All Hands on Drac

Animation Magazine - - Features -

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.” [

Gen­ndy Tar­takovsky

At left, ex­am­ples of Tar­takovsky’s ap­proach to making notes for shot dailies. Th­ese over-draw­ings were en­tered into the scene files to re­turn to the an­i­ma­tors for re­vi­sion.

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