Animal Logic



Netflix Animation
Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel & David Wachtenheim
Adam Sandler & Mireille Soria
Patrick Voetberg & Joseph Titone
Jason Figliozzi
Simon Rodgers
Wouter Tulp, Patrick Mate & David Wachtenheim
Jenné Marie Guerra
David Ward
Viola Chen
Carlos Hombrebueno
John Rix & Kai Pederson
Kristen Anderson
Bradley Sick
Marco Iannaccone
Ben Dishart
Matthew Newhart
Rodrigo Janz
Clementine Lo
Alfonso Espeso Calvo
Geeta Basantani

It took a talking lizard to help solve the troubles of a class of fifth-graders, and 799 Animals across Sydney and Vancouver to bring the 268 unique characters, all bursting with laughs and advice, to life!

Leo is a coming-of-age animated musical comedy released by Netflix on November 21, 2023, which cracked the hearts and smiles of audiences across the globe. Leo was a #1 film in 80 of 93 countries in its first 28 days and was in the Netflix’s global top 10 for 10 weeks!

The story centers around a 74-year-old lizard named Leo, voiced by Adam Sandler, who has been stuck as a class pet in the same Florida classroom for decades with his turtle terrarium-mate named Squirtle. When Leo learns that he only has one year left to live, he plans to escape to experience life on the outside but instead gets tangled in the complicated lives of the fifth-grade students.

Directed by Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel, and David Wachtenheim, Leo was produced by Adam Sandler and Mireille Soria and written by Sandler, Smigel, and Paul Sado. It’s a heartwarming and comedic film that highlights the challenges of growing up, with insights from parents, school administrators, and the kids.

Our Vancouver studio started working on the project in early 2021, with assets and layout turning shots over during the first half of the year. Our Sydney studio was brought on as production ramped up, with Associate Producer Jenné Marie Guerra assigning full sequences of the film to each department. “I tried to assign scenes with similar characters or locations to increase efficiency between the two studio locations,” explains Guerra. “For example, animation for one sequence might be handled in Sydney, but that didn’t mean Sydney also did the Lighting for that same sequence.” Together, both studios generated a total of 9,652,721 versions of shots across all departments!

One of the characters that changed the most from the initial designs was the school teacher, Ms Malkin. The Supervising Art Director Kristen Anderson said, “Early designs had Malkin looking much more muscular and angular. She was still top-heavy with dainty feet, but her face had more angularity and a disdainful expression. I love where we landed with her being softer and more vulnerable.” The Art Department introduced more rounded shapes to the character’s design to convey that she isn’t as tough as she appears to be, as she wants to connect with the students but struggles to show her true good intentions. Anderson explains that Malkin’s “hair shape changed subtly over time and became a little shorter and more rounded. Shape language and silhouette are a large part of character design discussions.”

The characters that proved to be the biggest technical challenge for Leo were the chaotic kindergarten kids. John Rix, CG Supervisor, said, “We had to create characters with heads bigger than their bodies with extreme expressions, meaning we couldn’t rely on our standard rigging technology and had to create a custom setup.” Working as a CG Supervisor means that Rix gets the opportunity to explore the film’s environments as well as the characters. His favourite environment to work on was the Everglades, which was a challenge “to organise the hierarchy of sections to allow for the overall size and variety needed in the scenes. The lighting was more dramatic, using the canopy to create dappled patterns and more drama” as this part of the film had a specific mood to convey and an important story to tell. The CG department used a combination of off-the-shelf tools like Maya, Houdini, Mari, and Photoshop that have integrated enhancements, as­­ well as our proprietary tools like FILAMENT for lighting, GLIMPSE for rendering, and FILMSTUDIO for breakdown management and visualisation.

The Character Effects team on Leo had over 30 artists, 4 leads, and several production coordinators collaboratively working cross-site between Sydney and Vancouver to take on the challenge of working with various textures, from hair to fur to scales. One of the Character Effects Supervisors, Alfonso Espeso Calvo, said, “Leo and Summer, one of the fifth-grade students, are very different characters from the design, animation, and CFX perspectives. While Summer requires more conventional CFX work, such as hair and cloth, Leo represents a perfect example of the CFX Department’s work for creatures in an animated movie. Dealing with reptiles requires the CFX department to work with specialised tools that allow the artist to handle the scales and preserve their rigidity and overall body volume.” To bring the cast of Leo to life, the CFX team used a mix of Houdini and our in-house proprietary tools, like ALFRO, our procedural hair system, and WEAVE, our solution for procedurally generating the fabric that conforms to a cloth piece.

The Animation Department played a large part in enhancing all the different character traits for the 268 unique characters throughout Leo. Animation Lead Andrew Hunt said, “We had such a large cast of characters, all with their own unique personalities, and if we had them all in a shot, we had to be mindful of all their different character traits.” The classroom shots that contain all the students, multiple teachers, and both class pets left plenty of elements and personality traits to keep track of in a shot, which meant the Animation team had to “be mindful of the character’s age, energy levels, design appeal and specific mannerisms they all have, juggling all these concepts while racing forward to getting the shot approved on time.”

“The most interesting aspects of working in Leo was visiting each kid’s universe and translating it with cinematography,” said Lighting Supervisor Rodrigo Janz. To immerse the audience in the kid’s world, the Lighting Department added to the film’s storytelling by “carefully balancing differences in colour, lighting placement and contrast to reflect each character’s personality or mental state. For instance, one of the fifth-grade students, Mia, is a smart, sensitive, and introspective kid, so we tried to keep the lighting in her room more contained to the characters to give a feeling of closeness and intimacy between Leo and Mia, emphasising the emotional moment she’s going through. In contrast, Summer is an extremely outgoing character. To express her personality in her room, we emphasised the richness of colours and the overall warmth in the environment.”

Compositing was used in a unique way throughout the film to aid comedic timing and magnify emotions in the heartfelt scenes. Compositing Supervisor Geeta Basantani said that the department helped develop the stylised sequences in the film “from Leozilla, the cutout collage animation, the clock song and the neck mating effect.” One of her favourite scenes to work on was Leozilla, which was a “reference from Godzilla, a Kaiju 1954 creature,” because her team got to play with “a miniature effect period style, silhouettes and atmosphere”.

Leo has been loved by audiences of any age, which speaks to the incredible mastery that went into creating a story and characters that everyone can relate to.


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