DreamWorks Hosts Kidzworld for The Croods
By: Lynn Barker
For its first animated film featuring an entire family as lead characters, the wizards at DreamWorks Animation Studios decided to invent The Croodaceous, a fantasy stone age period of time and take a dysfunctional caveman family through an amazing adventure that would bond them forever. The Croods was born.
After sifting through many different possible versions of their story, the filmmakers and artists settled on creating a ton of fantasy creatures that were probably the ancestors of our lions and tigers and bears and, oh my!, elephants, bats, turtles and many more. The Crood family is also threatened by earthquakes and lava flows that set them on the road to search for safety and a new home.
The film boasts a really great, high-profile voice cast: Emma Stone is teen daughter Eep, Ryan Reynolds as teen stranger Guy, Clark Duke is teen son Thunk, Nicholas Cage plays dad Grug, Catherine Keener is mom Ugga, and Cloris Leachman is feisty Gran.
In celebration of the Blu-ray release of the film Oct. 1st, reporters got a tour of the whole DreamWorks “campus”, got to learn how to draw the characters, see how a Motion Capture stage works, get our pictures taken with cute character “Belt”, see the state-of-the-art recording studio where the actors work, make our own pair of fuzzy UGG boots and get some insider info from the film’s writer/directors Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco who also worked on animated fave films Lilo and Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon. Whew! We learned that there will be a Croods 2! First, let’s join the filmmakers:
Kidzworld: What is the evolution of the movie? Describe how it started and developed.
- Kirk: The whole project started at DreamWorks but back in 2004. I started writing with John Cleese but it was more of a road trip movie with buddies, two guys. Then, Chris came on in 2007 and we were still working on that idea for a while. Then Chris when to How to Train Your Dragon for 14 months and I said “What if we just made it one family who loses their cave and goes on a road trip to find a new cave and on their way, they become us?”
- Chris: It would have helped if you had said that earlier (laughter).
Kidzworld: Can you talk about casting Emma Stone as Eep? She was amazing.
- The Guys: We didn’t know in the very beginning that she was going to be as popular as she was when the movie came out. We suggested Emma Stone for the character of Eep based on a movie we loved called The House Bunny. She has a great voice and we loved her character. There’s a universal relateability in a great voice like that. She more than brought this character to life.
- We always shoot video of the actors during their recording sessions and Emma was one of the most referenced for the animators. Her facial expressions were so perfect and really the most extreme that she (was looked at by animators to create Eep). She’s just an animated person.
Kidzworld: Did you have other actors in mind when writing the script?
- The Guys: We always had Nick Cage’s voice in mind when we were working on Grug. It’s a kind of difficult role. He’s got a lot of rules and could come off unlikable if it weren’t Nick. Grug is so stern especially at the beginning and Nick has this put-upon, beleaguered quality that you can’t really get upset at him. You just feel the weight of the world on his shoulders in everything he says so I think that made him likable. He’s barking all these orders and you see that he’s just a guy trying to get by.
Kidzworld: Talk about the look of the film; the stark cave area and the lush forest.
- The Guys: The decision was to put the family at the end of a cul-de-sac, the ultimate dead end. They are sweet, they love each other but if they don’t figure something out, they’re dead. There’s nobody else around. Then for the second act of the movie we wanted almost that Wizard of Oz feel, bring the color up. The first act is more washed out. That was to introduce you to their world. Then they get thrown into a new world. “Whoa, what is that?”
Kidzworld: Did you relate to any of the characters you created?
- The Guys: Well, we’ve all been on family road trips so that was pretty easy to channel. I was taking most of it from my own family. Grug says “Never not be afraid” and that’s my life’s motto (laughter). That’s very personal.
Kidzworld: You created the first concept of humans having a pet (son Thunk ends up with a dog-ish creature and dad with a cat-like one). That really makes a family.
- The Guys: That’s one of those things that came to us in little pieces and I have to credit the crew with coming up with it. We certainly had a family that was afraid of everything at the beginning of the film. We knew that Guy would have an animal companion and that would be strange to Grug but we didn’t know that, at the end of the film, there would be this big mega-cat that would help Grug save the day.
- And also there was Douglas the Crocodile/Puppy. The fact that Grug ends up collecting all these animals like a moving Noah’s Ark says so much about where he has gone as a character (during the movie). Any kid or parent out there has had a pet at some time and knows “that’s a good guy”. Grug is making sure all his animals are safe. At the beginning, he chases the animals near the cave away.
Kidzworld: What was your biggest challenge overall in making The Croods?
- The Guys: It would be a combo of artistic and tech challenges; just building the world. It’s an unimaginably big job. It took many years because the entire film is exteriors, even inside their cave is an exterior. Organic things are very labor-intensive to create.
- The thing that no one ever sees is how many meetings would just be to talk about what our leaves were going to look like. Are they going to look like rubber, are they going to look like real leaves? If one of the cavemen brushes against a leaf, is it going to move out of his way?
- We had meetings just about tar! How do you like this tar? (laughter). It’s like your grandpa’s vacation slide show. “Here’s some tar in Haiti. Here’s some tar in upper New York state I once stepped in”. It’s years just deciding those things. That’s why we are excited about stepping into the second movie. Those things are already settled. We know the world now. We know what the boundaries are. Now we’ve got the beach and water to deal with.
Kidzworld: What was really different for you on this movie versus other animated films you’ve worked on?
- The Guys: There was more action. The opening sequence set a lot of the dials as to the boundaries of the film. Just jumping into an action sequence was new.
Our Day At DreamWorks
Arriving early in the morning, reporters go into the large Campanile Theater where we meet the two writer/directors and learn some cool facts: The movie earned 585 million bucks worldwide! Families all over the globe could identify with the troubles and joys of The Croods. There are 38 original creatures in the movie. We were shown various key clips from the film as the guys talked about their creation.
Later, we got a wonderful tour of the entire DreamWorks “campus” complete with amazing water fountains and small lakes and streams stocked with Koi fish. It is probably the most restful and “Zen” place to work on earth. Animators there work very hard but get free breakfast and lunch and have a gym and medical care on site.
We got to have our pictures taken with a human-sized “Belt” character and visited a Motion Capture Stage where the Layout Head on The Croods who is kind of like a Director of Photography on a live action film, and two actors in black body suits with digital dots on them to be tracked by digital cameras, helped us understand the process.
At DreamWorks, certain scenes are acted out in order to record the camera movements so that later, animators can duplicate them. The filmmakers on this stage can create 50 shots in three days so that the directors can see different options for camera angles and movement before the animators start working.
We see a 62 second scene in which Eep meets her new friend Guy and sees fire for the first time. All the movements of the actors are duplicated on a big screen by rough versions of the animated Eep and Guy characters. Reporters get to either operate the digital camera (which just looks like a small iPad-sized screen on the end of a metal stick) and shoot the scene or they can interact with the two actors and run around the stage. Very informative and super fun! BTW, this kind of motion capture, only with many more reference dots on the actors’ faces, was used to make the film Avatar.
We are taken into the DreamWorks state of the art Recording Booth and Stage where the voice actors record their voices. We are told that if our tummy rumbles, the sensitive equipment will pick it up. Yikes, how embarrassing! We see that the actors can look at still pictures or drawings of the scene they are recording projected in front of them as a tiny “lipstick” camera picks up their movements. There can be 13 movies at a time recording here. The film editors will receive long audio files of many takes of each line of dialogue and then choose the best one. Some lines don’t come out well if they were recorded elsewhere and the actor might have to re-record.
On to a super fun class in “How to Draw the Creatures From The Croods”. This will also be an extra feature on the Blu-ray. Animator Sean Sexton, who animated mom Ugga and baby Sandy in the film, took us step-by-step through drawing little Belt, Sandy and the tiny Mousephant (combo mouse and elephant). Lots of fun. My drawings were cute but I’m not giving up my day job to be an animator.
Eep’s Shoe Clinic was a blast! DreamWorks gave each reporter their own pair of cool UGG boots! Eep’s first pair of shoes in the film look very much like our boots. She decorated hers with shells. Line Andersen, a rep from the UGG company in Australia and a style rep helped us decorate our plain boots with beads, paint and leather strips.. very fun!!
The Croods Blu-ray + DVD review ! Some editions also come with a cute plush toy of Guy’s pet and friend Belt.