ComingSoon.it is quickly becoming my go-to source for new Croods news. It seems like every day they've got a new, exclusive something or other about The Croods. Today's something or other? An interview with Chris Sanders! As the interview was originally in Italian, and Google Translate is only a teensy bit better than a first year language student, I took the liberty of rearranging the words so that they made some sense. Now it reads like it was translated by a SECOND year language student!
Chris Sanders Talks About The Croods by Domenico Misciagna
Domenico Misciagna: I met Chris Sanders in Rome. Sanders is co-directer of The Croods, the new cartoon from DreamWorks Animation. The Croods is about a family of cavemen forced to leave their home due to the imminent end of the world. Before moving to DreamWorks, Chris worked at Disney, storyboarding The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. He was promoted to co-writer and head of the story on Mulan, then made his debut as a director with Lilo & Stitch, along with Dean DeBlois.
Chris Sanders: Before The Croods, I always co-directed with DeBlois. It's easy to be infected by his joy.
D.M.: John Cleese, ex-Monty Python, is credited as co-writer of The Croods. Would you please share his history with the film?
C.S.: John and my co-director, Kirk De Micco, had already written a first version of the film. I came on later. Kirk and I kept the main idea, that Grug's father -- played by Nicolas Cage -- has an exaggerated fear of all that is new. That new technologies terrorize. And this was John! John does not love technology. [...] His contribution is the DNA of the film.
D.M.: I really admired The Croods from a visual standpoint. The style is hyper-realistic, we might say. Realistic and cartoon at the same time. Was this a deliberate choice?
C.S.: We played with fantastic shapes. The main characters are a good example. Their arms and shoulders are huge, even the character of Eep. She has broad shoulders and a swimmer's body. Yet their forms manage to be graceful. The shapes of plants, animals and humans are exaggerated, but their surfaces are realistic. This is because we wanted the story to have a strong emotional core, as well as realistic consequences to the actions. We wanted people to feel the Croods' world was real, although imaginative.
D.M.: If you had to point out the main themes of The Croods, what would you choose?
C.S.: There are so many different themes. There is the fear of change. We set the story in a prehistoric world because it is the most subject to change. The land itself changes under their feet. And this is the story of a caveman whose sole purpose is to protect his family, to keep it alive. The central theme becomes their change. Grug tries to hide the change, but the change still happens to him. It's an experience that we all share. You have to change jobs, you have to change schools, the children will grow up, you get old. This is the aspect that all viewers will identify with on a strong, emotional level. The Croods talks about how change is something that we all have to accept sooner or later.
D.M.: Face tomorrow, the sun.
C.S.: Yes, face tomorrow. I love the theme of following the sun. The Ryan Reynolds' character, Guy, is the new caveman, human being 2.0. He's like us. He loves technology, he creates fire. When it comes to Guy, Grug is absolutely terrifying. He hates him. But what Guy brings to the Croods is just imagination. Like, 'Imagine this wonderful place where everything will be better.' Guy calls it "tomorrow," and he is following this dream that leads him to the sun. He's following the sun to reach a safe tomorrow.
D.M.: It 's the birth of the imagination.
C.S.: Seriously, yes. It's the theme of "follow the light," which we created for the film. The characters -- children and adults -- are all drawn to the sun and light. You can interpret the "light" in many ways, no interpretation is wrong. I think they are all right.
D.M.: I do not think that all the actors in the film had previously voiced animated characters. As a director, how did you help them?
C.S.: Wow, this is one of my main tasks! Kirk and I carefully introduced our players to this strange world. We always tried to spend some time with the actors before putting them in front of the microphone. We didn't want to rush them with a quick, "Nice to meet you. Okay, you're a caveman, now! Do it!" We'd show them graphics, we'd talk about the world. We record our actors in a dozen sessions over at least a year, sometimes even more. In that year we have more and more things to show them. We record their voices first, then animate and show them the scenes. During that time, we all grow to know the characters better. The interesting thing about working on an animated film is that it grows over time. At the end of the process, you actually understand everything. Then we'd want to redo the movie from the beginning, because we knew the characters and their dynamics so much better!
D.M.: You gave your voice, or rather your sounds, to both Stitch and Belt. Could you describe the process that leads a director to do a voice for the film? You are not an actor, after all.
C.S.: [Laughs] Every now and then it happens. In the case of Stitch, we did not want him to speak. We thought we'd be embarrassed hiring an actor and then asking him not to speak. It seemed strange and we thought that one of us should just do it. When I began to record Stitch, I worried. I knew I was not an actor, so I'd better be careful! For Belt, the same thing happened. Originally the character -- believe it or not -- didn't even move. Was just a 'belt,' a small hairy thing. Then, while working on it, we thought it would be nice if every time he moved, his eyes or hands moved, too. So we built a very simple rigging. The rigging is something that is not seen, but through which the animators move things. Belt was the character in the movie with the most basic rigging. He could do nothing, but the animators managed to work wonders with him. Of course, when we were in full production, we realized that it was one of our best characters, and we had given him the most demented gags!
D.M.: You were part of the animation renaissance in the nineties, after the crisis of the early eighties. What do you remember most of those difficult years?
C.S.: I was in school during what was perhaps the most difficult period for animation. I was finishing college [at the California Institute of the Arts, 'CalArts,' ed.] during that time. I remember many people from Disney roaming the school, because they were not working. I had gone to that school to study and work with those people who were not doing anything! I thought, "Oh my God, what have I done!" I was in the third year, I had almost finished, and I was wondering, "Will I find work?" I never imagined [at that tine] that animation would come to have such importance.
D.M.: Looking at your website, I noticed that comic strips are part of your artistic experience. Obviously you create these comics on your own, and that it is a very different process from film, which is a collaborative art. Have you ever thought about making a cartoon by yourself?
C.S.: I always think about it. Maybe one day I'll have that chance, when I retire. One of the reasons I do the comic strips is because an animated film takes five years. It never ends, you can not see the end. While I spend years and years working on things that never end, once in a while I like to do a drawing, from pencils to inks, and say, "Finished! I managed to finish something! Now I can go back to work."
D.M.: Most animated films in Hollywood are computer graphics or stop-motion. It's obvious that you love the two-dimensional hand-drawn graphics. Will we ever see another American big-budget, hand-drawn animated feature?
C.S.: Maybe. We'll see. Maybe we'll see more hybrids, as is happening now. CG has its advantages, as does the traditional technique. I believe that engaging people emotionally is easier with a freehand drawing. There is something in that analog process, something more emotional and engaging. There is much more work to do to convey the same emotion with the characters in CGI. So I hope so!
How's that for a good gettin-to-know-ya? That last question alone will keep my imagination fueled for days. Chris Sanders returning to hand-drawn animation would be a DREAM COME TRUE for so many of his fans. It's nice to read that it'd be a dream come true for him, too!