Il­lu­mi­na­tion Runs Wild

Animation Magazine - - Features -

TThe stu­dio mixes styl­iza­tion and an­i­mal re­al­ity in its comedic ex­plo­ration of By Tom McLean.

he Se­cret Life of Pets is as high-con­cept a movie as they come, pitched by Il­lu­mi­na­tion En­ter­tain­ment CEO Chris Meledan­dri to di­rec­tor Chris Re­naud over break­fast as a sim­ple: What do pets do all day while peo­ple are at work?

Echoes of Toy Story aside, the idea is a sim­ple one that could have gone in a thou­sand dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, says Re­naud, an Il­lu­mi­na­tion vet­eran who pre­vi­ously di­rected with Pierre Cof­fin both De­spi­ca­ble Me films as well as the Dr. Seuss adap­ta­tion The Lo­rax.

“It was an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity to re­ally play with animals as they are ver­sus an ide­al­ized ver­sion of them,” says Re­naud of the movie, which hits the­aters July 8 cour­tesy of Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures. “Even­tu­ally, we came to an idea that we felt was very re­lat­able to any­one who has had a pet and then they bring an­other an­i­mal into the home, which can be a very trau­matic event, not just for the animals, but for the own­ers.”

So it is that New York dweller Katie (El­lie Kem­per) brings home a big hairy mutt named Duke, much to the sur­prise of her de­voted Jack Russell ter­rier Max. Their con­flict gets out of hand when they’re cap­tured by an­i­mal con­trol and then lib­er­ated by a group of lost pets who live in the sew­ers un­der the lead­er­ship of the anti-owner bunny Snow­ball, kick­ing off a search for the mean­ing of home.

Re­naud says the story of­fered a chance to evoke his own love for and mem­o­ries of pets, from dogs and cats to more un­usual choices.

“We wanted guinea pigs, lizards, bun­nies, birds — ev­ery­thing,” he says. “And so as a re­sult it was, OK, how can we use all those dif­fer­ent pets, those dif­fer­ent animals in our story. The idea of Snow­ball lead­ing a gang of lost pets gave us an op­por­tu­nity to play with other types of animals.”

For the an­i­ma­tion, the key ques­tion was how

much to bend re­al­ity — should the pets move like real animals or should they be an­thro­po­mor­phized to walk up­right or use paws as hands?

Re­naud says they de­cided against an­thro­po­mor­phism — with a few ex­cep­tions. “If a dog is go­ing to get a set of keys off a ta­ble top, he’s not go­ing to do it with his paw,” he says. “He’ll try to get his mouth up there and grab it with his teeth.”

An­i­ma­tion di­rec­tors Julien Soret and Jonathan del Val say they filmed a lot of ref­er­ence of real pets to study dur­ing an­i­ma­tion. “It was re­ally about start­ing with the an­i­mal’s point of view,” says Soret. “A cat had to move like a cat.”

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