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"Are Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny friends?" This was the simple question asked 14 years ago by William Joyce's then six-year-old daughter that ultimately inspired the writer-illustrator to craft elaborate tales that fill in the back stories of these childhood icons as well as the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and even the Man in the Moon. Having set up a world where these legendary figures can mingle, Joyce's stories became a hot commodity in Hollywood. Most producers wanted to do direct adaptations of the books, but Joyce had a bigger idea in mind.

Introducing a new exhibit at The Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, Joyce admitted he'd hoped the movies and books could build on each other, expanding their narrative world. Happily, DreamWorks agreed, and so here comes Rise of the Guardians, which is based on the characters and back stories of Joyce's Guardians of Childhood series, but tells a whole new adventure, set 300 years after the resolution of the books' arc, and centering on a new character to the Guardians' fold, the fun-loving but irresponsible Jack Frost.

To achieve the scope and spectacle that Joyce envisioned, DreamWorks brought in production designer Patrick Hanenberg and storyboard artist turned director Peter Ramsey, both who appeared alongside Joyce to introduce an eager crowd to MoMI's The Art of Rise of the Guardians exhibit, which was unveiled prior to an advance 3D screening of the new movie. The trio talked about the development of the film and its look, always being mindful of the children in the audience.

They spoke about researching the backgrounds of these elusive legends, tracing down rare archival footage of Nicholas St. North (A.K.A. Santa) and E. Aster Bunnymund (A.K.A. the Easter Bunny), all in order to get their stories and looks just right. Joyce was brimming with enthusiasm as he detailed Santa's past as a Cossack, explaining the red-coated icon's Russian accent and skillful sword fighting, and how Bunnymund is from a tribe of pooka, giant warrior rabbits who shape worlds. For his part, Ramsey discussed the film's more technical aspects, like its embracing of 3D. He grinned broadly explaining how every scene and sequence was storyboard with 3D in mind, and how the filmmakers wanted to make the best use they could out of the device.

But all this was prelude to the exhibit itself, which is full of gorgeous paintings of the feature's exotic locations, captivating portraits of its characters along with various alternate designs for each, and a detailed flow chart of how the film was made. There are also reference materials and a behind-the-scenes documentary short running in one of the museum's theaters, with animation tests looped in another. Basically, the exhibit is filled with eye candy from the film's development, and mindfully, much of it carefully hung lower to engage younger museum visitors. But that's not all!

Running in conjunction with The Art of Rise of the Guardians exhibit, MoMI is offering a DreamWorks screening series that includes all of the Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar movies, and many more, including 3D screenings of Monsters vs. Aliens and Megamind. Both the exhibit and the screening series will run into March of 2013, and movie tickets are free with the price of museum admission. Check the Museum of the Moving Image website for details. And if you can't make it New York City for the exhibit, you can share in some of the experience by checking out the images in the gallery below, or getting a copy of the special edition book The Art of Rise of the Guardians.
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