Dr Seuss' Horton Hears A Who - Chris Wedge and Mike Thumeier interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
BLUE Sky Animation luminaries Chris Wedge (vice president, creative development) and Mike Thurmeier (senior supervising animator for Horton) talk about the challenges of making Dr Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who and the continued advances in animation and what it means for the industry.
Q. What appealed to you most about tackling Dr Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who?
Chris Wedge: For me, it was just getting the world of Seuss up on the screen and the challenge of doing it in a way that people would respect and understand it. Part of our philosophy in designing the movie was: “What went on in Seuss’ head when he closed his eyes?” Are these drawings really representing what he saw? And because we can do all this fantastic rendering and texture and colour in detail in computer animation, we just felt a responsibility to be as true as we could to the design.
Q. This is the first fully animated adaptation of a Dr Seuss book. Is it true that this was one of his widow’s requests?
Chris Wedge: Yes, it’s the first Dr Seuss feature film to be fully animated. And Dr Seuss’ family were very involved in this – they got to look at the script, and they were involved in the choice of the voice talent and the actors…
Q. What was the biggest animation challenge?
Mike Thurmeier: From a technical standpoint of making the movie I would say the fur was definitely a big challenge for me. We had an amazing fur team that did all the work. But from a strictly performance point of view, we had to push these characters further than we have before. There were a lot of demands put on the people that helped build the tools and the phones into the characters so that they could do so much more than we’re normally used to doing. I probably spent most of 2006 just building characters and tools so that we could start animating in January. We’ve only recently finished.
Q. How long has the whole process taken?
Chris Wedge: We started looking at the story in 2004 while we were finishing up on Robots. It was then that we started talking to the Dr Seuss estate about doing this. At the very end of Robots, Steve [Martino] and Jimmy [Hayward] created a model of Horton and put together some animation tests to show them some preliminary designs and to give them an example of how he might look in animation. So, we won their hearts and minds and then went on to develop the script.
Mike Thurmeier: Physical production began around the end of 2005, so people have been working on this for a long time.
Q. The voice talent is incredible given that it boasts some of the world’s greatest comedians. Jim Carrey and Steve Carell take the leads but you’ve also got Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill who have really exploded since the success of Knocked Up and Superbad, to name a couple of others. How easy were they to get?
Chris Wedge: Well, fortunately they were signed up a little bit before everything hit, so somebody was very, very smart. We were lucky.
Q. Jim Carrey is also a Seuss veteran, having appeared in The Grinch a few years back…
Mike Thurmeier: He’s a big fan and he really helped to develop the character. He had a lot of ideas and a lot of input, so he was very involved.
Q. What do you both love the most about working in animation? It’s becoming an increasingly tough field…
Chris Wedge: Yeah, it’s crowded but for me, I think we all love making things. And animation is a place where you can go and make things that don’t exist anywhere else. It’s a great place to go in order to explore fantasies. For me, I think it might be the most complete way to get a fantasy idea out of your head and into somebody else’s – I mean just a literal transfer, there’s no interpretation. Then it’s about other people reacting to it. There’s also the geeky fun of just working on stuff.
Mike Thurmeier: On an artistic level, there’s the day-to-day of being with the character in a scene and just challenging yourself to come up with cool stuff. It sounds easy for us but it’s great when you’re in the theatre and you see everybody’s work up on the screen. To see something that you’ve pulled out of your head, or the director’s head, that makes everybody laugh is really rewarding, especially watching little kids go crazy with their mothers.
Q. Which were the animated films that inspired you to follow a career in animation?
Chris Wedge: I just liked stuff that made me laugh as a kid, like The Muppet Show, the Warner Bros stuff or TV cartoons. Anything drawn I thought was cool. Then, of course, there’s the film geek answer – like Indiana Jones and James Cameron’s stuff. But I didn’t know until the end of high school that I wanted to be an animator, so it was kind of late.
Q. It’s said a lot that Pixar set the benchmark in animation. Do you ever get tired of hearing that?
Chris Wedge: [Smiles] I know the guys over at Pixar really well and we’re all part of the same mutual admiration society. Pixar can make a movie once every 18 months or two years but there’s plenty of other ideas and other places to do it. Fortunately, Pixar did set the bar so high with Toy Story because otherwise I don’t think that we would have a business, or a company, or we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about our latest movie. It created the business really and we inherited a lot of momentum from that. I think we’re now at a point where the audience has started to expect some innovations in the films we’re making, so that they can be more sophisticated and they’re not just funny cartoons – although they certainly still deserve to have as many funny cartoons to watch as they can. But Pixar started the whole thing going and who knows where it’ll end…
Q. Where do you see Blue Sky going from here because you’ve also been going from strength to strength since the original release of Ice Age…
Chris Wedge: Well, I hope we’ll keep doing it. We have a lot of ideas in development now. We’re making Ice Age 3, for instance. After that, it’s about picking the right world, the right story and the right characters and saying: “How about it?”
Q. Do you intend to direct again?
Chris Wedge: I hope so [laughs]. I’m working on a number of movies but I’m in a place we like to call development hell. But we’re going to get there.
Q. Do you have plans to direct a feature film as well, Mike?
Mike Thurmeier: I did a Scratch short last year, which we had a lot of fun on, so I’d love to.