“What else can we do with the cg medium?”

DreamWorks’ new film The Bad Guys embraces a more stylized look, especially when it comes to the spaces the characters exist in and the way they move. Pierre Perifel, director of Dreamwork Animation’s The Bad Guys notes, we’ve “seen the same type of rendering” occur with a “push toward realism.” He points out that Dreamworks even built its own rendering engine to support that push, first using it on How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World before establishing it as the standard for subsequent Dreamworks animated features.

“But,” Perifel thought, “can we be a bit more precise in how we craft our images?” To him, “it’s a feeling you’re trying to capture,” rather than true realism. He now feels “the race for realism is over [in cg animation],” explaining that “The Lion King (2019) was the pinnacle of where that can go.”

“Because I find [that style] … ‘boring’ is probably excessive, but I want to see something different,” Perifel said. ”Frankly, I’m not the only one. I’m not the first one also to do a movie that’s slightly different [stylistically]. But I think there’s been very few right now, at least in the Hollywood industry, like Hollywood-feature big-studio types of films. You can see the trend is shifting a little bit.”

“I think CG has been proving recently with Planet of the Apes and [2019’s] The Lion King and Marvel movies that we can do hyper-realism really, really, really well,” explains Perifel. “And I think it’s not the goal anymore. The goal is not just to be hyper-realistic. So now it kind of leaves open the door… How can we stylize that movie? What kind of style can we try? What kind of looks can we experiment with, and try to educate the audience a little bit toward those new visuals that we haven’t really seen before? So I think it’s a little bit of that desire to go explore and show we can do different things in animation than just realistic Disney-style rendering.”

The Bad Guys draws from a deep well of visual and narrative references. From a story standpoint it borrows from classic heist films such as Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven and Quentin Tarantino films like Reservoir Dogs. The Bad Guys even features a Pulp Fiction-esque diner scene that will be familiar to older audience members.

“When you want to make something stylized, you’re basically fighting the computer,” he says. “Because the computer will want to give you something perfect. Any edge of a cube would be a straight line. And it’s rare that you would see any really real straight line [in the world]. Even in architecture, it would always be not completely perfect, lived-in enough so that you would have those imperfections. In order to capture that and make it visible, we had to just make it a caricature. We had to break every edge.”

These days, Perifel still looks for inspiration in all places. A lot of his tastes are shaped by animated French and European movies — films like I Lost My Body and Marona’s Fantastic Tale tend to be more graphically diverse than big-budget American films. But he also points to a more compact form of inspiration: short films.

“Whether it’s student short films or regular short films, people try things,” he explains. “Even if it’s something that’s very pushed, and something I would not do, at least it is refreshing.”

That influence is felt strongest in the film’s animation. Perifel asked the animators to approach the characters’ posing from a more illustrative standpoint, telling them he didn’t want them to just copy video reference. So, the film’s crew moved away from what the previous pipeline was built to do. According to Perifel, that caused many of the production’s most significant challenges, as “it goes against where the software and the engine want to go.”

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