The Open Season heroes take a look around.
The much-anticipated maiden effort of Sony Pictures Animation, the new kids on the studio lot, Open Season is a CG-animated adventure-comedy that opens in theaters nationwide on Sept. 29. It involves the hairy predicament of a domesticated grizzly named Boog (voiced by Martin Lawrence), living an idyllic, comfortable life until he’s lured into the wild by Elliot, a fast-talking mule deer (Ashton Kutcher). Abandoning his cushy surroundings, Boog realizes how tough life can be in the forest, particularly when hunting season is perilously near. Experiencing the forest with little survival skills, Boog finds himself in a heap of trouble after a hunter traps him in his cabin. Hunting season has begun. But how will Boog escape? And what about saving his furry friends? Director Roger Allers (The Lion King) isn’t going to say—you’ll just have to see the movie for yourself. But in the following interview for Fandango, Allers reveals the inspiration, hard work and humor that went into making this animated feature.
Q: You’ve worked on several animated films, as a writer on The Little Mermaid to the co-director of The Lion King. What were some of your early inspirations?
A: For me, it started when I was a very little boy and saw the classic Disney animated films. The first one I remembered strongly was Peter Pan. That got me all fired up. Of course it was great that Peter Pan could fly and then I loved the pirates, Captain Hook and that crocodile! I thought the whole fantasy world was wonderful and I ate it all up I loved the Disney films, and because of that, I always wanted to become an animator. And so it was a joy to ultimately work for Disney.
Q: Where do you get the inspiration for the scenic landscapes you create?
A: For The Lion King, a bunch of us went to Africa on a photographic safari to gather inspiration and influences and look at the land structure. The way the light played on the land and the shapes of the trees and the patterns of light and shadow.
Open Season certainly portrays a different environment from the Serengeti. We figure it’s the Northwest, with elements of Yosemite thrown in there…and also certainly Alaska. It could be taking place in a little town near the Alaskan wilderness.
Q: Your newest film Open Season utilizes computer-generated imagery, but also seems to recall traditional hand-drawn animation. Did you try to use the new technologies while keeping it rooted in classic sensibilities?
A: To give credit where credit was due, Jill Culton [Monsters, Inc.] really started developing the look of this picture before I came on the project. One of the things that really inspired her was a collection of paintings by Eyvind Earle. He was the background designer of Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty and he contributed to other Disney projects. So he became a starting point for us in terms of styling the backgrounds.
Earl’s work is very graphic and very flat but we liked the strong graphic shapes. And our character designer, Carter Goodrich, tried the same with our own characters, creating them with simple strong shapes – as a silhouette, you’d recognize them immediately. But as the picture developed and as we were closing the trees and the pine needles and the rivers with water textures, a certain amount of textural richness came into [the design], which is all for the good. And so it became an interesting challenge to balance the two-dimensional graphic strength with the 3-D textured richness.
Q: Is it harder to animate and computer generate humans over animals?
A: Yeah. I think, for one thing, that we being humans are so familiar with ourselves that we’re quite critical of the way humans move. So if they move strangely on screen, we’re quite aware of it very quickly. So, on one hand, humans can be more difficult than animals to move convincingly. Then again, we tried to caricature and stylize our humans as well as our animals so that there was also a greater flexibility in terms of the range of their movement and their comedy. [We didn’t want] be too realistic. We wanted to have fun with them.
Q: We talked about Disney influence - but were any of the Open Season characters inspired by Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons as well?
A: Oh absolutely. (Laughs) You can see the influence there can’t you? That was one of the things we really set out to do. We wanted to have the zip of the Looney Tunes and that kind of irreverent, wacky humor as well.
There’s one thing that was very sophisticated about Looney Tunes --there was a subversion and sophistication on a referential level to the adult experience in the world. I think that made it really accessible to such a broad range of ages. The kids could laugh at all the pranks and the adults could laugh at the character’s attitudes. As you got older; you appreciated all aspects of it.
Q: Open Season carries a PG rating. Is the movie appropriate for children under five?
A: Sure, but different parents will have different lines. For some parents, perhaps, the issue of a bear looking for a place to go the bathroom in the woods behind a bush might offend their sensibilities, but I don’t think so. In my personal opinion, I don’t think we did anything with Open Season that was actually too raw or crude even for the smallest children. But that’s why those ratings are there: for parents to make their own call. And we certainly wanted to include some adventurous things in the movie as well. Exciting rides down river rapids and a kind of spook-house section where Boog has to escape from the hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise) and his dark cabin. Those scenes are a little scary. But we tried to balance them so they were suspenseful [rather than] terrifying.
Q: I think kids are often under-estimated— they really do get things.
A: Oh I agree. And comparing kids now to when I was a child; kids are so much more exposed to everything in the world. The world is so dense in terms of all the information they’re exposed to. I object to programs that are often simplified and dumbed-down for children. There are, of course, simplified shows that are wonderfully subversive, like SpongeBob SquarePants, which to me, again, is in that realm where kids and adults can laugh at it.
Q: Is there a trick to voice casting? Martin Lawrence plays a 900-pound bear. What made you say, “Aha! Martin Lawrence!”
A: When we were looking for voices, we would play tapes of actors’ voices from different films. We’d listen to their voice quality and look into the preliminary drawings we’d done of the characters to see how they’d fit. We’d try not to think about the physical aspect of the actors for one thing, because that’s not going to show up on the screen anyway.
There was this wonderful texture to Martin’s voice. He has a texture to it that fills in the bear so nicely, that furry bear. And there’s also his kind of “cool guy,” the guy who is trying to be too cool and yet, has a great vulnerability. I know when Martin first came in, he and his agent were thinking that he’d be doing the wacky sidekick because that’s kind of been his stock in trade in movies. But we wanted him to do the main character, be the hero. And we didn’t want our two characters to be resolved into straight guy and comedy guy. We wanted them both to be funny.
Q: Scottish charactor actor Billy Connolly plays a belligerent squirrel. Why did you think of him for this particular animal?
A: Billy was so happy to do the squirrel. He’d been attacked by a squirrel one time and he said [Allers imitates Connolly’s Scottish accent]: “Those guys are so feisty! Yeah!” He was so happy to be also not playing [again imitates Connolly] a kindly Mr. Uncle Billy character. But again, Billy loved the feistiness of his character and was immediately drawn to him.
Q: Open Season features a battle sequence during which the animals turn the tables on the hunters. Were there any movies you were thinking of when crafting this?
A: Oh certainly, a lot of classic battle movies were looked at. If you watch it, you can see a lot of humorous references to Braveheart like the slow motion rabbit. (Laughs) Jill is a big fan of Braveheart.
Q: And you worked with some funny actors here. There must have been some improvisation. Did you encourage that or try to stop the improvisation?
A: (Laughs) Try and stop Ashton from improvising! The man is a madman; he will go and go and go. So I have to say there’s a lot of very “free-form Ashton” in this movie. Martin, of course, improvises as well. It's fun when some of your best material comes up on the recording stage.
Q: The Lion King remains such a landmark movie for so many children and adults. It must have been a nice feeling being a part of something so meaningful during a golden age for Disney.
A: It was fantastic being a part of The Lion King and the process is always exciting when you get to work with creative people, especially in animation. Everyone works long hard hours and there are lots of changes, so the process can be frustrating too.
We also spent a lot of time laughing. Hopefully, that seeps into the film and you feel the fun that people had making it. And it is really gratifying to see an audiences respond so well to these movies.
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