The International Day of Families is observed annually on May 15th to promote awareness of the various processes affecting families. On this occasion, we wanted to pay a special tribute to one of the longest-running shows portraying families, friendship, and imagination: Rugrats.
The first season of the all-CG reboot released last year on Paramount +, with new episodes made available earlier this month. We sat down with Santosh K R, Lighting and Compositing Supervisor, from the episodic team at Mikros Animation Bangalore who crafted the reboot. He talks about his career and experience working on the show.
Could you please tell us a bit about your journey in the animation industry?
I gained early exposure to the artistic industry because of my father. He was a photographer and worked in films as well. I got into assisting him at a young age and started working in his studio, learning many cinematography techniques like portrait lighting, color, exposure, composition, etc. I naturally grew curious about advanced techniques and enrolled in a visual communication course, which gave me a strong base of theoretical and practical knowledge.
I then enrolled in an advanced course in VFX, specializing in Lighting and Compositing, following which my knowledge of Maya, Nuke and other software helped me enter the animation industry. After working in smaller studios for a couple of years, I was excited to join Technicolor. I’ve been working for the group for 13 years now and worked on projects such as Spirit – Riding Free, Puss in Boots, various Kung Fu Panda shows, and the Rugrats reboot.
Rugrats is one of the longest-running Nickelodeon shows and is a Daytime Emmy-winning animated series. What was your first reaction when you learned you’d be working on its CG-animated reboot?
I was elated when I was offered the chance to supervise Rugrats. It’s an iconic show in American history, and many people grew up watching it. They have an emotional connection with it, so it’s a huge responsibility for us to satisfy the audience aesthetically and visually, giving them the best experience possible. One of the hallmarks of the show is how the kids switch between their fantasy and real world and we wanted to create a seamless transition between them.
The Rugrats reboot is set in the present, with all the advantages and disadvantages of modern technology. It shows the challenges faced by parents today and draws attention to key issues in our society like diversity and inclusion. What do you think is the role of animation in portraying various kinds of families and society?
I believe that animation is important because it enables us to tell stories and communicate emotions and ideas in a unique, easy-to-perceive way which both small children and adults can understand. Animation has helped connect people throughout the world in a way that sometimes writing and live-action films cannot. A good example is the bond, care and struggles within the Pickles family in Rugrats, which is portrayed in many sequences. Also, films like Finding Nemo and The Mitchells vs. the Machines clearly portray the necessity of strong family bonds, in a way that helps children easily interpret family values.
While working on this all-CG show, what were the main artistic and/or technical challenges you had to overcome in your department?
What we observed when we began the project was the mood of the aired 2D Rugrats, and especially the transitions between the real and fantasy world. We analyzed the special shots handled in 2D and transitions to mimic the style. This transition between their worlds was our main challenge, it needed careful blending between the shots without any lag or color inconsistency. Our team was able to implement the best tools to overcome it.
Another challenge was the difference in the camera depth of field between the adult and children characters’ point of view. The children’s view had to be shallow while the adults needed real-world depth. During the shots review, we were vigilant about this and trained everyone on it. The rendering of the entire shot was done as one pass, and this meant we had to make sure the shots were completely technically error-free. We quality checked these through various filters and tools before moving the shots on.
Do you have a favorite sequence? If yes, why did you pick this one?
It is challenging to pick one sequence as there were so many great ones. In one episode, the kids travel to an imaginary 18th century period with werewolves. Angelica, one of the main characters, transforms into a werewolf. All the other kids try to transform her back and there’s a great action sequence. I really loved working on this sequence, where she transforms into a werewolf against the silhouette of the full moon with lightning flashing, followed by chasing shots. The sequence had heavy motion blur with thick ground fog and fireflies, which gives a cinematic experience to viewers.
There are some other sequences which were among my favorites, involving dinosaurs and space invasion!
What are you looking forward to most with the show airing new episodes now?
I am looking forward to more fun-filled episodes and variants of sets and characters in the second season. Also, I anticipate the introduction of brand-new characters will be entertaining for the audience. We’re also excited for the Lighting & Compositing team to implement more creative inputs in the show which will level up the quality and create an unbeatable experience for the audience. Although we’ve worked remotely on the show, it has been as a family, keeping up great communication and the team bond. We expect the bond to grow stronger going forward.
Discover more of our team members by visiting the Talent Spotlights section our website.