The Web's Wide World: Net Life in 'Ralph Breaks the Internet'
Hello there, Net User. Clearly you’re no stranger to the world wide web, but have you ever stopped to think about what it looks like from the inside? That’s exactly what many of the talent men and women at Walt Disney Animation have been asking themselves as they bring next month’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” to life. Enter now, a digital world of Users and Netizens!
“Early on in the movie, we were just exploring the concept of the internet,” explains Dave K. Komorowski, Head of Characters. “What is the internet? Cory [Loftis] and Matthias [Lechner] came up with this concept that the internet is building on top of itself. Down at the bottom, we might have a MySpace or a NetScape, but Google has just been going and going and going, so it’s one of the biggest buildings in the internet.”
A Disney animation vet of the last 15 years, Komorowski faced with “Ralph Breaks the Internet” a challenge of scale unprecedented in animation history.
“We’re talking about a three-dimensional space here,” he explains. “On a typical film, I might have to populate a New York Street. That, in and of itself, is a challenge. But on a film like this, you find yourself in a situation where you’re not only populating that main street, but you look down and there’s a populated street. You look up and there’s a populated street. There’s a whole lot of characters.”
Although the original “Wreck-It Ralph” is only six years old, technology has made enormous advances between then and now to the point that central characters like Ralph and Vanellope had to be completely reexamined.
“Ralph’s legs are so wide that, when the animation team tried to bend him, it was like trying to bend a bowling ball,” recalls Renato dos Anjos, Head of animation.
If you were to compare the original Ralph to his 2018 counterpart, you’d notice a lot of subtle changes right down to his skin texture and the stitching in his clothes. Hopefully, though, Ralph will just register as the same old 8-Bit bad guy everyone loves to hate.
“Overall, these are the same characters you know and love,” says Komorowski, “They’re just a little bit richer.”
The original “Wreck-It Ralph” featured 223 character designs with enough variants (alternate hairstyles, faces, etc.) to make up 422 variants. 222 of those (sorry, Turbo) made their way directly into “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” which offers 434 characters and a whopping 6,752 variants. When you include alternate colors and textures, the final film boasts more than 500,000 unique characters!
“We worked with Moe [El-Ali] early on in the crowds department just to run a test,” Komorowski continues. “We said, ‘Let’s start bringing characters in here and figure out what this really means to us.’ I think that, on his initial test, we wound up with more than 150,000 characters just in this one shot.”
The film’s Crowds Supervisor, El-Ali is responsible for finding out how to animate the population of whole cities to make the internet feel like it is truly a bustling metropolis.
“What we kind of do is find ways to add variation to all of these characters and find ways to populate the space so the animator doesn’t have to worry about animating thousands and thousands of characters,” he explains. “It’s just not feasible.”
The inhabitants of the internet can be broken down into two distinct groups: Netizens and Net Users. Net Users are human beings like you and me and are depicted as blockheaded avatars. When someone logs onto the world wide web, they are converted into one of these forms.
“We see ourselves running around the internet because we create avatars and we know what we’re doing,” explains Production Designer Cory Loftis. “But [the Netizens] are more the ghosts in the machine. If you send an email, one of the Netizens delivers it in a mail truck. If you put an item into a shopping cart, they push the cart and then check you out. They’re kind of the worker bees of the internet.”
Some of the Netizens are highly specialized algorithms designed to carry out very specific tasks. A Netizen might be an eBay auctioneer or, perhaps, tasked with handing out cookies to visiting Users. One key Netizen that audiences will meet in November is Yesss, voiced by Taraji P. Henson.
“The directors wanted Yesss to be the most current thing out there,” says Loftis. “She’s constantly living in the moment, constantly changing her outfit and her hairstyle. She’s changing the content on her websites.”
Originally envisioned as a sort of older sister to Vanellope, Yesss went through some significant changes before settling into her role as “the Most current, most hip curator of cool on the internet” and she even borrowed some of her style from an unlikely Disney character.
“Her coat is actually made up of fiber optics,” says Loftis. “It’s modeled after Cruella de Vil’s fur coat. It has a flowing, over-the-top feel. Her earrings don’t actually attach to her ears. They hang like earrings. She has a floating wristband. Her outfit lights up and has an animated light cycle to it. Her hair has data streaming through it.”
With one month to go before “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” we’ll soon be diving in even deeper, bringing you an exclusive interview with directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore. Check back soon with Moviebill and catch the film on the big screen November 25, 2018.