairy tale gets roasted. These characters are ripe for parody because they're part of the cosmic consciousness, so to speak. "
In addition to breaking the mold of fairy-tale conventions, "Shrek" also showcases some amazing breakthroughs in what have been referred to as the "Holy Grails" of computer animation, the first being realistic humans, who are able to express both dialogue and emotion through a complex facial animation system developed at PDI.
Using special tools called "shapers," the animators were able to achieve sophisticated facial and body movements by applying interacting layers of bone, muscle fat, skin and, finally, hair and clothing or, as in the case of the Donkey, fur. There are also advances in the creation of rich, organic natural environments; clothing that moves, wrinkles and reacts to light like real-life fabric; fire; and fluids of different viscosities, achieved using PDI/DreamWorks' Fluid Animation System (FLU), which won an Academy Award® for Technical Achievement in 1999.
"The computer has been revolutionary in animation-not evolutionary, revolutionary. There is absolutely no question that 'Shrek' is far and above anything that's been done in computer animation," says Katzenberg, who is quick to qualify, "for at least ten seconds. Yes, it's state of the art, but do I think it will be the benchmark for a long time to come? No. It will be the benchmark for about a day or two. I say that with a sense of humor, but that's what's exciting about computer animation; it's evolving- and exponentially. With today's digital tools, it seems if we can dream it, we can make it. "
Of course, long before they could dream it, the filmmakers first had to read it. The movie "Shrek" has its origins in a short illustrated book of the same name by award-winning children's author William Steig.
Steig's story of an ogre who sets out into the world to find adventure first came to the attention of producer John H. Williams via a very close source. Williams recounts, "Every development deal starts with a pitch and my pitch came from my then kindergartner, in collaboration with his pre-school brother. Upon our second reading of Shrek, the kindergartner started quoting large segments of the book pretending he could read them. Even as an adult, I thought Shrek was outrageous, irreverent, iconoclastic, gross, and just a lot of fun. He was a great movie character in search of a movie. "
Screenwriters Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, who had previously worked with Katzenberg and Warner on Antz (1998), collaborated with Joe Stillman and roger s.H. Schulman to adapt the story into an animated action adventure, told with humor and heart, under the direction of Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson.
The heart of the story is found in what could be called-in the language of all fables-the moral of the story. Vicky Jenson relates, "The story is about self-acceptance and that things aren't always as they appear. We definitely turn the concept of beauty on its ear, which I think is a very powerful theme. "
That being said, Adamson notes, "Yes there's a moral to the story and it has tremendous heart, but all of that, I hope, comes ultimately through humor. "
"We set out to create a joyful, fun expression of all the things we'd like to see and, really, to make ourselves laugh," Warner agrees. "I think humor is universal when it's good, and there's a lot of stuff to laugh at in this movie, depending on what you know and remember about the world of fairy tales. We hit on elements that have been so much a part of all our lives, and we had the right actors in the right place at the right time. It just all came together. "
Cast Of Characters
The outrageous comedy of "Shrek" is largely delivered by a voice cast that ranks among the most impressive ever assembled for an animated film- or any film for that matter. "We were so lucky to get the cast we have in this film," Warner states. "Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow are the cream of the crop of comedic talent. "
The title role of "Shrek" is voiced by Mike Myers, who offers that doing his first animated role "was a blast- which is a good thing because I had no idea it took so long. I was 19 when I started this movie," he teases. "I wanted to do this project for two reasons: I wanted the opportunity to work with Jeffrey Katzenberg; and it's a great story about accepting yourself for who you are. We live in a society with a warped sense of who's beautiful and who's not, and I think the message of this movie is that everyone is beautiful. The story makes a compelling argument for that truth in a very cool way. "
It's a good thing that Myers feels that way, especially when he is asked to describe his character. "Shrek is a big, green, disgusting, scary oaf- which I'm sure is why they cast me. Thank you, DreamWorks," he smiles.
Physical similarities aside, the filmmakers credit Myers as being integral to the make up of the character as a whole. "Maybe, to look at, Shrek is no dreamboat, but Mike understood the heart and soul of the character and brought out his wonderful lovable qualities. In the way Mike brought Shrek's words to life, he gave him his heart, and we were able to mold our physical character around his voice," Katzenberg says.
Some of the character's dialogue was also molded around Myers' fertile imagination. Adamson notes, "We spent a lot of time in the studio discovering who Mike Myers as Shrek was, and experimenting with different voices and different accents. The truth is, when you cast Mike Myers in a role, you don't just get Mike Myers; you get the plethora of characterizations he can create. He is the best at inventing a character and stepping into it, and once he's in it, he stays in it-even between takes-which gave him a great base to start improvising. The improv moments were gold; those are the moments that give the animators the most to go on, because at that point, it's not a written piece of dialogue, it's a character come to life. "
Many of those golden moments also came in the performance of Eddie Murphy as Shrek's loyal friend, the Donkey. "He is so funny, we never knew what would happen in a session with Eddie," Jenson affirms. "We just knew that he took the lines and made them his own, and he could make you fall on the floor laughing with his interpretation of even a single word. "
No stranger to playing animated characters, Murphy was previously the voice of Mushu the Dragon in the animated epic Mulan (1998). The actor offers that bringing a character to life in animation is far different from a live-action performance. "Animation is a much more collaborative process than acting with my body and my face. It's a trip to have the director ask for a small inflection in your voice, and then, when the scene is drawn, you see how that slight change brings out the emotion. Another reason I like doing animated films is that, when they're done right, they're timeless, and my kids really get into them. I explained to them that Daddy is playing a jackass in 'Shrek,' and they really got a kick out of it. They love hearing their father's voice come out of a cartoon; I would imagine that would be a kick for any kid. "
Beyond the family appeal, Murphy appreciated the underlying theme of "Shrek," which he related to one of his own biggest hits. "It has a similar theme to Nutty Professor, the (1996) -that you should love yourself for who you are and that beauty is on the inside, not on the outside. If you're beautiful on the inside, it makes the exterior beautiful. That's a sweet little message. "
In fact, it is the Donkey who is the first to look past Shrek's appearance and see a friend. "They're kind of an odd couple at first," Jenson notes. "Shrek is this irascible ogre who's convinced himself that he is happy being alone, but Donkey has decided that Shrek saved his life, and he's the guy to follow. Shrek has obvious problems with this, but Donkey can't be dissuaded, he can't be insulted- and he can't be shut up. His persistence finally cracks through Shrek's shell. "
Shrek and Donkey set out on a mission to rescue Princess Fiona, but they soon discover that this princess is anything but your typical damsel in distress.
Cameron Diaz, who is the voice of Princess Fiona, loved the feisty nature of her character. "She is a firecracker-a little spark plug, as they say," Diaz laughs. "She's been kept in that tower for quite a while, and has had time to work out her own ideas about her rescue and her Prince Charming. When Shrek shows up to rescue her, she is understandably not thrilled, and not afraid to say so. In turn, he puts her in her place, and it becomes a battle of wits from that point on. But, as they go along, they discover that a princess and an ogre can have something in common, and if you judge people for what they look like, you're probably missing out on an opportunity to make a good friend."
Tackling her first animated role, Diaz had some surprises of her own in store when she came in for her first recording session. "They told me that Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy were in most of my scenes, so I expected to walk into the room and find them both there and doing lines together. Instead, I got storyboards and a pointer stick running across dialogue on the bottom. I thought, 'Okay, this is different,' but it turned out to be very cool. You don't have to worry about what you look like, or how silly your face looks, so it was really fun and freeing, and I enjoyed it a lot."
"Cameron was just a delight, really sweet, down to earth and so funny," Jenson states. "She was unbelievably hard working; she'd stay with a session late into the night just to get it right, and rather than record a line at a time, she liked to take the whole sequence together, so she could understand the entire scene and find just the right arc. She found the perfect balance between being delicate and princessy, and earthy and tough at the same time. "
The casting of Cameron Diaz was a case of perfect timing for the filmmakers. During the course of making "Shrek," she was also in training for her action role in Charlie's Angels (2000), which lent itself perfectly to Princess Fiona's eye-opening encounter with some rather rude Merry Men. "Cameron was doing eight hours of martial arts training every day, so she was very excited that her character had a fight scene," says Adamson. "She would come in all pumped up from training and suddenly break into fight noises and threaten to take one of the story artists out, in Chinese no less. "
Princess Fiona has every reason to believe that her Prince Charming is Lord Farquaad, the man-who-would-be-king, who dispatched Shrek and Donkey to rescue her and bring her to be his bride. Lord Farquaad, however, is no prince and decidedly not charming.
John Lithgow, who provides the voice of Lord Farquaad, relished in the role of the villain who stands only three-feet tall, but tries to cast a giant shadow. He describes with mock horror, "Lord Farquaad is a walking embodiment of over-compensation. He's a contemptible little creature, full of incredible dreams of glory. He tortures a Gingerbread Man-threatens a cookie with crumbling-he's a bad man. He wants everything to be perfect and can't tolerate anything that is messy. An ogre to him is an anathema-not to mention the horrible swamp he lives in. "
"John takes to evil very well," Aron Warner jokes. "Seriously, with a talent like his, he could be as outrageously evil or as subtly sinister as we wanted, but casting him in the part presented an interesting challenge. John is such a big guy and Farquaad is of distinctly smaller stature. We had to change the way Farquaad moved and even breathed to land that voice inside that tiny little body. "
Adamson expounds, "John has this amazing voice that can go from this insidious whisper to this huge booming voice instantaneously. Our sound mixers on the stage were continuously righting the faders to keep up with the different projections he delivered. "
"They need to have a tremendous amount of variety in the actors performances, like squeezing a lot of colors onto the palette," Lithgow remarks. "They have to cover all their options in the process, because once they pick the phrasing of a line and put it to the animation, that's it. When you finally see it come together, it's just thrilling because these characters just pop to life on the screen, and the voice is so much a part of the characterization. It was delightful to be a part of it."
In addition to the veteran cast, there are a few cast members who made a somewhat unexpected acting debut in "Shrek." Traditionally in animation, the storyboard artists and others act out all the characters as they pitch a sequence and often provide scratch dialogue, which will later be re-recorded. In the case of "Shrek," the filmmakers were so impressed with the performances of their "crew," they elected to keep them in the film. Story artists Conrad Vernon as the Gingerbread Man, Chris Miller as Geppetto and the Magic Mirror, and Cody Cameron as Pinocchio and one of the Three Little Pigs, as well as assistant film editor Christopher Knights as one of the Three Blind Mice are just a few of the behind-the-scenes talents who also lent their voices to "Shrek. "
Fairy Tale Magic
It goes without saying that, in any animated film, the voice is only a portion of each character's performance. The performances in "Shrek" were greatly enhanced by PDI/DreamWorks' proprietary facial animation system, representing a giant leap forward from its first application in Antz (1998). Whereas Antz (1998) was almost entirely populated by, well, ants, "Shrek" is the first computer animated film to star humans, including the title character.
According to supervising animator Raman Hui, "Shrek is an ogre, but at the same time, he has the same range of emotions as any of us. In fact, the most challenging animation to do was when Shrek is hiding what he is really feeling- saying one thing but thinking something else. Animators are just like actors; it's up to us to put all those emotions into the face. "
The facial animation system in "Shrek" enabled Hui and his team to convey complex emotions and expressions through a remarkable layering system that is based on real human anatomy. The application of the system begins with the character technical directors, supervised by Lucia Modesto and Luca Prasso. Essentially, the skull of the character is formed in the computer, and covered with computer recreations of the actual muscles of the face. The skin is then layered over and programmed to respond to the manipulations of the muscles as would a human face, complete with wrinkles, laugh lines and other imperfections.
Hundreds of controls are wired into the face like human nerves, enabling the animators to go far beyond the speech phonemes for the correct lip synch. By applying a wide range of command combinations in different percentages, they could achieve a scope of expressions as varied as for any human actor. However, with facial sizes and characteristics as diverse as those of Shrek, Donkey, Fiona and Farquaad, specific adjustments had to be made to accomplish the desired expressions for each character. The same commands that formed a smile for one could result in something quite different for another.
For animating entire characters in "Shrek," the team at PDI/DreamWorks correctly reasoned that the techniques used in their facial animation system could be applied to the whole body structure. Once again, the skeletal system formed the core, layered over with muscles, skin and, in this case, clothing. A breakthrough program that the software developers dubbed a "Shaper" was used to achieve realistic deformations of the skin, as well as the clothing.
Basically, a Shaper is a layering process that deforms the surface from the inside out. When you modify the innermost layer, the change extends outward to ultimately change the exterior shape. It is taken from the same principle that causes your arm muscle to flex when you bend your arm. Applying the Shaper, the animators could not only get realistic deformations of the skin, but wrinkles in the "costumes" as they reacted to the way the characters moved.
Moviegoers are more than familiar with the properties of human skin, so rendering realistic skin proved to be one of the animators' greatest tests, especially when it came to Princess Fiona. To give her complexion the translucent quality of real skin, a series of specular controls in a mini-program called a shader was employed. Simply put, a shader determines how a surface will be influenced by light by manipulating its shading, as well as its textural qualities-from smooth to bumpy, from dull to shiny, and so on.
The skin shader allowed the lighting department to layer the skin with light that seemed to penetrate, refract and re-emerge. More concentrated light created a natural radiant shine, while broader sheens simulated the top layer of dead skin we all have. It was a difficult balance to maintain because too much shine would result in a look like a plastic mannequin. Finally, a Hollywood makeup artist was brought in to teach the lighting and surfacing team the proper makeup techniques, so they could put the finishing touches on Fiona's face.
With Fiona, the filmmakers learned that there can actually be too much of a good thing. At one point, she began to look so photo-realistic that the animators had to "dial her back," so she would fit in "Shrek's" stylistic fairy tale world.
Another kind of shader was used just to handle the rendering of the characters' eyes, which are often the windows to their true emotions in "Shrek. " The irises were individually animated to react to the amount of light in the shot, and a set of virtual lights was used to provide the highlights that put the gleam in their eyes.
An even more complex shader was employed to generate the fur on the Donkey. However, the lighting department soon found that the problem with computer animated fur is that it has a tendency to grow straight out like a Chia Pet®. The surfacing animators used flow controls within the shader to set the direction and layering of the fur so it would lie flat, overlap, or and even swirl. The visual effects group, supervised by Ken Bielenberg, could then influence the fur by having it react to environmental conditions. The same technology was also used for eyebrows, beards, grass, moss, and even the frayed threads on Shrek's tunic
Human hair, on the other hand, involved a completely different rendering system and, like almost everything in computer animation, required a symbiosis of the technical director, animation, lighting and visual effects teams. Fiona's braid, for example, began as a clump of hair fashioned by the technical directors. The braid was animated using a dynamic simulation in which the braid inherited the motion of her head, causing it to swing, collide with her body and bounce off. The lighting and effects departments developed techniques to give the hair the right sheen, variations in strand colors and back lighting.
Though animating the four central characters was the main focus of the production, a significant amount of work went into animating the crowd scenes, including the approximately 1,000 spectators in the tournament scene, as well as the 1,500 wedding guests at the film's climax. Once again, the crowd animation represented a step forward from Antz (1998), as, unlike ants, people come in all shapes and sizes.
A digital "dollhouse" of men, women and children was created with assorted heads, body types, hair, faces and clothes that could be combined for a selection of over 450 possible characters. Ninety-three hand-animated motion cycles-walking, clapping, cheering, running, etc. -were then randomly assigned to give each member of the crowd a level of individuality. Multiplying it all together, there were tens of thousands of possible permutations for the film's "extras. "
"Shrek" also showcases breakthroughs in the realms of fire and water. The fire-breathing dragon effects were achieved with a technique called volumetric rendering. In digital terms, anything encapsulated within a boundary is a volume, though you only see what's inside the boundary and not the boundary itself. The fire is an intense layering of millions of different volumes, which then went through a two-dimensional imaging process to set them ablaze.
Utilizing PDI/DreamWorks' award-winning Fluid Animation System (FLU),
"Shrek" upped the ante from Antz (1998). The system allowed the effects team to create a range of fluids with different viscosities-from water to mud to beer to lava to milk. Imagine digital spheres flying around in free space, which, as they collide, form a singular isosurface, which can be more or less dense resulting in different thicknesses. The software further allowed the animators to define collision reactions of liquids within a solid surface, e.g. the milk in a glass; control the direction of the flow; and intermingle different types of liquids with different levels of viscosity.
An example of the last is seen when Shrek knocks the spigot off the beer keg in Duloc and the beer pours out and flows over the mud. Add to that the animated characters interacting within the mess, and it becomes even more complicated.
On a far less technical note, Ken Bielenberg divulges that the team took considerable fun in ascertaining how to animate Shrek's mud shower. "We took one of the guys, put him in a yellow slicker and dumped mud all over him. Besides being fun, it gave us a good reference to see how mud behaves," he affirms.
While they are not liquid, blowing leaves were also created using the Fluid Animation System, though they represented only a tiny fraction of the film's lush foliage. PDI/DreamWorks' effects department developed a literal digital greenhouse to "grow" the more than 28,000 trees with three billion leaves seen in the film. In fact, if you tied those leaves end to end, you could construct a leaf ribbon that would extend in length four times the distance from the earth to the moon. Far from being still life, the trees and flora move, bent and otherwise reacted to the wind, the movement of the characters and other environmental changes through the application of the shader system.
The filmmakers are proud of the technological advances in "Shrek," but are nonetheless hoping that audiences don't even notice them. Adamson expounds, "All the effects are there to bring a richness and a reality to our world that's invaluable when you're trying to create an illusion of life. "
A Storybook World
The first computer animated fairy tale, "Shrek" takes audiences into a fantasy world comprised of 36 separate locations, more than any previous computer animated feature. "When we started 'Shrek,' we wanted to make a fairy tale come to life- as if you opened a storybook and stepped into that world," Adamson says. "We envisioned a magical environment that you could immerse yourself in," Warner continues. "Every leaf on every tree moves, the dirt moves, the dust rolls- there's a sense of atmosphere, a sense of weight to all the props. You can almost smell it. "
Audiences might appreciate that Warner is only being facetious about the smell, especially during the film's opening sequence in which we see Shrek enjoying the creature comforts of his muddy swamp home. Production designer James Hegedus offers, "We designed Shrek's swamp to be a very organic environment, more like a hovel that he built using materials he found in the swamp. It's wet, mucky and overgrown-just perfect for him. "
To capture the natural feel of the swamp, art director Douglas Rogers made a research trip to a magnolia plantation outside Charleston, South Carolina. He found himself a little too close to nature when he was chased by an alligator. Rogers and fellow art director Guillaume Aretos took less adventurous research trips to such far-flung locations as the Hearst Castle, the village of Stratford on Avon, and Dordogne, France, the last for inspiration for the look of Duloc.
In stark contrast to the soft edges and warm earth tones of Shrek's home is the kingdom of Duloc, ruled by Lord Farquuad. "Duloc is the place of a man obsessed with order," art director Guillaume Aretos notes. "The streets are perfect, the flowers are always being replaced, and at the center of it all there is that huge rectangle rising out of a big, flat plain. "
"It's a very linear, angular setting-pristine, minimal and hard. The colors are cool, the tones are subdued," Hegedus adds. "What we tried to do was reflect the character in their environments. Shrek is tied to earthiness, Farquaad to a more controlled space, and Princess Fiona is between those two worlds. "
Shrek and Donkey first come upon Princess Fiona in a dark and forbidding castle, where she has been held captive by a fire-breathing dragon. The design team modeled the castle to be a formidable silhouette that seems to arise out of a rock island too small to hold it. It has an appearance akin to a towering rock mountain, surrounded by a vortex of danger and darkness, epitomized by a lava moat.
To get to the castle, Shrek and Donkey must first traverse a rickety rope bridge over the molten lava, which presented some challenges to the layout team, headed by Simon J. Smith. The equivalent of cinematography in a live action film, layout is the first step of turning two-dimensional storyboards into three-dimensional images by essentially camera blocking the scenes in the computer.
For the dangerous trip across the lava divide, the layout team applied a camera technique similar to that of a Steadicam to put the audience onto the rocking bridge and heighten the tension. Once in the castle, Shrek and Donkey battle the dragon, rescue the princess and make their escape in a major action sequence involving dozens of quick cuts and even a classic crane shot as we pull out of the dragon's keep.
Together, the characters in "Shrek" posed another kind of challenge for the layout team. Whereas the ants in Antz (1998) had all been roughly the same size, Shrek, Donkey, Fiona and Farquaad could not be more disparate in terms of size and shape. "You have Shrek, who's huge, Fiona who is small and lithe, and a short, squat Donkey, so it was sometimes difficult to find the right camera angles for everyone," Smith explains. He goes on to reveal that they would sometimes employ the digital equivalent of such classic tricks as putting a character on a "soapbox" or into a "trench" in order to balance the composition as they travel together.
Accompanying the characters on their adventures is a musical score composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell, who had previously collaborated on the scores of DreamWorks' animated hits Antz (1998) and Chicken Run (2000).
Juxtaposed with the orchestral score in the film are song selections from an eclectic group of artists, including Baha Men, Smash Mouth, Joan Jett, Rupert Holmes, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and DreamWorks' recording artists eels, Self, Leslie Carter and Dana Glover. Glover's song, 'It Is You (I Have Loved)' was originally a score cue from composers Gregson-Williams and Powell, to which Glover wrote lyrics and turned it into one of the featured songs in the film.
Like the story, the songs will relate differently to audiences, depending on their age and musical tastes, but, Katzenberg remarks, "As much as any movie I've worked on these last 20 years, this one genuinely has something for everyone. It's such an irreverent comedy, but at its core is an incredible heart. It really talks to the fact that there's a place for each and every one of us, and someone to share it with. "
Warner agrees, "I think its theme is a very important one these days: that beauty not only isn't everything, it can mean absolutely nothing. We live in world that's obsessed with the way people look. I love the fact that we are able to tell a story where the so-called beautiful people don't always win. "
Katzenberg concludes, "It really is an allegory in which we can find something about our own lives. Each of our characters comes to understand that there is something wonderful-warts and all-about who they are. I think that's true for all of us: that the people who ultimately come to know and love us, see the strengths inside of us. Whether you're a princess, a donkey, or even a big, green, stinky ogre, you can find love and happiness. "