How Pac-Man, Donkey Kong Became Giant Pixelated Creatures in "Pixels"

Not only does the unique plot and hilarious comedy of Columbia Pictures’ “Pixels” distinguish it from the crowd, but the film also looks different from other summer films. “Most visual effects movies – including movies I’ve been involved with – set out to create extraordinarily realistic visual effects,” director Chris Columbus explains.

“On Pixels, we were aiming for something you’ve never seen before. When these videogame characters come to life, they take on this pixelated form with an aura lit from within, and constantly moving. It’s literally a three-dimensional version of the 8-bit games you used to see on your arcade screen.”

The list of the film’s pixelated co-stars reads like an all-star team of the 1980s: PAC-MAN™, Donkey Kong™, Centipede®, Galaga™, Frogger, Q*bert™, and Space Invaders™, among many others.

“These classic characters were part of the DNA of the project, so it was critical that we work together to bring them on board,” explains Allen Covert, one of the film’s producers. “Fortunately, they were all extremely receptive. We approached them with a deep love for their characters and a respect for the elements that make them unique and iconic, and we worked with the companies to incorporate those elements into the film.”

Partners included Atari Interactive, Inc. (Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, Missile Command); Konami Digital Entertainment (Frogger); Bandai Namco Entertainment (PAC-MAN, Galaga, Dig Dug); Nintendo (Donkey Kong, Duck Hunt); Sony Computer Entertainment (Q*Bert); TAITO CORPORATION (Arkanoid, Space Invaders); and Warner Bros. Interactive (Paperboy, Joust, Defender, Robotron), G-MODE (BurgerTime), and TETRIS (Tetris).

Once the characters had been designed, Columbus tapped Matthew Butler, the visual effects supervisor, to bring the classic 1980s videogames into our world. “Matt Butler is the mad genius who kept constantly pushing the envelope to make certain that these creatures not only feel like they exist in our world, but that the audience is seeing something they've never seen before. He pushed his team and all of us harder than ever,” says Columbus.

Butler explains that just as the filmmakers made extraordinary efforts to be honest with the look of the characters, it was equally necessary to make callbacks to the way those characters moved and interacted. “It was very important that we emulated these games as closely as possible,” says Butler. “If you look at PAC-MAN, he chomps at a certain rate and moves at a certain speed. Donkey Kong, too, has very specific motions, like his semi-step – we animated that in a continuous flow, but maintained the ‘sprite-based’ essence.”

If you want to get technical about it, Butler says, the title of the film isn’t quite right. “A 3D pixel is really called a ‘voxel,’” a cube in three-dimensional space, he says. “We took this notion of simplistic cubes and made it interesting and up-to-date by adding light energy to it, for example with PAC-MAN,” explains Butler. “As a round shape, his 2D image is flat, so we gave him the volume of a 3D sphere made up of voxels. Each voxel has its own light energy, based on geometric alien filaments, that can be controlled individually, so we used artistic license to fly energy around within PAC-MAN’s sphere.”

In “Pixels,” as kids in the 1980s, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Will Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage) saved the world thousands of times – at 25 cents a game in the video arcades. Now, they’re going to have to do it for real.

When intergalactic aliens discover video feeds of classic arcade games and misinterpret them as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth, using the video games as the models for their assaults -- and now-U.S. President Cooper must call on his old-school arcade friends to save the world from being destroyed by PAC-MAN™, Donkey Kong™, Galaga™, Centipede®, and Space Invaders™. Joining them is Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), a specialist supplying the arcaders with unique weapons to fight the aliens.

Opening across the Philippines in August 26, “Pixels” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.


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