To find a replacement part, Ralph and Vanellope venture online in “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” | Disney

Animator from Inverness puts ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ heroes into motion

SHARE Animator from Inverness puts ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ heroes into motion
SHARE Animator from Inverness puts ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ heroes into motion

When Inverness native Nathan Engelhardt was 10, he broke his father’s video camera attempting to film a rudimentary stop-motion animation clip. Engelhardt achieved eight frames a second alternating between the record and stop buttons—the root of the camera malfunction—and later watched with marvel as a character he had made out of clay waved to him.

“I remember dying so hard, just laughing uncontrollably,” he says. “I was so tickled by the fact that this thing was alive. I wasn’t laughing at something I did, I was laughing at what it was doing.

“For the first time, I felt the magic of a character coming to life, and I was hooked.”

Engelhardt has ventured out of that basement and into Walt Disney Animation Studios, where he’s worked as an animator on “Big Hero 6,” “Zootopia,” “Moana” and “Wreck-It Ralph.” His latest is “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” the “Wreck-It” sequel that just had one of the biggest Thanksgiving weekend openings in history.

His father later replaced the family camcorder, and both parents began nurturing Engelhardt’s newfound talents and interests. They enrolled him in art classes at the Kaleidoscope School of Fine Art, located in Barrington. “I was exposed to every form of art,” he says, “and [my experience] set me on my trajectory.”

Animator Nathan Engelhardt worked on “Big Hero 6,” “Wreck-It Ralph” and now its sequel, “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” | Provided photo

Animator Nathan Engelhardt worked on “Big Hero 6,” “Wreck-It Ralph” and now its sequel, “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” | Provided photo

He continued on to Fremd High School in Palatine and later enrolled in the Savannah College of Art and Design. He attended for four and a half years, tacking on a Super Senior semester to work on his thesis project: a short film about grocery store items that come to life.

He never finished that thesis, but maintained a fondness for the anthropomorphic. “I love bringing life to inanimate objects. You hear stories about [Michelangelo’s sculpture] David — about how he starts getting angry. Sculptures speak but they don’t; you’re so convinced by its life.”

The “Ralph” movie take place in the digital sphere. In the original, the villain (voice of John C. Reilly) of a Donkey Kong-type arcade game undergoes an existential crisis: He’s tired of looming atop an apartment building and destroying it piece-by-piece; just once, he would like to be viewed as a hero. The opportunity arises when he meets Princess Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a driver in a Candy Land-coated racing game, who enlists Ralph’s help in beefing up her motor skills. The film contains numerous cameos by video game figures, such as challengers from Street Fighter II and the one and only Qbert.

RELATED: • Richard Roeper reviews ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’

In the new film, Ralph once again tries to save Vanellope after the analog steering wheel on her arcade game breaks. The pair venture onto the internet to procure the last copy. In addition to video game characters, this film personifies internet staples. The search engine manifests itself as a verbose scholar, while a pop-up ad is represented by a slimy green man. Locations too. The pair arrive at eBay, which has taken the form of a traditional auction house.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” marks a new place in Engelhardt’s career. “I’ve never had the opportunity to come back to characters I previously animated,” he says. “When you’re done with a film, you feel like you just got to know a friend and then you have to stop. [In the new film], it feels like reconnecting with old friends.”

Engelhardt draws on his relationship to these characters for his specific contributions to the movie. He animated some key scenes between Ralph and Vanellope that establish the emotional arc of the film, including one where Vanellope undergoes her own existential crisis as Ralph cobbles together a pillow fort. He says that because of his experience on “Wreck-It,” he felt more qualified to manipulate the characters’ physicality and facial expressions to best serve this touching moment.

“Basically, animation is [a series of] zeroes and ones that make people cry,” he says.

Though he currently resides in Los Angeles, Engelhardt frequently returns home to visit family. His wife maintains roots to the Chicago area as well. She grew up in Barrington, and at one point held a sewing studio in Lincoln Park. The two wed in Bridgeport, and Engelhardt recalls marveling at the city skyline that day. “I see beautiful forms flow, even in a building,” he says. “I see the angle and the plane changes, which is something we think about in animation, too. Straights against curves is literally one of the principles of animation.”

Next up for Engelhardt is “Frozen 2,” out next November. For this project, he is required to upgrade from his childhood rate of eight frames a second to 900.

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