The Iron Giant FX Animation

The Iron Giant - The "Lake Tidal Wave" Sequence

Part One - Part Two - Part Three

I spent the first two months of my 1 year stint on The Iron Giant designing the look of the hand drawn effects animation (Iron Giant's propulsion effects, explosions, tank blasts, water etc). My designs were then given to the animators as stylistic guides. The very first sequence I was asked to design on the film was the "Lake Tidal Wave". I was given very rough storyboard and had to somehow figure out how the water would look and animate.

Once I completed my work as FX designer, I began producing animation for the show. The first sequence I was handed to animate happened to be the first one I also designed: "The Lake Tidal Wave". I was never very keen on animating water and looked at the task as a bit of a burden. Nevertheless, I saw it as a challenge and began working hard.

The "Tidal Wave" sequence consisted of 7 scenes. The first one (first 3 panels below) is where the giant hits the water. I created three levels of animation for this scene: the ripples, the splash and a highlight. For some mysterious reason, the highlight level which created a glitter on top of the "doughnut ripple" (as you can see in the following scene), was omited in final compositing. I asked for a retake but to no avail.

The second scene was an extreme long shot of the splash. It was very tricky. I'd been taught how to animate splashes following the Disney formula (bowl - sheet - lace), but because of the scale and the nature of the splash, I couldn't rely on any such formula. I had no reference that I could think of, except for trying to channel Brad's [the director] vision. Fortunately, Brad always had a very clear idea of what he wanted and he was excellent at communicating.

For the big splash, I animated 4 different levels including: water drips, splash, highlight and shadow. As with the previous scene, one of my animation levels was omited in final compositing. This time it was the shadow level, which helped give shape to the "doughnut ripple". When I saw the scene in dailies, I bitched about it and asked that the scene be recalled so that the shadow level could be added back. Because of time and budget constraint, my request once again was denied.