The hugely successful Ice Age franchise, which kicked off in 2002, has charmed audiences with its sense of adventure, humor and heart, always takings its characters on a wild new journey. In Ice Age: Collision Course, Scrat accidentally sets off a series of cosmic events that threaten the world that fans have come to know and love. And to save themselves, Sid (voiced by John Leguizamo), Manny (voiced by Ray Romano) and Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifah), Diego (voiced by Denis Leary) and Shira (voiced by Jennifer Lopez), and the rest of the animals, must leave their home and embark on a quest to save their world.
During a conference at the film’s press day, actor Max Greenfield (who voices the dino-bird, Roger) and franchise producer Lori Forte talked about joining the franchise, exactly what a dino-bird is, how this story evolved, why the actors record their voice performances alone, getting Neil deGrasse Tyson involved, and that there’s still more stories to tell in this world.
MAX GREENFIELD: I was so flattered and excited when I was asked to be a part of it. It was the biggest no-brainer yes. It was one of the jobs, outside of New Girl, that I’ve been most excited to do. I have a 6-year-old daughter, and I was like, “Oh, my god, I’m actually in something that we can experience together.
Who is Roger and what is a dino-bird?
GREENFIELD: I remember when I walked in, I felt very smart for half a second. I had taken my daughter to the Natural History Museum – and we go quite a bit – and we had gotten a book with all of the names of the different dinosaurs. I guess one of the first birds was something called an Archaeopteryx, and I thought I was pretty fancy because I knew that. So, when I walked in and sat down with Lori [Forte] and everybody, I was like, “Are the dino-birds Archaeopteryxs?,” and they were like, “No, actually not.” But they were similar, to a degree. I think they fit in somewhere, in that world.
LORI FORTE: We’ve had an Archaeopteryx in there. Because we were going back into the Lost World to see Buck again, we wanted to come back to the dinosaurs, but we wanted to come back with something fresh and new. So, we decided to do a cross between a dinosaur and a bird. It is true that birds evolved from dinosaurs, so we made a little hybrid for ourselves. Peter de Sève, who’s our brilliant character designer that’s designed all the characters in all the Ice Age movies, designed these dino-birds. He designed Roger, the father, Gavin, and the sister, Gertie. Somewhere about a year or two into the production of the movie, he sent me an article that said that they had just found fossils of this bird and they did a diagram of it, and it really, really looked like Roger.
Max, since New Girl, you’ve done a wide variety of different types of roles. Is that something you’ve really worked for?
GREENFIELD: I think I’ve been really lucky. This came to me and it was such a no-brainer. I’m just lucky that I’ve been in a situation to do so many different things and work with some really unbelievable people. And I certainly like the challenge, outside of New Girl. It would feel so odd to do something so similar to New Girl, outside of New Girl, because we do it eight months out of the year. I think you want to challenge yourself.
FORTE: And it was a no-brainer for us because Max’s voice is so unique and it’s so distinct and different from the rest of the cast. Everyone in our cast has a very unique, different voice, but Max is so fun and quirky, and that’s what we really needed for the character, to make him stand out. And because the father is such a bird-brain and he’s got such hair-brained ideas, we wanted Roger to have brains. He actually challenges his father a lot, so in order to challenge your father, you have to be the kind of character and have the kind of delivery and sensibility that Max brought to this. You want to make sure it doesn’t come off as annoying or disrespectful, but really quite sweet and quirky.
Lori, when you were first formulating the story, did you think of Scrat first, or did the stuff on Earth come first?
FORTE: For this particular story, the stuff with Scrat actually came first because it was connected to the very first Ice Age, where they went through the ice museum and saw the prehistoric fish behind ice, and then they saw the dinosaur behind ice, and then we pulled back and you saw a spaceship. Goodness knows how that ever got there. No one ever knew. It was just a real fun little joke to us, but we also thought, “Well, there’s something interesting there. There’s a story.” We didn’t know what it was, but I knew one day, we would tell that story. So, when we were thinking about ideas for this movie, every movie of the Ice Age franchise seems to get bigger in scope than the one before, and I thought this was the perfect story to tell, when Scrat comes back, falls into the spaceship from the very first movie, and blasts off into space. There was a whole new world of the cosmos that we could introduce, which was so different from the other Ice Age movies, so that just felt like it was the thing to do. And once he’s up there rearranging the cosmos, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Something that’s very relatable and that we can understand and that happens today is sending an asteroid down towards Earth. We read about it all the time, we hear about all the near misses, we’re tracking where they are, at all times, and NASA and scientists are trying to figure out how to divert asteroids. It felt like the way to go. So, once we started with that, then we figured out the storylines for the characters. It all has to grow out of what we’ve seen for them before because we don’t want to tell the same stories again. We just continue to evolve and change and grow the characters.
Max, do you see yourself in your character, at all?
GREENFIELD: I feel like Roger is probably a better actor than I am. I was like, “Oh, I think Roger made a good choice there!” But, definitely. I know all of the sessions are recorded, and there are little things, here and there. You know what you’re doing with your voice and the inflections you’re putting on certain things, but then you watch it and you’re like, “Okay, I see what’s happening here.”
FORTE: The actors do their voice recordings, and then we give it to the animators. And then, the animators listen to their nuances and design accordingly. We film them from the shoulders up, so if they do anything when they’re delivering a line, the animators will look for references to see if they’re blinking or if their eyes are crossed, and sometimes they’ll put it into their performance. But they always do their animation based on the performances, so the nuances from the actors will definitely be in there.
Max, since you didn’t have any other actors to work off of, how did you find your performance?
GREENFIELD: The directors come in and know what’s happening so specifically on the animation side that there our best guides. They also know exactly what they need and what they want, and they’re aware of everything else that’s happening. With this one, there was so much going on. We would be in the booth solo, but the directors would be like, “This is what’s happening,” and they’d be able to go over each line, knowing exactly what they wanted us to do. So, as much benefit as you could probably get from being with the other actors, I don’t know how much it would ultimately work, in what they’re trying to do.
FORTE: With John Leguizamo, we tried a couple of times to have him record with another actor, but it didn’t really work for us. You want to get that repartee, but in order to do that, they tend to speak over each other. What we need to do is get really clean, single reads, so it doesn’t really help. The only way we could possibly do it, if we ever do it in the future, would be to have two booths with glass partitions on both. Then, their performances would step on each other. So, it’s more for practical reasons that we do that, more than anything else.
Lori, how did Neil deGrasse Tyson get involved with this?
FORTE: We thought of this character and we knew we would love to happen, but we thought it was never going to. He’s the most primo astrophysicist in the world. But, he was willing to take a meeting. So, the directors and I were sitting there, pitching this movie to him, and as we were talking, we realized what we were saying and who we were saying it to. It was so silly, but he actually loved it. He loved the idea that we were using science, at all. Even though we’re taking science and throwing it on its ear, he really appreciated the fact that we were trying. And every now and then, he would correct us, even in the pitch. But immediately, we showed him a picture of his character, Neil deBuck Weasel, and he was wearing the vest and had the little mustache and the hair, and he let out this enormous guffaw. It was such a huge laugh that we just fell in love with him. And immediately, he said he would do it. It was great. We had several sessions with him, and he was fantastic. He would look at or read some of the sequences that we did and say, “Okay, I can see the logic of what you’re doing here,” or “This is way off. This is what you need to do.” He did change a few of his lines.
Is this storyline your very subtle way of preparing audiences to say goodbye to these characters?
FORTE: I would never do that. We always just work on each film, one at a time. We never look forward, but we have to look back because we want to see where we’ve been and point to where we’re going. We don’t usually look beyond the film we’re working on. Each film takes about four or four and a half years, to go from the ideas and the script to pre-production and production. It’s a long time, so I’m not going to look six, seven or eight years into the future. I think that if the audience says they want another movie, I do have more ideas.
What is the state of the franchise right now, as far as shorts, TV specials, and things like that?
FORTE: We did do a Christmas special and an Easter special for television, and we have done some Scrat shorts. We’re so busy, right now, focusing on the features. I’m hoping that there will be a TV series in our future, but that remains to be seen. And I would love to do more shorts, but it depends on how much we have in the studio, at the time, and if there is any free time to get a short in there. As far as who the shorts would be about, I’d love Crash and Eddie to have a short. I’d also love to spin off something for the new characters.
Ice Age: Collision Course opens in theaters on July 22nd.