The DreamWorks Animation panel at Comic-Con 2012 featured chief creative officer Bill Damashke, James Baxter (supervising animator on The Croods), Tom McGrath (director of the Madagascar series), and Patrick Hanenberger (production designer on Rise of the Guardians). The panel started with a clip reel of highlights from the DreamWorks filmography, from Shrek to Kung Fu Panda to How to Train Your Dragon. Given the panel members, the reel and the discussion shifted mainly to Madagascar 3 (currently in theaters), Rise of the Guardians (in theaters November 21), and The Croods (coming March 2013). The Rise of the Guardians section was nothing you haven’t already seen in this trailer, but the Croods footage was brand new, and it looks very interesting. Hit the jump for more.
Damaschke says The Croods came about when they realized that DreamWorks had “never told a story about a family unit.” So they decided to make a story about “the very first family—a caveman family.” In part a commentary on how easy it is to feel outdated in a constantly evolving technological world, The Croods explores how hard it would be for the caveman father to protect his family in a new world that is changing all around him.
The rapid change is seen in the footage. The family lives in a rock mountain and follows the motto, “Never leave the cave.” As the young girl Eep is climbing one day, you see the rock—their home—shatter and crumble away. The new outside world that this reveals to the family is bright and colorful. And crazy. It was quick cuts, so I can’t fully describe what we saw. But it was a lush prehistoric land with fireworks, dinosaurs, and really unusual creatures.
Damaschke says the movie takes place in the “Croodaceous Period,” which at DreamWorks, serves as “evolution’s puberty.” That explains the creatures; Damaschke promised, “You’ll see interesting mashups of different animals in the film.” The caveman characters, too, were combined with other animals, albeit more indirectly in the animation process. The animators wanted the family to be very animalistic, to be able to drop down on all fours and move about as well horizontally as they do vertically. Eep is very catlike. Grug, the father, is more of a gorilla. The younger daughter is treated like a feral dog. The only human character who has no animal connection is Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a man the family meets on their journey. Baxter says, “He is a different kind of person because he has ideas.”
The voice cast is great: Emma Stone as Eep, Nicolas Cage as Grug, Ryan Reynolds as Guy, Catherine Keener as Ugga. In some cases , their voice acting process contributed to the animation. Baxter was particularly impressed with Stone: “Emma is so animated when she performs her lines in front of a microphone… we wanted to try to incorporate that.”
The whole package looks and sounds very appealing. I am excited to see more of The Croods.
Rise of the Guardians has a great premise for an animated movie. Mythical figures Jack Frost (Chris Pine), Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Easter bunny (Hugh Jackman), the tooth fairy (Isla Fisher), and the sandman team up to fight the boogieman Pitch (Jude Law). According to Damaschke, that was inspired by the daughter of William Joyce, the man who wrote the book that served as the source material. Joyce loves the holidays. (Damaschke quipped that he even throws Arbor Day parties.) IN such an environment, Joyce’s daughter asked if the Easter bunny knows Santa Claus. Joyce responded, “Not only do they know each other, they work together” and effectively launched the book and subsequent movie.
Hanenberger says they started with a “completely fantastical” version of the movie that was pretty, but inaccessible. They then took a photorealistic approach that stripped the movie of too much of the warmth and magic. The filmmakers ended up in the middle, with fantastical characters that they strived to ground in the real world. To do so, they looked at real locations around the world. For instance, the citizens of the North Pole have a Russian look. The tooth fairy looks more southeast Asian.
Hanenberger also claimed, “We wanted to treat them as badass warriors.” These should be creatures who protect the world, so rather than a red-cheeked Santa who looks “a little drunk,” Santa is a musclebound leader who can handle the considerable power of the reindeer sleigh. The tooth fairy is no delicate creature, but a powerful queen.
I wish we had seen more footage, but the premise is enough to keep me involved.
Damaschke says DreamWorks has 10 movies in production and 8 or 9 more in pre-production/development.
The panel reflected on the early days of computer animation, when the limitations of the format restricted the content. As a result, you had multiple movies about bugs, because that is something both DreamWorks and Pixar knew they could animate. But as the technology has evolved, they no longer have to ask what they can physically animate before they craft the story.
To present a quote out of context: McGrath remarked on an instance where a particular scene in Madagascar 3 inspired DreamWorks to explore new animation techniques. The intent of the scene in question was to do something psychedelic “so kids could experience drugs without really taking them.”
A fan asked about the tease after the credits Kung Fu Panda 2, if that might lead to a sequel. Damaschke paused, mulling over how best to answer before responding, “Yes, there will be a Kung Fu Panda 3.” When another fan asked about a Madagascar 4, McGrath revealed that there would be a Penguins of Madagascar movie in 2015.
To catch up on all of our Comic-Con 2012 coverage, click here.