McIntosh graduate hopes sequel to “Ice Age” gets a warm reception

Tue, 03/28/2006 - 4:16pm
By: Michael Boylan

David Torres

It has been four years since The Citizen first did a story on McIntosh High School graduate and former Peachtree City resident David Torres. In March of 2002, Torres had just completed work as a computer animator on the film “Ice Age,” for Blue Sky Studios. This Friday, the sequel, “Ice Age: The Meltdown” hits screens across America and Torres, now a lead animator for the studio, is eager for people to see what he considers Blue Sky’s strongest film to date.

Torres, who graduated from McIntosh in 1995, has worked on all three films that Blue Sky Studios has produced, the two “Ice Age” films and last year’s “Robots,” a film for which he, two of his colleagues and Robin Williams were nominated for their work on the character of Fender in the category of Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture. He recently attended the Visual Effects Society awards ceremony in Los Angeles and, despite losing to Loyd Price for his work on Gromit in “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” had a good time. Not only did he get to meet other animators and actors who provided voice talent. he also had the chance to meet and speak with John Lasseter, the founder of Pixar, who was the honorary honoree at the ceremony.

“That was the highlight of the event for me,” said Torres, who got his start with animatronics at Imagineering at the Disney theme parks in Florida.

Though Blue Sky is based in New York, Torres found himself back in Los Angeles less than a month after the awards ceremony for the Hollywood premiere of “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” at Mann’s Chinese Theatre. To promote the film, six inches of snow covered the area outside the theatre, a skating rink had been built and the actors from the film arrived to the red carpet on snowmobiles. Torres and the other animators were off to the side of the red carpet at the premiere, but they got their shout out from the director Carlos Saldanha as he walked the carpet.

Torres and his colleagues were very pleased with the reception that the film got from the audience and all believe that they have done their best work with this film, which, according to Torres, was produced in record time.

“It took 18 months to animate the first “Ice Age” and 22 months to animate “Robots,” Torres said. “We did the second “Ice Age” in eight months, which I think is a record for an animated feature like this.” Torres also stated that only eight people who worked on the first “Ice Age” worked on the sequel and it was up to those eight to make sure the remaining 50 plus animators stayed true to the characters and the style of the film.

To finish the product with the quality that everyone expects, Torres told of how he and the rest of the crew worked incredibly long hours, sometimes until 2 or 3 a.m. They would then sleep for a two or three hours and then return to put in another long day. In addition to the long hours, the crew also worked a lot of weekends.

“There were a lot of changes with this film,” said Torres. “The technology is much better and faster than what he worked with for the first film.” One thing viewers can look for is more lifelike fur being rendered on the characters in the sequel. Torres also feels that there was a big learning curve for the animators from film to film and that everyone involved with the film brought more to the table.

Torres was the lead animator for the character Diego, the saber-toothed tiger voiced by Denis Leary. He and his colleagues visited the Bronx Zoo one day to study the movements of tigers and also poured over a lot of video of tigers to make sure that they had the mechanics down.
After the storyboards of the film are created, which are drawings of all the shots in the film, models are built and the process of rigging begins. "Rigging" is putting skeletons inside the characters. The animators then get the characters to do what they are supposed to do on the screen.

"Animators are very much like actors," said Torres. "We hear the voice track and pose the characters to get the performance we want. Every day we would get notes from our director to make some changes, like to make a character sadder or move quicker. It’s fun because we put a little bit of ourselves in the characters as well."

For all of the hard work that they put in on the film, the animators have been rewarded with a paid month hiatus. Torres is taking the time to travel and a stop in Georgia to visit his family is on the agenda.

After the month off, the crew will resume work on a Scrat short for the “Ice Age: The Meltdown” DVD. Scrat is one of the characters in the “Ice Age” films and is the unofficial face of the franchise. Later this year Blue Sky will begin work on their fourth feature film, “Horton Hears a Who,” and Torres, once again, will be a lead animator. He is very excited to tackle this project.

“I think that we’ll be able to stay true to the spirit of Dr. Seuss, more so than some of the live action films could,” Torres said. One of the challenges will be keeping the style of animation that Seuss was famous for but also making it come alive in a 3-D art form.

For now, Torres is just looking forward to the release of “Ice Age: The Meltdown” and some much needed time off. It is clear that he loves his work though and one can imagine that he will be thinking of Scrat and Horton while enjoying his vacation.

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