Animation character

“Encanto”: how Disney made the magic house an important character

The design and animation of the Family Casita was exceptional, requiring special rigging for moving objects.

Disney’s Colombian animated musical “Encanto” is gaining momentum at just the right time: after winning the Golden Globe for Animated Feature, it led the VES Animation-related VFX nominations on January 18 with six (including modeling the magical Casa Madrigal). Indeed, the design and animation of the family Casita stood out for both its narrative importance and its technical complexity.

Gifted to the family via a magical candle, the enchanted and colorful house functions as an important character (director Byron Howard compares it to the family dog), providing an atmosphere of joy, but also signaling darker undercurrents of doom that end by tearing up the house. as the family loses their magical powers. That is, until Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) – the only ungifted member – musters the strength to unite the family and rebuild the house.

“We did Zoom presentations with Colombian architectural consultants on construction methods,” said Disney production designer Ian Gooding (“Moana”). “The inspiration was multiple because initially we were going more towards fantasy type things that were very improbable and weird, like waterwheels and windmills. But after a while, when the story has become more entrenched and [they embraced magical realism], it became obvious to make it more traditionally Colombian.

“And one of the towns that the directors visited was Barichara [known for its colonial architecture],” he added. “It provided a distinctive method of construction. We took much of the colorful and intricate inspiration for windows and doors from Salento, and the color palette came from Guatapé and Cartagena, which have colorful buildings. But we wanted it all to fit together.

ENCANTO - Art of visual development by Matthias Lechner.  © 2022 Disney.  All rights reserved.

“Encanto” visual development art

Disney/Matthias Lechner

The art department landed on the ancient construction method called “tapia pisada” (rammed earth): a technique of building walls using raw materials of earth, chalk, lime and gravel. “It’s not like Adobe, where you create a standardized brick size for multiple uses,” Gooding continued. You install these large molds and you put a big piece of wall in place by packing dirt taken from the site, usually mixed with the various stabilizers they have used. Some of them are weird things like animal blood, which has been replaced with cement.

The trick, however, was deciding on the interior design. This is where the magic came in, with moving and manipulating stairs, doors, windows and shutters. “So there were a lot of tests of stairs created on screen and even extended walls,” Gooding said, “and at one point the yard was expanding to accommodate a party. None of that happened. “It’s literally possible, so we wanted to see what we could do. We had to create lots of multi-purpose areas where tiles, floors and windows were the main ways the house could manipulate things.”

Story requirements dictated design needs, but there were time constraints. The kitchen had a large counter with animate tiles, and the layout worked around this limited space. The construction and choreography of the movement was like playing an instrument, which was fitting for the musical (with songs composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and score by Germain Franco).




The biggest challenge was to build the courtyard staircase with moving parts as part of a platform and a hydraulic type system. This required many iterations with ramps going down or up in blocks with the courtyard tiles. “But these proved to be too restrictive because you had to have a tile block of the right size and in the right position for them to work as hydraulic lifts,” Gooding said. “And then you couldn’t walk under the stairs after that because it would be solid rock or dirt. It boiled down to how we wanted the last stairs to look like, and how we could make the tiles lift up and aim away from the camera so you couldn’t see the new pieces of wood that would come out from underneath and start doing things.”

This is where the VFX came in under the supervision of Scott Kersavage (“Zootopia”). They ran nearly 100 tests with 78 variations of the house to figure out how to make magic items move convincingly using ad hoc rigging controls that animators have to manipulate. “We had to think outside the box to control the house,” he said. “We wanted the tiles to move the characters from place to place, move the chairs, the shutters. And we had to run the tiles under the floor to allow us to have an escalator or a moving walkway. The hardest things for us were understanding the magic that happens in almost every shot [including vegetation growing out of the house as an effects simulation, which also got a VES nomination]. We were able to put some sort of controls, constraints, simple joint chains into the objects to be able to move around where we hadn’t considered beforehand.

For the courtyard staircase, the VFX team flipped, rotated, and rotated the tiles, creating a smooth surface. “You saw that in a foreground of the movie where Mirabel slides down the stairs,” Kersavage continued. “We didn’t want to warp the tiles, so a mechanism was built. The directors said imagine if we were to build this with a stage prop and we wanted this to actually work.


“Encanto” visual development art


The other major challenge was figuring out how to crack the house. “Obviously you can easily crack tiles, dirt and walls, but how would that apply to doors and other wooden parts?” said Gooding. “Effects tried to see how it would work and did a lot of testing. Initially, the cracks moved as if there were rectangular stones behind them, and I pointed out to them that there would be no reason for them to crack in rectangular patterns. So they fixed it so the cracks could go anywhere. They also made it a sudden action to hide the compression from the dust and debris it produces. They stuck to the truth in material philosophy so the house never felt flexible.

For VFX, this involved augmenting the software for cracking. “The request came artistically to see more into the grooves of the cracks and reveal the depth,” added Kersavage. “This has led to improvements in effects and rendering to use [a higher-res] algorithm [for the fracturing] and a lighter version of the topology everywhere else. It was a new breakthrough. In the past, we had to upgrade the full geometry everywhere for the surface we’re cracking and substitute things for it. It’s been a huge lift for us.

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