/News 31.08.23

MPC’s expert VFX and Animation team deliver hilarious Canine Capers for Universal’s Strays

With Universal Pictures’ raunchy new movie Strays releasing around the world, MPC reveals how their VFX teams brought Director Josh Greenbaum’s comedic canine vision to life.

Strays follows Reggie, an abandoned Border Terrier, who forms an unlikely bond with a misfit gang of stray dogs. Together, they embark on an epic trek across town to help Reggie find his way home – facing various adventures and overcoming challenges along the way.

Led by Production VFX Supervisor Jason Billington and Animation Director Matt Everitt, 370 artists across MPC Adelaide, Bangalore and Mumbai delivered 720 shots for the movie.

Bug (Jamie Foxx) and Reggie (Will Ferrell) in Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum. (© Universal Studios)

To deliver Director Josh Greenbaum’s vision, MPC’s goal was to create a believable world where the boundaries between real and digital animals were indistinguishable. The film encompasses moments of subtle emotion, exhilarating full CG action sequences, and side-splitting comedic gags.

“The VFX work was a true collaboration between Josh Greenbaum and MPC’s artists. Josh was an incredibly creative and inspiring director, always open to our ideas, and encouraging exploration as we found the tone of the show.”

Jason Billington, VFX Supervisor, MPC

One of the key elements of the movie was the exploration of the behavior of dogs and their imagined conversations. MPC’s team worked closely with the performances captured on set, to ensure that the dogs appeared to be engaged in realistic dialogue, as well as highlighting the distinctive personality of each dog. Simultaneously, showcasing the impeccable comic timing and dialogue delivered by the film’s leading comedic talents, Jamie Foxx and Will Ferrell.

Much of the VFX work incorporated CG muzzle replacement techniques for the dogs. The muzzle replacement work was varied, ranging from replacing the muzzle below the eyes, to complete head replacement. Additionally, certain shots featured full CG dogs, while one specific sequence required a full CG eagle.

MPC meticulously crafted and developed over 30 assets for the movie, encompassing highly detailed full CG versions of the hero characters. Among the notable dogs were Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell), Bug (voiced by Jamie Foxx), Hunter (voiced by Randall Park), and Maggie (voiced by Isla Fisher).

Maggie (Isla Fisher) in Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum. (© Universal Studios)

The dogs required full facial systems with a seamless blend across the entire face and neck to allow MPC’s artists to utilise different areas of the live action dog, depending on the performance requirements. Each dog also boasted a distinct and diverse groom, encompassing various fur styles and textures such as short, fine, straggled, long, flowing, and silky.

Strays was one of the first shows at MPC to use our new, Houdini-based grooming system for hair, fur and feathers called LOMA, a proprietary Houdini/USD based toolset which allows us to create, control and simulate grooms for much more detailed & art-directed characters than before.”

Jason Billington, VFX Supervisor, MPC

“This technology works in conjunction with our industry leading shader development for hair, which calculates physical properties of hair strands, such as the medulla, cortex and cuticle – animal and human alike, in much more physically based manner, resulting in never-seen-before realism for furry creatures,” added Billington.

Reggie (Will Ferrell) in Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum. (© Universal Studios)

One sequence, entailing the creation of both full CG dogs and a full CG eagle, posed a significant challenge to the team due to them being prominently featured in close-up shots. The scene required meticulous attention to detail in the assets and multiple simulations for every moving element. Considerable time and effort was put into pre-visualization, during which new jokes and ideas were pitched and incorporated into the final film. The sequence aimed to maintain a sense of peril, but at the same time elicit laughter from the audience as our heroes are carried over treetops, hundreds of feet in the air.

Integrating these elements seamlessly into background plates, captured using various cameras at different times of the day, posed a more intricate challenge for MPC’s lighting and compositing artists. Ensuring consistency across the entire sequence demanded a comprehensive and meticulous approach.