Secret of the Wings, which came out this week as a Blu-ray/DVD combo from Disney Home Ent., is the best Tinker Bell movie yet. It’s mysterious and gorgeous and even quite pleasing in 3-D. Tink discovers a secret twin, Periwinkle, in the Winter Woods of Pixie Hollow, which raises the bar thematically and stylistically. Animation was done at Prana in India. I recently spoke with director Peggy Holmes and some of the other filmmakers at DisneyToon Studios in Burbank.
The biggest technical challenge was the wings, which visually represent the connection between the two sisters, Tink and Peri. They decided on a lighting effect that reacts in the real environment. “Depending on the lighting and where the camera is, the sparkle effect of the wings is different and changes as you go around, just as a prism would,” explains Holmes.
The look of the wings was inspired by abalone shells, according to art director Fred Warter. Nickie Huai, lead lighting and rendering, says they went with a procedural approach in the shading to react more magically to the lighting and camera. But when it looked like panes of glass, they need to take it to another level. “I started painting a displacement map and started sculpting the wings so that it would have more three dimensionality to it,” Huai adds.
But when the sparkle effect was too busy, they went back to an earlier approach and “applied the shader onto the shot, the final animation in the camera.”
The other R&D challenge was the frost, which envelops Pixie Hollow. ” Our initial thinking was water on grapevines in a vineyard to keep them from freezing. That’s something that John Lasseter knew about because he owns a vineyard. So we talked about that as a story idea and we brought in a doctor of snow and he said if you do this you’re going to kill Pixie Hollow. Apparently the water has to keep going all the time to create the friction that creates the heat. So we weren’t going to do that in the story and he taught us about frost. If you were out in the real world and you were covered with frost and a freeze came, it would keep you warm. So it was really fantastic to do the research and just heighten it.”
However, the expert advised that they need a crisp blue sky for the freeze to happen. That ran counter to their notion of gray, stormy skies to evoke something threatening. “That crisp blue was so right and that came from research and again John Lasseter pushing us to look to nature,” Warter says.
They didn’t want to tell a dark story and it took a while to figure out the right way of presenting the two worlds of Pixie Hollow coming together. “For me, that was the hardest par,” Holmes concludes. “To tell the story of two worlds that are a part without it being too heavy.”