All Hands on Drac
IGenndy Tartakovsky draws up a graphic approach to 3D animation in directing the Sony Pictures Animation sequel
By Tom McLean.
n animation, as in any art form, there are no hard and fast rules. Just ask the animation crew that worked on Hotel Transylvania 2 for director Genndy Tartakovsky.
“The rules change from shot to shot,” says Alan Hawkins, animation supervisor on the Sony Pictures Animation movie. “On other CG movies that I’ve worked on at other studios, it’s more about keeping things on model, keeping things consistent. But Genndy will do a pose that we’ve never seen before for a shot, or a shape that we’ve never done before on Drac just because he thought it was the funniest option. It’s sort of like the sky’s the limit in terms of that kind of thing.”
None of which should surprise fans of Tartakovsky’s work, which includes creating such iconic 2D animated TV series as Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars and Sym-Bionic Titan. Having brought his style to CG animated features with the successful first Hotel Transylvania movie in 2012, Tartakovsky admits his cartoony style is challenging for CG animators to get used to.
“It’s kind of a difficult style to just jump into especially when everyone in the animation community is doing stuff that’s different,” says Tartakovsky. “To do the cartoony stuff, you need a certain sensibility and understanding, so that’s always the challenge.”
Opening in theaters Sept. 26, Hotel Transylvania 2 picks up with Dracula, voiced by Adam Sandler, hosting a wedding for his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her human beau Johnny (Andy Samberg), who soon have a son, Dennis. Drac’s worries about whether his grandson will be a vampire are amplified when Mavis goes to the human world with Johnny to meet his parents and Drac’s old-school father, Vlad (Mel Brooks), shows up at the hotel for an unexpected family visit. Also returning to provide voices for the sequel are Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade and Keegan-Michael Key.
With so large a cast of characters, it was a challenge to ensure the animation focused the audience’s attention on the characters and minimized the potential distraction offered by highly detailed CG-rendered environments.
“When you’ve got five people in a shot, you’ve got to make sure you know where your focus is and that you’re leading the eye of the audience to that,” says Tartakovsky. That was easy with the simpler images of 2D animation for television. “With CG, we’re finding more and more what we need to do,” he says. “For this movie, our colors are crisper; tonally, the movie is richer; and I think that helps make the reads be clear.”
be accepted by Johnny’s family when they both stand out.
Personality drove the design for Vlad, voiced by comedy legend Mel Brooks. “We know he’s going to be very curmudgeonly, he’s going to be old school, he’s imposing but also very old — and at the same time, he’s gotta be comedic,” says Tartakovsky. Lots of sketches led to a bit of a funny old man look that was refined by adding a touch of F.W. Murnau’s original cinematic vampire classic. “We wanted to bring a little Nosferatu into it just because that’s the OG Dracula, or vampire, and so there’s little elements of it in the giant big ears.”
Hawkins says most of the characters from the first movie were well established, but the new ones quickly developed their own styles. Vlad, for example, is less exaggerated and more of a slow, controlled and monolithic character, Hawkins says. The Cronies, who are part of Vlad’s gang and the eventual main antagonists of the movie, are given a layer of simulated muscle and wings to give them more detail than the other characters in the movie.
“That was really tough to collaborate with because it’s done by another department and the nature of Genndy’s posing usually makes it very difficult for simulations and things like that to occur,” says Hawkins.
Additionally, the movie has a much larger character count than the first one, with many more background variations and different costumes used. “The setup team and the modelers definitely had their hands full with that — and the animators, too, because the more characters you have the less you can focus on (each of) them.”
For the look of the movie, production designer Michael Kurinsky sought contrast between the monster world and the human world.
“What I did was I just contrasted shape languages,” says Kurinsky. “If the monster world was tall and vertical, the human world is more horizontal and flat and one-story. If the monster world is more colorful lighting and coming from different kind of angles — up angles and things like that — the human world was drabber and even.”
The production was quick, with animation starting in October 2014 and taking about 10 months to complete by a crew that grew to include at its high point 110 animators.
“We basically made the movie in under three years from first script to delivery,” says producer Michelle Murdocca. “We didn’t get down to script writing until September of 2012, so it was a pretty tight schedule, and the script that we got in November of 2012 is nothing like the movie that we’ll release.”
Working with Sandler Though he’s a star in the animation world, most people who buy a ticket to Hotel Transylvania 2 are more likely to recognize Sandler, who voices Drac and is executive producer on the movie along with writer Robert Smigel. Tartakovsky says they brought a strong point of view to the project and all parties needed to reach a consensus on the best way to proceed.
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” says Tartakovsky. “They’re very set in what they do and sometimes it’s real successful and sometimes it’s not, and so we have to prove ourselves. If I come up with a joke and they go, ‘Eh, that’s okay,’ I go, ‘Well, let me board it and show it to you,’ because once you see it, it becomes something else.”
“We’re basically partners with them,” says Murdocca. “They’re writers and we partner with them to collaborate on all the right ideas and make sure we’re going in the best direction for the movie.”
With the movie almost completed, Tartakovsky says he’s anxious to finish it and move on to his next project, an original feature idea titled Can You Imagine?, at least in part because he feels pressure to make the movies he wants to make while he can.
“I remember when (Hayao) Miyazaki retired, he had only made 11 movies,” say Tartakovsky. “The 11 are amazing, but when you think of it like, ‘I only have so many left,’ you start to panic. If you’ve got 10 movies left, you want to make sure you get them made.” [