Disney Onward Shot by Shot VFX Breakdown

Computer-animated’ Onwards’ 2020 trailer is about a suburban fantasy world produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studio. The trailer has a duration of 2 minutes and 25 seconds.

Initially, all it takes to film a trailer is carding followed by assigning scenes and storyboarding. After that, Story artist runs through the stages, reads the dialogue, and performs sound editing effects. Each trailer scene has a story to tell, and each character’s storyteller has their right to make the scene come to life. The whole movie trailer shot is nothing else than a Green Screen. As a camera department, the cameraperson has come up with a visual structure that helps to express what’s going on with the emotional level of the story.


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This animated movie looks different from Pixar’s usual animation. The story-building process seems very detailed, like they have been carefully working on this for a long time. Pixar uses its software for animation, which has its unique style. Trailer’s first phase might have begun with carding. In this process, the head of the story works with the directors to think of ideas about which scene goes where it combines to form the narrative.

00:00:11: Ian looks sad and seems curious about his dad and asks Barely. Barley lightens up the mood saying his bread was scratchy, and he had a goofy laugh. The scene focuses on a picture of Ian’s dad. The idea of ‘Order represents Ian Lightfoot.’ Whenever he’s in the trailer frame, the character is expressed with the following criteria:

– The focal length of around 40mm or 50mm lenses

– Static or mechanical movement

– Little tilt or no tilt at all

– Fewer character cuts

– Centered composition or symmetry

– And, less barrel distortion

Similarly, Barley Lightfoot is represented by the idea of ‘Chaos’ as he’s reacting to impractical chaos and magic going around the trailer. At 0:36, we can see the idea of being fully rendered by the editing department. Followings are his character throughout the trailer:

– The contrast in focal lengths

– Steadicam/handheld camera movement

– High and low angles


– Curved/diagonal lines

– More cuts

– Pushed composition

– And, more barrel distortion

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0:18: In this scene, the topology in Ian’s face is made possible with hard lightning at some point and soft lightning at the right part of the face to keep it horizontal to make him look appealing.

0:41-0:50: The two elf brothers stumble upon the wizard staff, which belonged to their father. Ian uses the wizard’s staff, but somehow, only half body of their father appears to their surprise. Ian and barley were curious about their father; they wanted to see their father at least once. The color used on the magical stick is a cool range so that it would not feel too dangerous to the audience. The amazing visualization you can pull out of the computer is to bend physics. A crew wears green screen suits at the top half. Every movement of the crew is shot frame by frame, making possible gestures a ‘Dad’ character would do in the movie.

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1:38-1:39: This scene is a fantasy for the character themselves. Editors have used a bolt of green lightning for the base of the scene. The green color theme gives a swampy feel to the streets, character, and overall background. The camera movement of the scene is known as staged in- depth push-ins; most of the committed moments in the movie are kept that way for strong visual impact.

2:01-2:05: Ian and Barley are on the quest and find themselves on the obstacles named as “Trust Bridge.” The team involved with the scene might have used VR to kind of remember the feeling of stepping on the edge of the bridge. One of the big conceits of the scene is using vast volumes of cloud usually used in various fantasy illustrations. To get the scene perfect, the crews have used some beautiful light and shadow pattern that increases the feeling of scale.

As far as we have discussed till now is just storyboarding; the scenes were detailed and did not fail to include acting, cinematography, humor, staging, and many more. Once the storyboard was complete, they had to pitch it for the rest of the artists such as art and also the director and the producer. A software known as pitch doctor is used to go through the scenes storyboard by storyboard, which gives a little life to the views. The artists explain the stages as if they were telling a story as each scene has a story to tell.

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Each phase on the trailer has an impact on recording the scratch. The written lines were recorded and applied to the storyboards. Finally, the completed scene was sent to the editorial department. The editorial department takes all the scratch dialogues and modifies it to make a scene, add sound effects, and reviews it with the artists for further changes or improvement. This process is done for all stages before the actual animation. After all the completion of scenes, lighting and rendering were done to make it more life-like.

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