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Wreck-It Ralph - Rich Moore interview

Wreck It Ralph

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RICH Moore talks about some of the challenges and joys of directing Wreck-It Ralph for Disney and why some early advice from John Lasseter proved invaluable.

He also talks about preparing for the Oscars and why it feels weird, working with John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman and subverting expectation when it came to handling some of the animation. He was speaking at a UK press conference.

Q. Congratulations on the Oscar nominated Wreck-It Ralph. Do you have plans to go to the ceremony? Do you have a tuxedo ready?
Rich Moore: Um, I thought I’d made it myself. Yeah, it’s all set. It’s a very strange thing because there’s really nothing like an awards show. It feels competitive but you’re not competing. It’s not like The Olympics or the Super Bowl. It’s a judgement being handed down and you have to dress up nice and go to a big place and sit there and wait for someone to hand down judgement on something that was done months ago.

Q. Ralph is trying to win a medal for the first time. Do you know what that feels like? What was the first medal you won?
Rich Moore: I won a ribbon for a cake contest when I was in the boy scouts. We had to make cakes and they judged the cakes. But mine came out so poorly that I just kind of piled them all up together and frosted it and put a sign at the top of it that said ‘Mount Cake’ and it won! I don’t know how I possibly beat out all the other cakes [laughs].

Q. How did John C Reilly take to his first animated performance? Did he deserve a medal?
Rich Moore: Yeah, he was very heroic. This was a new kind of process for John. This was his first time working on an animated feature and I think he jumped in with a lot of enthusiasm and did a great job. So, I would give him a medal. I remember the scene where Ralph had to break the car. John’s vocal kind of ended early in that scene and the tail of the scene was all Sarah [Silverman] watching Ralph break the car. But John wouldn’t just finish the scene and just hang out. He would mime and act out breaking the car to give Sarah something to act off of vocally. It was take after take that was so good and they kept getting better. The fact that Sarah had something to play off of… I don’t think it would ever have been as strong if he hadn’t done what we were doing in that room. John would really put his whole body into it.

Q. What made you decide to cast Sarah Silverman?
Rich Moore: I thought she was perfect for the part. The part was tailored for her because I was inspired by Sarah’s autobiography, The Bedwetter [Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee], and I would listen to it on my iPod. It was her doing the reading of the book and I loved the parts where she would talk about her childhood and how naive she would say she was… but inappropriate with adults. I thought that was a great character. So, to have Vanellope, this kid who could really stand her ground and could really be the one that really kind of puts Ralph in his place… I thought that not just the idea of this character but Sarah playing this character just seemed perfect.

Q. Was there much room for improvisation?
Rich Moore: Well, we would work from the page first. I always thought of it in three steps: first the page, then the playing and kind of going off of the reservation, and then we would then try to pull it back into the scene. I really enjoyed it. It wouldn’t just be the actors but also myself there and the writer, our head of story. Everyone was there and no one was precious with the material. We were always trying to make the scene as funny or as touching or as emotional as it could possibly be and it was a case of the best idea wining. We were just trying to elevate the material in each of our ways.

Q. You have an impressive background in animation but how was it for you to be given the keys to the Disney toy box?
Rich Moore: Well, it was wonderful to be handed Disney’s take on video games. There were moments when I would have take pause. When I was working with Phil Johnston, the screenwriter, we would say to one another: “Can you believe they’re letting us run with video games! This is Disney’s animated video game and that’s pretty cool.” So, I would always appreciate it as wanting to make it the best it could be and with the respect that that meant but equally not to be daunted by it and be crushed with questions like: “Is this living up to the legacy of Disney?” When you look at that long legacy, it can be a little overwhelming.

But I have to give a lot of credit to John Lasseter, who took me aside very early on this film and said: “OK, I want one thing out of you. I want you to be yourself. I don’t want you to second guess what a Disney movie should be. I don’t want you to try and make a ‘Disney film’. I want you here for what you bring to animation, not what you think a Disney movie should be.” And that was an amazing [set of] marching orders to be given at the beginning of this because it is possible for an animator and a director to look at… starting from Snow White, it’s a really impressive group of films. So, hearing John say those words was monumental to me.

Q. And how was doing the 8-bit animation?
Rich Moore: It was interesting at the beginning to work with the animators and kind of share that idea with them – ‘well, I think the animation for these 8-bit people should be limited’. That is not a note that Disney animators get that often! They’re used to trying to make the animation look as beautiful and realistic and fully as it possibly could be. So, to have a director say ‘no, no, make it look simple and make it look limited and jerky’… Really, on their part it was a real leap of faith for these guys and I have to hand it to them; they entered into it saying: “OK, this kind of goes against my grain as an animator…” But as they kind of stuck with it they started to see what it was that I was talking about and one by one they all got it. So, light-bulbs kind of went off. But it really took them taking a chance on an idea that they didn’t quite see at first.

Q. How difficult was it to narrow down which video game characters you chose to include in the film?
Rich Moore: I didn’t want to be the only one choosing characters from my past and what I liked. So, we put up a big board in our common area, our coffee area, with a sign on it asking who people’s favourite characters were from childhood to now. So, we had just a big pool of ideas and then we kind of went through and a group of us said: “Oh, we’ve got to have him or her…” So, we had a really wide slate to kind of choose from.

Q. Which characters were your own favourites?
Rich Moore: My favourite games from that arcade era were things like Pac-man and Donkey Kong. I liked it when the characters were like little cartoon characters. I like the old Spaceships or Asteroids. It was fun. But when the games became character-based, that’s when I really got into them.

Q. Where did you originally stand on 3D and has that changed over the course of making this film?
Rich Moore: Well, I was someone that wasn’t too keen on 3D, especially the converted live action films. It wasn’t something that really appealed to me that much. But in preparing to make this film I knew the question would come up and it just seemed, if not this film, what film would be as perfect for 3D. So, very early on I decided that if it was going to be 3D I’d embrace the technology. In our process, it happens at the very end but I wanted to meet with the relevant people early and talk to them about what helps make 3D good – you know, what I could do throughout the process to make their life easier and give them material that was taking the best advantage of 3D.

And I came to really enjoy working with this group of people and it kind of blew me away the things that they could do with that technology. This group in particular has kind of grasped the technology and are now more about the artistry of it now and are using the 3D to support the story and the emotion of the film. By the end, I look at the film and I really think that the 3D version is the definitive version of the movie. I think this art can be elevated by using this technology and I really enjoyed working with it.

Read our review

Read our interview with Sarah Silverman