‘The Garfield Movie’ Gives Its Legendary Orange Tabby a Makeover

The legendary orange tabby gets a 2D-looking makeover for “The Garfield Movie,” the fully animated origin story (voiced by Chris Pratt). That’s in stark contrast to Garfield’s hyper-real look in the previous live-action/animated hybrid movies (voiced by Bill Murray).

In the reboot, the lasagna-loving Garfield is abandoned as a kitty by his scruffy street cat dad, Vic (Samuel L. Jackson). Then he forms a family with Jon Arbuckle (Nicholas Hoult) and pup Odie (Harvey Guillén) and is reunited with Vic for a dangerous adventure. This involves a revenge plot (featuring Hannah Waddingham’s baddie feline, Jinx), a dairy heist, and a train chase finale featuring weaponized Italian food, as well as flat camera work evoking the comic strip format.

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Director Mark Dindal (“The Emperor’s New Groove”) was game for an origin story with untapped vulnerability, and selected Pratt after watching the actor profess his love of snack food and laziness.

“The idea that Garfield believes he was left behind and abandoned certainly creates a vulnerability in that character that you wouldn’t assume from the comic strip because in the comic strip, he is very much in charge,” Dindal told IndieWire. “So I think just that in itself starts to suggest moments that you can develop [in this father-son story].”

THE GARFIELD MOVIE, (aka GARFIELD), from left: Baby Odie (voice: Harvey Guillen), Baby Garfield (voice: Chris Pratt), 2024. © Columbia Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection
‘The Garfield Movie’©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

DNEG Animation (“Nimona”) did the animation with a 2D aesthetic (led by Jason Boose as animation director alongside VFX supervisor Freddy Chaleur, as well as their two animation supervisors Karun Reddy and Guillaume Chartier). This was important in translating the concept art of production designer Pete Oswald and art director Jeanie Chang, who wanted a painterly, handmade quality but also some impressionistic level of detail through a mixture of shape and brush strokes.

“The environments that were mocked up in paintings not only matched the proportions and the color, but also we had them put painterly textures in some cases, as opposed to photorealistic textures,” Dindal added. “The characters were influenced by [‘Garfield’ creator-cartoonist] Jim Davis’ poses for Garfield, especially. And then we would do our character design pass at them, but then they would just take those and figure a way to make them work in three dimensions.”

From the beginning, all the texture work from DNEG incorporated brush strokes and handmade details to achieve a softer look. “Everything from the trees to the bricks to the food had that treatment,” Chaleur told IndieWire via email. “The color palette had a more pastel look in some places, when we wanted to be closer to the 2D aesthetic.

“Also, simplifying the environment in the background, losing details and making the edges softer,” Chaleur added. “A good example is Baby Garfield crossing the street at the beginning of the movie. The simplification in the distance gives a painterly and soft feel. Also, in Mamma Leonie’s restaurant, you can feel that simplification in the back; the bricks are softer and more graphic.”

THE GARFIELD MOVIE, (aka GARFIELD), from left: Jon (voice: Nicholas Hoult), baby Garfield, 2024. © Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
‘The Garfield Movie’©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

The choice for the characters was to make them more realistic, with fluffy and vibrant fur, but still with a softness to it, while keeping the animation style and silhouette closer to the comic strip. The extreme poses and the use of multiple limbs accentuate the iconic graphic look. The contrast gives a visual richness to the character that blends with the environment.

“Given Garfield’s iconic status, we needed an animation style that would capture the 2D aesthetic of the comic while still offering a fresh look,” Reddy told IndieWire via email. “Our biggest challenge was adapting to the 3D medium and overcoming the technical difficulties associated with fur and exaggerated animation.

“To develop the animation style, we designed rigs with multiple arms, legs, and eyes to enhance the 2D aspects of the performance. We incorporated classic Garfield shapes into our rigs and created opportunities to showcase them on-screen. For example, we animated Garfield with a big open mouth when he eats cake and a wide mouth when he and Vic eat pizza.”

Design played a crucial role, along with performance choices. The animation team had to continually monitor character design, using numerous draw-overs to ensure they captured the essence of the performances while maintaining appealing, on-model designs.

“We embraced the opportunity to go big and bold with our acting choices, pushing the poses to their limits,” Reddy said. “For instance, in the training sequence where Otto [the bull voiced by Ving Rhames] beats Vic and Garfield, we pushed the animation in a manner reminiscent of 2D, with characters turning into flat cardboards, Garfield’s head completely twisting, and faces breaking upon being slapped and punched. This, combined with the challenge of animating characters with fur, presented a significant technical hurdle.”

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