When you have 1,000 shots, three locations, and one big CG red dog, collaboration is key.
Walt Becker’s take on the classic children’s book series Clifford the Big Red Dog is a lively adventure-comedy about Emily (Darby Camp), who adopts a red puppy from a mysterious man (John Cleese). Overnight the puppy grows enormous, causing chaos on the streets of New York as Emily and her uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) attempt to trace Clifford’s origins and protect him from a mercenary biotechnology company.
With the eponymous Clifford appearing in almost every scene, VFX Supervisor Blair Clark and VFX Producer Susan MacLeod had their work cut out. Together, the pair oversaw more than 1,000 shots delivered by MPC Film, 881 of which were included in the final cut, and managed a visual effects crew dispersed across the UK, Montreal, and Bangalore. Remote working tools were crucial in keeping everyone connected across every shot—and this is where cineSync played its vital role.
Syncing on previs
As visual effects were central to Clifford‘s story, Clark and MacLeod engaged with previs as early as possible to determine things like the dog’s size and range of movement within scenes. For example, Clifford’s transformation takes place inside Emily’s Harlem apartment, so it was essential the set could accommodate the dog’s large-scale body and actions. “We played around to find the size where Clifford could fit, but still looked significantly larger than any normal dog,” says MacLeod.
cineSync helped throughout the previs process as the team exchanged plans and ideas. Previs specialists The Third Floor were the vendor for pre-production, led by story department head Doug Lefler out of the company’s LA office. When Clifford‘s director, MacLeod, and Clark, together with producer Jordan Kerner and AD/producer Benita Allen, moved to New York, cineSync enabled them to continue working with the team in LA.
A model pet
In the Clifford books, Clifford is like any other dog barring his color and size. As such, MacLeod wanted to make the CG Clifford feel as dog-like as possible in his movements as if he were no different from a common household pet. “I felt that Clifford would resonate best as a ‘real’ dog as opposed to a ‘Scooby Doo’ type of character,” she says.
Mark Rappaport of Creature Effects Inc. was brought on board to develop a physical on-set model for Clifford, which acted as a stand-in for the volume occupied by the character in the final shot and established the actor’s eyelines. Creature Effects created a large, red, dog-shaped plastic model operated by two puppeteers, John Riddleberger and Rowan Magee.
“The model was affectionately known as the ‘Chinese Dragon’,” says Macleod. “The puppeteers watched countless videos of canine behavior to inspire their movements—they engaged everyone on set and made the process so fun. What they delivered went on to inform what the animators created in post.”
The post process
Filming wrapped in August 2019, and bot long after MacLeod and Clark set to work with visual effects vendor MPC to create a CG Clifford to replace the “Chinese Dragon.” However, COVID-19 hit partway into post, and Clifford‘s creative team had to work from home, with meetings held via a combination of cineSync and Microsoft Teams.
cineSync helped keep the film’s creative teams unified as they worked remotely, removing Clifford’s stand-in model from shots and discussing how to make the CG Clifford feel as authentic an animal as possible.
“During post-production, we had to start working from home due to COVID-19,” says MacLeod. “We tried out some new remote shot review tools to see what would work best, but we came back to cineSync. cineSync just worked the best for all of the many parties involved in reviewing shots and giving feedback. For those that hadn’t used cineSync before, there was a fast learning curve to tackle, but everyone got to grips with cineSync quickly. The cineSync team also made it easy to upgrade our license and allow access to many people who had to log in from home to join reviews.
“We found cineSync’s shot annotation tools super useful when sharing feedback,” continues MacLeod. “Each individual in the review session could make their notations, and it was clear who said what and where. That was super helpful in terms of online collaboration.
“Overall, cineSync worked really well for us on Clifford the Big Red Dog. I would absolutely recommend cineSync; it’s an industry-standard tool and has worked well for decades, with excellent customer support. If you need to collaborate remotely, it’s a no-brainer.”