Grafton animator cracks Hollywood
By RODNEY STEVENS
RUBBING shoulders with Hollywood's elite is just a dream for most of us.
But for animator Brett Feeney it is all in a day's work.
The Grafton born and bred 39-year-old has recently returned to Australia after walking the red carpet with stars Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Robin Williams and Elijah Wood at the premiere of the latest Hollywood blockbuster Happy Feet.
The animated feature film by renowned Australian director George Miller was created by Mr Feeney and a team of people from Sydney-based digital production company Animal Logic.
Mr Feeney said he felt fortunate to be involved in such a great production as Happy Feet.
"It's pretty awesome coming from Grafton to do a full feature animation such as Happy Feet," he said yesterday.
Having worked on smaller parts in Hollywood movies such as Moulin Rouge, The Matrix Reloaded and Lord of the Rings, the self-taught animator said he will always remember where he came from.
"I left Grafton to come to Sydney to work for Telstra but I have always had an interest in computers," he said.
"I am self-taught in animation using programs including lightwave and maya."
Mr Feeney played an integral role in the compilation of the whole production as the digital supervisor, who with a team of two others, conversed closely with Miller throughout the whole production process.
"It was my responsibility to say yes to everything director George Miller asked for and figure out how to do it," he said.
But Mr Feeney did not just sit in front of a computer all the time, with work on Happy Feet taking him all over the world.
"Early in the process they got me to go down to Antarctica for three months on a reconnaissance mission getting pictures of the environment and wildlife," he said.
"Fortunately for us we had perfect weather the whole time and were able to come back with a huge amount of photographic and moving footage."
After gathering some of the raw materials required to produce what George Miller requested, Mr Feeney and his team set about what was to be a four-year and three-month process of making Happy Feet.
Throughout this time Mr Feeney constantly liaised with George Miller who wanted his film to have a distinctly real edge over previous animated films.
"Keeping the level of realism was the most challenging part of the production of Happy Feet ... making kilometres and kilometres of ice and the characters with their individual features and traits was very challenging."
What made these processes even more challenging for Mr Feeney and his production team, which peaked at 240 people working on the animation at the height of production, was the fact that they also had to write their own software programs to accommodate the level of realism.
"Almost everything we did we had to write our own software programs to do it."
Mr Feeney said now that Animal Logic had the tools, making more animated movies along the same line would be much easier.
"Hopefully, Animal Logic will be able to produce their own animated features in the future."
Happy Feet tells the story of an Emperor Penguin Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) who feels out of place in Antarctica because he can't sing.
But he can dance.
Frowned upon by his parents (Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman) Mumble is cast out of his community by Noah the Elder (Hugo Weaving) where he meets the Adelie Amigos led by Ramon (Robin Williams), and his adventure begins.
It is taking America by a storm, making more than $100 million in the past fortnight.