Missing Lynx chronicles the misadventures of a group of animals as they avoid being kidnapped by an unscrupulous hunter hired by a benevolent millionaire, NOAH. The eccentric old man, aware of the unstoppable destruction of nature, hatches a secret plan. To help, he recruits NEWMANN, a cold-blooded hunter. But even the most experienced hunter will face endless problems trying to capture our animal heroes led by FELIX, a jinxed lynx who ultimately prevails by commanding a rag tag bunch of brave animals. The hunter and the preys confront each other in this exciting game of survival and unlikely friendship and heroism.
FELIX, the Lynx Felix is living proof that Murphy's Law applies to the animal kingdom. For Felix, if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong (accidents, mishaps and the occasional natural disaster, not withstanding). In a word, Felix is unlucky: a walking, bad-luck-charm, lynx. Perhaps this may explain why his species is dying out. A regular guest at The Species Recovery Center (the local animal hospital), he's been at the shelter more than forty times since he was a cub. So when Newmann's henchman strikes, kidnapping all the animals, it's Felix who organizes the escape to save his friends. Then again, Felix is also highly motivated - his beloved "Lynxette", his partner and soul mate, is also one of the hunter's victims. And he will do anything to rescue her. Felix, at heart, is a charismatic natural born leader, even if there isn't an animal trap on the market that he can't help putting his foot into. He is both stubborn and tireless, a King of the Jungle in his very own way, respected and cherish by the other animals in spite of his bad luck.
GUS, the Chameleon Gus is a peculiar character - a grumpy curmudgeon, all too susceptible to conspiracy theories and general paranoia. He's also Felix's best friend. After all, he owes him his life, ever since that fateful day when the lynx saved him from a traffic accident. That said, Gus's camouflage hasn't worked properly ever since - leaving him prone to precariously dangerous delays, his skin always retaining the color of his previous surroundings, with the result that he always stands out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, Gus shows Felix his endless gratitude and his unrequited support. When Felix asks for help in the rescue mission, Gus doesn't hesitate to join in. Though he remains enamored of detective novels, his camouflage problem remains a handicap when it comes to the fine art of spying.
ASTARTE, a migrating hawk, often supplies the group with a much needed dose of common sense. She may not be their leader. But her no nonsense approach often proves the voice of reason when tempers flare. Astarté hates hunters, as she was once attacked by a hunter's hawk herself and now can barely fly. This is how she ended up in the Species Recovery Center. While group's main focus is to rescue their kidnapped friends, Astarte has an ulterior motive - revenge against Newmann and his hawk, Nimrod, who once attacked her and to whom she nearly lost a wing. Unfortunately, Astarté is also growing increasingly (and secretly) concerned that she is developing a fear of the thing she once loved most: flying. But with the help of her friends, she will build up enough confidence to overcome her fears and join the group on their quest - as she finally learns to put aside her selfish thirst for revenge.
BEEETTY, the Wild Goat. If we had to choose one of our characters to star in "Mission Impossible", Beeetty would be the perfect candidate. An adrenaline junky, she loves nothing more than to climb, jump, skydive or fly, especially if it provides the rush of an extreme sport.
Beeetty loves adventure for adventure's sake. She goes along with the gang on their rescue mission, even though she may not have any personal interest in it, herself. Reliable but undisciplined, she finds it difficult to follow orders, let alone make organized plans. Driven by her emotions, Beeetty has no qualms about jumping into situations that require planning and preparation. But as she always says, "If I got you into this, I'll get you out of it".
RUPPERT, the Mole Ruppert is the "jailhouse getter". Ask Ruppert for anything and he'll "go underground" and come back with the goods. Sadly, being a mole, he can't hear or see very well. That's why the others always have to shout to be heard, let alone, understood. Eventually, we discover that our mole is indeed "a mole" who works for the villain of the story, as it's the only way to save his family. Ruppert may appear twofaced. But in the end, he makes a difficult decision and sides with our heroes.
NOAH is an eccentric millionaire who has amassed his wealth in a most peculiar way: by talking to talk to animals. He started earning money betting on the races by talking to the horses… before expanding into other animal-related enterprises. As a businessman, the extinction of animal species would hurt his bottom line. Therefore he decides to collect two animals of every species to repopulate the region. Unskilled for the job, he hires Newmann, an unscrupulous safari hunter, to do his dirty work. Unfortunately, Newmann also has plans of his own.
NEWMANN is the world's best hunter. Having tracked, captured and killed all kinds of animals, he accepts Noah's lucrative proposition - even if the rules of engagement forbid the use of lethal force. Instead, the fabled big game hunter now finds himself chasing tiny defenseless animals. But as Newmann soon finds out, hunting this group of eccentrics is more than he bargained for. Despite all the gadgets and technology Noah has provided (along with his army of anonymous henchman), he simply can't outwit Felix and his friends. Soon enough, though, the hunt becomes both deadly and personal.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
The Missing Lynx is a computer animated comedy caper made in the style of the films produced by Pixar Studios and Dreamworks SKG. It is the first animated feature film produced by Kandor Graphics, based in the city of Granada. It is a Spanish production made with international appeal for a global market.
"The basic idea of the film," says Manuel Sicilia, co-writer and director, "is to make a classic old fashion adventure with a great sense of humor. The characters, however, are not the usual gang of animals Hollywood typically showcases, like African lions, Chinese pandas or Antarctic's penguins, but creatures who will engage the audience's curiosity. Here, a jinxed lynx, a paranoid chameleon with camouflage problems, and a goat addicted to extreme sports fills the animal bill while on the human side, Newmann the hunter and the eccentric Noah will keep the adults on the hedge of their seats".
According to co-director and writer, Raul Garcia, there was also a desire to show that Kandor Graphics, a Spanish company, could produce an animated film with the quality standards of any given Hollywood film with local talent and at a fraction of the cost. "We have witnessed in the past a continuous migration of great animation professionals, obligated to go abroad due to the lack of quality Spanish productions," says Garcia. "There was never a concept of "an animation industry" in Spain and I myself had to live for a while as an "animation gypsy", jumping from country to country searching for the best projects to work and learn from. I ended up being able to choose the best projects, learn from the best animators in the world, the very people who worked animating Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse or Snow White. But I've seen as well that big budgets doesn't necessary translate into good production value. Most of the time, the budget is wasted in arbitrary or unnecessary changes over changes. With Kandor Graphics we have the best of the two worlds, talent and technology, all without the need to travel the globe."
Says Garcia: "I'd rather see our film "The Missing Lynx" cross the borders and conquer the world."
Both directors agreed that the value of a great animated film lies simply in an engaging story told by charismatic characters. The challenge of telling an adventure story against a backdrop of ecological awareness without being blatantly pedagogic was there for the taking, and Garcia and Sicilia combined entertainment and spectacle in a film designed to be a fun and humorous romp.
"There're three important ingredients to make a good movie: story, story and story," says Sicilia. "We never lost the sight of such a great motto. Unfortunately most of the animated films we see today lack that vital element. We have made a special effort to tell an engaging story so the audience can fall in love with it and with the characters… an adventure with universal values transcending the local geography and engaging for audiences of all ages."
One of the most important decisions the creative team had to make at the beginning of the production was to streamline the technical complexity of the film. Says Raul Garcia: "It doesn't help to have a lynx with three million hairs perfectly animated, lighted and rendered, if the story you are telling is flat and the character is bland. That's why we put all our effort into creating an interesting character that the audience can embrace. Once the audience will care and believe in the character, the hair is a detail". For the filmmakers, credibility versus realism was the challenge of making The Missing Lynx. "If the characters and the situations are believable, the film will be believable," says Garcia.
Juan Molina, founder of Kandor Graphics was behind the creative team to provide the tools and technology needed for the occasion. "The world of computer animation is always changing and technology has to always be ahead of the production needs," says Molina. "The technical department was always researching ways to do things efficiently to facilitate the creative team, building the world the story needed."
For Marcelino Almansa, founding father of the studio, the production challenges came from a completely different direction. To coordinate the necessary talent to transform Kandor from a small service company to a full production studio, Almansa had to scale up. Surrounded by a team of 40 animation professionals, Almansa had to assure that the studio was ready for the challenge of producing a complete animated feature film for the first time. "Kandor Graphics was experienced up till that point in producing commercials, technical services for other companies, and short films," explains, Almansa. "An efficient production pipeline was necessary to complete the film on time. "The Missing Lynx" has shown the studio was ready."
As art director, Oscar Martinez had the creative challenge of creating a coherent graphic universe to meld the animal and the human worlds into a believable whole. The design of both universes had to be consistent so Newmann the hunter and Beeea the goat would fit together in the same world. "We went for some stylization in the design that would showcase personality and character, rather than realism", explains Martinez.
For Francis Porcel, background designer and story artist, that balance between animals and human design had to extend to the environments where the action takes place. "We wanted the backgrounds to be recognizable - The Doñana natural park, Taberna's desert, Monsul beach - they're all real places that the people are familiar with," says Porcel. "We wanted the audience to feel the movie was taking place in a familiar place." Javier Recio, character and prop designer also spent a great deal of time to "dress up" the sets with native trees and plants to add the necessary realistic touches in order to pair up the style of the background with their locations. All in all, the art department was responsible for drawing the story boards and establishing the basic visual storytelling dictated by the directors. Francis Porcel's skills as comic book artist, in particular, were invaluable to translate the script into a flow of story panels narrating the story of Felix, Gus and their friends and foes.
Joaquin Catalá and Daniel Alejo were in charge of the lighting department. Catching the light and the mood of the lush Andalucian landscape was their major challenge in the film. "Spain is a colorful country, and the south of Spain has a special light," says Catalá. "But the film's light has to have some dramatic meaning depending of the pathos of the sequence… There's a part, at the end of the film, where Newmann is chasing Felix in the bowels of the ship and we wanted to create an oppressive jungle of wires and pipes, as if Newmann was hunting in a tropical environment between mist, and dense foliage".
Raul Garcia and Manuel Sicilia made the creative choice to use lighting as a creative story-telling device, searching for mood and dramatic ambiance in the light. That differentiates the film from other animated features with a more flat approach as they wanted the film to have atmosphere and a sophisticated look, created by the director of photography in a similar way that live action films have.
The heat of the desert, when the group walks alone in Tabernas, or, the loneliness of Lynxette locked up in her cage, were created mostly with light.
"Animation is a medium where we can have complete control over every single frame and play with the dramatic composition of every shot," says Sicilia.
That total control is more evident in the animation process - the key moment in the production where finally the characters come to life and "act".
"An animated film is a complete team effort where every artist contributes to the final result," explains Raul Garcia. "It's an ever evolving process from the moment the first idea is put on paper. The characters start changing the minute the first rough drawings are completed, and that evolution never really ends.
During voice recording, the actors will add their own touches and by the time the scenes hit the animation desks, the character is ready for another "plushing" thanks to the acting and the performance the animator artist is able to give. At every step, the character grows and gets richer in nuances and subtlety."
The animation directors of the film, Gabriel Garcia and Francisco Fernandez couldn't agree more.
"The character of Gus, initially a simple comic sidekick, grew and grew during the animation phase to turn into a real scene-stealer," says Fernandez. "He "created" a delicate situation because every animator in the film wanted to animate him and we have to reach a Solomonic solution and spread the shots among the team to avoid conflicts."
In one key moment Ruppert the Mole comes up from a hole with a big bush atop his head as if he were wearing a giant afro. The sight gag, not written in the script, grew to become one of the funniest moment s in the film, thanks to the understanding of the character's personality- and especially Gus- in the hands of the animators who seized the moment and gave a master performance. "At the end we had to re-edit the whole scene because Gus acting so many laughs, the plot point was missed," says the film's editor, Claudio Hernandez.
"The making of The Missing Lynx represents an outburst of creativity from every artist in the film, says Manuel Sicilia. "We have been very open to every suggestion that could enrich the film coming from any person on the team. It has been a collective effort, the work of a dedicated crew willing to give to the film all they have beyond the call of duty."
"The subtlety and finesse in the acting is par to the quality of animation the big Hollywood studios offer in their commercial blockbusters," adds Raul Garcia, an artist familiar with the work of the big studios thanks to his international career in films like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and "Aladdin".
The music is another important element in the film. Its dramatic power enhances the movie and adds another dimension to the story. Sergio de la Puente was the composer of the film and remains an incredible asset to the production. "The first notes we gave to Sergio was to compose a soundtrack with thematic melodies. We wanted not only music to enhance the dramatic mood of the sequences, but music with a strong melody that could be interesting on its own," says Sicilia. De la Puente grew up listening to John Williams, one of the references the directors quoted. Sergio understood immediately the challenge ahead and began composing the themes for the different characters and the main title march even before production was in full swing. With such a strong thematic material, Sergio weaved the action cues with the different character's themes, giving the soundtrack a strong sense of coherence.
The film score was recorded by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra. For Sergio de la Puente, going orchestral was a dream come true. The dramatic texture and the comical dimension we find in the score ultimately give "The Missing Lynx" a grand cinematic scope.
"The Missing Lynx" uses "Ambient occlusion" as a lighting technique giving the film a soft photorealistic look close to the diffused Spanish sunlight bathing the scenes. According to Miguel Angel Cogolludo, head of production, the film employs a similar technique used at Pixar, though to a greater degree at Kandor.
This technique allowed lowering the rendering time of every image of the movie. The rendering of the film needed the combined power of forty powerful computers linked in a "render farm" plus the use of every single computer in the studio overnight. Even with the optimization of resources, rendering necessitated eight months of around the clock computer power to generate each of the 150, 000 single frames from "The Missing Lynx".
To that end, the studio customized the existing computer animation program's tools to help in the
animation process and optimize the render time. "The point cache" eliminated all rigs and animation controls from the characters, once animated, to lighten the "weight" of data and to allow the machines to compute at higher speeds. That tool allowed the lighting technicians to concentrate their energy in generating images faster and with a much better quality. "While an average image used to take 40 minutes to render, with this system we could lower the time to 20," says Miguel Angel Espada, render farm supervisor.
The compositing department, meanwhile, had bigger challenges of their own. The Missing Lynx theatrical release needed the image quality to be bumped to the industry standard of 2048 by 1080 pixels (2K Images). With an average complexity of six layers per shot - matte paintings, backgrounds, characters, occlusion layers and volumetric light effects - some of the shots required as many as 26 layers of elements in order to compose the final image of the film with the maximum quality standards and the level of detail that Kandor Graphics required. One of the most complicated shots of the film, a POV shot of Newmann, the hunter, walking towards a giant TV screen trough a glass dome in Noah's ship, might look seamless to the eyes of the audience caught up in the story. But those few seconds, required more than forty hours of computing time for rendering and composition.
Manuel Cristobal, executive producer of the film (with a long professional history in the world of animation), affirms that Kandor Graphics is one of the best European animation studios, with production values similar to their American counterparts. "The artistic and technical team has been able to resolve successfully the film's many challenges. The results are outstanding in a film like "The Missing Lynx," clearly the best animated film ever produced in Spain".
READ MORE ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
THE ART OF ANIMATION