Televisual: Gone to the Dogs

Following its CG work on Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Underdog, Cinesite is back making dogs talk for Marmaduke, completing 650 VFX shots giving 10 live-action dogs the power of speech.

Cinesite’s tried and tested approach to making a live action dog talk requires the seamless blending of a CG face on top of the dog’s real face, which is a « massive task, » says VFX supervisor Matt Johnson.

« Each breed of dog brought its own unique challenges and the detailing involved meant we had to push our pipeline to its limits, » he explains. Cinesite started off by building « base head » models of the dogs in Maya, and then created a customised rig to mimic a dog’s muscle structure. A secondary muscle layer was added to mimic the muscles of a human face, so it could give the dogs human traits.

« We carefully studied Owen Wilson’s (who voices the dog Marmaduke) mannerisms and reflected this in the expressions we gave Marmaduke, to capture a real sense of Owen Wilson in a 200lb Great Dane, » says Johnson.

The finished versions of each of the dog’s faces were made by combining fully textured and lit cg head passes with elements of the original photography, which were re-projected over the animated cg faces. These were further defined with the addition of 3D eyes and whiskers. It took Cinesite 11 months to complete its VFX work on the film.