Behind the scenes of “Ted.”

Today is the release of “Ted” from director Seth MacFarlane. Starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, “Ted” is the story of a boy and his teddy bear brought magically to life. Similar to Jay Ward’s “Fractured Fairy Tales” this story takes the idea of a magical event and applies some real life considerations to how the story might actually turn out. The boy and the bear grow up together, but never actually grow up. They are like college room mates who never graduated.

The Ted character is a CG animated bear, with production shared between Tippett Studios in Berkeley, and Iloura in Sydney Melbourne. I was employed at Tippett, as part of the Ted animation crew.

First, this is a very mature comedy, so mature, that the studio Human Resources department held a special meeting with anyone on the show to remind us not to get too caught up in the subject matter, and to maintain our professional dignity.

I have to admit, I am not much of a “Family Guy” fan. It just isn’t my thing. But Ted is absolutely hilarious. I have never had so much fun in dailies. Watching the same scenes over and over again for weeks usually gets a little old, but during Ted I would find myself still laughing at a scene the 20th time I saw it. Most of the humor in this movie is verbal. There is plenty of action too.

There was motion capture used on the film. Macfarlane would put on a Moven suit, on set and act out the parts for the Ted scenes they were shooting that day. It was mostly used for scenes of Ted sitting and talking. So it was a lot of arm gestures and head and shoulder motion. That’s about it. For the larger action, it was all keyframe animation.

I have worked on many films with live actors interacting with CG characters, and I have to say Mark Wahlberg is by far the best at relating to something that isn’t there. All he had to look at was a stand in of Ted’s eye position. MacFarlane would stand off screen and speak his lines. I totally believe they are in the scene together.

SPOILERS AHEAD: Tippett Studios did two scenes that involved “humping” One is seen in the trailer, with Ted humping the card swipe station at the supermarket, (animated by Jimmy Almeida), and the other was Ted having sex with a woman. All we see is the woman’s legs and Ted’s butt (animated by James Brown) . The animators first had the real sex very fast and comical, like a rabbit, and the pretend humping slow and sensual. Each was a parody of the real thing. (And yes, they did shoot reference video when starting to animate the scene at the cash register). After going back and forth, Seth’s direction ended up being counter to what the animators first ideas were. The real sex was made to look natural, and the fake was more overacted and comical. Honestly, either way was funny, but for different reasons. The animators approach was intended to provoke laughter, from the audience. The directors approach was to do what was true to the situation. I think the comical humping at the cash register was done that way because Ted was really trying to make the female cashier laugh, not turn her on. And the actual sex, between a teddy bear and a woman, was funny just for shock value, so it didn’t need any extra clowning on top. You can see the register scene, with the mocap in this promo video:

There were also a few instances of scenes being re-animated because they had re-written the jokes for the scene. At one point, a joke involving presidential candidates seemed in danger as the polls indicated a change in front runners. I don’t even know what they finally chose for that scene. The effort to keep the comedy topical isn’t easy with a several month lag time from production to release.

The concept for Ted is not unlike the movie “Paul” Paul was the name of the flip flop wearing stoner alien who goes on a road trip with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Ted’s lines are much funnier than Paul’s, and Seth Rogan’s voice for the alien was just plain dull. Also, I didn’t understand how Paul got to be the way he was, but with Ted, his reason for being that way is built into the story. This is a movie you will definitely want to get on DVD for the extras. I’m sure there are tons of funny on-set stuff involving the crew, the bear stand-in, and outtakes.

The reviews are looking good. Scott Mendelson at The Huffington Post writes:

At the very least, it is the year’s funniest comedy and one of the best pictures of 2012. It is more than a funny movie, it is a great film. Call it the year’s happiest surprise, but Seth MacFarlane’s Ted is a genuine work of art.

3 thoughts on “Behind the scenes of “Ted.”

  1. Actually it was Iloura in Melbourne, not Sydney that created the animation for Ted.
    Nice work from Tippett as usual!

    Glenn Melenhorst.

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