In the animated film “The Croods,” a prehistoric family goes on an adventure through the Stone Age when their cave is destroyed and the world around them begins to change. As the visual effects lead for the DreamWorks film, Louis Flores was in charge of digitally creating one of the phenomena that separates the Neanderthal with the more modern-day man: fire. During our interview, Flores, who has also worked on the visual effects of such films as “Kung Fu Panda,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” discussed how certain technology has changed since he started in the industry and how he feels when he sees all his hard work shown on the big screen for the first time.
What is your specific job as the visual effects lead of an animated film like “The Croods?”
Specifically I do a lot of visual development and how effects are going to look. I worked on all the fire in the film. So, whenever you see fire I’m the one that developed how it should look.
So, to create fire, does that entail studying how fire moves and illuminates and everything else that comes with it?
We definitely have references we look at all the time. For this particular movie we wanted the fire to look more real than stylized like it did in previous films. So, typically, we’ll go outside and burn something and look at the smoke and how the fire is taking shape. We bring that footage in and can watch it as we’re working.
So, is it safe to say this is not the same technique you would use in, say, creating fire that comes out of a dragon’s mouth?
Not exactly. I worked on “How to Train Your Dragon” and that fire is a completely different system. Even in this film I think we went through three or four different ways of creating fire. Part of that comes from the advances in technology that change from the beginning of production to the end.
How do you manage to keep up with that much change in technology, so you don’t fall behind?
You just have to keep up. You always want your effects to look better. You’re always learning, which is one of the benefits of working in this department. You’re never bored. There’s always something new to learn.
Twenty years ago, natural elements like fire and water looked good in animated films, but they didn’t look as real as they look today. Would you consider “The Croods” a groundbreaking film in that aspect?
I think we made a big leap in this particular movie. In this film they needed to look more realistic and less cartoony just to fit the world the characters are in. I think “The Croods” is one of the best looking movies [DreamWorks] has ever made.
Is it still as magical to see all your work on the big screen as it was the first time you finished a feature film?
It is. We get to see it a lot during production, but it’s always in bits and pieces. You never really know what the final product is going to look like. When it’s all put together with music and sound effects, it’s really exciting.