MovieholeSeth MacFarlane Eyes Western Comedy as 'Ted' Follow-Up (Exclusive)Hollywood ReporterTed, the Family Guy creator's live-action directorial debut, was a surprise hit this past summer, grossing $501 million worldwide.
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Complex.com (blog)"Family Guy" executive producer lands animated cop series with FoxChicago TribuneLOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - Despite - or perhaps because of - a robust cartoon slate that includes "The Simpsons," "American Dad" and "Family Guy,"...
I’m not a fan of Family Guy, and I’ve had almost no time for American Dad, but I enjoyed Ted a great deal. For some reason, Seth MacFarlane‘s moviemaking was much more suited to my tastes – a focus, less smugness, more determination to actually be about something and tell a story – then his… um… telemaking.
So I’ve certainly been looking forward to seeing what he’ll pull out of the bag next. Somewhere down the line there’s a Ted seuqel coming, but next up, and straight out of left field, is a Western.
MacFarlane has scripted A Million Ways to Die in the West with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, and is set to star and direct.
The Hollywood Reporter believe that the film will be:
a Western with contemporary humor, with one undercurrent being just how dangerous and painful life really was in the late 1800s.
Perhaps more than an undercurrent, bearing in mind the title.
It’s an interesting theme. I’m certainly rooting for this one – right now it needs studio backing, but Ted was such a smash it’s more a case of who, rather then if.
We’re under a year from the release of Frozen, the next animated picture from Walt Disney Feature Animation. It’s also cold outside. I’ve seen that in the early morning, there is ice on things.
So… wouldn’t this be the perfect time to reveal some sort of trailer? Or at least a poster? To capitalise on the Christmas-y cheer we’re all feeling to sub zero temperatures? Because come January, I expect whatever warmth people are feeling towards winter will go away, fast.
But there’s nothing much at all. Not yet. Just that little bit of character art I showed you before, and now, an official logo.
Frozen is being directed by Chris Buck and, now, Jennifer Lee. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel will star, and there are songs. Thing “Frozen is to The Snow Queen as Tangled was to Rapunzel” and you’re likely on the right page.
In a new Deadline blogpost, of the kind they don’t normally publish, Mike Fleming finally gets off topic entirely to name some directors he’s hearing are in the race to direct one of the upcoming Star Wars films.
"As much as I’ve heard the Vaughn rumor, I’ve also heard Jon Favreau is panting after this job, and even that David Fincher, who apparently worked for Lucas’s ILM in a menial job as a teen, might be game for one of these new films."
To add to this, The Playlist‘s commentary on Fleming’s story says:
"We first heard about [Fincher] from our sources not long after the new Star Wars trilogy was announced, but we never reported it because it’s been very up in the air and not quite concrete."
Which is an odd move, really, as they’ll report all sorts of “up in the air and not quite concrete” stuff second hand. Indeed, you could argue that’s exactly what they’re doing now.
Favreau seems like a pretty Star Wars-friendly choice but would Fincher really be interested in the stylistic constraints implicit in the job? Well, for all I know, that’s why he’s interested. Perhaps he wants to play with the language established in the six films so far.
Note that nobody quoted above is specifying Episode VII as being the Star Wars film in question. That film very possibly already has a director – the running was certainly down to two over a fortnight ago.
It seems like many films are in the works, however, not just a new trilogy. Sooner or later there will be enough that all of these rumoured directors could get a go.
The official announcement is actually expected soon. Kathleen Kennedy, we’re hanging on your every press release.
It’s Derek Connolly‘s week. Yesterday we were talking about his work on a new version of Flight of the Navigator and that he’d set up another, as yet secret picture at Disney with his Safety Not Guaranteed director Colin Trevorrow – which we now know is called Hank.
Now it gets better still as Variety reveal he’s also at work on a Pixar animated picture with Teddy Newton, director of the sublime Day and Night short and story man on The Incredibles and Iron Giant.
This video from the special edition DVD of Iron Giant goes into Teddy Newton’s special powers a little.
Now more details of the Pixar film are known, but Variety did run this nice little passage, starting with Connolly’s comments on his plush gig in Emeryville:
“It’s totally different, the way they do things up here. You’re here everyday. You don’t go away for three months and come up with a script. You’re involved with a director and it’s very collaborative.”
The Pixar gang also told him “not to dumb it down or treat animation like it’s for kids. “
Though we hadn’t heard anything since the start of the year, it seems that Disney are still moving ahead with their live action Cinderella.
Originating as a script by Aline Brosh McKenna, the film attracted Mark Romanek to attach himself as a director and then underwent a rewrite by Chris Weitz.
The next piece of the puzzle to click into place will be the casting, and as The Wrap are reporting, Cate Blanchett is currently negotiating for the role of Cinderella’s stepmother. In the animated film she is known as Lady Tremaine.
McKenna seems to have a taste for such stories about young women having their self worth crushed by older women – The Devil Wears Prada – but who find some kind of reinvention with the help of a glamorous frock – 27 Dresses, or indeed The Devil Wears Prada. I Don’t Know How She Does It was something of a Cinderella story too, if you flip some of the conventional representations about.
As for Weitz, his last movie, A Better Life, grounded some of the same basic themes in the story of an illegal immigrant who landscapes a mansion in LA.
I’m fascinated to see what they might have come up with, together, when retelling this tale. Hopefully they’ll have somehow addressed the fact that Cinderella “wins” in the original because she looks great in an expensive dress, not to mention that what she “wins” is not much more than the affections of a rich fella she’s hardly met.
Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and Malificent both took their basic design cues from the studio’s animated versions of the same stories, and it seems like a safe bet to assume Cinderella will do the same. Romanek is an incredibly accomplished visualist and, referencing the cartoon or not, I’m sure he’ll create images that work just brilliantly.
Here’s the animated version of Lady Tremaine.
Romanek and co. have got some work to do there, I think.
The animated Cinderella is available now on a brilliant Blu-ray ‘Diamond Edition’, both in the UK and the US. I think this new version sorts out the various colour problems with the previous DVD transfer pretty nicely – though film grain purists are likely to quabble, this incredibly polished, popping version of the film is what we’d get if the cels were scanned directly into a digital environment.
The director of Arthur Christmas, out on disc now, looks back at the film, the stop-motion glass ceiling, and Aardman in America…
A film that’s set to be a Christmas favourite for many years to come is the delightful Arthur Christmas, from Aardman. As it arrives on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, director Sarah Smith chatted to us about the movie, why it didn’t quite take off in America, and the stop motion glass ceiling…
Going back to when Arthur Christmas was first released, we had a very brief chat about script pacing. Because I understand you looked at the likes of scripts to Paul Greengrass movies when putting the film together?
To be honest, the scripts weren’t about pacing. There were two things that I took from Paul Greengrass films. One was wanting the film to feel like it had a verite, we were in the middle of the action feeling. And then how he turns that into a crafted version of the same thing in the Bourne films.
We look at that, in terms of editing too, because it’s a very, very difficult thing to create in animation. So much of that is the accident of what happens on set, and the editor’s craft, whereas you don’t have any of that accident, and you don’t have the ability to edit in that way in animation. Planning for something that looks like an energetic, haphazard series of cuts is really difficult.
The accident of editing is something that really interests me. I heard Gore Verbinski talking about it in relation to Rango as well, and he was saying was that animation is unbelievably hard. That so much of what you end up with in live action is partly what you planned for when you go out and shoot, and partly what happens in front of you, in terms of performance, camera, the way the camera responds to the way the actor is moving. A whole series of things that interact. In animation, you have to pre-plan that. So how do you then make it feel alive and instantaneous and in the moment?
Paul Greengrass, on the Bourne films and Green Zone, went back and did significant reshoots too, if memory serves.
Yeah. And you can’t do that in animation. Instead, I did some pre-viz so I did some rough animation, to block the action. And then we used one of these motion control cameras on the shoulder, so you look in the viewfinder and see the action from whatever angle you’re standing in. It’s like having a real camera on your animated characters. Once you’ve got that piece of animation, you can do 20 takes, it’s just a bloke in the room with a camera. That way, you create material to edit with, and that’s how I did the opening sequence in Arthur Christmas. We created a load of shots, and then we cut with it so we got that energy of a real room, and moving around the action. When we came to real animation, we used those camera moves as layout.
The only difficulty then is that you’re having to tell the animator that they’re having to match the rough blocking animation pretty close, otherwise you lose your spontaneity. And what of course happens in animation is that they immediately try and make every shot cut together perfectly, whereas what you’ve done in the edit is you’ve muffed it up, because you have coverage. You jump, or you repeat frames. You do all the things you do in live action, and the animator gets it and goes “that doesn’t look right”. You have to then persuade them to do something that feels inexact, but actually works in the cut.
So it’s a quest for deliberate accidents, then?
Exactly, yeah. It’s also trying to capture the energy of how editing in live action works. You do either jump frames or repeat frames. It’s always entertained me that when editors cut that sort of sexy, down and dirty Paul Greengrass style, they’re always looking for the bits where the camera went a bit wrong, a bit wobbly, or when it moves at the end of a shot. That’s what gives it the energy.
Also, just the human interaction of camera and human. The thing with animation is that it’s perfect, whereas no cameraman knows what’s going to happen. The camera is just behind the action, and that makes it feel as if someone’s there in the moment, capturing it. You can’t plan those in storyboard and layout, you need reference to work with. Amusingly, it becomes an even more long winded planning process to make it look spontaneous!
You mentioned Gore Verbinski. With Rango, of course, he took the actors away for 10-20 days, and didn’t record them all in traditional voice booths away from each other.
He did, and he had cameramen filming it. And I bet that one of the things he did was to use the live camera reference to say make the camera do that. It’s still difficult to match in layout. I didn’t do motion control acting, but I did do motion control camerawork to try and get that.
I went around Aardman while The Pirates! was being made, and every animator seemed to have director Peter Lord acting like a loon on a screen next to them. Is there a collection of video of you doing the same for Arthur Christmas?
There is a certain amount! [Laughs] A lot of animators do it for themselves, and I didn’t do it as much as Nick [Park] and Peter. I did act it out for the animators, but I didn’t record myself doing it! To be honest, when we did do it, it’d be useful. I’d get the animation supervisors round to my house of an evening an we would act it out and record it between us.
So when you sat down in your house for Christmas dinner last year, and you’re sat there with tinsel all around you, someone wants to play a board game. Was there just a little bit of you, having had this film dominate around half a decade of your life, that wanted Christmas to go away?
Nooooo! It was great! The best thing was because we had the Regent Street lights, I felt like someone had decorated London to be my own personal Christmas tree! All these characters that you’ve loved and lived with, and there they are being the city’s decorations! It’s fantastic! It was my first Christmas off in about five years as well.
It’s incredible for a first time director in particular to have that. You walked down Oxford Street in London last year, and it was full of Arthur Christmas.
Do you know, that was the best thing of the entire experience. It was such a lovely and delightful thing. Your film goes into cinemas, and you know that it does. But that’s a very theoretical thing. You’ve sat in one or two yourself for premieres, but the idea that people are going to your film.
I had in mind that when it came out, I would go and watch it in a few random cinemas. But I didn’t, because you always have a slight worry watching a film with an audience, you worry whether they’re going to laugh. So you don’t really sense the idea that people are seeing the work that you’ve done. But, of course, walking down Oxford Street, there it is. All these characters that are terribly personal are suddenly out there in the world.
Your film also has the finest computer generated jumpers I’ve ever seen.
That was a huge piece of R&D. It was very difficult when we were designing the character of Arthur. You automatically come up with that he’s going to be a skinny, lanky bloke who’s a bit too big, who stoops because he feels awkward. I kept saying that we’ve had too many skinny underdogs. Pete did his best, bless him. He did a whole round of drawings of Arthur as a big bloke, or overweight. We kept looking at it and going yes, it’s different, but it doesn’t feel like him. I didn’t want him to have that relentlessly skinny silhouette, so we came up with the idea that he would wear terrible, big Christmas jumpers.
They were brilliant jumpers.
We modelled them. I actually used a live action costume designer, and we bought a series of jumpers. He put them on the skinniest members of our CG team, and I can tell you that CG artists are often very skinny!
It’s very difficult, technically, to make the thick fabric of a jumper work. To make knitwear hang. It nearly killed them trying to do that.
The two Aardman films that have been released in the past 12 months, Arthur Christmas and The Pirates!, both did well in Britain. But do you have any thoughts of why neither of them carried to America in the same way?
I do have a lot of thoughts about that. It’s an interesting learning curve, and there are many elements to it.
Obviously in the UK, Aardman is a trusted brand, so if you say Aardman is going to do a Christmas film, people are very comfortable with that. In the US, Aardman is just not a known brand. They haven’t produced films at a rate that has got them in the American consciousness. And when you’re taking children to films – with an adult, you’ll take a certain amount of risk.
When you take children, and I say this now I have a three-year old myself, you don’t want to be walking out after ten minutes having paid for the tickets, because they hate it. Then you don’t want it, in any way, to freak them out and upset them. And, in the case of Arthur Christmas, to ruin their idea of what Santa is.
So I think the question is how do you get the trust of the audience for films they are taking young children to. One way is to say ‘from the makers of’, which Aardman can’t do, as their films have been over such a long period of time. And therefore, it’s a question of the film itself telling the audience what it is.
Arthur Christmas in particular came out against The Muppets and Happy Feet Too, and they’re already brands that people are comfortable with. And I do think that safety factor is what people go with when they choose a Christmas film for their four or five year olds. If we’d have been the only ones in the market, they’d have gone and seen us. But against The Muppets?
I also think that Sony as a distributor didn’t have a huge long track record in marketing animation. DreamWorks knows how to do that, and Pixar, and Disney. They’re routinely taking over half a billion at the box office, because they’ve worked over many years, very exclusively in the field of marketing animation. Their entire marketing effort is devoted to one or two films a year, and they start selling them in a year before. A lot of animated films work on children’s word of mouth: they have to have a sense of it as a movie coming months and months before it comes.
Sony hadn’t quite yet have their own animation brand fully going, although they probably have now with the success of Hotel Transylvania.
I can say this and you probably can’t, but I’ll go for it anyway. The day that Puss In Boots got an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, and Arthur Christmas didn’t, was outrageous.
No, I can say that [laughs]. I know! I did think you have to be kidding me. I think it’s the same thing, though, with having a profile in the US. A lot of people who voted didn’t see it.
I know your Aardman role is broader than directing one film. With The Pirates!, we’ve seen stop motion this year hit what appears to be a box office glass ceiling.
I think that’s true. I’m not at Aardman anymore, but I love The Pirates! I originally bought the rights to Aardman. I think it’s difficult if you actually look at how the market is working. I think it’s affecting all stop motion films. Frankenweenie is a great example. ParaNorman is a really nicely made movie. But they got slammed by their CG competition. It’s been a statement of US distributors for a while that CG is what people want to see, and not stop-frame. Tragically, the box office is confirming that at the moment.
It’s really sad. And it’s difficult to know what you do from there and how you turn that around.
It seems to have been quite a fast decline as well. Coraline took $75m at the US box office a couple of years back, and that’s a tremendous film too.
But Coraline, overall, was still less than $200m worldwide, which is probably where Frankenweenie and things will end up. I think the reason why there’s a decline is the number of animated films each year is not going up that steeply. Now there are seven or eight films where there used to be four or five, and it use to be a CG animated film was more of an event, if it had promotion and good distribution behind it. Whereas now, they have to compete on their own terms, and again, people have a caution about stop frame. I find it hard to understand.
To be fair, Frankenweenie and ParaNorman were both slightly scary as films for small children too.
I’m a parent though, and I love the fact that there’s a film that my children can watch in Frankenweenie that deals with subjects such as death and loss in such an open, accessible way. That’s just the kind of film, for me, that should be going into the family market.
Yeah. It’s good that you say that, but again, I think people are quite risk averse if they don’t already have a trust or enthusiasm for the brand.
Sarah Smith, thank you very much!
Arthur Christmas is on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now.
No, this video from 1946 isn’t perfect as far as feminism goes but I have to say, I’m surprised to find it so…not 1946? Though I guess I’m even more surprised Walt Disney Productions made a video about our periods at all.
The animated film is about ten minutes long and was sponsored by Kotex. As you may have guessed, it was shown in American schools. (Presumably only to girls because boys are not supposed to know periods even exist.) That being said, it’s quite the film.
According to Wikipedia, “Gynecologist Mason Hohn was hired as a consultant to ensure that the film was scientifically accurate. Hohn was hired to increase the likelihood that school doctors and nurses would allow the film to be shown. Hohn’s involvement led to a stronger emphasis on biology than other marketing by ICCC [International Cello-Cotton Company]. The Story of Menstruation increased its reputation when it received the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”
Along with the video, students were given a booklet titled “Very Personally Yours” filled with tips for what to do that time of the month but also discouraged the use of tampons, and as you’ll see when you watch, gave very specific hygiene advice. They also gloss over the whole “blood” thing and don’t ever mention sex (though I could say it’s implied in the dance portion). However, it includes an important message for young girls – having your period doesn’t make you weird. Not to mention some very positive things are said about body image and it might have been the first film to use the word “vagina.”
But perhaps the best part of the animation is the animation itself. It depicts ladies doing all those activities tampon commercials have come to love showing taking part in; biking, horseback riding, but throws in inexplicable feats of strength. Give it a watch.
Mickey Mouse has got to be one of the most energetic rodents around—and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Which is good, because Hollywood can't get enough of the Mouse House (or his Club, his face on T-shirts, his ears on hats, etc.) and this brave little Scorpio remains the deceptively simple face of the whole operation.
Born to Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks in 1928, the cartoon (and sometimes plush) mouse sprang onto the scene in the animated short Steamboat Willie. He was a little on the pale side, but such was the fashion of the day.
Count Mickey among those Tom Hanks doesn't want to "piss off" with his portrayal of Walt Disney
Mickey was given the white-glove treatment for the first time in 1929's The Opry House, and spoke his first actual words later that year in The Karnival Kid, he hawked "Hot dogs! Hot dogs!" He got a dog, Pluto, in 1931, and he's been off and on with his soulmate, Minnie Mouse, since he's been animated.
Red has always been Mickey's signature color, and even though he didn't get to wear his shorts (hold the shirt) in 1935's The Band Concert, he wore a red maestro's coat in his Technicolor debut.
The star of page and screen has starred or appeared in hundreds of short and feature-length films and is probably on TV somewhere in the world every minute. And yet, somehow, he is always at Disneyland to meet his adoring public.
Never out of style: Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga star in Barney's Disney-themed holiday window display
One could almost be led to believe that there's more than one of him!
And while he seems to have more and more characters to compete for attention with every day, from princesses to cars to Han Solo, Mickey remains the most recognized of them all, a cultural icon that indicates this is Disney's world, and we're just spending money in it.
In the summer, Pixar will be releasing the prequel to Monsters Inc., heading into the hallowed halls of Monsters University with young Mike and young Sully. It was directed by Dan Scanlon, making this the first “two” from the studio to not share a director with its respective “one.”
Well, presuming you count a prequel as a “two” and not a “zero.”
The director of Monsters Inc. was Pete Docter, and while his furry creations are moving out and going to university without him, he’s busy at work on his third feature, another original.
There’s been no official announcement of its title, and Disney have only referred to it as The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside The Mind.
John Lasseter described the set up like this:
The emotions of this little girl are the characters and it takes place in the head of this little girl, and shows how they control things that go on.
A little bit Herman’s Head, a little bit Numbskulls?
We’ve now heard that the film is on the verge of getting an official title and that title is almost certainly going to be The Inside Out.
That title hasn’t yet been cleared, but it’s the one Pixar want. Barring any problems with getting the name okayed, we can probably expect it to be announced soon.
Incidentally, once my source told me this title, I Googled around to see if I could find any mention of it. I found one.
Seems that the title was used just this week by Stefano Bethlen, Disney’s head of distribution in Italy, when speaking to Primissima.
That’s enough corroboration for me, so there we go. Pete Docter’s next is The Inside Out – at least for now.
This French poster for Monsters University has a few nice in-jokes and references to Monsters Inc. hidden away.
You can see Mike’s stuffed toy, Little Mikey, off to the left there. He’s next to a wastepaper basket, a mess of books and a radio – which fans of Monster Inc. will remember all conspired to cause Mike a little trouble the last time around.
One poster on the wall behind Sully echoes a shot in Monsters Inc. that in turn echoed a shot in The Right Stuff, which then makes sense of the caption for you.
Here are those two shots now.
There also appears to be a calendar on the wall showing Monsters University’s School of Scaring. It’s a very similar image to this one from the official university website.
The best little easter egg, though, is over on the right hand side of frame. See the digital alarm clock? It’s set to 1:13, like A113, the classroom at Cal Arts which has been reference in every Pixar film, numerous Disney films and many other movies besides.
I can’t quite make sense of the posters – either Carl, Earl or Karl that is multi-eyed a terror, and Kill something Cla… something
But it’s certainly a nice design and brilliantly conveys the relationship between young Mike and young Sully in a single image.
Family Guy owes a lot to the Simpsons. I don’t think that is such a bad thing, and neither does Seth MacFarlane it seems, as he plans to follow in Matt Groening’s footsteps once again. Just, he implies, better.
MacFarlane has given a presentation to UCLA students, and it’s been quoted by EW. Here he is on the inevitability of a Family Guy movie, and on why it will be worthwhile.
"It’s just a matter of when, It’s hard to do that while you have the series going on at the same time; I think that’s why it took The Simpsons 20 seasons to figure out how to do it.
We do know what the Family Guy movie will be. The Simpsons movie, I thought, was hilarious, but the one criticism I would have is that it’s a story they probably could’ve done on TV. There could’ve been an episode that had that plotline. That’s the challenge with animation. You pretty much can do any story you want, so what is the reason for the movie? We finally hit on the answer to that question, and it will be something that would be impossible to do on TV."
MacFarlane seems to be saying that the story is so big that it would take a cinema screen to contain it. I doubt the distinction is anything to do with the idea being ‘too rude.’ Does he mean the plot is just longer? Is it the scale of the action? He refused to elaborate.
I for one am happy. I like MacFarlane and his sense of humour plenty. His work has quite a few vocal detractors, but I don’t think there’s anything like enough to stop Family Guy being a huge hit on the big screen.
As he said, it’s only a matter of when.
I’ve never met a Robert Zemeckis film I don’t like, and many of them I love. I was prompted to recently revisit Who Framed Roger Rabbit by a friend who said the shine had gone off of it for him, at least a little.
I didn’t agree. I still loved it. It’s flawed, sure, but that’s love for you. And I’d certainly be more than happy for Zemeckis to get his long-planned sequel underway.
He’s recounted some details of what this sequel would entail in a new MTV interview:
"It would be done just like the first one. It would look the same way, but we would present it in 3-D in its release. I would do all of the animation hand-drawn; 2-D, but using 3-D tools. It wouldn’t be like Pixar 3-D. It wouldn’t look like that… this would again be another period movie."
Pull your finger out, Mickey, and while you’re at it, re-release the original in 3D. Zemeckis says that tests have been done, and they’re good:
"The only one [of my film's I'd convert to 3D is] Roger Rabbit, because you could really pull the animation out as a separate element. It would be very spectacular 3-D. As far as converting, the Back to the Future films… I don’t see the point in that. But they did a test on Roger back in 2006, somewhere around then, and it looks really great."
And a re-release would prove Roger’s box-office pull, I’m sure.
In the meantime, plans are afoot for a Blu-ray release of the film in 2013 – I previously posted the trailer. Hopefully that will be a big seller too.
Zemeckis’ Flight is on release in the US now and is really rather good. The UK will get to see it in February.
We all can agree that Wreck-It-Ralph was delightful, so here's some even more good news. Jennifer Lee, the writer behind Wreck-It-Ralph has been tapped to direct the next Disney animated feature Frozen, centered around the fairy tale Snow Queen. Lee joins Chris Buck as co-director.
The Emmy-nominated cartoon “Adventure Time” follows 14-year-old hero Finn and his pal Jake, a shape-shifting dog, as they face off against evildoers in the magical Land of Ooo. The show has become one of Cartoon Network‘s most popular programs, attracting both kids and adults to the whimsical and darkly funny world created by animator Pendleton Ward. The show, which kicked off its fifth season last week, continues Monday. Hero Complex caught up with Jeremy Shada, the 15-year-old actor who voices Finn, to talk about “Adventure Time” and more.
HC: How did you land the role?
JS: I got a call from my agent whenever this started way back three years ago, or something like that. We recognized it and it sounded familiar, and we realized that my older brother Zack [Shada] had done the pilot for it three years prior to this, to the audition, so then I looked it up on YouTube, the original pilot, and I was like, “Oh wow, my voice sounds a lot like his.” So I kind of even matched his voice more than I normally would when I met with Pen, the creator, and all the producers.
HC: Had you done a character like Finn before?
JS: It was pretty new for me. I did a lot of voice-over prior to that, too, but it was definitely a cool new thing to be the lead in an animated series. I’d never done anything like that. So it was cool coming back every week and getting to grow the character overtime.
GALLERY: Who’s who in the Land of Ooo
HC: He has such a strong moral code. A good alignment.
JS: That’s one of the things I do like about the character. He’s just always trying to do the right thing. And even though sometimes that might not happen, or things get pretty crazy, that’s his main goal.
HC: Are there any cartoons that have informed your performance as Finn?
JS: I grew up watching a lot of stuff, like “Teen Titans.” But for performance of the character, probably not as much. It’s really an extension of myself for the most part. It’s turned into something more than that. It started off just kind of my normal voice, but now it’s become more of a character.
HC: You’d done voice-over work for “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.”
JS: Batman, the character I did was a very well-known character. I got to play Robin, so there are plenty of people who played him in the past, and plenty of things you could kind of go up and look at. Plenty of character reference, as opposed to Finn, who was this new character, at the time when I was doing it, at least was not very known, so I kind of got to make it my own.
HC: How much creative input do you have in the show?
JS: When I’m dealing with my character, I do. I don’t have a whole lot of input in the story lines and stuff. I just get the script every week and I go in and record, and I just kind of do what I will with that. I have no input in what gets put in front of me, though.
HC: When you get a script, and you’re reading the plot, can you visualize it? Or is it too wacky?
JS: If I’m looking at the storyboard, it makes sense. If I’m just reading the script and the lines on it, I’m like, what is going on? When you’re going through it, even when I get it and I’m just looking through it, I can totally just hear the characters and their voices in my head doing the lines and stuff at this point.
HC: Do you record separately or together as a cast?
JS: We all record together most of the time, or at least we try to. All the other actors, they all have pretty busy schedules, but for the most part, we all work together, which is really cool, ’cause you get to play off the other people, and I think the reads are better that way. A lot of the shows don’t record together, they record at separate times. We’ve been lucky enough to have everybody there most of the time.
HC: Are you a fan of Dungeons & Dragons and the other geeky stuff that inspires a lot of the show?
JS: I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons, but I’m actually pretty familiar with it. When Pen mentioned it [as an influence for the show], it totally, totally makes sense from that point on.
HC: How are you and Finn similar?
JS: Well, me and Finn are both sort of terrible at math, so I guess there’s one thing. We’re both pretty easygoing guys. He’s just a happy-go-lucky kid for the most part, and he just likes to have fun and go on adventures and stuff. He’s just kind of an animated, post-apocalyptic world version of myself.
HC: Speaking of a post-apocalyptic world, the show has taken quite a few dark turns. Are you surprised by these developments?
JS: I think I’m constantly surprised by everything on the show. I cannot predict what’s going to happen the next week or so. I never know what’s going on half the time until I get the thing. I guess by this point, I’m almost not surprised anymore because it’s so surprising every week, that I don’t even know.
HC: Did you have any inkling “Adventure Time” would become as popular as it has?
JS: Honestly, I did not have any idea. The things you think are gonna be super huge a lot of times won’t be. And the things you’re like, ‘Oh this is cool,’ I had no idea what it would be, and then it turns into this huge phenomenon, and it’s just spiraled upward from there, and it’s crazy. I loves it. It’s awesome.
HC: What’s it like seeing such devoted fans show up to conventions in costume?
JS: That was awesome. The fans just love it, and they show their support so much. They just go crazy over it. They don’t care what they look like when they show up. They all wear the Finn gear and stuff. It’s awesome. There’s a lot of people that wear even other characters now, too. They’ll make homemade costumes for Ice King, Princess Bubblegum, the Fiona hats and stuff. They’ll just go all out. And so it just really reminds us how much they love the show, and how big it is.
HC: Do you ever attend conventions in “Adventure Time” cosplay?
JS: Me personally, no I don’t. I’ve never dressed up with a Finn hat. I don’t know if I ever will.
HC: Who’s your favorite “Adventure Time” character?
JS: Probably my two favorite would have to be Ice King and LSP. They’re awesome.
HC: Why do you think kids relate to Finn and Jake?
JS: Above everything else, it really is about their relationship and about them being two best friends for the most part. I mean, you’ll have these crazy adventures and everything else going on around them, but it really just focuses on Finn and Jake’s relationship and them just being best friends and having these funny conversations you would have when you’re just chilling with your buddies.
HC: What about that age gap between Finn and Jake?
JS: I think it’s just kind of playing off like it’s him in dog years. He doesn’t look down on Finn in any way, shape or form. They’re definitely equals. But he does kind of play that older brother role, in a sense.
HC: Why do you think the show is so popular among adults, as well as kids? It’s pretty zany.
JS: I think I was probably more surprised by it when I first saw it. Now it makes perfect sense to me. I mean the show itself is very silly in the way that kids like. It’s got tons of silly humor, and even the animation style is very colorful and bright, which the kids love. But it does have a lot of over-the-head humor as well, and a lot of things that parents and adults and college people will get that kids aren’t likely to get.
HC: You get to do a lot of singing in the show. Is that something you were expecting?
JS: I didn’t anticipate any singing whatsoever actually. That was something that just kind of came up on the spot, and I was like, ‘OK.’ It’s not supposed to be like the most amazing, Grammy-winning performance. It’s just supposed to be real, on the spot.
HC: Would you want a career in music?
JS: I would definitely not be opposed to it, that’s for sure. I’m pretty open that way, as far as most things go. I try not to shut any doors before I even get there. I like doing music. I like singing. I love all music. Music kind of goes hand in hand with acting anyway.
HC: I saw you covered a Justin Bieber song on YouTube. Would you like to be the next Biebs? You are a cutie-pie.
JS: Nah, no, hahaha… If that happened, that’d be great. He’s a lucky guy. He’s been very, very successful. It’s a little bit of a lighthearted parody. It’s funny, but shows off some of my singing skills at the same time.
HC: What’s next for you? Some on-screen acting?
JS: I’ve actually done a lot of on-screen, live-action stuff prior to “Adventure Time.” That’s actually what I got my start in. Live-action has always been my focus and my passion. I love voice-over, and I definitely could see myself doing some voice-over, as much as I could, and even if I ended up doing only that for the rest of my life, and I could be successful at it, that would be great. But I think my real dream is to do films and live-action films. I have a new live-action series I’m doing, which I’m one of the leads in, called “Incredible Crew.” It’s a live-action sketch comedy project. It’s supposed to start airing in early 2013.
– Noelene Clark
Ever wonder what Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Jack Frost do in their off hours when they're not spreading joy and merriment? Well, in the beautifully rendered, animated 3-D film Rise of the Guardians, which opens in theaters on Wednesday, all five join forces and become superheroes of sorts in order to keep the Boogeyman from invading the hearts and minds of children everywhere. It's based on the best-selling book series The Guardians of Childhood, by author and illustrator William Joyce.
This fun and fantastical romp through childhood lore and legend boasts a cast of big-name voiceover talent, including Alec Baldwin, Jude Law and Hugh Jackman. Guardians also marks the directorial film debut of Peter Ramsey, making him the first African American ever to helm a big-budget animated movie. It's a first, he admits, to which he didn't give much thought until he shared an article about the movie with his parents.
"It wasn't until my mom and dad read a little newspaper article about me and saw that line, 'first African American'," Ramsey told The Root. "And I looked up, and my dad had a tear in his eye, and I was like, Oh man, I guess this is a big deal."
Considering Ramsey's early work as a storyboard artist for major motion pictures -- he was an illustrator on A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Adaptation, Fight Club and How the Grinch Stole Christmas -- and that he is a self-proclaimed cartoon and comic-book geek, the move to animation would seem a natural progression. Not so, says the Los Angeles native.
"You know, it's funny. I was totally into live-action [film]," said Ramsey, who also served as a second-unit director on Godzilla, Tank Girl and on the John Singleton films Poetic Justice and Higher Learning. "That was my thing, that's where my career was, that's what I was intending on doing." That is, until he got an offer he couldn't refuse. Here, Ramsey shares with The Root his enthusiasm for animation, what makes Guardians unique and how he joined the League of Enchanted Adults.
The Root: What were some of your favorite animated films or television shows from childhood?
Peter Ramsey: Oh man, there are so many! One of my earliest memories is of seeing Disney's Snow White at the drive-in with my mom and dad, in my pajamas. I know the original Pinocchio. I watched all kinds of television [cartoons] from Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes to the Japanese type -- Gigantor, Speed Racer -- and any stop-motion stuff by Ray Harryhausen. I was big into comic books and science fiction. That stuff was my meat and potatoes.
TR: Rise of the Guardians has been described as a departure from the type of animated fare we've seen as of late. How so?
PR: It's part of a trend at DreamWorks that's actually been going on for the past few years. [Our studio] really became known for the Shrek movies and their irreverent humor. A lot of other studios began to imitate that style and retreading the same territory, with wisecracking characters joking about Twitter and mouthing the latest sayings of the day, like "AWK-ward."
[Consequently] we started to turn back to a more classic style of storytelling. We wanted to do something that was going to be more timeless and more about the story instead of topical jokes. We also wanted to take the characters seriously and not make them satirical, and take that idea of belief seriously and make our story about that, too.
TR: Those who work in animation seem to belong to an elite League of Enchanted Adults, enjoying an extended childhood and getting paid big bucks for it. How did you gain entrée?
PR: Lots of these guys -- Brad Bird and the Pixar guys and most of the guys at DreamWorks -- came up through animation, but I kind of stumbled into it. I worked with producer Aron Warner on Tank Girl. Later he ended up producing the Shrek movies, so he called me from DreamWorks and said, "You know what? I'm having a great time doing this. I think you should come check it out, it would be a really good opportunity for you to direct," which he knew I really wanted to do.
I took him up on his offer and kind of fell in love with the place and the possibilities. And Aron got them excited about me. They were looking for people who could bring a little bit of live-action feel but could also tell a story visually. It positioned me well to rise through the ranks there.
If these big CG films didn't exist, I don't think I would be doing anything having to do with animation, simply because I wasn't trained in animation. I've never been an animator. It's just a lucky fluke for me that the medium has kind of evolved in a way where the skills that someone who's worked in live action has are now really useful in creating an animated film.
TR: Most people are familiar with a director's role directing real people in live-action features, but how exactly do you direct for animation?
PR: Directing for animation is multitiered. I direct the actors on the vocal performances. We then take the vocal performances to the animators, whom I direct just as I would an actor giving a physical performance. The same goes for the sound people.
Guardians is almost a hybrid because a lot of it feels more like a live-action film -- just the way it's shot and the way some of the performances are -- but at the same time the characters are very animated. There's a lot of stuff, like the way Jack Frost kind of leaps and bounds around and the expressions of the Easter Bunny and Sand Man that you can only do in animation.
TR: What are some misconceptions that people have about how animated features are made?
PR: People don't realize how many people it takes to build everything you see on screen. Everything you see has to be created. Then people have to light that. There are dozens and dozens of people who light those sets, so it really is like a big crew of people building everything you see. The only difference in animation is that it extends to the characters, too, because the characters have to be designed and built and lit and all that stuff.
Julia Chance is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist and the author of Sisterfriends: Portraits of Sisterly Love. Follow her on Twitter.
Shrek, Futurama, and Marge and Homer would not have come into being without the Beatles' subversive masterpiece, says Simpsons writer Josh Weinstein...
Going to see Yellow Submarine is my first memory ever. And it's a doozy. A world-shaking, world-shaping event. It was the early 1970s and I was taken to see the movie on a big screen. It blew my young, impressionable six-year-old mind and I'm pretty sure it's what sent me on a career path in animation. I'm just glad my parents took me to see that and not A Clockwork Orange.
There have been some excellent books about the making of the film (I highly recommend Inside the Yellow Submarine by Dr Robert Hieronimus), so rather than blab on about the back story, I would rather talk about what happened after the yellow sub surfaced in 1968 and shot its torpedoes through traditional animation. Because in my opinion, Yellow Submarine gave birth to modern animation itself.
Before Yellow Submarine, animation was a mild, goody-goody world of personality-free gloved mice and cartoon bears stealing picnic baskets. Only the Fleischer brothers in the 1930s dared to do really weird stuff with their early Popeye cartoons, and most of that is unknown to the general public. But after Yellow Submarine, it was a wholly different world. It wasn't just for kids. It was satire and art and, most of all, subversion.
Without Yellow Submarine there would never have been The Simpsons, no Futurama, no South Park, no Toy Story, no Shrek. No animated anything that enables us to laugh at ourselves while being highly entertained.
A couple of specific references from The Simpsons. Remember in the chilli episode, where Homer eats the "insanity pepper" and goes on a trip? As it begins, Homer is seen floating against live-action clouds. After the table-read of the script, I told the director: "Make it like that George-on-the-mountain-top scene in Yellow Submarine. You know that one?" And of course he knew, because he was of a generation that grew up loving that movie.
Another example is in an episode of The Simpsons called Last Exit to Springfield. Lisa needs braces and the orthodontist gives her gas, whereupon she goes into a psychedelic trip – Lisa in the sky (without diamonds) – that is a brilliant parody of Yellow Submarine. I counted about 20 specific references.
That lightness, that quickness, that unembarrassed, unencumbered willingness to be goofy – that's all very Beatlesque. Sure, there are other influences (and the Beatles themselves loved stuff like The Goon Show and Edward Lear), but I think the Beatles' impact on modern comedy is sorely unappreciated.
I can't talk about the comedy in Yellow Submarine without giving a nod to someone who wasn't given a nod in the movie, but by all accounts was largely responsible for much of the humour: Liverpool poet Roger McGough, also a favourite of the Beatles. At some point during production, he was called in to do a pass on the script and make the dialogue more Liverpudlian and authentic; and, by many accounts, it was he who added so many great jokes and Beatles-style wordplay.
Let me talk about the words. There never was a complete script, and much of it was apparently written on the fly – one of the reasons the movie has such a stream-of-consciousness, dream-like appeal, and an important lesson to more anal writers like myself. Words aren't just spoken: they appear on screen. Often. Like in the incredible When I'm Sixty-Four sequence of animated sentences and numbers. Or all the times LOVE, KNOW, OK and other words appear as monuments in Pepperland. The artists who made Yellow Submarine celebrated words and numbers as art. They weren't the first to do so, but their work influenced generations of graphic designers.
The film is a 90-minute work of art. Led by brilliant, visionary designer Heinz Edelmann and director George Dunning, a team of mostly young, unsung artists toiled away in rinky-dink offices in Soho Square, London, for nearly a year, with a budget of less than $1m. There are sequences like Eleanor Rigby (where, by the way, you can actually see some of these unsung artists) and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds that are pop art masterpieces as good and breathtaking as any Warhol or Picasso.
The artists and directors used techniques no one had ever used before, and haven't since. They used media no one had ever thought of using in animation: the sequence where the sub takes off from the Pier and appears to travel rapidly through all sorts of live-action settings, including a park where a statue of a military man astride a horse appears to tip his hat to you, was all done using postcards. If you freeze-frame it, you can see some of the brilliant tricks they came up with.
So how did all this happen? Well, here I do need to get into a little back-story, because it's an important lesson in how brilliant things get produced. It's how The Simpsons came to be, and it's how Yellow Submarine happened. It's called trusting in artists and letting them do their stuff. It's also called I-have-no-idea-what-those-hippies-in-Soho-are doing-but-it-has-the-Beatles'-name-on-it-so-I-guess-we'll-make-money. From what I've read, the pressure these artists felt came from not wanting to let the Beatles down because they loved them and their music so much. That's a great sort of pressure to be under.
Also, I have a feeling that King Features – the cartoon publisher that made the film – had no idea what it was getting. I think even the Beatles had no idea what they were getting. When production began, the only thing the Beatles knew was that there had been that horrible cartoon from the mid-1960s. You know, that one where they had big heads on little bodies. They hated that cartoon and were wary of this one. Only when they visited the studios and saw what was happening did they start to rally round it (remember, they didn't voice their characters – something I was horrified to find out years later).
Yellow Submarine was made with a small budget. There were numerous instances where they had neither the time nor the money to do something the fancy, easy way, so they were forced to come up with new ways. If you have zillions of dollars and all the time in the world, I don't think you're going to produce great art. And you certainly won't feel like sticking it to the man who's giving you those zillions. It's funny, isn't it? In an ideal world, you wouldn't have the types of pressures that can lead to great art. Yet Yellow Submarine is a movie whose message is all about making an ideal world. And it's one of the most perfect pieces of moving art ever made.
Josh Weinstein is a former producer of The Simpsons. With Bill Oakley, he wrote many classic episodes including Who Shot Mr Burns? and Lisa vs Malibu Stacy. He is currently co-executive producer of Futurama and lead writer for the innovative CBBC series Strange Hill High. Yellow Subversion: The Artwork of Yellow Submarine, a limited edition box set of screenprints, is available from £395.