ASTRO BOY – Exclusive Interview with Director David Bowers and Producer Maryann Garger

     July 7, 2008

Written by Cal Kemp

The space around Imagi Entertainment’s booth was packed this past weekend at Los Angeles‘ Anime Expo as convention-goers got a look at some of the earliest footage from the upcoming “Astro Boy” feature film. Imagi — the same company behind last year’s “TMNT” — is bringing Osamu Tezuka’s classic character to life in a major way.

Fans will be happy to hear that the look of Astro Boy is a perfect match to the classic appearance of Metro City‘s champion; the orphaned robot, Astro. The footage — which compared shots against previous animated versions of the character — manages to faithfully deliver Tezuka’s world through fresh eyes.

Director David Bowers (who also directed 2006’s “Flushed Away”) reteams with Producer Maryann Garger (who co-produced the same) and seemed pretty pleased with excitement on people’s faces as they saw Astro Boy in action. They spoke briefly with Collider about their work on “Astro Boy” so far.

Collider: Can you tell me a little about the origins of the project?

Maryann: Well, the property started in the early 50’s originally as a manga in Japan and there was a successful TV show in the early 60’s. There was another TV series in the 80’s and 2000 and this is the first time it’s hitting the big screen so we’re very excited.

David: For me, I’ve always loved “Astro Boy” so when I heard that the project was being done and that the project was in development, I sort of tried to find out as much as I could about it. Luckily, I’d worked with Maryann before. It just seemed like the right movie for me at the right time.

Collider: How long ago did you start looking at bringing “Astro Boy” to the big screen?

Maryann: It was in development — David and I had worked together on “Flushed Away”. I was co-producer and he was the director. So when this property sort of started in development, we’ve always been in contact since “Flushed Away”. It was a natural fit to reunite to take “Astro Boy” to the big screen.

David: We’ve been working together for a long time. (Laughs).

Maryann: Maybe fifteen years!

Collider: Both of your backgrounds began with 2-D animation; What was it like making thetransition to CGI?

David: For me, it’s a different set of technical issues. There are things that are easier to do in 2-D and things that are easier to do in 3-D. I find that 3-D’s actually a little more difficult. Just technically, there’s so much more actual work involved for the artists. As a director, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference at all. I’m still looking for a great story. I’m still looking to make the characters rich. I’m still working with actors and working with tremendously talented artists in pretty much the same way. Luckily, the shield me from all the technical gobblety gook. The stuff that would just baffle me, technically. I’m free to work on the story and the action and make sure it’s a good movie. So for me, not much of a transition at all.

Collider: Tell us a little about where the story is coming in. Is this an origin story or is it more a continuation?

David: It is [the origin]. I love classic super-hero origin stories. I love Richard Donner’s Superman. I wanted to produce a film about Astro Boy that would sort of live up to the legend of Astro Boy and do him proud. It didn’t want to make it cheap or pop-culturey. That’s what’s very sort of very popular in modern animation. Really, I just wanted to take it and make a fairly straight film, emotionally. It’s really a very emotional story. The basic story is very, very sad about a boy robot who’s built to replace a scientist’s dead son and then the scientist finds he can’t love him and throws him out. He has to go through all levels of Hell to sort of find his place in the world. That’s such a great story and we worked very, very hard to make sure that it was emotionally and dramatically terrific. In the meantime, we sort of put in all these new characters that Astro meets along his journey. That all sort of adds comedy and fun. It’s a respective film but it’s a modern film.

Collider: You have this huge, A-list cast; How did that come together?

Maryann: We worked very hard to get that cast.

David: We did work very hard! But at the same time, a guy like Nicolas Cage, for example, was perfect for the role of Doctor Tenma, Astro’s father. We approached him and we weren’t sure what kind of reaction we were going to get. But it turns out that he loves Astro Boy and was very, very excited about the project. We spoke to him and showed him the work we’d been doing. He loved it. He was on board straight away. And he’s a great actor. He’s done some amazing stuff for us so far. With Freddie Highmore, I wanted a young actor who can do the emotional side of things but Freddie has a light side to him as well. I think he’s just one of the most talented young actors working today. We were very lucky to get him. The rest of our cast is fantastic, too! Donald Sutherland is a legend. Nathan Lane I’ve seen on-stage in so many productions and loved him and loved his movie works. Eugene Levy; He’s hilarious. We’ve got a great role for him in this movie. He improvised a lot and so much of his stuff is fantastic. We’ve been very, very lucky with our cast.

Collider: Are you already looking at “Astro Boy” as a series of films?

David: I think things are only eyed as franchises when the first one makes a lot of money so we’ll see! (Laughs) Obviously, with Astro Boy the story can go on and on and on. We only really touch on Astro Boy in this movie. I think that at the end of our movie we’ve set everything up. We’re really at a point where we understand Astro Boy and Astro Boy’s world. Everything’s set for the stories that came later.

Collider: The designs look very true to the original manga. Was it hard to convert the 2-D drawings to 3-D animation?

David: No, I always think “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Astro Boy’s an icon. I love the look of him. It really suits my design sensibility to have a character that looks that way. We took a lot more liberties with the other characters like Doctor Tenma. Bringing them into the 3-D world was a little more difficult. I think we’ve found a real nice balance between 3-D CGI and the characters’ 2-D illustrations. We’ve been working closely with the Ozuka estate in Tokyo. If we’re on the wrong track, we get their input and are bumped back. “It might be a little cuter if…”

Collider: How has the fan response been so far?

David: Well, we’re just putting it out there. But they’ve been really enthusiastic. I mean, I love Astro Boy and it’s so great to see so many other people looking forward to seeing it on the big screen.

Collider: Do you know, either of you, what you’ll be working on after “Astro Boy”?

David: I’m going to be working on my tan. (Laughs) I don’t know. I don’t know yet. I’ve got a couple of projects in development.

“Astro Boy” is slated for release in 2009.

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