I don’t know about anyone else but I was pretty terrified about taking on the world of Dr. Seuss. We knew at the beginning that we had to do it right and co-director Jimmy Hayward dove in and started working on the story. Steve Martino, the second director, dove in and started working out how to interpret Seuss’ simple, funny drawings into colour and a multi-dimensional world.
Taking the whimsical tone that exists in the story and having the actors pick that up was very important. Jim Carrey did a fantastic job of making Horton a much more entertaining character than he is on the page. Steve Carell, doing his job as the mayor of Whoville, a role that exists as one little drawing in the book, is a role that’s fleshed out into a character with big problems.
I was nervous because of the Chuck Jones animation – the only time we’ve seen Whoville animated was in The Grinch, which is a classic – but I knew we could do it. We were all hungry for the challenge. It seemed like a good match for Jimmy and Steve too, because Steve is so strong artistically, he’s got a great design sense, and Jimmy’s so funny, he’s got a great sense of humour.
In animation you want to start with a world. You want to go to places you couldn’t go otherwise. Seuss has certainly created a whimsical world in all of his stories and a world that has a common feeling. Horton, in particular, is a story that has a beginning, middle and end and it’s full of compelling characters and with a great problem to deal with. It felt like it could be fleshed out and made into something fun, funny and colourful.
Maybe it’s not the smartest way to start a movie, because in my opinion the story is more important than the world you go to, but because we make animation, storytelling in animation is done with the picture, it seems. It just feels natural to get excited about a world first, whether it’s imagining a prehistoric world in Ice Age or whether it’s imagining a world full of mechanical people in Robots. Seuss is the natural next place to go.
When we get excited about a movie we picture something in our heads that sometimes takes years to get to. Along the way it’s like looking at the plans, the scaffolding or the paintwork. It’s like, “This is going to get covered in plaster… This is going to get painted…” When you get to the end you get to a moment where you get to check with your imagination if it fits and there always comes a time where you think, “I can’t come up with anything new…” But then comes a moment where it’s like, “Holy crap, this is more than I ever thought we’d get in the movie!” It’s a fun process to watch.
We have a tool where you can see what’s just been lit and rendered and I’ll check all the frames and I’m like, “Oh my God, look at this,” and I’ll send a little email to the rest of the animation department. After it leaves our department we forget about it until we see the lighters getting their hands on it and then you see everyone drooling! It makes their work look great. Departments before us build the models and then we animate them so they get excited by what we do, I guess, so it works at every stage of the process.
We started the company because we had ideas about how we wanted images to look. We thought about technology that would make it possible. We didn’t have ideas about how it would work ultimately, but there’s a toolset that people at Blue Sky have access to now that allows them to do incredible things. Things like working with light but with all the control you could possibly want.
Blue Sky’s renderer is unique in the business. Nobody else does it quite the same way from a technical aspect. I think it gives a slightly different flavour to the films we make than other animated films.
Once the designs have been done and the fantastic animation has been done, really it’s the frosting on the cake, the colour and the way the light is done and all that sort of stuff, which is actually done last, that blows everybody away. It’s really your little reward because it all just comes together perfectly.
People ask, “How can you work on the same movie for three years?” The reason is that every day there’s something new. There’s always something to look forward to, there’s always something to get excited about. We get to go places no-one’s ever been before.
Horton Hears a Who arrives in cinemas in the US on 14th March, Australia on 20th March and the UK on 21st March.