Celebrating ‘Joe’s Apartment’ and those CG cockroaches

The roaches came to life thanks to Blue Sky Studios.

It’s the 25th anniversary this week of John Payson’s Joe’s Apartment. Easily the most memorable sequence in the film sees a group of singing cockroaches perform ‘Funky Towel’ in Joe’s (Jerry O’Connell) apartment.

Behind those roaches was Blue Sky Studios, which, at that time, had mostly been specializing in CG imagery for commercials. Unfortunately, of course, the studio was shut down in April this year.

Chris Wedge at Blue Sky directed the animation for the cockroaches, which resulted in 13 minutes of footage over 200 shots. Softimage’s motion module was relied upon for animation on SGI machines, with Blue Sky’s proprietary CGIStudio—an early leader in production-ready ray tracing and global illumination—also used. Flocking moments were crafted with Wavefronts’ Dynamation Software.

A few years ago at FMX, I interviewed Chris Wedge on stage about his career, and he shared some thoughts back then on Joe’s Apartment:

“John Payson had said he would be doing the roaches with stop-motion and puppets, and I said, ‘Why don’t you give us a shot at doing some of the character animation?’ and he said, ‘OK give us a test.’ We did a little test and it blew his mind! Unfortunately it stole some work from stop-motion animators in New York at the time, but we ended up doing more than 300 shots. It was nothing but fun.”

It wasn’t much longer until Wedge’s Oscar-winning short, Bunny, was released, and things moved on to Blue Sky Studios doing more VFX work, and then embarking on its animated feature, Ice Age. The rest is history.

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