Directed by Betty Thomas
Visual Effects Supervisor: Jon Farhat
Visual Effects Producer: Anne Putnam

Visual Effects Produced by:

VFX Supervisor: Joshua Rose

VFX Supervisor: Van Ling

VFX Supervisor: Jennifer German






Review by Aladino V. Debert
Contributing Writer

Directed by Betty Thomas, this loose remake of the Hugh Lofting's charming children 1967 film, depicts Eddie Murphy as a doctor capable of talking (and listening) to animals. The effects workload, mostly in the form of talking animals, was handled by a collaboration among a variety of houses including VisionArt, POP Film, Banned From The Ranch, C.O.R.E Digital Pictures, Cinesite and The Computer Film Company. Jim Henson's Creature shop provided some full size animatronics and digital effects, as well.

DOCTOR DOLITTLE images ©1998 Twentieth Century Fox

One animal that was executed by VisionArt Design and Animation was Lucky the dog, voiced by Norm MacDonald. Utilizing 3D methods, VisionArt meticulously matchmoved a 3D wireframe over the real-life dog, then composited a 3D mouth over the original footage, but not before painting out the original jaw. The top left shot is a frame from the original footage, while the upper left is a frame from the 3D matchmove. The lower image is the final, color corrected composite.

Although the idea of talking animals was wonderfully pioneered by 1993's Babe, Dr. Dolittle takes the concept to the extreme. There are scores of scenes with numerous animals, and in some of them many animals are talking at the same time. The effects were for the most part a combination of 2D manipulation of the live action plates, 3D CGI elements and animatronics, including some cases of full size puppets with 3D elements composited over, possibly a first.

DOCTOR DOLITTLE images ©1998 Twentieth Century Fox

VisionArt Design and Animation gave voice to many animals throughout DOCTOR DOLITTLE, including the Latino orangutan that talks to Eddie Murphy. For this animal, VisionArt created and animated a CG mouth and lips for the animal, and tracked it over the real animal's mouth. At top left is a detail frame from the original photography; at top right is a detail of the CG mouth; and at bottom is the final composite.

The movie has many scenes that deserve special notice. One of the first effect shots involves one of the main characters, a guinea pig, inside a cage. The mouth was manipulated and tracked throughout the frame and through the bars of the cage. The compositing was seamless. Another scene, this one starring our stray dog hero "Lucky", happens while he is being examined at the pet clinic's office. The scene was a combination of full size animatronic, with the mouth, eyes and eyebrows digitally manipulated. The tracking was excellent and the integration transparent. Yet another scene involves an orangutan. In this case the mouth was a fully 3D effect comped over the ape's face. Although the lips appear at some point slightly soft, the shots come through as one of the most realistic in the movie.

DOCTOR DOLITTLE images ©1998 Twentieth Century Fox

The drunk monkey shots in DOCTOR DOLITTLE were handled by Banned From The Ranch Entertainment. As was the case for just about all the talking animal shots, this shot required not only the animation of the monkey, but the bluescreen extraction and compositing of background animals. The monkey was animated via 2D techniques in Adobe After Effects.

Various scenes involved some more traditional effects like leash and wire removals, which are surprisingly clean, to the point of wondering if the animals were really walking by their own will or were being pulled by some invisible trainer. Others were split screen shots, combining green-screen shot animals with set elements. The most complex off all being a scene in which hordes of all kinds of animals storm Dr Dolittle's living-room. The only scene in which the integration of the green-screen elements is completely off is one in front Dolittle's clinic. A number of animals are standing outside blocking policemen, and the compositing is awful with some animals too blurred, and others seemingly floating and without sufficient color correction to try to minimize the out-of-the-surroundings look. Unfortunately this happens to be a rather long sequence of shots, and it becomes difficult to tolerate.

The most remarkable aspect of the movie is the complexity and incredibly long duration of some of the effect shots. Most of these involve "Lucky", and one especially memorable shot shows the dog walking alongside Dr Dolittle. The dog's head nods up and down, side to side, but the tracking is sharp. Another sequence of shots worth describing contain a tiger. The 2D manipulated mouth is quite realistic and even takes into account the feline's long whiskers. The longest sequence involving animatronics also portray the tiger laying down on an operating table.  Although it happens to be a slightly yellow tiger at that, the movements are as realistic as possible given the limitations of puppetry.

DOCTOR DOLITTLE, as many remakes lately seem to have a habit of being, is a big bore. But the seamless work of the special effects crew have made the numerous effect shots in the movie a joy to watch.

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