In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in theaters on August 8th, four Ninja turtles, known as Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello, must leave their home in the storm sewers of Manhattan and battle evil with the help of their sensei, Master Splinter.
Following their panel in Hall H at Comic-Con, director Jonathan Liebesman and producer Andrew Form spoke to press in a roundtable interview about how much creative license they took with this film, whether the turtles have the same origin story, the use of motion capture, just how much you’ll see the actors’ faces in the turtles, what appeals to them about the Ninja Turtles, the tone of the story, and how they’d like to extend the mythology, in the future. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
ANDREW FORM: It’s based on characters created by [Kevin] Eastman and [Peter] Laird, so all of the characters were pulled out of those comics. We just have an original story. Splinter, Shredder, the turtles, April O’Neil and Vernon Fenwick are all characters created by those guys. We just created our own story and dropped them into it.
Do they have the same origin story?
JONATHAN LIEBESMAN: Ooze did make them into Ninja Turtles.
FORM: So, it’s not a remake. We didn’t remake the ‘90 movie. It is its own movie and its own story.
There’s been much talk about how Andy Serkis deserves an Academy Award for his motion capture performances, but there’s also a lot of debate about what is digital make-up and what’s not, and who should be awarded for these kinds of things. Can you talk about the motion capture performances in this?
FORM: Shredder was not motion capture.
LIEBESMAN: Not his performance, but the martial artist and stunt guys who fight Shredder were captured. Listen, you cannot get a good performance without a great actor. Animators are there to almost re-target the performance onto the characters you create. So, when they say that Andy Serkis deserves the Oscar, he does deserve the Oscar. He does an amazing performance and makes you believe that Caesar is real. Those were the shoulders that we were standing on. So, we cast the actors that we thought embodied each Turtle, and their performance was translated. The technology was even a little bit more evolved than Planet of the Apes. We were able to select different takes and blend them into one performance. That was something that ILM did a lot of work on. That enabled us to not just have to stick to one take. That gives you a lot of flexibility in post-production. If you want Michelangelo to be a little bit funny here, but take three was a little bit better, 20 seconds in, you could do that.
FORM: People say that they see Andy Serkis in Caesar. If you took the pictures of our Turtle actors and put them next to their Turtle, you’ll definitely see their faces in these turtles. So, when you say that Andy Serkis deserves the Oscar, it is their performance. You see Noel Fisher in Michelangelo. You really do, if you look at them, side by side.
LIEBESMAN: ILM is using two HD cameras on the face. They’re actually capturing the eye movement, teeth and even the tongue, for the first time. The technology they were using was way more complex and took a lot more time to actually research and was challenging. By the time we got to the set, it was user-friendly, but it was challenging for them to get the technology there. It’s incredible because with Planet of the Apes, you have apes. You have a reference in real life, for the animators and the artists. What was difficult about our film is that there are no real Ninja Turtles. There was a challenge to create something that you could believe would exist in our world and emote the way that we do. It was incredible that ILM achieved that.
What was it about this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that appealed to you?
LIEBESMAN: For me, ever since I was a kid, each have an archetypal personality that anyone can identify with. The fact is that, because they don’t look like any particular human, you can project yourself onto them. What’s cool is that I recently discovered Eastman and Laird’s comics, and I love the dark tone of those. So, what was important to us was to retain the charm of the characters, which is what we love, and meld that with the visual edge that Eastman and Laird had developed. I think those characters could work in any story. Whatever the story was that you were going to tell, I think you would want to follow these characters on that journey. For us, the characters themselves and their interaction was almost more important than the plot itself. It was the brotherhood and the family of these turtles.
Will we get to see Master Splinter being a father figure to the four of them?
LIEBESMAN: That’s the heartbeat of the movie. The irony is that they’re a normal, sometimes dysfunctional family, but they’re rats and turtles.
You’re focused on this movie right now, but there are hints at things from the mythology. Have you had conversations about what you would like to explore, in the future?
FORM: We’re just finishing the movie now, but we all wish you could put everything into a movie. We all have other characters that we love, that we wish we could have had in this movie, like Casey Jones, Bepop and Rocksteady. We had those conversations through the development of this movie. Listen, we’re launching this movie in two weeks and, hopefully, the public feels the same way that we do. We love the movie.
As far as the tone of the film, is it more along the lines of the darker and grittier feel of the comics, or is it more the fun-loving ‘80s version?
LIEBESMAN: Definitely more towards the cartoon, but visually very inspired by the comics. As a fan, I didn’t want to just see a retelling of the cartoons and that tone. I want some sort of grittiness. That comes with the tone. And the way we depict the foot soldiers and Shredder is a little more hardcore than the cartoon, and more in line with what Eastman and Laird were doing with the original comics. With superhero movies today, you have the amazing Chris Nolan ones, which are very serious. I think there’s something you can take from that, in terms of making things feel compelling, and having huge stakes. We wanted to just take that. But, the Ninja Turtles are so absurd that you want to draw from the cartoons. To me, that was the most successful telling of that.