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While 80 percent of Comic Con attendees poured into Hall H for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part Two panel, DreamWorks Animation set up shop in the Indigo Ballroom Thursday morning to showcase the studio’s stable of features, most notably the animated team-up thriller Rise of the Guardians and the caveman adventure The Croods.
Panel attendees were handed Guardians character posters on their way into the ballroom. The sleek, two-sided sheets introduce The Sandman, Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny, and Jack Frost … who’ll join forces, Avengers-style, to stop the villainous Pitch from terrorizing the children of the world.
A montage clip kicked off the panel, highlighting scenes from Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek and the Madagascar films. It’s not officially Comic Con until you’ve heard “Afro Circus.”
From there, the clip transitioned into Guardians. The focus was on Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), a character whose icy powers have him feeling like an outsider. After he’s attacked by the minions of Pitch (Jude Law), Jack is rescued by the “Big Four” of Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), The Sandman, and the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman). The clip quickly kicks into high gear, showing the Guardians interacting in a series of locations, some being fantasy-based but others looking like existing cities. All of the animation, however, looks majestic. There’s a beautiful fantasy quality to the visuals, and even as action scenes flew by, I found myself studying the production design, which was mesmerizing.
The panel attendees seemed surprised that DreamWorks also brought footage for The Croods, co-director Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders’ film that’s due in theaters on March 22, 2013. Set in cavemen times, it introduces an adventurous cavegirl named Eep (voiced by Emma Stone) who warns that her family “never leaves the cave.” Except, as we’re told, “Our world was about to change.” The initial look of Croods is dusty, grey and sandy. But when Eep’s family escapes their cave dwelling, the animation bursts with color as they enter an Avatar-esque jungle environment.
The clip gave way to a panel consisting of Bill Damaschke, co-president of production at DreamWorks Animation; James Baxter, head of character animation on The Croods; Tom McGrath, voice of Skipper the penguin and director of all three Madagascar movies; and Patrick Hanenberger, production designer on Rise of the Guardian.
The panel was asked about the first creative sparks for these movies? Most, Damaschke says, come from internally generated ideas, though some outside materials and books inspire DreamWorks pictures like Shrek, Dragon, and Guardians.
The team sang the praises of William Joyce’s Guardians book, which drives the action on screen. Joyce, according to Damaschke, loves the holidays, and decorates his house for every single holiday, including Arbor Day. “His daughter said to him one day, ‘Dad, does the Easter Bunny know Santa Claus?’ And that question [got him moving],” Damaschke explained.
Hanenberger spoke about his mythical heroes in Rise, saying that they want to bring a new take to these classic characters by introducing them as grounded, realistic people who exist in the real world. He said they used real geographic locations as the foundation for their production design, scouting the North Pole for Santa and Southeast Asia for the Tooth Fairy. The challenge, he says, was to tackle these characters who are known all over the world and design them in a way that people understand where they came from and what they do in the world.
And he says they pushed to make them relatively bad-ass. “We wanted to take it pretty far,” Hanenberger said. He describes them as protectors of children, of what’s good in the world. Yet he still wanted to make them contemporary, with a bit of an edge. He regularly used the term “fit warrior” to describe Claus, who he called “a very dynamic action hero.” Tooth Fairy, meanwhile, isn’t a delicate princess. She’s a queen who controls mini warriors. “Giving these guys an edge … raises the stakes for this story,” Hanenberger said.
The panel spent a good deal of time teasing Croods, as well.
“We really wanted to make a story about a family,” Damaschke said. “What if we told the story of the very first family, a caveman family?”
The panel talked about how quickly the world changes, and how easy it is to feel like the outdated model in a technologically advanced society. That got them thinking of a fresh approach to the caveman genre. This story, they say, is how hard it is for a caveman father to protect his family as the world around his is drastically changing.
They raved about Stone, and the voice work she’s doing as Eep, the young, female character. “Emma is so animated when she performs her line readings in the booth,” said Baxter, explaining that the animators very quickly decided they’d pull a lot of her facial reactions and build them into the character.
They added that there were animal inspirations for each character, which provided a guide for the animators to think about as they worked. Stone’s character, for instance, is very cat-like, moving in a feline way. The cavemen also have the ability to squat and move like gorillas. There’s a tiny, feral daughter who’s treated like a Jack Russell terrier, as well. “The whole movie is sort of a road trip where this family … is forced to go out and find a new cave when their cave is destroyed,” Baxter explained, adding that they meet a guy whose name is Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). “He has ideas,” Baxter says. “He teaches them not to be afraid of everything, and they can survive by being a family.
Rise of the Guardians will be in theaters on Nov. 21. The Croods, meanwhile, is down for a March 22, 2013 release.