Later this year, Dreamworks Animation follows up the incredible How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World with the first female-led animated film to be also written and directed by a female director, Abominable. The film—co-produced by Pearl Studio—is set in a modern Chinese city and centers on the teenage Yi (voiced by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Chloe Bennet) who discovers a runaway Yeti on her roof one night while playing her father’s violin. After taking care of the Yeti’s wounds, she decides to help him find his way back to his home in the Himalayas. The duo are eventually joined by Yi’s childhood friend Jin (voiced by Tenzing Norgay Trainor), who’s worried about his hair, clothes and social media more than anything else and Peng (voiced by Albert Tsai), a youthful, energetic ball of wonder.
After naming the Yeti “Everest”, this quartet embarks on an epic journey visiting a number of the manmade and natural wonders of China. All while while trying to avoid Everest’s capture by the villains Burnish (voiced by Eddie Izzard) and zoologist Dr. Zara (voiced by Sarah Paulson). Will Yi and her crew get Everest home safely or will Burnish and Dr. Zara get their Yeti? And what role will Everest’s magical abilities play along the way? We’ll get our answers to these questions later this year.
On Monday July 15th, Collider (along with a number of other online outlets) had the pleasure of being invited by Dreamworks Animation to visit their offices to chat with some of the creators of Abominable. We talked to writer/director Jill Culton, co-director Todd Wilderman, producer Suzanne Buirgy, production designer Max Boas, head of character animation John Hill, and VFX supervisor Mark Edwards. We were exclusively shown about 20 minutes of footage, production stills and artwork, animated sequences, and heard about the ups and downs that this project went through in order to get made.
It was truly an immersive and incredible experience. For an admitted animation novice like myself, it provided a window into the massive time and effort it takes to actually make an animated film. You could almost say that their journey to getting Abominable made mirrored Yi’s journey to bring Everest back home. We’ll see the fruits of their labors when the film opens worldwide on September 27th. In the meantime, here is a collection of 20 things we learned about the production during our visit in order to get you ready for its release.
- Writer/Director Jill Culton was first pitched the possibility of an animated Yeti movie by Dreamworks over a decade ago. When she agreed to do it, they gave her the unique opportunity to write the script from scratch.
- Culton modeled Yi on herself because she didn’t really identify with the “princesses” from most animated films. She wanted to see a tomboy female lead character who jumps in without looking and doesn’t mind getting a bit dirty.
- Everest was inspired by Culton’s love of the large dogs in her life, including her two 100 pound bloodhounds. The animators made Everest a combo of a gorilla, panda, grizzly bear, cat, puppy, orangutan.
- Speaking of her bloodhounds, their abilities to use their ears and wrinkles to capture scents and be the best trackers influenced Everest’s magical abilities in the movie.
- Culton wanted to have Yi as a teenager processing the death of her father because of her own difficulty processing the divorce of her parents when she was a teenager.
- A number of people on the production team traveled to China multiple times in order to capture the authenticity in the film.
- While most animated sequences run from 45 seconds to 2 minutes on average, Head of Character Animation John Hill informed us that the “There’s a Yeti on My Roof” sequence is 7 minutes long and required two teams to animate it.
- Hill also told us that on most animated films, teams are handed shots that do not occur chronologically in the movie. But on Abominable, the production heads handed out 7-15 shots in a row to the same animators which allowed them to have a little more ownership of a sequence in the film.
- The production team also brought in professional violinist Charlene Huang and recorded her playing the music in the film so they could match her finger, shoulder and body movements for Yi.
- The cloud coy fish sequence was the most challenging sequence in the movie. Making clouds look like they could be tangible enough to ride, but still cloud like provided unique obstacles for the animation team.