Directors are hired for their vision, but in the high-stakes world of animation, that vision is often challenged many times over the course of making a movie--by their colleagues, executives and test screening audiences.
In this video from The Envelope’s animation round table — a recent conversation held at the Los Angeles Times with the directors of “Brave,” “Hotel Transylvania,” “ParaNorman,” “Rise of the Guardians” and “Wreck-It Ralph” — the five filmmakers shared their experiences with taking creative input.
“Rise of the Guardians” director Peter Ramsey, who had strong voices like children’s book author Bill Joyce, executive producer Guillermo Del Toro and visual consultant Roger Deakins weighing in, said he held fast on the tone of the film, which treats Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as an “Avengers"-like team of superheroes.
“When you’re a kid, you actually do believe in these guys,” Ramsey said. “And it’s trying to protect that core, that idea of the characters as icons that you actually have a personal relationship to that. I said, ‘You know what? Let’s not do a satire. Let’s not make it a parody. Let’s play with that idea of taking this seriously.’”
Mark Andrews, who came aboard “Brave” after it had been in development for several years at Pixar, said when story issues got muddy, test screenings had a clarifying effect.
“I could have [Pixar Chief Creative Officer] John [Lasseter] and [director] Andrew Stanton sitting in a room with me and my story crew and a bunch of other people,” Andrews said. “And we could be talking till the cows come home about how to handle a scene. It’s nothing until you see it... when you really go and see a movie. Then you can react to it and see it was working until that part, and then it unraveled. Or it’s not working at all. Or it’s, ugh, it’s so tired and cliché. So the screening process is... the only process that I really listen to.”
“Hotel Transylvania” director Genndy Tartakovsky said he was initially skeptical of the value of test screenings--where large audiences watch a film in a theater-- because of his experience with TV focus groups.
“I didn’t believe in test screenings because from TV, I hated focus groups,” Tartakovsky said. “I never had a good focus group and I never trusted it. There’s like 12 people in the room and they judge your life... So going to do our first test screening, I was really nervous because I wasn’t sure. And, boy, did I love it.... I could see, oh yeah, this is way too slow up here or way too fast or that joke’s not landing... You trust the audience.”