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Kytherian Cinema Review

Antarctic trip inspires 'Happy Feet'.

Producers with the noms: Doug Mitchell, George Miller, Bill Miller


In 1998, Bill Miller left the west coast of Australia with renowned expedition leader Howard Whelan and spent two weeks on an often stormy sea before arriving in Antarctica. One of his first experiences on the frozen continent was being dropped off by helicopter into an Emperor penguin rookery.
Miller saw baby chicks running about and smaller-sized penguins in the mix, which, combined with the icy environs, left a lasting impression. "It was extraordinary," he says. "They were very patrician-looking and dignified."

A few years later, Miller and his brother George saw a BBC/National Geographic documentary entitled "Life in the Freezer" about Emperor penguins, and the proverbial lightbulb went off for both of them.

"It inspired George, so he decided to write about it," Bill Miller explains. "I had gone there before and had a feeling something special was going on."

The resulting story, a change-the-world parable featuring a misfit tap-dancing penguin, reunited Bill and George Miller with Doug Mitchell, with whom they'd previously teamed up to produce 1998's "Babe: Pig in the City."

Before any work was done on the film, one of the digital supervisors, Brett Feeney, went on two expeditions to Antarctica and took pictures of different aspects of the ice and light for reference. His firsthand observations, combined with Bill Miller's memories of his own visit to the penguin habitat, would serve as the benchmark for what needed to be re-created in CG animation.

But the true test came when a friend's child saw a prototype of the main character, Mumble, whose furry coat features 6 million separate feathers.

"One of the aspirations of the movie was for people to want to reach out and touch the baby character," Miller said.

Seeing Mumble on the monitor, the toddler insisted someone get the penguin out of the computer.

Date in print: Fri., Jan. 19, 2007,, Los Angeles

From Award Central


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