Jingle Jangle

The VFX magic of Jingle Jangle, with Framestore Montreal

Recently released on Netflix, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey received some of its magic from Framestore. For example, the Framestore team created a small matador, a living robot, an epic scene with explosions and a beautiful city. Lorene Bettker, Lead Lighting TD at Framestore Montreal, agreed to give us a few details about the making of this new Christmas classic.

Here are the English & French trailers, followed by the interview:

A musical adventure and a visual spectacle for the ages, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a wholly fresh and spirited family holiday event. Set in the gloriously vibrant town of Cobbleton, the film follows legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker) whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when his trusted apprentice (Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills) — and a long-forgotten invention — to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within. From the imagination of writer-director David E. Talbert, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey reminds us of the strength of family and the power of possibility.

3DVF:  Hello Lorene, and thanks for giving us an insight on the making of Jingle Jangle ! First of all, could you tell us about your background ? And why did you choose to specialize in lighting ?

Hello! Thank you for having me ! For my background, I did one year of highschool with the ” cinema-audiovisuel” specialization, but I couldn’t keep it with a Literary formation, so now I have a classic Literary Baccalaureate degree with a specialization in literary english – Didn’t know what to go for after that, as nothing was exciting to me, except the world of Cinema and especially animated movies… One day I realise that the animated short movies I was watching all day long on Youtube were actually made in a school that was a bit more than two hours from home ! By people of my age! I think after less than two weeks I was applying there, at l’ESMA Toulouse. I loved drawing but didn’t have true skills at the time so I did one year of MANAA – mise a niveaux en arts appliques – after validating my year, I integrated the three years “3D animation” program. Bonus, I’m now addicted to draw and paint. So I started here quite fast after that, reading your magazine when I was at school !!

The second year was focused on animation, rigging, compositing, 2D animation, writing/scenario classes, and complex shader work (groom, subsurface shader, hyper realistic shader work) with proper texturing. A proper generalist formation. This was hard ! And I had to double my year – this is when my love for lighting appeared to me, when I had to redo all of the different specialities that exists, I realised that lighting and rendering where like a Whole to me, it’s the moment you stop see in grey and assemble all the little pieces that will make a beautiful finished product / image / frame – and as a student, you know…. I definitely couldn’t find the same interest in any other speciality so I definitely put more energy into lighting and rendering than any other one at school. I wanted to “make the frames” I was amazed by, bring colors and lights to it, give them a meaning. (as we all do !) Lighting is when you turn the lights on, when you switch on your Christmas tree lights and look at it, satisfied. It’s when, in my opinion, you enhance the mood animation gave to the character to make it complete, it’s taking all the little details and wonders from each department, and showing the best of it to the world. Also i’m afraid of the dark, so definitely I love lights !

The storybook sequences

3DVF: Both Framestore Montreal and London worked on Jingle Jangle : which sequences were handled at Montreal ?

I can talk for sure only about the Lighting part of the work – The awesome full CG wooden animated sequence, the “storybook” sequences, were made in London by the Design team. Everything else, from snowy rooftops to floating formulas to character and environment work was made in Montreal.

3DVF: Can you give us a few numbers about the size of your team, the VFX shots count and the time you had to complete the lighting ?

In lighting I started alone in September 2019 for two months, then I got two artists for the end of the year, then around February we were the complete team of 6 lighting artists and we delivered the project at the very end of August 2020, so that’s one year in lighting ! There were also two environment artists (one lead one artist) working on the big city environment all along. We had to deliver around 450 shots.

3DVF: Can you walk us through a typical day as a lead lighting TD ?

There’s different steps / stages. When you’re just starting a new show, at the very beginning, most of the time you are alone as you need to setup the whole show in order to help your team in the future and prep everything that could be needed. You need to have a big picture in mind quickly, so you can foresee issues and technical challenges that are not here yet, but will come for sure.You can express your concerns about what’s going to be challenging and if you’re lucky, other people agree with you and you can have some early material to work on, you start going into and prep a setup for that specific challenge that you’ll work with all along the production – Of course the development of the entire setup  will need some adjustments later on during the production as you can’t have all the elements,  but without that base, the amount of work you need to deal with wouldn’t be achievable.  This work is also necessary so you can impregnate it and then explain it to your team. 
Then you select some master shot for the lighting side of the production – Which shotsper sequence are the best representation of the lighting for the entire sequence, or the most shots possible.  From those key shots, you can give a solid base to your team to start with. For Jingle Jangle I had three master lightrigs ready at start :  
– One for the workshop, the attic
–  One for the lab area where Don Juan takes into life
– One for outside of the shop, the entire village’s plaza by day.
To do that setup you’ll need to look at “On-set references pictures” which can help you positionnate your lights, or gives you clues about which type of light is used, does it have gobos on it ?  But the most important prop we need is the Macbeth chart and refballs, taken where the action is going to happen.  It’s a grey and chrome ball with a color chart that gives us all the information we need to actually reproduce the lighting that was made with actual lights on set ( exposure and tint), the chrome one mainly helps you to position and scale your lights.
Then you have artist coming on the show, so you need to assign them shots or entire sequences –  Every morning you review your team’s work from the day before with them, talk about the shots and issues if there’s, then you have a lot of meetings, with production, with other department’s leads so you can together prepare how things are going to be passed to lighting, what’s the best for everyone, what’s the most efficient.  Then you have dailies !! That’s your time, when you present your work to the CG supervisor and the VFX supervisor so they can give you notes on what they want; or just approve what you’ve done.  
After that, the artists goes back to their lighting work when you as a lead are more “show focus” than “your shots only focus” – meaning you help your artists when they encounter a difficulty or a bug, if its a bug you need to investigate what’s the issue then report it if needed to the pipeline team if you can’t do anything about it, if its an issue from an other department package then you’ll need to tell them and report what the issue so they can fix it in their next release, then it’s a lot of questions to answer, a lot of sampling, noise to fight at a global scale, again, not only your shots (which numbers are reduced to the minimum as you have a team to feed with shots and less and less time to work on too many on your own).  
But the best part of the job is putting everyone together onto the same project, creating that unique synergy with your team and making sure they feel happy, challenged (but not too much) and respected.

3DVF: One of the main challenges of the movie was Don Juan Diego, a 12-inch matador. Obviously, lighting was a key element to make the audience believe the character is really in the same room as the actors. How did you approach those scenes ?

Actually, Don Juan was so well referenced – they had a very close looking pupette of Don Juan on set, same size, so the references of that puppet into any lighting situation was a great reference ! That puppet with the good Macbeth chart and refballs we had and the on set lighting got really really helpful – The scale also was not an issue as again the actual DonJuan puppet was shot in a human sized set.

Integrating him in the scene got more complex regarding the hue of the blue which is more vibrant than the puppet and the lookdev team had a lot of work just onto that turquoise hue ! The actual design of the asset was more complicated than lighting it, the only challenge we had was to avoid unwanted refraction and reflection onto his transparent plastic head.

Also in terms of rendering, Don Juan being mainly plastic and metal, not a lot of scattering shaders are involved, so on top of everything, he was to render, and relatively small in the framing most of the time! A true delicacy.

Next page : Buddy 3000, the tunnel sequence, the final shot and the Covid-19 pandemic.

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