'Angry Birds': How the Mobile Game Franchise Became an Animated Feature

"I was a big fan of the game," said Fergal Reilly, who directed with Clay Kaytis.
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures and Rovio Animation
'Angry Birds'

Angry Birds, which won the weekend at the North American box office with an estimated $39 million opening, came to theaters thanks to a production collaboration between Sony and Finnish video game developer Rovio, which created the wildly-popular Angry Birds mobile game franchise on which the CG-animated movie is based.

To helm the film that reveals why the birds are so angry, the two companies brought on two first-time directors, Fergal Reilly and Clay Kaytis. Reilly, who has worked as a storyboard artist on such films as Sony Pictures Animation's Hotel Transylvania and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballls, as well as in story development, talked with The Hollywood Reporter about the experience.

Were you a fan of the game when you started the film?

Yes, I was a big fan of the game when it came online in 2009; I think I completed all the levels. I don’t know if it was serendipity, but I’m really into technology and I play a lot of video games. I’m also looking forward to Warcraft and Assassin's Creed [two video game franchises that are also coming to theaters]. I think film technology and game technology and animation are combining in new and interesting ways.

Why Angry Birds for a movie?

It’s always been the case that movies take their ideas from other forms of entertainment. [I got involved] while I was a story artist at Sony Pictures Imageworks and helping to develop projects, and [Angry Birds producer] John Cohen called and ask if I’d be interested in Angry Birds. My curiosity was immediately aroused; I met with him and Jon Vitti, who was writing the script, and I love his work from The Simpsons. I knew it wasn’t going to be a conventional adaptation.

How involved was Rovio?

Mikel Head, a producer and also a founding partner in Rovio Entertainment, was heavily involved in the creative process, but he gave us a lot of freedom. He wanted to represent the game [accurately], but then in terms of developing the personalities, we had full freedom. [Character and story development] was a dialogue with the storyboard department and Jon Vitti and the other writers.

Rovio didn’t have an CG animation studio, so we created one in Sherman Oaks as a base of operations for editorial and storyboarding, and then Imageworks Vancouver did the animation and visual effects.

How did [protagonist] Red’s character develop?

We had a very good idea of who Red was; he [didn't fit in] on this otherwise-happy paradise island of birds. He was an outsider because of the way he expressed himself and was always at odds with the other birds around him, who are relatively content and happy. Red can be abrasive at times, but we didn’t want him too unlikable.

Jason Sudeikis [the voice of Red] brought a balance. He has this warmth and ability to deliver the lines to make him very relatable. He would add things in the dialogue, so that you felt some empathy for Red. Jason felt we should always feel that there was something else going on, not just raw anger. He did that be adding jokes. He developed new facets [of Red’s personality] and sometime new scenes came out of the improv.”

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