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Tackling the Big Questions


Tackling the Big Questions

Several of this year’s Oscar contenders discuss their biggest challenges, triumphs, inspirations and the state of animation in a very good year.

Peter Lord – Director, The Pirates! Band of Misfits

On the aspect of the movie he’s proudest of: I’m pleased about the spirit of the film. The attitude and the way the movie approaches life is very joyous. It seems like it has a great energy and sense of fun.

The inspiration: We had a meeting going over new ideas for movies and Gideon Defoe’s book was lying on the table, among other things. It was a short book and was easy to glance through. I read the first six pages and found it to be a work which really wants to entertain you. It grabs you by the lapels and engages your attention, and I wanted to share that with the viewing public.

First time I knew I wanted to work in animation: When I first saw Yogi Bear on TV, I thought it was pretty fantastic. I also loved Ray Harryhausen’s movies like Jason and the Argonauts. I thought what he was doing was pretty miraculous. I felt the same way kids felt about Star Wars 20 years later. I thought that’s how films should always be. I wanted to work in the business when I was 15. I experimented with animation. At first, it was absolutely terrifying to move things around. But once you have that experience of creating life yourself, it’s a very impactful. Once I saw what I could do, I was completely hooked!

Favorite animated character: Yogi Bear. I also love Rocky and Bullwinkle. I think Buzz Lightyear is a brilliant character. Miyazaki’s Totoro is beautiful and very influential as well. I also loved a kids’ show on the BBC called The Clangers. It was primitive animation, but it was quite smart and funny.

Favorite movies of all time: My Neighbor Totoro is right up there, because the world that Miyazaki created is truly magical—although that word is used a lot in animation. I love the fact that there’s gentleness, but it’s also exciting, mysterious and borderline scary and ultimately, it’s life affirming. I’m a sucker for that. Lots of people try to be life affirming and they pour on tons of saccharine but this is the genuine item. It’s deeply felt. Miyazaki gets the magic of childhood in a way that’s both realistic and idealistic. In live action, I saw Back to the Future again the other day and it’s really a fantastic movie. Having come up with such a high concept idea and then handling it with such wit is both complicated and simple. I also love The Shawshank Redemption and The Big Lebowski.

On the state of animation in 2012: It’s been amazing, really, compared to when we got in the feature business in 1996 with Chicken Run. So many studios are capable of producing astonishing animated movies. The fact that we can expect to see three really good animated movies in a year is quite amazing. I will confess that I’m slightly scared that there are so many movies being produced. I hope that we don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg. I do hope that we can make other kinds of animated movies, films that don’t just target the family audience.

Best and worst advice I got: Somebody from Disney—I can’t remember who it was because it was so long ago—told me that you could never make a stop-frame feature film. That was long ago, in the early 1990s—that was the worst advice. I got the best advice from my dad, who sat me down and told me to trust my luck. Keep an open mind and don’t be anxious. Keep your faith and don’t close things down. Something great will come up.

Mark Andrews – Director, Brave

Proudest of: For me, Pixar has been a place of innovation—both in terms of animation technology and the types of stories they tell. As Brave is one of our darker stories, I’m proud of that fact that the studio continues to push the envelope by putting out a movie like this. Judging from the audience response, I think they are ready for more out of animation.

The biggest challenge: The story is always the hardest part. You have to make it compelling and create an intimate experience for the audience. There are lots of plates spinning in Brave and to make everything work out and get into the world of all the characters that is a feat.

How I got into animation: I was hired to work in animation back in 1993. I went to CalArts because it was the only school that I could go to get a degree and draw. Then after graduating, I found myself working in animation.

Favorite animated characters/movies: Most of my faves come out of Japanese anime. I appreciated what Disney was, but I loved Captain Harlock, Rick Hunter from Robotech, G-Force, Gatchaman, Kimba the White Lion; Porco Rosso is my favorite Miyazaki character. Of course, I also loved Jonny Quest and most of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the ’70s Saturday morning lineup. Akira and John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King are two favorite movies.

On the state of animation today: I think animation is ready for a push. The boundaries between live action, CG special effects and animated films are vanishing. Animation needs to broaden its just-for-kids mentality. We need to focus on different types of stories that we can be telling. It’s a huge market and that blurred line is soon going to be erased entirely.

Best advice: It came from Jeff Lynch, head of story on Iron Giant. He told me that without integrity you don’t have anything. You need to approach your work with a sense of integrity, because they can’t argue with that. They can’t take that from you, no matter what situation you’re in.

Katherine Sarafian – Producer, Brave

Proudest of: Our filmmakers and crew and the fact that we didn’t shy away from the intensity and the scary parts of the movie. We didn’t back down from that level of passion. The films that influenced us were pretty scary, and we were influenced by them. We are here to inspire audiences and to offer life lessons.

The biggest challenge: In animation, you’re really making a movie in slow motion. It’s a long, painstaking process, and no matter how dedicated the team is, it’s important to keep everyone excited day after day. Keeping everyone energized is a good challenge to have.

How I got into animation: I was a graduate student in critical studies at UCLA Film School. One day we had a speaker from Pixar who showed us short films like Luxo Jr. and Tin Toy and talked about the craft. Luxo totally rocked my world. Since I was interested in both technology and art, it was a perfect mash-up for me, so I sent them my resume!

Favorite characters/movies: I loved all the Disney villains—especially Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. She scared the bejeezus out of me, but everything about her—the way she moved, the flames of her cloak…those were what nightmares and dreams are made of and that’s what stays with you all your life. Better Off Dead is one of my favorite live-action movies—a teenage angst movie that was funny and had heart.

On the state of animation today: We are at a turning point and we’re about to get over the hump. In the U.S., we mostly use animation in family films. It’s important for the public to realize that animation is a medium, not a genre. You can do anything you want to do in animation. We need to bring more diversity to the type of stories that we can tell through animation.

Best advice: It was Steve Jobs…I remember I was wobbling about how to approach a situation. He said, just tell the story the way it happened because the truth is easier to remember. It was the best approach. John Lasseter always says, make it insanely great. He taught me on Toy Story 2 not to focus on doing a lot of things, but try and do one thing well. That applies to Pixar’s method of making one movie a year, but make it the best thing you can make. We put six years into making Brave, but we tried to make it as best as we could.

Worst advice: On the job that I had before Pixar, I had to go through every shot in the movie and write down all the details about each shot. A woman I was working with told me, “You know, you are really underemployed. Nobody is going to look at what you’re writing.” That really hurt my feelings because I’d spent two weeks on the data. But she was wrong, because when you’re in a production, you do whatever it takes. When I became a producer, I knew that we needed to explore every aspect of the research. Everyone at Pixar feels an ownership of the movie. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to be doing what we’re doing at the studio.

Tim Burton – Director, Frankenweenie

Inspirations: If you’re lucky enough to have a pet that you love, it connects right to your heart. I was lucky enough to have a special pet that I had that kind of relationship with. The movie gets to explore kids’ politics and the way kids are with each other, and weird teachers and things. The kids in the movie were also inspired by the ones I went to school with.

Proudest of: We wanted to show the stop-motion in the movie. When we did Corpse Bride, the puppets were so good that a lot of people thought it was computer animation. So we just went back and did a little bit low-tech, so that you really feel the stop-motion animation. When you see the details and everything, it’s really beautiful. It’s its own art form.

On the magic of stop-motion: As much as you can do anything with technology today, there is just something about going back to the simplicity of stop-motion and the excitement of seeing someone move it, and then you see it come to life. It’s just very magical.

On the Academy Awards: I grew up on movies like Dr. Phibes that were not Academy Award-contending movies. It’s not something that I’ve got to win. It’s like getting into film—I didn’t say early on, “I’m going to become a filmmaker,” “I’m going to show my work at MoMA.” When you start to think those things, you’re in trouble. Surprises are good. They become rarer and rarer as you go on. But anything like that is special. I’m not Woody Allen yet. [The last quote an excerpt from a recent article in The New York Times.]

Genndy Tartakovsky – Director, Hotel Transylvania

On the process: My goal was to make sure the movie had a broad, comedic tone—alone the lines of the sensibilities of the classic animation masters like Bob Clampett, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. I really wanted to prove to the world and to myself that we can both be funny and physical in a CG-animated movie. You can call it the cross-breeding of two worlds. My visual language is very old school—’50s and ’70s-era animation. That cinematic language translated very nicely to the 3D world.

On his fondness for 2D: I love drawing, and I’ll always love watching real drawings on the screen. But I’m definitely liking mixing things up and enjoying it more than I thought I would.

On the state of the toon business: I am very critical when I look at the animated movie scene. I feel that CG has homogenized everything. All the movies are in danger of looking the same way, and it’s hard to tell who did what. What’s missing in animated movies is a singular voice. Of course, that’s also missing in the live-action world. You want to see that purity of vision, so that you can say, “Oh, that’s a Hitchcock movie.” In animation, people like Brad Bird or Pete Docter are the exceptions. That rarely happens in animation. I want to make a movie that people can say, “Oh, that’s a Genndy movie.”

Good advice: “There are several important lessons to learn in this business, one is to approach situations with a good sense of humor. Be absolutely confident in your vision and point of view. They hire you because of your point of view…Keep drawing and don’t give up.”

Mireille Soria – Producer, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

Proudest of: I’m happy we made a movie that people say makes them laugh and feel good. We could all use a good laugh.

Inspiration: Friendship, laughter and a travel bug.

State of the animation business: Better than the live-action business.

Best and worst advice: Be yourself … and be yourself.

Chris Renaud – Director, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

Favorite moments: My favorite moment of The Lorax is the song sung by the Once-ler called “How Bad Can I Be.” It had a graphic flair that was reminiscent of, and heavily inspired by, the illustrations of Dr. Seuss. It also captured the tone of the movie and clearly illustrated why music was an important storytelling element for us. The Lorax is essentially a very somber tale, but music with an ironic, comedic twist allows you to deliver a serious message in an entertaining package.

Career beginnings: I originally wanted to work in comic books for Marvel and DC. While I always enjoyed animated films and television, it wasn’t until I began work on a show called The Book of Pooh that I was hooked. It was a real-time virtual set (sort of like a game engine) with live-action puppet characters. It wasn’t true animation, but you could sense the storytelling possibilities that were emerging from digital technology.

Favorite animated characters/movies: I have always loved the Warner Bros. classic cartoons starring Bugs Bunny et al. However, my favorite character of the group must be Daffy Duck. His ability to balance indignation, hurt feelings and putting his beak back on after an explosion is still unparalleled. For favorite movie, I realize that this is a completely boring and overused answer in some ways, but I would have to say the original Star Wars. It had such a profound impact on my little 10-year-old brain that continues to this day. For that reason, it’s hard for me to give that title to any other film I’ve ever seen. And, I still collect Star Wars action figures, so that must mean something…

On the state of the toon business: The market is getting more sophisticated, but certain films still tend to work better than others with a broad audience. As we get more films made, there may be more animated movies that struggle at the box office. It used to be that if you made an animated film, you would automatically have some sort of financial success. I don’t think that’s true anymore. Audiences now have so many choices, in and out of the theater, that everyone has to fight for their attention.

Best advice: I have been fortunate enough to have received great advice from many people along the way in both my career and in life. Relating to the animation industry specifically, Carlos Saldanha (director of the Ice Age films and Rio) once told me that animation could improve a scene by 50% but not 100%. Basically, he was referring to the importance of the story reel. If the movie is working as a bunch of drawings, you’re probably on the right track.

Chris Meledandri – Producer, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

Proudest of: There was a significant challenge in taking a story with such important and relevant thematic elements and executing what Theodor Geisel did so well, which was presenting the story in a way that is highly engaging, dazzling in its imagination, and which leaves one feeling inspired by the content. With Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, I’m proud of how we tackled such a demanding challenge. We brought back the Despicable Me team, comprised of Chris Renaud and his crew of designers, art directors and animators, and collectively they’ve crafted a film that is visually spectacular in scope, movement, color and texture. In terms of story, we adapted a short book into a feature length film with a strategic focus on memorable characters, which allows the comedy and emotion to stem from the personality of these characters.

Inspiration: Like so many others, I was raised on the works of Dr. Seuss, and when I became a parent myself, I revisited them with my own children. This multi-generational experience of interacting with this singular storyteller has had a profound impact on my interest in his work and his legacy. I had been fortunate enough to work on Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who! and formed a deep bond with Audrey Geisel, Ted Geisel’s widow. After Horton, we had always talked about doing another film. Audrey actually came to me, and asked if I would consider making a film of The Lorax, and her interest in it certainly ignited my own. In re-reading Geisel’s book, it was obvious to me that the material was even more relevant today.

Career beginnings: It’s ironic that I ended up making animated films, mainly because growing up, animated and family films were not the ones my own parents chose to watch. They would much rather have me sit down to watch Touch of Evil as opposed to Bambi. But this early exposure to a broad range of storytelling and genres had great impact on my appreciation and understanding of story, character and comedy. I began my career in live action, but have since found that I enjoy the creative opportunity that exists quite specifically in animation between words and visuals. I find that the artists’ involvement in the creation of the story is quite dynamic. As a producer, and one who so greatly enjoys being deeply involved in all aspect of the process, animation allows me a level of engagement that I find truly satisfying and invigorating.
Favorite animated character/movies: Gru from Despicable Me. Animated movie: Spirited Away; live Action: Moonrise Kingdom.

On the state of the toon business: On the business side, the animation industry is following the path of many other industries—advances in technology are making global access to new opportunities (both for artists and production facilities) not only feasible, but also highly desirable. But, animation is at root still a storytelling industry with a specific visual edge—therefore the storytelling and visual components and the time, care and effort necessary to execute these elements to the highest standards will continue to remain the same. If anything, a growing demand for cleverer, wittier and frame-breaking content that still has heart and real imagination will only increase with audience demand. Therefore the challenge will continue to be one of finding excellent stories and pairing them with the right talent to imagine and execute that creative vision.

Best advice I got: While working on the film Anastasia, the ending just was not coming together as I wanted. There wasn’t enough heart; it was lacking an emotional pull and just didn’t resonate the way I had hoped. So I asked Oscar-winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent (the Spider-Man series, Ordinary People, Julia, Paper Moon) to take a look at the last scene of the film. And his conclusion was that nothing could be done because one cannot manufacture heart in only one scene; rather it needs to be built throughout from beginning to end. That piece of wisdom has been an enormous influence on how I approach character and story.

Allison Abbate – Producer, Frankenweenie

Proudest of: This is a hard question to answer because I am so proud of everything and everyone on this film. I cry more during the credits then during the film because I can see how much heart and soul everyone put into every frame of the film. But one of the things that really stands out to me is the quality of the animation and the contribution of the animation director Trey Thomas. He worked so well and so closely with Tim [Burton, director] and really understood the nuances that Tim was looking for and I think it shows through in the animation. Most of our team of animators were not the most experienced and Trey gave each of them exactly what they needed to do their best work. He pushed them to be more confident, held their hands when they were overwhelmed and gave them all the guidance they needed to make sure that every frame of Tim’s vision made it to the screen.

Knew I wanted to work in animation when: I started in animation by accident, really. I had just moved to L.A. and I got a temp job helping out on Little Mermaid at Disney. They were crewing up for their next project, the Rescuers Down Under, and asked me to help, so I did. It was a really exciting time to be in animation because it was right when the appetite for animation really got big. There were so few of us in production at that time so you were really able to get an understanding of every aspect of the film. After that I went up to San Francisco to work with Henry Selick on Nightmare Before Christmas and I really caught the stop-motion bug. Ever since then, there’s been no looking back.

Favorite animated character/movies: I love so many characters but my favorite has to be Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. From the first day I started and found them storing her sculpt in my office for safekeeping, I knew she and I would get along. She is the heart and soul of that film, and Catherine O’Hara’s sweet voice singing her song is one of my favorite animated movie moments.

Movies:My list goes from Citizen Kane to City Slickers so I can’t definitively distill it down to one but here is at least one that stands out: When I was a child my parents loved old movies and sometimes my siblings and I would be woken at midnight to come down and share an old “Fred and Ginger” classic. My dad would tape them on a cassette player so we knew if we were quiet and didn’t ruin the recording we could dance and sing to them ourselves the next day. Those nights were so exciting and magical so I’m going to say for the sake of this questionnaire, Top Hat is one of my favorites.

On the animation scene in 2012: I think the animation business has never been more interesting or varied. I am so happy that there is an appetite for all sorts of animated films. Twenty years ago, if you weren’t associated with a big studio it was hard to get an audience for your film. And if you were associated with a big studio, you were forced to make big blockbusters and be a slave to the distribution machine. I’ve done my last three movies with big studios but was able to create beautiful and artful auteur pieces that were totally driven by the creative direction. By keeping the budgets low, you have much more creative autonomy and the pressure for huge box office numbers doesn’t drive the filmmaking process. There is definitely a market for all sorts of interesting and different films and I think the future of animation seems very bright.

Best advice: When I became an APM on Rescuers Down Under, the amazing producer Kathleen Gavin once had to admonish me for not letting anything go and for not trusting in the PAs that were working in my department. She told me to remember that “sometimes, if you’re doing it, then you are doing it wrong.” She showed me that if you surround yourself with great people and trust them to do what they are great at, you will all be more productive, creative and happy. It is still hard letting go, but I often think of her wise words and in almost every instance, I have been rewarded ten-fold.

Sam Fell – Director, ParaNorman

Proudest of: Happy that our movie looks so fantastic—we pushed the craft. I’m proud that creatively and thematically we had conviction.

Inspirations: I was inspired by many amazing directors; John Carpenter, John Hughes, Steven Spielberg, Mario Bava, Sam Raimi, George A. Romero and David Gordon Green.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: In the ’80s, I discovered Jan Svankmajer. Inspired by him, I got a film camera and made my own animated surrealist short film in my basement. As soon as I got the film back from the lab, I was smitten!

Favorites: Animated character is Buzz Lightyear; favorite movie is
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

On the state of the toon business in 2012: Nothing really changes—funny is money!

Best and worst advice ever received: Best: Don’t panic. Worst: Good things come to those who wait.

Chris Butler – Writer and director, ParaNorman

Proudest of the fact that: This may seem like a cheat answer, because it’s not very specific, but bear with me and I’ll explain. I’m proud that the movie got made, looking the way it did, told the way it’s told and being exactly what I intended it to be. See it from my point of view… I had an idea for a movie, which was a little “out there” and probably way too irreverent for most animation studios, and I wrote it, and not only did a studio want to make it, but they allowed me to be the only writer, and they also asked me to direct it, and I did, and it turned out great. How many people can say they’ve had that experience? It’s literally a dream come true. So I’m proud of the whole thing, and one of my happiest moments must have been sitting in Travis’ [Knight, CEO of LAIKA] office when he gave me the green light.

Inspiration: Two things, really: The movie was partly inspired by me being a kid (who didn’t really fit in, and hated school, and had a stupid haircut), and also all the movies I watched during that time. Movies that I enjoyed over and over again and secretly aspired to make one day. Movies like The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Poltergeist, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, other movies with the word “dead” in the title. There’s a whole heap of personal nostalgia in this project.

Wanted to work in animation: As early as I can remember. I believe I was about six or seven when I first had the idea of drawing storyboards for a living.

Favorite animated characters: That’s difficult. Madame Medusa (The Rescuers), or Stromboli (Pinocchio), or Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty). Or maybe the saber toothed tiger in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

Favorite movie of all time: Again very difficult, but if I think of a movie that makes me nearly wet myself with glee every time I watch it, it’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.

State of the animation business in 2012: It actually seems pretty healthy from a feature point of view. I love that more movies are happening now; when I first started in the industry the landscape was decidedly bare. And it’s great that there are a lot of projects that are tonally very different. I really hope that continues. There’s no reason we should all be making the same kind of movie. When the Western world fully acknowledges that animation is not a genre, I’ll be happy.

Best and worst advice ever received: Best advice was, “Be different.” Worst advice was, “Directing animation isn’t about building friendships.”

Jean-François Laguionie – Director and co-writer, The Painting (Le Tableau)

Proudest of: Since I am unable to choose a section of the film that I prefer (screenplay, set design, animation, directing, editing, musical direction, etc.), I believe that I’ve succeeded with my film. It’s the first time that this has happened to me…! It’s also the reason why I have a particular fondness for the artists and technicians that made this film with me.

The inspiration: The script is from an original story by Anik Le Ray, and it was love at first sight. Talking about painting and creating a metaphor about the theme of difference and of creation is a respectable and ambitious idea. I have done everything to respect it.

My first time: I made my first film when I was 23 years old as an attempt at something new. I intended to work in set design for theater but to me, animation seemed one of the richest forms of artistic expression that existed. I have not let go of the camera since.

Favorite animated character: Betty Boop, the first sexy character.

Favorite movie: Le Petit Soldat (The Little Soldier) by Paul Grimault. This film made me discover that animation can be pure poetry and address people of all ages.

On the animation business in 2012: Animation is, first and foremost, an art. It can also be a business because it takes a long time to make and it can be expensive. But animation always has to have a poetic or philosophical ambition. We see today that the general public is not only responsive to adventure films, but that they know how to appreciate the quality of an emotion or a generous idea. Some recent films, from all countries and not only for children, have shown us this.

Best and worst advice received: The worst advice that I was given was to surrender myself completely to digital. I did not follow this advice… The best advice that I received was to look at others at length…before drawing.

Joann Sfar – Director, Producer, Writer, The Rabbi’s Cat

Proudest of: I’m very happy to be able to talk about religion in an ironic way, but without offending those who are believers. I am delighted to be able to talk about my memories of a world where Jews and Muslims live side by side without being unrealistically optimistic. It seems to me that stories like The Rabbi’s Cat can help start a discussion. There is a Utopian aspect to my story and my greatest happiness comes from meeting children, Jewish or Muslim, who talk to me about “the cat.”

Inspirations: My father’s side of the family are Arabic-speaking Algerian Jews, whose interactions are an inexhaustible source of drama, humor and reflection. The cat is my actual cat—he is on my desk at the moment as I speak to you. The Rabbi’s daughter resembles my grandmother, Esther Malka. Malka of the Lions is one my great uncles who was a lion tamer in the Atlas Mountains.

Career beginnings: I’m a comic-book artist. Animation was a great discovery. I took the path of animation, above all, to share my message with a wider audience. I wanted to give “the cat” an opportunity to go and talk to families. Cinema was the best medium for this story, which is about tolerance.

Favorite animated characters/movies: I like Betty Boop and all the characters from Fleischer Studios—Popeye as well. My favorite animated films are Robin Hood and 101 Dalmatians from Disney. I am a huge fan of that classical period from Disney when they did their drawings in pencil. I love Ken Anderson’s watercolors and Mary Blair’s gouaches.

On the state of animation business: It’s… interesting. The Lorax and Despicable Me proved that we can make animation here in France with the American standard. Films like ParaNorman or the works of Aardman Animations show the curiosity of the public for different techniques beyond CGI. And… can I be honest? The two best studios in the world, DreamWorks and Pixar, are in a transition period where they are obliged to invent new things so they don’t repeat the same film all the time. More than ever, even in its business aspects, animation needs inventiveness and artists. I’m very curious to find out what will happen in the coming years.

Best and worst advice given: The worst advice: “This has nothing to do with comics.” In fact, it has everything to do with comics. The best advice: “An animated film develops exactly the same way as a live-action film.” An animated film does develop exactly the same way as a live-action film!

John Kahrs – Director, Paperman

Proudest of: I’m most excited about how the final product exceeds my expectations in every way, and this is not because of me, but because of the incredible team I had helping me.

Inspiration: The brief, chance connections with strangers I would make during my commute to work in New York City when I was just starting my career.

Early beginnings: At age 10, when my mom scolded me for making too many flipbooks down the sides of her paperback novels.

Favorite animated character: That’s tough…A toss-up between B’rer Fox from Song of the South and the robot from Ghibli’s Laputa, for the purity of how they move and act.

Favorite movie: I’m going to approach this from a “lost on a desert island” perspective: It’s a Wonderful Life.

On the state of animation: There’s a lot of work out there, an explosion of CG films. We’re now at perhaps a over a dozen CG features, annually. But 20 years from now, what films will be truly great? I hope there are a few that stand tall amongst films such as Totoro and The Man Who Planted Trees.

Best and worst advice heard: Best? Brad bird: “Take the time to explain yourself properly, to make sure it’s right, even if they’re pressuring you to make a decision. If comes back wrong, that’s on YOU, man!” Worst? Me: Every time I say to myself, “I’ll do it later.”

Rich Moore – Director, Wreck-It Ralph

Inspirations: I’d been working in television for a long time. After you’ve directed a hugely popular network show like The Simpsons, you wonder where you are going to end up after that. I had felt the way Ralph does, because he begins to think, “Am I going to wreck a building for the rest of my life?” And I felt like, wow, maybe this is what my life is all about. I just work in TV animation and go from one project to another. Maybe that’s all there is? So there’s definitely a real-life aspect to this story. It explores the possibility that you can move from one environment to another and find yourself in a larger, different world.

Challenges: One of the biggest challenges for us was that each world had to feel authentic and match the gaming universe they represented. The movie also had to feel homogeneous as a whole. We had to remind the team that these 8-bit characters move and act differently from the characters in the first-person shooter world. Part of our job was to celebrate the differences between the three main gaming worlds the story unfolds against.

Sticking with the Story: We had to put aside the fact that our story was set in the world of videogames and really concentrate on the story. We didn’t want to give in to the temptation of just taking the easy route and just playing with the gaming aspects of the projects. The heavy lifting part of the job was to craft a story worth telling with characters that we really cared about. The world is quite rich and will provide this great texture, but our job was to create something that would resonate even if you weren’t familiar with these games. After we did that, the whole thing started to synthesize naturally, without us trying to shoehorn a story in this specific universe.

The Disney tradition: Our feature was CG, but it really felt like that classic Glen Keane era of 2D animation. I inherited what was already established at the studio. The relationship he forged with the 3D animators and the insights he instilled was vital. He would sit at a Cintiq as shots played and would do 2D drawings over the animation. It was an easier fit than you might think…we all speak the same language.

Features vs. series: TV shows and movies are more similar than you would think. I applied the same principles on The Simpsons and Futurama and Wreck-It Ralph. I think the mechanics are the same, but in movies, you are looking at a profound shift in the point of view of the characters. There was a real emphasis in establishing that character arc for Ralph, although he’s going through a series of episodic events. I think the audience will expect comedy and action. They’ll expect state-of-the-art animation and spectacle. But I think they’ll be surprised by how much heart the movie has and how much they’re going to love these characters!


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