In 23 years, Animal Logic have gone from a small Aussie animation and visual effects company to the team behind this year’s groundbreaking smash hit The LEGO Movie.
Animal Logic CEO Zareh Nalbandian, who also executive produced The Lego Movie, co-founded the company back in 1991 with his business partner Chris Godfrey.
Even then, before the internet, Nalbandian says Animal Logic were pioneers in harnessing digital technologies for visual effects and animation.
The big turning point for them in terms of movies, was a film about a tap-dancing penguin. You might have heard of it – Happy Feet.
It was their first animated feature, and it won them an Academy Award.
“That’s propelled us on since,” Nalbandian says.
After Happy Feet came Aussie film Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, a collaboration with director Zack Snyder, who they had just worked with on 300. Then there was their work on Walking with Dinosaurs 3D and most recently The LEGO Movie, which has already earned around US$390 million across the globe.
According to Nalbandian, all of the animation, and effectively over 95 per cent of The LEGO Movie, was made in Australia by Animal Logic.
Nalbandian first got excited when the script by co-writer/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street), landed on his desk, way back before it was even greenlit.
Heartfelt, aspirational and incredibly funny, Nalbandian was hooked on the story, but also saw a great challenge and wanted in.
“We developed technology that allowed us to make a really amazing action movie but using virtual Lego bricks and some real LEGO bricks,” he says.
“That took a lot of technology development and took a lot of pushing the envelope.”
Once production moved to Australia, more than 368 people worked on The LEGO Movie on and off over almost three years. The time spent researching and developing software to make the film equated to over 50 years.
Nalbandian says they developed a brick-based technology, which allowed them to create super-realistic LEGO bricks virtually in a computer and build the movie from there.
All in all, 15 million LEGO bricks were using in making the movie.
“We look for those opportunities,” Nalbandian says.
“We look for those challenges on every film, whether it’s penguins with feathers … or its dinosaurs that are 40 feet tall or little mini (LEGO figurines) that are 20 inches tall but look like they were really shot in your basement.”
For Nalbandian, looking at how far they have come in the past two decades is thrilling.
“It’s just so satisfying, because it’s a testament to the talent that exists at Animal Logic and generally the talent in our industry in Australia,” he says.
“For a small population like Australia and a small independent Australian company like Animal Logic, to be involved in a movie that was number 1 at the US box office three weeks in a row, that’s beaten it’s international competitors week after week, and has created popular culture for the world, is really exciting.
“I could’ve never dreamt it in 1991 but we all aspired to it and we want to keep pushing in the same direction.”
* The LEGO Movie releases in Australian cinemas on April 3