As with every creature project we do, discovering the character of Hattie would be at the forefront of our VFX teams minds throughout the production. They had to tiptoe the delicate line between a photoreal hyena and a likeable, loveable character – so endearing that Carl, the zookeeper, would come to her aid, in her times of need.
This focus resonated through all stages of the project and continued to be refined days before delivery through modelling decisions, such as the size of Hattie’s eyes, ears and face. Slightly angling her eyes gave her a more welcoming appearance and larger ears added a subtle youth and inquisitiveness whilst keeping her realistic. It would have been too easy to give her huge puppy eyes and long fluffy hair to make her likeable but this wouldn’t have been true to the animal she is. These decisions continued into groom – making sure the flow and shape of the individual hairs, hugged the contours of hyena archetypes, such as the area around the eye and cheek. In shots we would analyse whether the mane was visible enough, another very hyena element we used to make the read of hyena more immediate.
The animation of Hattie was key to her character. We studied all forms of animation for reference, from realistic live-action hyena videos to more stylised 2D animation for the bigger performance moments. Very subtle changes to the angle of a head or leg can make a huge difference to the realism of a shot.