Illuminating Dr. Seuss’s Mean One!

The new Cg-an­i­mated fea­ture The Grinch digs deeper into the world of the fa­vorite hol­i­day cur­mud­geon.

Animation Magazine - - Front Page - By Michael Mal­lory

The new Cg-an­i­mated fea­ture The Grinch digs deeper into the world of the fa­vorite hol­i­day cur­mud­geon.

Any­one who has shared Thanks­giv­ing din­ner with ex­tended fam­ily prob­a­bly knows how gru­el­ing it can be to spend an hour or two with a mis­er­able grouch. With that in mind, Il­lu­mi­na­tion En­ter­tain­ment and Universal Pic­tures are of­fer­ing a more sym­pa­thetic hol­i­day meanie in The Grinch, the first fea­ture-length an­i­mated ver­sion of the clas­sic 1957 Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christ­mas.

“Watch­ing 90 min­utes of a re­ally grumpy guy had the po­ten­tial to be a bit of a downer,” notes the film’s art di­rec­tor Colin Stimp­son, a sen­ti­ment that he says was borne out by early test screen­ings. “We fo­cused on mak­ing the Grinch like­able, and that’s a tricky thing. It’s a bal­ance be­tween his be­ing grumpy but not so mis­er­able he turns you off.”

Even though he’s still green, this is a Grinch of a dif­fer­ent color. “We re­ally tried to not do an amal­gam of Grinches that peo­ple have seen over the years and in­stead go back to the source,” says co-di­rec­tor Yar­row Cheney. “We wanted to stay true to that story but dig into who the Grinch is, what Whoville is, where this place is, what kind of peo­ple live there, and why the Grinch hates Christ­mas so much.”

Co-di­rec­tor Scott Mosier elab­o­rates: “Christ­mas rep­re­sents some­thing to the Grinch that brings him pain and sad­ness. It’s the joy and to­geth­er­ness and warmth and beauty of Christ­mas that he’s never been able to be a part of.” In the book, the source of the char­ac­ter’s mis­an­thropy is sim­ply dis­missed by say­ing, “No one quite knows the rea­son,” which wasn’t enough for the film­mak­ers. “We por­tray part of his past but with­out the de­fin­i­tive ‘ Yes-we-ab­so­lute­ly­one-hun­dred-per­cent- know- the-rea­son,’” Mosier says. “We wanted to ex­plore this vis­ually as op­posed to jam­ming in a very nar­rated piece of back story, and we tried to in­te­grate it while re­spect­ing the orig­i­nal ma­te­rial.”

Whoville’s Best

Flesh­ing out ev­ery­one’s fa­vorite hol­i­day-hat­ing her­mit — who here is voiced by the ubiq­ui­tous Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch — was only one of the chal­lenges. There was also the nec­es­sary mat­ter of ex­pand­ing a 1,350-word kids’ book into a full-length movie. This in­cluded cre­at­ing a few key char­ac­ters not found in the orig­i­nal, such as Brick­le­baum, the Grinch’s ter­mi­nally cheer­ful neigh­bor who lives one peak over from the peak of Mount Crumpit (voiced by SNL’S Ke­nan Thomp­son); Cindy Lou Who’s wid­owed mom (Rashida Jones); and the Mayor of Whoville (An­gela Lans­bury). (Phar­rell Wil­liams voices the Nar­ra­tor.)

The char­ac­ter of Cindy Lou, who is voiced by 11-year-old Cameron See­ley, has also been built up and given an en­tire sub­plot. “She is this ball of en­ergy who rep­re­sents in­no­cent joy,” Cheney says. “We ex­panded her role so that she could be a much big­ger coun­ter­point to the Grinch’s world view. She has a plan for Christ­mas Eve, too — they’re at cross-pur­poses, and they’re go­ing to col­lide on Christ­mas Eve.” Cindy Lou’s goal is to force some face time with Santa him­self in or­der to thank him, a plan that is ob­vi­ously com-

pli­cated by the Grinch’s scheme.

Care was also taken to hu­man­ize the Who char­ac­ters, whose looks be­tween the book, the clas­sic 1966 Chuck Jones tele­vi­sion ver­sion, and the 2000 live-ac­tion adap­ta­tion, ranged from in­sec­toid to ro­den­tial. “The char­ac­ters in the be­gin­ning were much wack­ier and broader, but I don’t think they were as ap­peal­ing,” Cheney notes. “We didn’t want to put off the peo­ple who had not seen Seuss be­fore, and we didn’t want to dis­tract from the story by hav­ing char­ac­ters that were too strange and weird.” Not so weird, per­haps, but still a stiff task for the an­i­ma­tion team at Il­lu­mi­na­tion Mac Guff in Paris, France.

“Cindy Lou was pretty hard be­cause we went for the tomboy at­ti­tude, but she has to be cute at the same time,” says Pierre Le­duc, who served as an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor on The Grinch, along with Christophe Delisle. “She has to step up to the Grinch, so we gave her an at­ti­tude, but not too much, oth­er­wise she would be too de­fi­ant.”

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Grinch and his faith­ful dog Max, who serves as his sound­ing board, was also a pri­mary area for de­vel­op­ment and elab­o­ra­tion. Early on, the de­ci­sion was made to keep Max a real dog, not a talk­ing an­thro­po­mor­phic hy­brid. “At first we went for real dog be­hav­ior,” Le­duc notes. “But we changed him a bit be­cause we re­al­ized the com­edy po­ten­tial of the char­ac­ter, and gave him some hu­man ex­pres­sions. You see that Max loves the Grinch, so an au­di­ence could think that, if this dog loves him, he might not be so bad.”

Le­duc goes on to de­scribe the team’s ap­proach to the Grinch’s char­ac­ter as an­gry-blasé. “Most of the time we have a lit­tle bit of anger in his ex­pres­sion, even if it’s mixed with some­thing else. We also tried to make him dif­fer­ent from Gru, from De­spi­ca­ble Me, be­cause they are pretty re­lated.” Maya, along with some pro­pri­etary tools, was used for the an­i­ma­tion.

Not all of the Grinch’s ex­pos­i­tory dia­logue, how­ever, is a one-sided con­ver­sa­tion with Max. The film­mak­ers also used the tech­nique

of nar­ra­tion when nec­es­sary, re­ly­ing on a mix­ture of lines from the orig­i­nal book as well as new ma­te­rial. “Where we needed to con­vey an in­te­rior thought from the Grinch, we used the nar­ra­tion, and any­thing we added was al­ways in the spirit of the book,” says Mosier. Il­lu­mi­na­tion was also able to lure com­poser Danny Elf­man for the project, which Mosier con­sid­ers “a huge coup for the movie, since he’s so great at cre­at­ing a score that’s al­most a char­ac­ter.”

Mean­while, the re­cre­ation of Whoville forced the dig­i­tal artists to check their straight­edges at the door. “When you study Dr. Seuss, you re­al­ize noth­ing is sym­met­ri­cal,” says Stimp­son. “That’s a very tricky thing to do, es­pe­cially with CG, when the com­put­ers and peo­ple work­ing with them want to make ev­ery­thing per­fect. Ev­ery time we spoke to some­one it was, ‘Bend that line here, don’t make them par­al­lel, no 90 de­gree an­gles.’ Ev­ery square inch of the pic­ture frame was de­signed, noth­ing was au­to­mated.”

Adds Cheney: “In the book, Whoville was just a cou­ple of houses, but we made it full of lit­tle shops and houses and won­der­ful peo­ple. Then, you threw in ev­ery­thing that goes along with Christ­mas: the lights, the food, all the things that con­jure up these won­der­ful feel­ings. That gave us the warmth and ap­peal that we needed for this place, but it also gave the Grinch a much big­ger task. If he was go­ing to steal Christ­mas from any­where on Earth, this was al­most the worst-case sce­nario. That made the ac­tual ex­e­cu­tion of it seem like an im­pos­si­ble task, and it gave us a lot of places for in­ven­tion.”

He’s Melt­ing!

It is dur­ing the heist, as Cheney de­scribes the comedic set-piece, that the au­di­ence be­gins to see the Grinch’s slow at­ti­tu­di­nal trans­form. “He has fun do­ing it, and in the ser­vice of de­stroy­ing Christ­mas you see him soft­en­ing and start­ing to en­joy the things that we love about hol­i­days,” he says. “You start to see him start to get ex­cited and be­come more so­cial

dur­ing the work that it takes to pull off this big huge heist that he’s thrown him­self into, and then you watch the eu­pho­ria the Grinch feels as he’s steal­ing Christ­mas.”

And, of course, there is snow, since it wouldn’t be a hol­i­day movie oth­er­wise. “One of the big­gest chal­lenges was to cover the world with snow,” Cheney states. “It has to be styl­ized, like in the book, but it also has to look real. The an­i­ma­tion stu­dio did an amaz­ing job with the snow, in­te­grat­ing this re­ally nat­u­ral­is­tic snow so that it re­acts dif­fer­ently de­pend­ing on the dif­fer­ent kinds of snow it needs to be.”

The Grinch is Il­lu­mi­na­tion’s sec­ond foray into the world of Dr. Seuss, fol­low­ing the hugely suc­cess­ful 2012 fea­ture ver­sion of The Lo­rax. Will Seuss purists and gen­eral au­di­ences alike be sat­is­fied this time around? While Stimp­son al­lows that “maybe the ar­dent Seuss fans will have a few queries with what we’ve done, though maybe they won’t,” the film­mak­ers have a far wider view­er­ship in mind. “We def­i­nitely chose this path be­cause it would hope­fully ap­peal to a wider au­di­ence, peo­ple in Europe and China who are not familiar with the orig­i­nal story,” Stim­son says.

Adds Le­duc: “We tried to ap­peal to the big­gest au­di­ence we can, to make ev­ery­body happy.” ◆

Universal/il­lu­mi­na­tion’s The Grinch be­gins his war against the hol­i­days on Novem­ber 9.

Co-di­rec­tor Yar­row Cheney

Art di­rec­tor Colin Stimp­son

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