Chris San­ders

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Di­rec­tor, The Croods Key mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion: A key mo­ment for The Croods would be the day [fel­low di­rec­tor] Kirk [De Micco] and I vis­ited the Amer­i­can Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory in New York. We were in the city on a mis­sion to find voices for the film, and had a lit­tle time to kill, so we dropped by the Early Man sec­tion of the mu­seum. We were pass­ing through an ex­hibit of meteorites when we heard a great com­mo­tion ahead of us. Round­ing the bend, we came to the gallery we had been look­ing for: there was case upon case of skele­tons, plas­ter cast­ings of foot prints and de­tailed re­con­struc­tions of early hu­mans. There was a group of school chil­dren on a field trip packed around a model of Lucy: Aus­tralo­p­ithe­cus afaren­sis. The kids were pos­i­tively glued to that case, and ev­ery other case in the hall. Kirk and I ended up star­ing into those dis­plays for quite a while as well. We were all feel­ing the same thing—a mag­netic draw that those crea­tures ex­ude. Ev­ery­one loves cave­men. Kirk and I vowed at that mo­ment never to un­der­es­ti­mate the uni­ver­sal at­trac­tion they have. The big­gest chal­lenge: It was by far the build­ing of their world. Even the in­te­ri­ors were ex­te­ri­ors—all nat­u­ral shapes. The amount of sur­faces was stag­ger­ing, and we owe a great debt to the sur­fac­ers and matte pain­ters, who are in a lot of ways the un­sung he­roes of the pro­duc­tion. Fa­vorite an­i­mated char­ac­ter of all time: It’s a toss-up be­tween Ich­a­bod Crane in Sleepy Hol­low and Snoopy in the Peanuts Hal­loween and Christ­mas spe­cials. Their per­for­mances never fail to make me laugh out loud. Snoopy is far from re­fined, but is per­fect none­the­less. On the state of fea­ture an­i­ma­tion: It’s stronger than ever. Seems it’s never been more widely ac­cepted and con­sumed. And for me, in­spi­ra­tion abounds, from Chris Meledan­dri to the fel­lows at Pixar and Dis­ney. Tech­nol­ogy has ma­tured and con­tin­ues to im­prove, so that the only lim­its now are time and bud­get. But I sense some­thing I felt years ago at Dis­ney, that the bulk of fea­tures con­tain an ever-in­creas­ing com­plex­ity that is, I think, ex­pected and ad­mired within a stu­dio, but I be­lieve is not al­ways nec­es­sary. Ac­tion and scale can numb you af­ter a while, and de­tail can tire you out. Not all sto­ries need huge vis­ual en­gines. With Lilo & Stitch, we paid for a lot of story free­dom with a smaller bud­get and thus lower risk. Ca­reer be­gin­nings: I got into an­i­ma­tion be­cause of my grand­mother. As I was near­ing grad­u­a­tion from high school in Colorado I hadn’t thought much as to what I wanted to do with my­self af­ter­ward, and hadn’t imag­ined that there was any pos­si­ble fu­ture for me that would in­clude draw­ing and mak­ing movies, which my friends and I did with our Su­per 8 cam­eras pretty much non-stop through the win­ter and sum­mers. My friend even con­verted one room in his house into a minia­ture sound stage where he built a re­pro­duc­tion of the bridge of the Star­ship En­ter­prise. I, in turn, per­suaded him to do an ac­tion se­quence in my own movie where he’d re­lease the brake of his Volk­swa­gen and chase it down a hill, where he’d jump in the open door and pull the emer­gency brake be­fore hit­ting me and my cam­era. We did that twice so I could have it from dif­fer­ent an­gles. We then made the mis­take of show­ing that footage to his par­ents.

Any­way, one night my grand­mother read an ar­ti­cle in The Den­ver Post about an an­i­ma­tion school in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, CalArts, that was teach­ing kids to be an­i­ma­tors with an eye to­ward re­plac­ing the dwin­dling pop­u­la­tion of artists at Dis­ney Stu­dios. She changed ev­ery­thing by cut­ting out that ar­ti­cle and later driv­ing me to Cal­i­for­nia to visit the school. CalArts was the one and only col­lege I ap­plied to. I was ac­cepted, by the way, and spent four very ful­fill­ing years there. Best ad­vice: The best film­mak­ing ad­vice I ever re­ceived was from Alan Sil­vestri, dur­ing the mak­ing of Lilo & Stitch. Dean [De­Blois] and I were re­view­ing the story reels with Alan, which is one of the ear­li­est steps in the scor­ing of the movie. At this point, we are just dis­cussing the style and place­ment of mu­sic through­out the film. Alan was very com­pli­men­tary of the story, but had one ques­tion—he had some­how missed the mo­ment when Stitch made the change from bad to good. Dean and I con­fessed that we hadn’t ac­tu­ally placed a shot in the reel for that par­tic­u­lar change in char­ac­ter, as we weren’t sure how to ac­com­plish it. We had tried to show a change in Stitch’s na­ture through di­a­logue and/or ac­tions, but came up feel­ing might­ily un­sat­is­fied or un­com­fort­able with the re­sults. It was too pro­found a mo­ment to sat­is­fy­ingly cap­ture in the story reels, so we had opted to let it hap­pen off-screen. Alan said, “Put it on screen and I’ll do it.” Turns out, Dean and I had been so en­grossed in our sto­ry­boards and script, we had com­pletely for­got­ten the most pow­er­ful sto­ry­telling tool of all—mu­sic. I’ve never for­got­ten that ad­vice: Mu­sic does the heav­i­est lift­ing in a story. And it is al­most unas­sail­able, ac­com­plish­ing turns in a story with a power so uni­ver­sal and pro­found it might as well be magic.

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