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As funny and well-received as Adam McKay’s The Other Guys was, one of the main topics of conversation about the film is the end credits sequence. Playing while Eva Mendes and Cee-Lo sing “Pimps Don’t Cry,” the sequence is an animation that highlights some incredible statistics that give insight to the economic crisis we currently find ourselves in. Some say that it’s great, some say it’s out of place and some say that it’s too politically charged. To get the story behind it, I went to talk to the people that made it.
Created by Picture Mill Studios in Los Angeles, three members of the team - Grant Nellessen, the art director, William Lebeda, the creative director, and David Midgen, the producer – were kind enough to sit down with me and talk about the animation, from its inception to people’s reactions. Watch the credits below and then check out my interview with the men of Picture Mill.
How did Adam McKay and company approach you about the project and how did you develop the idea?
William Lebeda: We’ve done all of Adam’s titles, for all of his movies. So we’ve had a relationship with him since Anchorman. He just called us up and said, “We’ve got another one that we’re doing.” We kind of knew that he was in production on it so he called us and had us come over, we took a look at the movie and it went from there. So we saw the film, and he said, “Well, I don’t really know what I want at the end exactly, but the movie is this buddy cop comedy with a white collar crime component. I want something fancy, I want a big thing.” He actually said “I want titles that people were going to talk about.” He really wanted to make it an event at the end of the movie. So we came back to the office and that’s where we started. It was the idea of we have to think of something big that kind of fits this mold.
So how did you finally come up with the idea of outlining the financial crisis?
WL: Our process is that we’d come in and we’d have a bunch of ideas, and everybody kind of spits out ideas and we sort of work them up. And we took back about six ideas, and they were all really different. There was this financial charts and graphs thing, we had another thing that was based on an inside joke in the movie, there was another thing that was destroying an office and office things, typewriters and staplers, and there was a couple of other things too. But this really landed for.. well, it landed for us. Grant was working on it right away. Right away we knew it’s doing something that he’s wanting, but it just had a real fresh feeling to it and was just really successful. So we took all that stuff back to Adam and that was the one that really made it for him.
Was there ever any conflict about the tone? A lot of people have been commenting how you go from this funny buddy cop movie to these serious statistics about the state of our financial world. Was there any questioning the idea in that respect?
Grant Nellessen: That was definitely discussed, but not really questioned. Adam thought that was kind of cool, we had this light, fun movie with something important to say right at the end. It kind of attaches this kind of outlandish movie to the real elements of what’s going on today. So he was just really into that.
WL: I think, just for him, I don’t think he ever saw it as being that big of a disconnect. I mean, it’s got this big rock and roll song on it. I think that it was always going to have a little bit of humor about it, or at least a little bit of clever. I mean, even in the graphics that we originally presented, when we were in the meeting we were talking about, “Oh, we have the other statistics, and we have the car in there and people running.” It really was the idea to make it into something not just “The economic crisis sucks.” It was something where it had a little bit of levity about it. And, as [Grant] said, it’s about the absurdity and the reality. It sort of brought the comedy to it.
David Midgen: Presenting all the facts and figures makes you realize, “Oh yeah, this is real, not just a comedy you watch. This is based on something that is occurring.”
What was the research process like? How did you find the figures you used in the animation?
WL: Grant and I at first were just going on the internet just looking up random facts and our minds were just being blown by all this stuff that is happening. Eventually they hired a copy writer.
GN: We had tons. We knew we wanted the TARP bailout, we knew we wanted AIG, executive compensation, and ponzi schemes. We had so many of these ideas floating around, so we ended up hiring this writer, Mark Tapio Kines, who we worked with before a bunch of times. And he really helped us structure it and attach real numbers to these ideas that we had. So he was crucial in giving it its ultimate shape.
WL: It was great because he kind of gave us the backbone of the narrative, but then we were able to take this visual concept and turn it into a story.
Is there a name for the specific type of animation that you used for the credits and what was the process of building the look?
WL: I think the official name is awesome. Times two. [laughs] It was really influenced by infographics. I think that if somebody had to say what is it, it’s infographics. There’s a whole history to this stuff that comes out of Power Point. People said Power Point a lot about it, which stings a little bit [laughs]. I like to think we’re a little bit better than Power Point. But, at the same time, there’s some of that, but there’s also USA Today, which is famous for distilling the universe to three heights of flagpoles.
How long did the animation process take and how many people did you have working on it?
WL: Yeah, let’s start with “Well…”
GN: This is the end credits sequence and there’s a lot of legal stuff that goes into creating what those words are on the screen, that everyone’s name is spelled right, everyone’s in the right group, no one’s been forgotten, all that stuff. And that’s a pretty mammoth project, just to get the words set up. The end credit is always the last thing that we get and it’s always just before we need to finish. So this was a big exercise in pre-planning, because we knew what we wanted it to be and we knew what it had the ambition to be, we just didn’t have the actual credits. So we built all of the animation with temp placeholder stuff and had most of the animation ready and standing by when the actual words came in, which the actual copy files came in, but that was even four days straight to get it finished in time. So I think, probably, the finishing process was just me and Matt, it was the two of us. But in terms of building the animations that went into it there was Ramsey, Grant, Nelson, Iris, John…
DM: There was a bunch of us. Let’s just say the whole building.
GN: Not quite, I’d say it was six or seven animators.
WL: And this is how it works. Notoriously, Adam comes to us late with his movies, because he is a copy guy. And they just work the movie, and work the movie, and work the movie. They try jokes and they cut stuff around. So by the time it’s time for us, by the time they’re ready for us, they’re very close to the finish line. It’s great, but just know how that goes. So I think that we were probably, from the day we presented to Adam our ideas…we had been in the week before and had seen the movie, and met with him the first time, from the time we presented to the time we delivered it was about a month. Or 28 calendar days. I think it was maybe not even quite a month. So that was the beginning. We ended up not only doing just the end credits, we did the title sequence in the front, we did information graphics in the middle – news graphics in the middle – and then we did the thing at the end. So we kind of had a lot of stuff that we were doing with that movie. I would say it was easily three weeks of work working on the end titles and various groups of people for all that time. People were doing other things, but from the writing, to the plotting, to the planning, to the re-writing, to the redesign – all of that. It was probably three very full weeks of work to get that done.
Did Adam McKay have any presence during this process or was he busy elsewhere?
WL: No, he was great. We wrote the story, he said, “Guys, this looks great!” and then we said, “This is what it’s going to look like,” and we made a storyboard. And he says, “It’s great!”
GN: Adam has the fullest confidence in us after so many movies. After he’s like, “Alright, go,” he just lets us do it. That’s exactly what we wanted to do.
DM: There was not a note.
WL: I think the note was “Awesome.” “It’s great” or something like that. No comments.
Some people are saying that the credits are politically charged favoring the left. Do you guys see it that way?
WL: Just the facts, man.
GN: It’s got a slant, sure it does.
WL: But Bernie Madoff ends up in jail at the end! Determinedly so.
GN: It makes Bernie the bad guy. Who’s defending Bernie?
WL: There is some of that it there, but at the same time we didn’t make any of this up and we didn’t try to skewer or cheat any numbers. None of that. We did pick some things that we thought were topical. I did think it was important for the movie to show the thing about retirement plans for the police officers and the retirement plans for the executives. That’s something that we felt was important to connect it back to the movie. So it wasn’t just a diatribe on financial irresponsibility. And I think even in the meetings Adam admitted to being a little soft in the film about the film. They’re making a buddy comedy fun movie. I think, for him, it felt like an opportunity to kind of be a little more pointed about his opinion and the absurdity of it and the irresponsibility of it. Adam had something on his mind when he wrote the script and this was sort of, in a way, the best way for him to not let it get in the way of the movie. It’s not a Michael Moore film, it’s a treat. It’s a real fun movie.
What are you guys working on now?
WL: We’re working on a couple things. Grant’s working on a big project right now.
GN: I’m doing the main title sequence for a Universal movie, David Gordon Green’s next movie, Your Highness. We’re doing a really fun, crazy, hopefully hilarious main title sequence. We’re working on Robert Schwentke’s new movie, Red, and Hawaii Five-O, we’re doing the titles for Hawaii Five-O.
For Hawaii Five-O are you referencing the old show at all?
WL: Oh, yes. They remixed the old track, we have the world’s awesomest wave shot, we’ve got the balcony shot. It’s like a 21st century version of the old one. We have shots that are frame-for-frame exactly like the old one, except they are all 21st century. Bunch a new stuff too.