‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’: Why Making Baby Groot Dance Was a Major VFX Challenge

Animating Baby Groot for his introduction to ELO was a lot harder than it looks.
'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2': How VFX Made Baby Groot Dance
"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"

Baby Groot and “Mr. Blue Sky” were a perfect match for introducing the rebooted tyke in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”  And it required a combination of deft choreography by director James Gunn and creative animation by Framestore. While Baby Groot sways to the joyous ELO song on his own dance floor, he’s oblivious to the Guardians battling the octopus-like Abilisk creature in the background.

But the sequence isn’t merely a throwaway — it shares the same pop cultural connection as the first movie. By discovering “Mr. Blue Sky” (part of Peter Quill’s “Awesome Mix Vol. 2”), a passion for music and dancing gets passed from one generation to the next. Quill (Chris Pratt) even assumes the role of father figure to Baby Groot by the end of “Vol. 2.”

How they defined Baby Groot.

While MPC took the lead in animating Groot and shared it with Framestore on the first “Guardians,” Framestore was tasked with redefining Baby Groot (also voiced by Vin Diesel). This time, though, the bark couldn’t look too aged, the face had to be simpler, and he was only 10cm tall.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

“We were able to craft the character on two things: how he behaved in the first film and then defining the limits of his motion,” said Arslan Elver, Framestore’s animation supervisor. “He’s quite small so he can only point, and, facially. you’re limited with two huge eyes and a tiny saw mouth.”

Additionally, Baby Groot’s little green leaf on the top of his head was done by animators to keep better control. “It almost acts like a hair moving every now and then,” said Elver.

However, in terms of personality, Gunn didn’t want Baby Groot to be too human, too cute, or too cartoony. That meant pulling back on the smile so he didn’t look goofy or not stretching his ass too much to make him unappealing.

“James wanted him to look a little more alien,” said Elver. “That meant more fluid, less complicated arm movements.”

How Baby Groot got his groove on.

Gunn provided dance reference for Baby Groot and then worked closely with Framestore to refine it.  The director wanted less arm movement and more hip action from the tyke. “But the camera was faster than Baby Groot’s steps and we had to work on that,” Elver said.

There was also a lot of distance to cover while integrating the battle without cutting. Thus, they conceived a series of hops and cheats. It was a long process of tweaking the camera, lighting, animation, and comic beats.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

Most important, Baby Groot never left the musical moment and the camera and lighting followed his innocent POV. However, while shooting the opening credits with freeze frames, Gunn decided to apply the same technique to the dance sequence, as a helpful bridge.

“Originally, Baby Groot kept dancing, but James wanted to make it more dynamic, so he came up with the idea of using a metric camera to freeze the shot and distort the environment,” Elver said. Then Gunn upped the wow factor with a series of explosions.

Another inspiration came when Dave Bautista’s Drax interrupts the musical flow by falling into one of the speakers. This angers the tyke. “Baby Groot first hit him with his fists and then James thought it would be better with a piece of the speaker. From then on, Baby Groot dislikes Drax,” Elver said.

That is, until The Guardians become a closer-knit family at the end of “Vol. 2.”

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