Thursday, March 14, 2013

My Half Hour Chat with Chris & Kirk: Pt. 2
(Or: They could've been sitting across from Emma Stone. Instead, they're staring at me.)

If you haven't read Part 1, you should really check that out first. Already read it? Then let's dive right in to Part 2...

The Production

Me: What were some of the inspirations for The Croods? Where there any particular books, movies, cartoons...?

Kirk: [Chris and I] have a very similar sensibility. We knew we wanted to take this to an emotional place. We knew when we started working on it that Grug was going to make some sort of sacrifice -- an emotional sacrifice -- at the end for his family, taking it to a deeper, more sincere place. So we really thought, let's try to start it in a lighter, more comedic place, then take it there so it's more of a surprise and catches people by surprise and has more impact. And the [opening scene], 'The Hunt,' that Chris was always driving, there was the Looney Tunes kind of broad slapstick, choreographed action to that sequence. So I think that was a big influence. And then within that sequence there's actually a few shots from Beverly Hills Cop that we kind of 'homaged.'

Me: Do tell.

Kirk: Remember at the very beginning when Axel Foley is on that truck and it's ripping through Detroit? He's hanging off the back of the truck and it's a great, big action sequence. Huge action sequence. We watched that a lot because, first of all, we love that movie. But the 'fish out of water' -- it's like, set the guy up in his world where he kicks ass, you know what I mean? He knows what he's doing, he does it with style, he does it with courage, he kicks ass, and then throw him into a place where he should be able to kick ass, and just doesn't. There's that. And there's one shot of the truck, a big eighteen wheeler, that we kind of re-did with the elephant. There's that big telephoto lens, and as the elephant comes toward it, he sort of smashes through the sand while the Croods are all on it. And then later on...there's one more, right? Or is that the big one?

Chris: That's the big one that I remember. That's the only one that I remember referencing directly.

Kirk: Yeah. And since we don't have any other cars for the truck to smash up, we had a giant sand dune. It was one of those great ones where the effects guys are like, 'How big is the sand dune? How big is the explosion?' [And we're like,] 'How big can you make it?' And then the other one, a little bit, because it's a road movie, a journey, there's some kind of Western motif in there. You know, big, epic wide shots, and then you cut in. Because it's a small story against an epic backdrop. It's like: ZION NATIONAL PARK! RED ROCKS! Then cut into the cave. It's like BIG, BEAUTIFUL, JOHN FORD VISTA! Then cut into the stagecoach. So we kinda had that Western scope, I think.

Chris: Yeah, definitely, definitely, definitely. And we did look at some of those films, like The Searchers. Hmn...I'm trying to think of one you didn't hit. Well, you know, there was another interesting moment where we -- as a group -- sat down, and we were looking to establish Grug as the dad who is overwhelmed. It was actually in one of our layout meetings. It turned out to be a really amazing meeting.

Kirk: Oh, yeah!

Chris: And the whole idea of looking at a couple of other films that were emblematic of this whole theme came up. So we knocked off for the day, then we reconvened. And we were looking at scenes from Parenthood...

Kirk: ...and Cheaper by the Dozen, Father of the Bride -- Steve Martin's in-over-his-head, spinning-plates kind of comedies.

Chris: And Mr. Mom. And the direct result of that was we realized there has to be one of these scenes that, if you were talking about this film, you could put this one scene on TV and you would totally get it. So one of our animators -- and in one of the most complex moments for the entire film -- it's that moment where Grug has his whole family trying to touch that little fire. And he's pushing them. Grug is using his feet, his hands, sticks--

Kirk: Did you see it yet?

Me: Tomorrow.

Chris: Pay attention to this one shot. It's this one shot -- actually the first shot that this animator did -- where Grug is pushing his family away from this fire. And every time he pushes one of his family member away this way, another one is coming in this way to touch it. They're really bent on hurting themselves. They're going to hurt themselves. And it's only Grug that keeps them from hurting themselves. So that scene was the result of that meeting where we talked about, 'Okay, let's look at some great movies that did this really, really well.' So when you see that shot, it came from that little meeting.

Me: The poster that I've seen online for the press events, with Grug painting the circle, I put that on the blog a little while ago, and that has gotten such a good response. One of the -- the guy who asked the question about John Cleese, actually (Richard Bensam!) -- he wrote, 'This poster alone gives me a whole new...' It's like, he knew he was gonna love the daughter character, but he wrote, 'This is the one that makes you love the dad.'

Chris: Oh, I like that. I like that. I don't know if we've ever mentioned this, but one of our artists named Margaret Wuller, she created that. And it wasn't for a moment in the film that we had envisioned. It wasn't like we, we didn't come up to her and say, 'This is it, Margaret. You better come up with an image that's gonna change our lives.' But she did. It was just one of those things. She was creating cave paintings, creating designs, and one of the designs that she submitted one day, amongst a bunch of other ones, was that beautiful image of Grug with his arms around his family. And we knew...first of all, we knew we'd found the image for the movie. Okay, that's gonna be on the t-shirt, it's gonna be on the poster...

Kirk: It was the iconic...

Chris: But of course then we saved that until the very end of the film, for this moment where Grug has completely changed and he paints that. That moment where he takes, where he arcs that paint around the family. We talked with Alan Silvestri about that. We said, 'Okay this is gonna be...' We made sure that when it was animated, the animator didn't go too fast. In fact, we slowed the animation down on that. We were like, 'Give it a little more time, because there's going to be a music sweep as he finishes that painting.

Me: Well, it's gotten a good response. For sure.

Kirk: Well, that's really great to hear.

Chris: That's really...

Kirk: We need to get it out there more.

Chris: I know, I know...

Kirk: But that also -- as Chris was describing -- that's one of those things that's's so animation specific for film making. It came from art department into there, and then we wrote in that direction to get there. That's one of the cool things about animation.

Chris: That's a really good point.

Kirk: You know what I mean? It's so different.

Chris: It really went, not backwards, but sideways through the whole thing.

Kirk: Yeah, sideways.

Me: Here's my gal Mishka's question. In the back-story for Bambi, the legend is that they were having trouble finding the look for the film until they saw the Tyrus Wong watercolors that they used for the backgrounds. And this is kind of what you just said, but was there any piece of art or artist whose work suddenly solidified the look of the film or the emotion of the film?

Kirk: [Margaret Wuller's drawing] would be the emotion of the film, for sure.

Chris: Perfect question. Yeah, it would be that iconic painting that Grug makes at the end of the film. And we saved that. Cuz once she painted that, it came and went a few times, and eventually we placed it where it was destined to be, at the very end of the second act.

Kirk: And the other one that's just been there -- because of the nature of the story -- is the first teaser poster with the world cracked open and them staring out. The cavemen looking out into a world with all of this in front of them. Because that was always the--

Me: It was a visual summation of the film.

Kirk: Exactly.

Me: Have you guys seen The Art of The Croods book yet? I mean, you've lived it, but...

Kirk: No, not yet.

Me: I got an advance copy, and I was like 2/3 of the way through it when I saw this simple image of unfinished CG. It was of Grug holding Sandy with like, wires for flowers. [...] And I thought, 'Wow, they could have almost done the movie in this style!' But, like, every picture in this book, you guys had to look at and think, 'We could do the movie this way. We could do the movie this way...'

Kirk: Right, I know. Chris, this is a good question for you because this is your...I feel like that was the hardest part of this movie, finding that look, finding that direction, hitting that tonal balance, having comedy but keeping it grounded enough that in the end, when it looks like they're going to die, the audience is concerned. Because if it was just the Croods from the opening at the end, had we not taken that journey and the palate and the art hadn't become more sincere, you wouldn't be concerned.

Chris: That's perfectly said, actually. There was a time when the film was getting very, very Dr. Suess-ish. People were very keyed into the fantasy element, the whimsy of the world, and there was a lot of excitement for that kind of look. People liked the cartooniness of it, and it's a lot of fun. I left and went to How To Train Your Dragon. That was my crash-course in CG. And when I came back, I felt very differently about how the film should look. Because we did know, the thing we that knew from almost the very beginning, we knew where this film was going to go. We actually had the ending for this film way early, very early in the process. And that ending never changed. We knew that Grug was going to end up in this really serious spot at the end of the film. I came back and I had a talk with Kirk. I said, "You know, I really think we should go more believable, more realistic." We kept the whimsical shapes and the really broad, bold shapes, but the surfacing got much more down to earth and very serious. So we kept the amount of whimsy I think that we needed, but we definitely got a lot more serious with the vibe.

And that was it! Our time was up. Chris and Kirk were whisked out of the room and down ten floors to the press conference being held below. I managed to get a seat for that, too, so you can expect to read more about that in the very near future.


How would I rate this second go-round? Honestly, I loved it even more than the first. While I'll take the atmosphere at DreamWorks over that of a five star hotel any day of the week, the CONVERSATION this time was AMAZING. Hearing Kirk talk so passionately about writing and animation was infectious. He's very friendly, super funny, and really loves what he's doing. I had a great time talking to him. He sucks you right in with his stories! Plus, CHRIS SANDERS, right? That's why I started this blog. And now I got to hang out and chat with him -- TWICE. That was totally unexpected. Oh, and I don't know if any of you will remember this, but a long, long time I ago I think I might've mentioned this tiny, li'l dream I had of one day getting a sketch of Stitch from Sanders. Well, THE DREAM CAME TRUE!

See? Chris even drew it using one of the pencils I gave him, then spilled his coffee on it cuz Stitch looked thirsty. How cool is that?!


It's now Wednesday, and I still haven't seen The Croods. Mishka and I had passes to a NYC press screening last Saturday, but a minor family crisis forced us to return home shortly after the interview. That said, NO REGRETS. In fact, I'm kind of looking forward to seeing the film for the first time in a theater full of screaming kids and shushing parents. What better way to see a family film than with, well, families? Mishka and I are taking a bunch of our nephews and nieces and a few of their parents. Seeing a 3D film about a loud and rambunctious family with our loud and rambunctious family -- that counts as 4D, doesn't it? I CAN'T WAIT.


  1. YOUR DREAM CAME TRUE!! WOOOOOOO! does it feel? to accomplish your ultimate dream??

    1. Honestly? AMAZING!

      When I entered the room, I gave Chris and Kirk a couple of small gifts -- belated wrap party presents. One of the gifts for Chris was a box of these special 'Indian Red' pencils that he'd written a blog post about on his website. Almost immediately after opening them, he said, "I owe you a drawing, don't I?" and went to work! That's why the first couple of quotes are all Kirk. That's when Chris was drawing Stitch! He continued to shade him and add the background and word bubble throughout the rest of the interview.

      It was pretty effing exciting to keep looking down while we were all talking and see the drawing I'd been dreaming about materializing before my eyes! I feel very, VERY fortunate.


  2. Honestly and seriously...if I had been given the chance to say one thing to Chris and Kirk in person, it would have been "When I first saw that picture of Grug, I thought about the image of Eep and tears literally came to my eyes because I realized what this was all about. I still get choked up thinking about it now." And if I'd been given a chance to ask a question it would have been "So is there a story about that picture, huh? Who came up with that, because that artist is amazing." And there you are asking that very question and getting an awesome answer and now we know the name of an amazing artist. Wow.

    1. I'm tellin' ya, Richard, when I post the audio of this interview, you're gonna hear firsthand how moved Chris and Kirk were by what you said about the cave painting poster. It was one of the best moments of the interview. I owe you!