When it comes to experiences and details, Disney spares no expense. Hence the opportunity they provided on a recent press trip for a group of bloggers, myself included, to meet Rich Moore and Clark Spencer, the director and producer of Wreck-It Ralph, respectively.
While the conversation (below) was interesting and informative, I was even more excited about the setting for our interview. We actually got to sit in Roy Disney’s old office that is housed in the large sorcerer’s hat on the Walt Disney Animation Building. The story is that Roy Disney only used the office for a short period of time due to the vertical stripes painted along the interior of the round room (see above) — he complained that sitting in it made him feel like he was spinning, so he relocated elsewhere. These days the room is used primarily for photo ops and entertaining me, apparently.
Here is some of that aforementioned conversation with Rich Moore and Clark Spencer that I promised you:
On where the idea for Wreck-It Ralph originated:
Rich Moore: I started here, working at Disney, four years ago… invited by John Lasseter, who is a dear old friend, to develop some ideas for movies, one of which I would direct. There had been a notion of a video game based movie here for several years that had not been cracked. It had been kind of put back on the shelf a year before I started here in 2008. When someone brought that up, that there used to be this idea for a movie about video game characters, I thought that’s pretty interesting. I like video games. I like that type of world. It could be very kind of rich and fun and something that people would enjoy.
I just started with that notion. After about two days, I thought this is a really, really bad idea because the characters have no life. You know, they just kind of have one thing that they do. They have no free will. They do their same job over and over again every day. Who’s gonna want to watch that? That’s boring. And then I took a moment and I thought, well, what if the main character didn’t like his job? What if everyone else loved their jobs and the main character didn’t like his job? That would be a fantastic kind of internal conflict for a protagonist to have. From there I pitched a few ideas to John, and we both agreed, this is the one.
On video game references in the film:
RM: There are a lot, as you saw [we screened the film prior to the interview, review to follow], hundreds I would say. I don’t know. I mean it’s just layer upon layer. We start with characters from other games and references to other games, and then just seeing the other games, seeing the other characters… we have graffiti referencing certain things from other games. And there are jokes about other characters and games… I wish I could give you a number. I’m sorry.
Clark Spencer: But I think one of the things we tried to do is make sure that we did it on multiple levels. So there’s graffiti in there. And if you want to look at the graffiti and if it means something to you you’ll enjoy that aspect of it. Otherwise, if you don’t play games, it’s just graffiti in a train station, which you would expect in a train station.
RM: Right. That just kind of adds to the believability of the world.
CS: You know what’s interesting? No one turned us down. What was interesting, in the very beginning, when we talked about this idea, there was sort of that moment where we realized we’re actually gonna have to go forth and ask companies to license the characters, and there was always that question of will we be able to do it? And if so, how many characters would be available to come into the film?
We had this moment where we went to E3, I guess, two years ago, here in L.A., and we met with a lot of the gaming companies, Namco specifically. We pitched the film, and you could see the people got excited about the idea of the movie. Their biggest question was to make sure that their character was put into the film in an organic way that felt like it was their character, so in cases where we said, hey, we’d like this character and we’re thinking they may sit in this area, they might say, well, that doesn’t seem like it’s the best fit. So, Nintendo for example, they were like, Bowser and Badmouth makes complete sense.
RM: Where it seemed like it worked.
CS: It totally worked. But we couldn’t find the perfect way to put Mario into the film in a way that felt totally organic.
So that was really more the conversation and to all the gaming companies’ credit. And I think, we’re the Walt Disney Company… we have lots of characters that we would be as protective of. That’s where their protection was. It was more about if it feels like it’s organic and it makes sense for our character, we’re excited to be apart of it. If it feels like it’s just a cameo for no purpose sake then we’re not as interested.
RM: Right, and they were a real pleasure to work with. It began with kind of sitting down and explaining the movie to them and talking about the characters. We all just kind of agreed that this is a great way to showcase their characters.
CS: And one of the amazing things we did was we actually shared all the assets back and forth, so as we built the model we would send it to them and have them comment on whether they felt like we had captured their character correctly. As we did our animation test, they would look at the animation test and give us feedback as to how the character moved, and was it true to the way they saw their character, all the way to the point of final lighting. And I think it was great because it’s the same thing for us. We see things the way we feel our characters should move and act, and there were notes they gave us back that are completely great notes.
On their input in video games based on the film:
RM: Well, you know, from your lips to God’s ears. We are pretty heavily involved in all the different things. As you know, it’s a big company here, and before we started making the movie… we are also in the business of selling the movie to people within our own company. You need to introduce it to all the different arms of the company.
We were involved quite a bit, I think, with all the ancillary things, with the marketing of it. We see lots of stuff on the toys and the games because we want it to be consistent.
CS: Develop the film and they build stuff off of it. They don’t come and look at the movie and say, well, you know what would be really great is if you added this. Right now the hottest toy is whatever. If you added this into your film somewhere, then it would help sell product… they leave us alone in that aspect of it.
They definitely come in with a point of view, don’t get me wrong. They’re looking at the movie. They’re saying does this movie feel like it’s gonna work for boys or for girls or for older kids or younger kids? They’re looking at it from their lens. We’re looking at it from a storytelling standpoint and trying to create something that has, hopefully, longevity to it. But it is nice that for the most part it is more than consulting… and what kind of product are they gonna create off of it to make sure that we feel like it seems true to the characters, and to the look of the characters, more than could you please add this? It would make our lives easier. And interestingly in this film, and it’s something that you learn all the time as we go through this stuff, um, there’s a boy aisle, and there’s a girl aisle, right?
RM: Yeah, for boys and girls.
On working with the actors:
RM: I’m really fortunate to have worked with some fantastic actors on this movie. I’m a huge fan of John’s (John C. Reilly, the voice of Wreck-It Ralph). What I love about him is how organic he is in finding his character, and his performances and how he shapes them.
I set up a time where the animators and John could get together and talk about the character. We did a lot of video reference of John acting out scenes as Ralph for the animators to study. I think its so unique about animation. What I love about it is that it’s a split performance. You have this vocal track. And, you know, one person is doing it. Then you have a group of animators who are giving physical performance of what you see, and as a director it was great to kind of bring the vocal talent and the visual talent together and have them kind of communicate to one another. It was like watching two halves of a brain kind of come together and talk about their process and how it works.
I think in those kind of unions you start to get something that transcends just like Dory, for example, in Finding Nemo. I love that character because it’s part Ellen Degeneres, but it’s part this fish design. And something about the fusion of the two becomes its own thing. It becomes like this third party that’s unique unto itself.
CS: And I think because the animators look at that reference it does start to definitely influence the mouth shapes, the eye shapes, the brow shapes, how the hair may move. All of those things become a component of it.
On how long it takes to bring it all together:
RM: Film goes through a projector at 24 frames a second. There aren’t drawings in the animation process now in CG. Traditionally in animation it would’ve taken 24 drawings for every second that you watch or 12 drawings exposed on two frames each for every second. That’s a lot of drawings, so there are a lot of frames of digital information to create one of these. But we do begin with paper and pencil, sketching these things and coming up with the ideas for designs. I would say thousands of drawings are produced in that.
CS: Like, hundreds of thousands.
RM: Hundreds of thousands of drawings are produced in that early development phase.
CS: You render overnight so a shot can take 12, 14, sometimes 24 hours just to render the shot because of all the information. But in terms of the storyboarding processes, Rich said, we still do that, you know, in a traditional way. We might have 30-some sequences in a screening let’s say, and each of those sequences probably has close to 700 or 800 drawings per sequence. So you’re at 25 to 30,000 drawings for one screen.
And then we said our respective thank you and observed the traditional shaking of the hands. You know, interview stuff.
Both Rich and Clark were a pleasure to speak with, and you could feel their excitement about the movie—with good reason, it’s a lot of fun.
Wreck-It Ralph opens Nov. 2, but you can get your fix now (see what I did there?) at the official Wreck-It Ralph website. You can also follow Wreck-It Ralph on Twitter and the Facebook that all the kids are doing.
Photo by Kimberly at She Scribes
I attended a blogger/press event as a guest of Disney. All opinions are my own.