Sony Imageworks Character Animation is Over the Moon

In the animated film Over the Moon, a bright young girl, fueled with a passion for science, builds a rocket ship to the moon to prove the existence of a legendary Moon Goddess. There she ends up on an unexpected quest and discovers a whimsical land of fantastical creatures. Over the Moon is a musical adventure about moving forward, embracing the unexpected, and the power of imagination.

The film was directed by the legendary Glen Keane, who has had a long and awarded animation career, in films such as  Beauty and the Beast (1991), Tangled (2010). His first job as a supervising animator was for the bear in The Fox and the Hound, where he collaborated on the climactic finale with John Lasseter. Over the Moon is his directorial debut.

The Imageworks team lead by VFX supervisor, David Smith, who has done both animated and VFX films including several Spiderman live-action films as a digital effects supervisor. The head of character animation was Sacha Kapijimpanga ( Hotel Transylvania and multiple Smurf films).  One of the film’s  key character challenges was the Moon Goddess, Chang’e, as she takes on many different forms with a broad range of performances. From a vulnerable character, of regular human proportions, to a towering  9-foot tall Royal Goddess.

Artists had high expectations for Chang’e going into this project. The team knew that her broad range required both detailed, nuanced performance, and the more pushed expressions of the Diva that she is. Director Keane’s drawings were also an indispensable source of information when it came to defining this character.

Animators could import the many drawings from the review sessions directly into their scenes, to match Keane’s intentions.

Chang’e had five elaborate outfits and four distinct hairstyles. The dresses were designed by the world renowned designer Guo Pei. Guo Pei is a Chinese fashion designer. She is best known for designing dresses for Chinese celebrities, and in America for Rihanna’s trailing yellow gown at the 2015 Met Ball. The dresses were the most complex Imageworks had ever worked with. The models were built with Marvelous Designer using the actual patterns provided by Pei. Marvelous Designer is an accurate and unique 3D modeling program for life-like fabric that also resembles the way real-life garments are both constructed and the way the fabric falls and thus looks.

During rigging,  careful attention was devoted to the underlying anatomy. Creating a solid foundation out of believable forms that flowed together accurately, to support the cloth, was crucial on all of the human characters. The target was to see the flowing shapes of a real arm under the cloth once the simulation was completed. With her numerous costume and size changes, the ability to adjust the proportions of her body all while maintaining good underlying structure was critical.

New technology written for Chang’e included Imageworks’ “extractor,” which allowed the groomers to extract control hairs for her hairstyles directly from approved models. For long hair simulations, especially when floating in the chamber of sadness, her hair could be hand positioned with the new “Offsets” tool, and additional breakup could be added to follow specific sketches from the Director.


The city of Lunaria, on the dark side of the moon, was designed to be a tribute to color and whimsy. Each building was meticulously sculpted to have an organic feel and a changing profile as it bobs and turns. Thousands of frames of animation were attached to each building, which an animator could slide or manipulate or choose to create a specific animation to get the correct choreography.

Clara Chan was the CG Supervisor on Over the Moon. Earlier in her career, long before animation, Chan worked as a software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Chan earned a B.S. in computer science and a master’s degree in visualization sciences from Texas A & M University. She has worked on so many of Sony Pictures’ most significant films such as Stuart Little 2 (2002), Monster House (2006), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) and The Emoji Movie (2017).

Lunarians, who live in Lunaria, are composed of semi-solid gummy-like material, full of glowing gases. To craft the desired look, Imageworks developed a procedural character rig between rigging and FX that allowed for dynamic topology changes, custom attributes, and internal volumes for these characters. The animation and FX department also worked together to fill the stadium with 250,000 dancing Lunarians.