April 23, 2014

“Rise of the Guardians” director Peter Ramsey on holidays, 3D and sequel ideas – OSCARS


By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: It’s not quite Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and Iron Man. But if the holidays ever needed an Avengers-style superhero group to combat the forces of evil, that ensemble likely would be made up of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman.

That, at least, is the driving story behind “Rise of the Guardians,” a thrilling and heartwarming animated adventure from DreamWorks Animation that took home the 2012 Hollywood Animation Award at this year’s Hollywood Film Awards gala. Directed by Peter Ramsey, “Guardians” tells an origin story of how Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) comes to join the mystical Guardians as they band together to stop the evil Pitch (Jude Law) from turning kids’ childhoods into living nightmares.

Ramsey sat down with HollywoodNews as the film prepared to open over the Thanksgiving weekend for a lengthy conversation. Here’s “Rise of the Guardians” director Peter Ramsey:

Much like with the pristine Blu-ray technology, animation just tends to work better in 3D than live-action film does. Do you agree, and how did the implementation of 3D affect your approach to “Guardians” and its visuals?

At the basic level, animation – by virtue of it not being reality – is inherently stylized. It’s got a bit more of a graphic quality, and you have to animate for graphic quality that I do think makes transferring to 3D a little easier.

I think, with our film in particular, we were going for a hybrid quality. We knew it was going to be in 3D, so we did a lot with our set design to reflect that fact. We were trying to maximize, through our visuals, how 3D was going to work. It was a combination of realistic lighting and the compositions, the level of stylization and the set design.

The other thing that we did, which was less obvious, is that we had a 3D script. We’d go through, shot by shot, and would either dial up or dial back the depth of focus depending on the level of emotional conflict. I’m sure it’s something that everybody does, but we were really trying to use the 3D that way, to increase intimacy by flattening out the 3D, or making it really deep in scenes with peril and psychological tension. What we did in a couple of scenes, where Jack’s in the lair with Pitch, we tried making some parts of the scene deep and some parts shallow.

We get to see each of the home bases of your Guardians. Some of them are very familiar to us. Santa’s workshop is an example of a place that gets portrayed on screen all of the time. But the Easter Bunny’s lair is relatively new. What went into the design concepts of those locations? They have to feel real to the kids in the audience, don’t they?

Yes. And with all of those places, we tried to look for the logic that exists with how we are presenting them. With the Tooth Fairy, we had two things. She’s collecting all of these teeth, and there has to be some kind of cataloguing system or a library to tell us where she stores them. … And then there was the notion that it was going to be this vertical hanging space came from the notion that we were going to design the Tooth Fairy as this sort of hummingbird creature who had all of these tiny little hummingbird minions. Let’s design a space that could only be used by bird-like creatures.

And how about that delicate line about making these areas feel real so that your young audience believes that it really does exist.

Exactly, and that’s another reason for us trying to add a layer of logic and detail to the designs. With Easter Bunny, we wanted it to feel ancient, to have a Zen-temple feel. Also, the bunny’s had a real nod to Miyazaki in their design. That was a big tip of the hat. His sentinel egg creatures were straight out of Miyazaki.

But as to why younger audiences are latching on to this film … I won’t say that I completely understand it, but going in, the thing that grabbed me about the project is that we all had these relationships with these characters. They are already under our skin. Once you believe in something, I don’t think that goes away. I can’t tell you how many adults have come up and told me, “You know, I don’t even like animated movies, and I saw this one and almost cried three times. It took me right back to being a kid.” [Laughs] And I’m like, “That’s what we were trying to do, but Jesus, I don’t think that it’s that good!”

No, but it is. And I’ve already written down the Turkey, the Leprechaun and the Groundhog for the sequel. You are all set.

[Laughs] I’m still kind of in publicity and recovery mode right now. But yes, there’s so much going on in the Bill Joyce mythology – Mother Nature and Mother Goose. There are so many possibilities that we could delve in to. I’m sure if there is a sequel, I can already see a fantasy creature montage.

Read more of our exclusive Awards coverage:
Our “Silver Linings Playbook” review
Ben Affleck tells us about “Argo” and the possibility of more Dennis Lehane stories
Bryan Cranston calls “Argo” his “proudest moment in motion pictures.”
Helen Hunt opens up about on-screen nudity for “The Sessions”
Amy Adams lends strength to “The Master”
“Arbitrage” director Nicholas Jarecki on Richard Gere and the Oscar race.
Producer Harvey Weinstein

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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