NeverBeast Gruff upside down and Disney Fairies

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When you are trying to bring a new fictional character to life through animation, it is probably nice to have someone who has a degree in biology on your team. That is exactly what the team behind Tinker Bell and the the Legend of the NeverBeast got tough. Story Artist Ryan Green was able to give feedback on proper bone and muscle formations for Gruff, the NeverBeast.

NeverBeast Gruff upside down and Disney Fairies
©2014 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

NeverBeast

Considering how much John Lasseter demands “truth in materials“, getting the NeverBeast anatomically accurate was most likely a must. Ryan Green began with a concept drawing to determine where the bones and muscles would be. Other story artists were drawing Gruff with a hump like a cat whereas others had him looking more like a bison. Therefore, they had to sit down and brainstorm exactly what type of animal Gruff was and how they needed to draw him.

Neverbeast Story Artist Ryan Green
Photo Credit: ©Kayvon Esmaili

Using his background in biology, Ryan explained the difference in backbones between both carnivores and herbivores. Once they decided that the NeverBeast was going to be an herbivore, they were able to move forward with the formation of his body. The hump on the back of an herbivore has to keep weight off its digestive system and has very few straight bones. A bison actually has a lot of tall spines coming off its spinal cord, and this was the basis for their creature.

NeverBeast Gruff
©2014 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The team took a trip to the zoo to study different animals to draw inspiration before moving forward. (I always admire the research Disney puts into its films). Not only did the need to get the back right, but there was leg and foot placement in time with the proper gait. Even his foot had to be thought out since he would be using it to dig and climb. The story artists chose a hippo-cat type of foot and then gave Gruff a prehensile tail like a porcupine. In fact, Gruff’s tail was pretty important for a few reasons, most especially in showing emotion. The animators were able to use Gruff’s tail to animate his feelings much in the same way as a cat does.

Neverbeast Animation Supervisor Mike Greenholt
Photo Credit: ©Kayvon Esmaili

Therefore, once the NeverBeast was created, the animators were able to work their Disney magic. Animation Supervisor Mike Greenholt said that their big challenge was making this fantasy creature feel like a real live animal. They watched video footage from their zoo visit to determine how similar animals move and how to make him feel heavy.

Gruff with Fawn and fairies
©2014 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The second challenge was deciding how Gruff would act. They needed his face to move accurately in response to his feelings. This meant studying other animals, including Mike’s own dog. He filmed his dog’s reaction to wanting to go outside in order to understand his facial movements. Gruff was given limited movement in his face so they had to deliver a very emotional performance with little actions.

Neverbeast Animation Supervisor Mike Greenholt
Photo Credit: ©Kayvon Esmaili

This is where the NeverBeast’s tail came back into play. The animators were able to control every aspect of the tail in order to move it like a finger. The joints in the tail gave them the ability to curl it up and whip it around as needed. And although the tail was expressive in nature, it also had a physical element as it followed him as he walked. The animation team had to make sure it was believable and full of the proper weight.

Gruff and Fawn
©2014 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Once you see Gruff come to life on the screen you can get an idea of the type of research and work that went into his character. Understanding how the story artists and animators worked to make Director Steve Loter‘s fantasy creature a reality. It’s truly remarkable to see and helps to further appreciate the art that is truly put into animated films.

Tinker Bell And The Legend Of The Neverbeast Blu-ray

Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast roars to life on Disney Blu-ray™ & Digital HD on March 3rd.