‘Dream come true’: Montreal 2D effects artist among animators on ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’

SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY, (aka SPACE JAM 2), from left: LeBron James, Lola Bunny (voice: Zendaya), Yosemite Sam (voice: Jeff Bergman), Sylvester (voice: Jeff Bergman), Tweety Bird (voice: Bob Bergen), Foghorn Leghorn (voice: Eric Bauza), Bugs Bunny (voice: Jeff Bergman), Gossamer, Granny (voice: Candi Milo), Porky Pig (voice: Bob Bergen), Road Runner, Tasmanian Devil (voice: Jim Cummings), Wile E. Coyote, Elmer Fudd (voice: Eric Bauza), 2021. © Warner Bros. Courtesy Everett Collection/The Canadian Press

Canadian 2D effects artist Geneviève Létourneau says working on Space Jam: A New Legacy was “like a dream come true.”

Létourneau and her colleagues at Tonic DNA in Montreal created 2D animated effects including explosions and gunfire shots for the basketball adventure-comedy, which hits theatres Friday.

NBA great LeBron James stars as a fictionalized version of himself, who gets trapped in a digital Warner Bros. multiverse by an artificially intelligent being played by Don Cheadle.

In order to escape, he has to play in a basketball tournament featuring teams of Looney Tunes characters and his son, played by Cedric Joe.

READ MORE: ‘If I can do it, you can’: Scarborough, Ont. actor becomes star in ‘Looney Tunes Cartoons’

The 33-year-old Létourneau says she was “fascinated” by the original 1996 Space Jam growing up in Montreal with artistic parents who fostered her love of drawing.

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“I probably watched it 10 times in a row when it came out, and when I learned that we were going to work on the second one, I was like, ‘Dream come true,”’ she said in a recent interview, adding she was also a longtime fan of Bugs Bunny and the gang.

“I watched the Looney Tunes since I was baby, basically. I rewatched the old ones. I had a videocassette with the old 1940s Looney Tunes.”

Malcolm D. Lee directed the story alongside animation director Spike Brandt, who tried “to be truer to the first version,” said Létourneau, a lead effects animator and supervisor on the film.

“To see that they were so passionate to try to recreate the essence of the Looney Tunes made me super-motivated,” she said.

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Eric Bauza describes how he develops characters’ voices – Dec 9, 2020

Tonic DNA has worked on some Looney Tunes TV cartoons before, including Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd characters. But Létourneau said this was the first time they were doing it for film, not to mention one that incorporated live action and real actors “to push the boundaries of animation.”

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“It was quite a challenge,” she said. “The quality is different than when you work on a series, for sure. You want to focus on acting, you don’t want to let little mistakes pass through.

Létourneau said Tonic DNA started working on the film last year but was hired well before that. They had to keep their involvement a secret, which was a challenge working from home during the pandemic.

Luckily, the person Letourneau lives with also works at Tonic and she didn’t have to hide the work.

“It would have been complicated, because you’re not allowed to show what you work on, but I was OK,” she said with a laugh.

“Hopefully, we had a good system and it worked well. Otherwise, you would have seen stuff (leaked) all over the internet. So it didn’t happen, obviously.”

READ MORE: Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam go gun-free in ‘Looney Tunes’ cartoon reboot

Lucasfilm’s visual effects division Industrial Light & Magic were among the other animation teams who worked on the film.

Letourneau said her team inserted the animation directly onto the frames of live-action production footage. That meant the effects occur exactly where they should.

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Initially, remote work complicated feedback sessions to the team, she said.

“It’s always easier to be next to your artists and give feedback to them in person, or it’s quicker or easier to understand,” said Letourneau.

“But I think mid-production, we started to have a really good hang on it, and it started to be faster and simpler as we went. We figured out new techniques to communicate better.”

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