Rabbit on the Run: Artists Expand the World of Peter Rabbit
Karen Moltenbrey
July 9, 2021

Rabbit on the Run: Artists Expand the World of Peter Rabbit

Many children (and adults) are familiar with the tale of Peter Rabbit, born from the imagination of author Beatrix Potter, which follows the misadventures of the naughty bunny who sneaks into Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden to feast upon the inviting produce – only to lose his jacket and shoes in the ensuing chase. More adventures soon followed. And over 100 years later, many a child’s bookshelf contains at least one of those titles.
In 2018, filmmakers brought the story of Peter to life in Sony/Columbia Pictures’ Peter Rabbit, a live-action/animation hybrid production featuring a top-level cast of actors and amazing CG animals crafted by Animal Logic. In that story, Peter, his sisters, and cousin suddenly find they have free rein over the garden following Mr. McGregor’s death. But a new obstacle emerged in the form of Thomas McGregor, who has inherited the house. A war emerges between him and the rabbits, though he hides his disdain around Bea, the nature-loving neighbor with whom he falls in love.

In Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, the filmmakers took the theme and ran with it once more, creating a sequel that once again stars a colony of CG rabbits and a handful of other animals that act alongside a human cast in a mostly (sometimes digitally extended) live-action environment. As before, the artists took great care to stay true to the characters and world originally crafted by Potter more than a century before.

In this sequel, Peter cannot seem to stay out of trouble. He and his former nemesis have grown closer, as have Thomas and Bea who are now married. When the pair take a trip, Peter decides to take one, too, and hits the open road with a fellow rabbit who knew Peter’s father.

For Peter 2, the crew at Animal Logic in Sydney once again became the main animal wranglers, so to speak, crafting all of the creatures in the film with the exception of the roosters, created by Method Studios (Melbourne). Animal Logic also created set extensions for the aerial vistas and south and north views of the manor surroundings, plus Amelia’s house exteriors and some set extensions of the manor interiors; Method built the others, including the McGregor Toy Store, Farmer’s Market, Tailor of Gloucester, rescue montage car chase, and the Butcher Shop exterior comps.

Will Gluck returned to direct, and joining him was Will Reichelt, overall visual effects supervisor. A good number of the supervisory team at Animal Logic returned as well, including Matt Middleton, Animal Logic’s visual effects supervisor, and Simon Pickard, animation director.

Animal Logic completed nearly 1,300 VFX shots (1,160 involving animation). Method, led by Visual Effects Supervisor Josh Simmonds and Animation Supervisor Nicholas Tripodi, worked on 150 shots, 100 of which were shared with Animal Logic.

Work on the sequel began shortly after the original Peter Rabbit was released, with preproduction starting in August 2018. Filming began in early 2019, first in Sydney and rural New South Wales, and then in and around London and the Lake District in the UK. As with the original film, for Peter 2, VFX and animation representatives, including Reichelt and Pickard, were able to spend time on set advising the production to ensure the shots were optimized for the CGI that would be added later.

Even though production of Peter 2 followed closely after the original, a good deal of development work was done to the returning CG characters. “Between the first and second movies, Will Gluck came to us and said the way he was going to shoot the second film was would be slightly different from how he had shot the first,” says Pickard. In the original, when we see the CG characters, the shots are framed wider and the characters are farther away from the lens. Gluck realized he could zoom in closer and still maintain the desired level of believability. “And by the end of the first Peter film, he was pushing in on the plates, getting into the characters’ faces so you could feel the emotion,” Pickard adds.

On Peter 2, the camera was a lot closer throughout the film, and the micro-movements in the characters’ faces were visible. To prepare for that, the assets team worked with animation to revise the facial rigs, adding extra fidelity particularly around the eyes, brows, and mouth to get a finer level of detail.

See the July.Aug.Sept. issue of CGW for the full story detailing Animal Logic's work.