Graduates work on movie ‘Rio’

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Courtesy of Blue Sky Studios

Blu, left, and Jewel are the stars of the movie ‘Rio.’

Think of Aaron Walsman ’07 (film and animation) when the villain bird in the top box-office hit Rio flashes his evil smile.

Isaac Holze ’10 (film and animation) gets credit for the beautiful background in the scene where the two macaws, Blu and Jewel, take a trolley ride and begin falling in love.

And Tom Hurlburt ’03 (film and animation) made sure the adventurous scenes, such as the macaws flying on a hang glider, were polished and natural.

Eight graduates of RIT worked on the 3-D computer animated film by Blue Sky Studios, which was released on April 15. The movie is about a macaw named Blu, who leaves his home in Minnesota for Rio de Janeiro to meet Jewel, the last female of his species.

Walsman, who has been at Blue Sky in Greenwich, Conn., since 2006, works in the rigging department, which defines how a character will move and then builds control systems for animators.

He set up the template for Nigel, the evil cockatoo who belongs to the animal smugglers trying to kidnap Blu and Jewel. Walsman’s work determined, for example, the shape of his facial expressions and how his legs and shoulders were positioned. The animators then used his controls to pose the character, similar to how a puppeteer would use strings to move a puppet.

He also worked on building the feather structure of the birds that the animators could then pose to make the birds look like they had fingers or were flying, for example. To do that, Walsman, who began working on the movie three years ago, and other team members visited the Bronx Zoo to get an up-close look at birds.

Holze works in assembly, which created the background set. Holze worked on five sequences in Rio, beginning in May 2010. His favorite was the trolley scene, which included hills, pink flower trees and sunset lighting.

“This is a great department for me to apply the skills I developed at RIT,” says Holze, who played a role in Horton Hears a Who! in 2007 as a temporary artist before returning to RIT to finish graduate school.

Holze also worked on the short Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up, which is shown in theaters before Rio.

Hurlburt, the lead camera technical director, worked with animators on framing the scenes. He essentially did the work of a traditional movie camera man, only his job was done digitally.

“Our camera work is taken to another level on this film,” he says.

This was the first movie Hurlburt has been involved with from start to finish. He started at Blue Sky in October 2008, in time to finish Ice Age 3.

Next up for all three graduates is Ice Age Continental Drift, which comes out in the summer of 2012.

Others graduates from RIT’s film and animation school who worked on the movie include Adam Maid ’07, Christopher Moore ’02, Wesley Storhoff ’08, Christos Tzeremes ’09 and Laura McGowan ’10. Melissa Tierney and Ignacio Barrios, who are both working on their thesis projects, also worked on the film, which took in $40 million during its opening weekend to top the box office.