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Making The Secret Life Of Pets Shark Week Spots

Making Sharks for The Secret Life Of Pets

Software Used:  Maya, After Effect, Photoshop.

In the Party spot, the shark at the beginning is named Sharky.  Or Stewie.  We kept calling him both.  No matter, we were always talking about this little shark that had a much bigger role in the beginning.  As it ended up, he only introduces Shark Week.

Sharky was created in Maya.  I started with a model we got off the web somewhere.  John found it.  It was a small shark but was much more mean then what we wanted.  We spent some time going back and forth and all over the place on what we wanted him to look like.  Mainly we wanted him to mix well into the world of The Secret Lives Of Pets.  I like what we ended up with.  He is cute.  We did several tests of him mixed into the scenes from the movie and they looked pretty good.  In the end though, the client was concerned that it looked too much like it was a character in the movie.  So that’s why we ended up just using him at the beginning.  I admit I was kinda pleased they thought it looked so good.  But sad we couldn’t use it.

Since the original plan was to insert him into several scenes from the movie, I had two main things to think about with this project.  First, I needed to clean up shots from the film, erasing other characters (like the dog on the record player), making room for Sharky to be inserted.  Secondly, I needed to create a shark that had some personality, could talk, had facial expressions and could wave his fins like arms.  We weren’t %100 on wether we would have him in water or out of water so he needed to swim also.

For several of the tests, I cleaned up an image and then did a small move on the shot, also adding some optical flares, grain and particles from particular to make it look more alive.  It was a lot of photoshopping.


But in the end, we just had him jump out of the discovery globe an announce shark week.  To do this I animated him on a path that matched the motion of the Globe spinning in.  After adjusting the timing and giving him a little backflip it looked pretty good.  I added some deformers when he landed to make him squish a bit.  But I ran into a problem with his eyes not deforming with the body so I ended up using 2 models.  I combined the eyes and body mesh for the first part of the flip and then, after the deform, I turn off the combined mesh and turn on the one with animatable eyes using a couple keyframes.  It was a clunky workaround but it worked.  The water under him was added in After Effects.  I just use a shape mask extruded in Element 3D – Placed it in the right spot – Then animated the shape so the water puddle kinda grew as he sat there.  I also needed a splash so I used an old bifrost splash render from the Discovery Globe breach from the In The Heart Of The Sea project.

At the same time I was doing this spot I was of course working on the other spot “Shark Theater” with another 3 sharks.  They don’t really have names.


The great white sharks are the same model I had used for the Minions last year.  Both the hammerhead and the great white had to go through some major remodeling since they were more realistic looking and we needed nice kind sharks.

Shark Theater is another spot that was a much bigger 3D project in the beginning then what it ended up being.  We started the project with the idea that the Sharks would swim up to the theater, talking about shark week starting and then watch the movie trailer inserted with some comments from the sharks.  In the end there was concern from the clients that it was too much like Finding Dory.  Oh sad day.  But they were right.  Talking sharks.  But I had put so much work into them.  But they were right.  Oh sad day.

But that’s alright.  I learned a lot during the process.  I created some fun cool stuff.  And because of corrupt Maya files I became real good at creating underwater scenes pretty quickly.

The Shark Theater spot also had two main objectives.  First, the sharks needed all the same stuff Sharky needed.  But they were going to talk much more.  Full on conversations.  Secondly, I needed to create an underwater scene that looked like a movie theater that had sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

The eyes were cool.  I rigged them up with some controllers that would dilate the eyes real big or small which was great for some facial expressions.  I just used a blendshape and rigged it to a controller with an expression.  It was a lot of fun to figure this stuff out.  I haven’t messed around much with rigging controllers before and found it a lot of fun. I also had a controller that would give them cross eyes.  I found that the Hammerhead had issues with looking like it’s eyes were not straight depending on how close you were to it.  So the offset worked great for that. I wrote a little expression that would change it depending on how close the camera was.  Kinda like the fog depth expression which I’ll talk about later.  The iris was procedural and looked pretty good.  Easy to change colors.  I think the eyes looked pretty nice.

To make the sharks talk, I settled on using blendshapes in Maya.  I did a little research on animating talking characters.  I found that there are 7 basic mouth positions for talking.  Because my sharks didn’t have teeth or tongues, I found I really only needed about 5 positions.  I also added in a big smile blendshape.  I created some slider controls with some curves and mapped the blendshapes to them with some expressions.  The sliders were placed next to the sharks head and worked great for controlling the speech by keyframing the sliders. Then mixing the blendshapes and overdriving them here and there would create everything I would need.

Skinning the sharks was also fun.  I got pretty good at painting weight maps for these guys.  I learned a lot about a lot of stuff.  Like the order you need to do things when Binding skin to models that have Blendshapes.  Saving and reloading weight maps.  There are two ways and one doesn’t work.  And with changing the model throughout revisions, It was necessary to do these things more then once.

For the underwater scene, I started with the Maya preset ocean.  It is a great start for a quick ocean.  With a few quick changes I was able to get what I needed.  The ocean scale comes in at 10 and I set that to 1 giving me a much bigger caustic light.  It’s pretty cool, the ocean is mapped to the Directional sun which gives the caustic light to any object you place in the ocean.  I also adjusted the Ray Tracing on the sun light to give me nice soft shadows.  A few more changes to the fog properties and I was able to get what I was looking for.  I mentioned earlier about an expression for the fog.  I found when the camera was too far back, the sharks were fogged out.  I wanted them more sharp.  So I created a distance node and parented one locator to the camera, the other was placed at the center of the sharks.  Then I mapped the distance value to the ‘fog start distance’ giving me nice sharp clean sharks but still having the underwater fog beyond that.

For the ocean floor, I used the paint tool and painted plant life onto the ocean floor.  Added some fish on a motion path. brought in a billboard I built to use as a movie screen and a bunch of theater chairs.  In a few of the renders, I had a sunken motorboat behind the theater screen.  It’s the same boat from the end of the Minions spot where the shark jumps out of the water.  I thought it was funny.  But it never made it into the final.  Everything was taken in After Effects where particles were added and color correction.


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Phone: 818.254.5848

Email: fxshot@gmail.com