December 10, 2023

Illumination’s upcoming film Migration is a comedy about a family of ducks trying to fly from New York to Jamaica. Writer-director Benjamin Renner makes his 3D animation debut, and John Powell wrote the score for his film. Renner told the audience Saturday at Deadline’s Contenders Film Los Angeles event that Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri assured him he could pick up 3D animation on the job.

“When I do 2D, basically I have a blank page,” Renner said. “I start to draw lines. I stop as soon as what I want to express is there on paper. If I want to draw a duck, I draw three lines. Some call it minimalistic. I call it lazy.”

Renner said he found the difference between 3D and 2D is that 2D is additive, where 3D is subtractive. There are so many elements, including texture, lighting and shading, that Renner found the process a matter of taking out things that didn’t belong.

“You have to remove elements, make them with shadow and light,” Renner said. “You go from everything and you remove things. 2D is more like you make things appear.”

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Renner said ducks were challenging creatures too. He recalled a team of 50 animators studying a real duck at their studio.

“This duck must feel like a human must feel when he’s abducted by aliens,” Renner said. “No one was speaking. We were all just watching a duck and had no idea what to do with it. He was not harmed. He went back to his cage after.”

RELATED: ‘Migration’ Composer John Powell On Creating An Evolving Theme For A Hero’s Journey – Sound & Screen Film

Mack (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) is a duck who doesn’t want to migrate. To match his personality, Powell constructed a theme that intentionally did not go anywhere musically.

“I wanted one that went down,” Powell said. “He was not going to be a hero. It’s a tune that goes down and just goes around in circles. That’s what I started with. Then the trick was over the film to try and make that actually become a heroic theme.”

Although the film begins in New York, ducks don’t know New York from anywhere. Powell said Renner encouraged him to approach the soundtrack as an alien landscape. So Powell experimented with different random instruments.

“There’s a whole bunch of things in there,” Powell said. “There’s also strange voices. There’s a kora, which is an African harp. I was using an odd thing sliding. It all sounds like I know what I’m doing. I just play.”

Migration is in theaters December 22.

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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