SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Ralph Breaks the Internet. Proceed at your own risk.
If you’ve seen Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel to 2012’s mega-successful Wreck-It Ralph, you’ll still be reeling from that incredible piece of animation during the film’s climax – the likes of which you’ve never witnessed before. And if you haven’t seen Ralph Breaks the Internet yet, prepare to have your mind blown. While the Disney princesses might be stealing all the thunder, it’s the impact of this incredible piece of animation that continues to wow even after the credits (Rick)roll, as a bunch – and we mean a bunch – of standard-sized Ralph duplicates merge together to form one massive King Kong-sized Ralph that terrorises the internet.
In the film, Ralph is cloned by an internet virus that replicates him many times over, using his worst qualities, to take down the world wide web. The multiple Ralphs come together to form a single destructive gigantic Ralph fixated on Vanellope, who wants to stay in the wifi world after her thrilling experiences with new character Shank (Gal Gadot) and gritty online racing game, Slaughter Race. We chatted with directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore, who break down what went into this incredible feat of animation.
“Well, we’ve been misrepresenting it,” says Johnston. “We’ve been saying it was 300,000.”
The figure he’s quoting refers to the number of little Ralphs that went into making up the big Ralph.
Rich Moore picks up the story: “Someone said 300,000 while we were making it. It was like, ‘Oh, my god — that’s so many!”
In fact, most of the shots have about 500,000 little Ralphs on screen. There’s one shot, though, that features over a million. Keep your eyes peeled for the wide shot early in the sequence when big Ralph is climbing.
“It’s when we first see him looking into Pinterest,” says Moore. “That’s over a million little individual Ralphs. And they’re not simplified, cheated versions of them. They’re fully realised. If you were to zoom in, they would have as much detail as any of those close-ups you see of them: the fabric, the texture on the clothing, the hair… I am blown away that when they made Bolt they fretted and tortured themselves over getting Bolt’s hair to blow in the wind in that one scene where he sticks his head out of the mobile home, and now we’re able to build a giant Ralph out of a million little Ralphs with all the little detail on them? That wasn’t that long ago!”
Johnston reveals that they were really struggling to make the concept work right up until close to release – presumably meaning we could well have had a different ending than the one which made it to the screen.
The Sequence Almost Didn’t Happen
“It was by far the biggest logistical challenge [of the entire film],” says Johnston. “The scene was worked on for well over a year, and we learned very late in the game that lots of people who are much smarter than we are technologically did not think it could happen. And really, until the very end, it wasn’t going to come together.”
Moore suggests that their achievements have paved the way for greater leaps in animation to come: “It cracked a lot of problems, you know? In bringing that to the screen.”
So how many man hours — “person hours,” corrects Rich Moore — did it take to animate big Ralph?
“How many render hours? 50 million render hours in one weekend of shots,” says Johnston. “Obviously that’s not one computer, there’s a farm of servers, computers, rendering that but if one computer were working it would have taken 50 million hours, and that’s one weekend of work.”
Rich reiterates: “That’s not the whole movie.”
“So it would never have gotten made five years ago,” says Johnston. “It just wouldn’t.”
And if you’re wondering how many animators brought it together, the answer is 85. “And over 500 people worked on the movie,” adds Phil.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is out in the US now and hits screens in the UK on November 30 and Australia on December 26.