Cinesite is no stranger to cute, talking dog movies, having previously delivered Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Underdog and Marmaduke. We know our stuff. But when, in early meetings, director Josh Greenbaum suggested that Strays would, ‘make Ted blush’, he wasn’t kidding. Strays is the story of Border Terrier Reggie (Will Ferrell) who, abandoned by his owner, Doug, teams up with other strays including Bug (Jamie Foxx), Maggie (Isla Fisher) and Hunter (Randall Park) to plan a terrible revenge.
Cinesite delivered 373 shots for Strays, with our work overseen by Jason Billington. Holger Voss was Cinesite’s own VFX supervisor.
Previously used techniques involved retaining as much of the live action plate as possible, reprojecting photogrammetry onto the head and roto-animation, only using CG where it was absolutely necessary. With advances in rendering and lighting, it has become more efficient to use a CG route wherever possible, particularly for key areas like the cheeks, muzzle, tongues and mouth interiors; overall, far less reprojection was required. Most dog assets were supplied to Cinesite, although they still required the application of a CG groom (using Houdini), with Cinesite building two dogs from scratch. The Great Dane, Hunter, had long flappy jowls which also required CFX to ensure realistic organic flesh wobble when he was talking.
The groom for lead dog Reggie was the most challenging. The production used a mix of stand in (stunt) dogs and the lead, performing dog. Border Terrier fur is quite scruffy and there was an age gap between the younger stunt dogs and the performing Reggie which meant there was inconsistency between their colouring. Make up products were used to darken the performing dog’s grey fur, but maintaining consistency between shots was tricky on occasion. Several groom options were needed to compensate for occasions when the dog had just had a drink, when his make up was fresh, or less fresh etc. There were also occasions where Reggie needed to seem to smile. For those instances, the team developed what was dubbed a “happy groom,” where the fur was curled up around his mouth, to give the impression of a smile.
The dogs were incredibly well trained, each having their personal marker on the floor to indicate where to stand or where they should be walking. All of these markers later needed to be removed; furry paws standing on top of them were a challenge to clean up and Cinesite outsourced much of that work to other vendors.
There are some hilarious sequences in Strays, including one where the dogs eat magic mushrooms. Some of the trippiest visual effects, like an expanding “cone of shame,” and visible pink, sparkling scent trails floating in the air, were created by Cinesite’s team. Another sequence featuring dogs humping garden ornaments also required synchronised hip-thrusts – and that is where the editorial team came into its own. There were multiple takes and split-screens of the dogs throughout the film, many of which required retiming; some dogs were sped up to appear more nervous, or slowed down because they weren’t calm enough. The editorial team was really on top of its game logistically.
For every dog, the director was very precise in his direction about tongue movement, wanting to see key words clearly enunciated, particularly the funniest (and often the most profane) elements of the dialogue. This led to some hilarious dailies sessions, as we’re sure you can imagine!
Strays releases on 18th August by Universal Pictures.