The Little Mermaid marks another collaboration between Rodeo FX and Tim Burke, Overall Visual Effects Supervisor, after Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. It also is the return of Rodeo FX to the Disney universe, more than a year after Jungle Cruise. Working on such a well-known and beloved story was a milestone in itself. But taking on the performance of Ariel’s ‘Three Amigos’ (Sebastian, Scuttle, and Flounder) was a unique challenge that pushed us even further.
Disney’s recent live-action remakes all commit to photorealistic elements with a little touch of magic. The animated forms of Sebastian the crab, Flounder the fish and Scuttle, now a northern gannet voiced by Awkwafina, needed to remain as faithful as possible to real animals while evoking a wide range of emotions and tics to support the performance of the voice actor behind them. This required delicate rigs and in-shot animations to carefully render the screen time of each character. Different approaches were developed to express emotions through pincers, extra legs and wings. The CG characters also had to be anchored in their environment, be it a boat in the middle of the ocean or the shores as they swim against the current.
The creature FX department was also highly involved in the performances, juggling feathers, scales, and beaks.
While the animation and CFX teams worked on the ‘Three Amigos’, the FX team was dealing with another challenge altogether: water effects. Some scenes had to be created in a full CG environment, pushing our teams to create boats and the sea surrounding them, down to the last waves and light reflection. Other sequences had us add more texture and ‘movement’ to the water, or even work on rendering the dreamy cerulean blue.
Rodeo was also lucky to work on the final shots of the movie, notably for the group shot of the entire merpeople community as they gather on the shore, combining water simulation and beautiful CG doubles for each merperson. But one that truly resonated with the team was that iconic final scene, as King Triton (played by Javier Bardem) turns Ariel into a human, finally accepting her choice. Carefully following the original footage from the original 2D film, our FX team once again stepped up and created that golden, magical effect.