Good Food Gone Bad

Animation Magazine - - Features -

TSeth Ro­gen and pals dive into an­i­ma­tion to serve up ir­rev­er­ent laughs in the R-rated CG-an­i­mated fea­ture By Tom McLean.

here have been sev­eral R-rated an­i­mated fea­tures, dat­ing all the way back to Ralph Bak­shi’s no­to­ri­ous X-rated 1972 film Fritz the Cat, but it’s taken comic writer, ac­tor and pro­ducer Seth Ro­gen and his part­ner Evan Gold­berg to bring it into the dig­i­tal an­i­ma­tion age with Sausage Party.

It’s dif­fi­cult to ad­e­quately de­scribe Sausage Party, which ar­rives in the­aters Aug. 12 via Sony, and is nom­i­nally about a nor­mal hot dog named Frank who wants noth­ing more than to be bought by a hu­man and con­sum­mate his love for the lovely bun Brenda, who sits in a pack­age next to his on the su­per­mar­ket shelf. But when Frank and his pals learn the sto­ries they’ve been told about the won­ders of be­ing taken home from the store are false and that they are all to be eaten, they de­cide the rest of their food friends need to know the truth at any cost.

With Ro­gen and Gold­berg best known for such comedic and ir­rev­er­ent fare as Su­per­bad, Pineap­ple Ex­press and AMC’s Preacher, the film def­i­nitely earns its R rat­ing — as well as its laughs — with plenty of strong lan­guage, sex­ual sit­u­a­tions and food-based vi­o­lence, all while pos­ing more than a few philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions about re­li­gion, pol­i­tics and sex­u­al­ity.

But the idea at first was much sim­pler, says Ro­gen. “The whole goal was to make a (CG) an­i­mated movie,” he says. “We re­al­ized some­one one day was go­ing to make an R-rated one and we thought we would sure like to be those peo­ple.”

The idea first came to Ro­gen and Gold­berg about 10 years ago, as they ex­trap­o­lated the idea of bugs and toys hav­ing a se­cret life in hit an­i­mated films to food and the su­per­mar­ket.

“At the same time, we also look for some type of deeper mean­ing in our movie — even if it’s very, very hid­den, deep within the movie,” Ro­gen says. “And this kind of the­o­log­i­cal and ex­is­ten­tial idea started to be­come very en­ter­tain­ing to us as well.”

Though Ro­gen says he’s a huge fan of adult an­i­mated shows like South Park and The Simp­sons, the fea­ture film ref­er­ences for the movie were more main­stream Pixar and DreamWorks movies and the 1990s Dis­ney films he and Gold­berg grew up watch­ing.

“We thought that, in or­der for it to re­ally cross over in a main­stream way, the

idea of re­ally dress­ing it up in cloth­ing that peo­ple are very fa­mil­iar with was some­thing that would dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from other adult an­i­ma­tion,” he says. “The fact that it looks and feels like the type of (an­i­mated) movies they’re used to see­ing was, to us, some­thing that made it palat­able.”

A Hard Sell To no one’s sur­prise, the movie was not an easy pitch. Ro­gen, Gold­berg and pro­duc­ing part­ner Jonah Hill brought in an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor Con­rad Ver­non, based on Ro­gen’s ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with him on DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion’s Mon­sters vs. Aliens. “(An R-rated an­i­mated fea­ture) was some­thing that has al­ways been in the back of my mind and some­thing I’ve al­ways wanted to try out and work on,” says Ver­non. “So when they pitched me, I was say­ing in the back of my mind: Yes!”

Ver­non, in turn, con­nected with his friends Greg Tier­nan and Ni­cole Stinn, the hus­band-and­wife founders of Ni­tro­gen Stu­dios in Van­cou­ver, as a pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity for the project. Ro­gen and Gold­berg be­gan writ­ing the script with Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaf­fir, and the group be­gan a two-and-half to to three-year process of pitch­ing the movie as a pack­age with no luck.

“The wall we were com­ing up against was the live-ac­tion com­pa­nies were say­ing we don’t un­der­stand an­i­ma­tion, and the an­i­ma­tion com­pa­nies were say­ing we’re not go­ing to do R-rated,” says Ver­non.

En­ter Me­gan El­li­son, founder of An­na­purna Pic­tures and pro­ducer of Os­car-nom­i­nated fea­tures such as Zero Dark Thirty, Her and Amer­i­can Hus­tle. “Me­gan re­ally wanted to be the first per­son to make an R-rated (CG) an­i­mated movie and was re­ally ex­cited about the idea of it,” Ro­gen says. He called in Ver­non to ex­plain that they could make the fea­ture of Pixar or DreamWorks-level qual­ity for an af­ford­able bud­get, and El­li­son signed on, fol­lowed quickly by Sony as co-fi­nancier and distrib­u­tor.

Then the film­mak­ers had to fig­ure out how to ex­e­cute the project. “The re­al­ity set in and this has to be a movie that ranks in qual­ity along­side the DreamWorks and Pixars of the world,” says Tier­nan.

“We took it from the point of view of, let’s ask for the moon and then let’s see how far we have to come down, in­stead of start­ing low and see­ing how far we can come up,” says Ver­non.

On the Same Page The di­rec­tors worked to­gether closely, al­ways en­sur­ing they were on the same page and hav­ing a good con­nec­tion with the crew. “All of my crew here in Van­cou­ver knows how I work; I know how they work; and ev­ery­body just pulled out all the stops to do the best they could on a tight sched­ule, as all these movies are,” says Tier­nan. “We had com­plete con­trol over how things looked vis­ually and for Con­rad and I that was a dream set up.”

For per­for­mance ref­er­ence, Ver­non says they based the an­i­ma­tion on old Bob Clam­pett car­toons from Warner Bros. and AAP Pop­eye shorts. “We lit­er­ally took our char­ac­ters and ro­to­scoped over those old an­i­ma­tions that those guys did, just to make sure our rig could han­dle the crazy an­i­ma­tion that Warner Bros. used to do,” he says. “And when we saw this stuff and saw the stretches and the wipes and the dry brushes and the mul­ti­arms and all that kind of stuff that we put into this movie, it cre­ated a re­ally great look.”

An­other chal­lenge was deal­ing with so many char­ac­ters. “Any­one who walks in a su­per­mar­ket and looks around at the prod­ucts that are on the shelves will see there are hun­dreds of thou­sands of them in any rea­son­able sized su­per­mar­ket,” Tier­nan says. “We built a small num­ber of rigs that were adapt­able to use in dozens and dozens of char­ac­ters, and we built up a pretty amazing crowd sys­tem that was all based on tra­di­tional an­i­ma­tion rather than sim­u­la­tion.”

Tier­nan says the crew peaked at around 175 mem­bers, all in-house in Van­cou­ver, and the film took about two-and-ahalf years from board­ing through fi­nal ren­der.

The script of­fered plenty of laughs, al­low­ing the an­i­ma­tors to fo­cus on giv­ing the food char­ac­ters per­son­al­ity, heart and soul – even when they’re en­gag­ing in a mas­sive dis­play of lewd acts at the movie’s cli­max.

The film’s early screen­ings showed prom­ise, with rave re­views com­ing out of a pre­view at South by South­west as well as other ad­vance show­ings. That has Ro­gen hope­ful the film will be a hit af­ter its long jour­ney from idea to re­al­ity.

“You al­ways want your movies to do well, but one of the main rea­sons I want this movie to do well is so we’re al­lowed to do more of them,” he says. “I hope that this isn’t the last R-rated (CG) an­i­mated movie ever made.”

For a film series set dur­ing a lost ge­o­log­i­cal era and star­ring sev­eral char­ac­ters based on long-ex­tinct species, Blue Sky Stu­dios’ Ice Age has proven a re­mark­ably long-lived film series as it re­turns to the­aters July 22 with its fifth en­try, Ice Age: Collision Course.

This en­try sees the orig­i­nal trio of char­ac­ters — Manny the woolly mam­moth (Ray Ro­mano), Sid the ground sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the saber-toothed tiger (De­nis Leary) — have to save the world when the saber-toothed squir­rel Scrat has a mis­ad­ven­ture with a frozen UFO that sends a giant as­ter­oid hurtling to­ward Earth.

The ever-grow­ing cast is joined by Mod­ern Fam­ily star Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Shangri Llama; Ma­roon 5 rocker and The Voice judge Adam DeVine as Ju­lian, fi­ancé to Manny’s daugh­ter, Peaches; English singer Jessie J as Sid’s new love in­ter­est, Brooke; and as­tro­physi­cist Neil de­Grasse Tyson as a ver­sion of him­self, Neil deBuck Weasel.

With the last two films in the series hav­ing each grossed north of $850 mil­lion world- wide, Ice Age’s sta­tus as an on­go­ing series seems as­sured, even though that’s not how the creative side ap­proaches each new en­try.

“When we fin­ished three — that’s when I started co-di­rect­ing — and again af­ter four, it was like wow, I guess the au­di­ence is there,” says Mike Thurmeier, co-di­rec­tor on the third fea­ture, Dawn of the Di­nosaurs, and di­rec­tor of 2012’s Con­ti­nen­tal Drift and, now, Collision Course. “They’re go­ing to the films, so it seems like we should prob­a­bly do an­other one. Peo­ple seem to like it.”

Lori Foote, pro­ducer on each film in the series from its start, says there are plenty of ideas for more movies, but the stu­dio takes each story one at a time.

“I know that if there’s an­other one — or a last one — I know what I would do. I know the sto­ries I want to tell,” she says. “But if there wasn’t, if there wasn’t a story worth telling, or that we felt was wor­thy of the char­ac­ters, we prob­a­bly would just not do it. I think there’s still more sto­ries to tell if the au­di­ence wants to see them. But we’ll know af­ter this movie comes out if they want to or not.”

Thurmeier says fo­cus­ing on mak­ing each movie with­out think­ing about it as an episode of a big­ger series is a strength of the fran­chise. “The way that the films have been made with the hook of The Melt­down or the Jules Verne-ish di­nosaur ‘Cen­ter of the Earth’ story, there’s a quirky fun layer to it that I think you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily have if you thought, I’ve got to wrap up the whole fran­chise.”

AWOL in a UFO That said, the plot of Collision Course takes a turn out of a mo­ment in the first Ice Age, in which the char­ac­ters walk through an ice cav­ern and see a fly­ing saucer frozen in the wall. “It was sort of a non se­quitur — it was kind of funny, it was kind of quirky,” Foote says. “We thought at that time that there’s some­thing there ... so when I was think­ing about ideas for this movie, it was just, this is the time to tell that story.”

So the film be­gins with Scrat, the fran­tic dia­log-less acorn pro­tec­tor, find­ing the space ship, ac­ci­den­tally ac­ti­vat­ing it and launch­ing into outer space. A whole new level of Scrat

an­tics well known to view­ers of the series fol­lows, with the re­sult be­ing that a huge as­ter­oid’s course has been di­verted di­rectly to­ward Earth. This marked a bit of a de­par­ture for the series, which has typ­i­cally kept Scrat in­volved in his own par­al­lel sto­ry­line in­stead of be­ing di­rectly in­volved in the main plot.

“We feel it con­nected the whole fran­chise with the first movie and grounded it a bit more,” says Foote. “We’ve al­ready set it up ... so it didn’t seem like a far cry to get him up there. But the fact is we can do that with Scrat; we would never send our guys, Manny, Sid and Diego up there.”

From that orig­i­nal idea, Foote over­sees a writ­ing process that runs through the en­tire pro­duc­tion sched­ule, with many writ­ers con­tribut­ing at var­i­ous points, from break­ing big plot points through fine-tun­ing in­di­vid­ual lines.

“It’s a con­stant sort of process,” she says. “It’s re­ally nice to have a lot of time to do that and be able to tell a story a lit­tle better than you would if you only had three months to do it.”

Thurmeier and his co-di­rec­tor, Galen T. Chu, be­gan sto­ry­board­ing while the writ­ing was in progress, say­ing the two dis­ci­plines feed into and play off each other’s strengths. “We all re­spond to it and sculpt it along the way, so it’s a con­tin­ual back and forth and evo­lu­tion that doesn’t end un­til re­ally late in the process.”

El­bow Room Needed As with any on­go­ing series, there’s a need to stay true to the orig­i­nal while evolv­ing into some­thing new at the same time. “We have more tools at our dis­posal, so things have got­ten a lit­tle more ad­vanced, but we try and keep the style,” says Thurmeier, say­ing the series has be­come more fast-paced as it adds new char­ac­ters and sto­ry­telling trends change.

Each film also added char­ac­ters to the cast, with the ma­jor ad­di­tions work­ing be­cause they ad­vance the evo­lu­tion of the main char­ac­ters, such as find­ing sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers or hav­ing chil­dren. But at the same time, it be­comes a ma­jor chal­lenge to find screen time for both the lead char­ac­ters and the grow­ing sup­port­ing cast.

“You do have to pick and choose who is ris­ing to the top and who is more sup­port­ive,”

Greg Tier­nan

Con­rad Ver­non

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