Meet Animated Feature Contenders in Hollywood Reporter's 'Behind the Screen' Series

The series includes the makers of 'Missing Link,' 'Abominable,' 'How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World' and 'Toy Story 4.'
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Universal Picture/Photofest (2); Laika Studios / Annapurna Pictures

The Hollywood Reporter's Behind the Screen series has featured directors and producers behind some of this year's biggest animated movies. Here's a chance to review their conversations for awards season.

Missing Link

This podcast featured Chris Butler, the writer, director and character designer of Laika's Missing Link for Annapurna — the  fifth feature from Portland, Ore.-area animation studio Laika, whose previous films include Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings.

The film is centered on a Victorian era-set story about friendship that follows globetrotting adventurer Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) and Mr. Link, the legendary Bigfoot (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). Joining them on a journey to find Mr. Link’s believed ancestors, the Yeti, is the resourceful Adelina (voiced by Zoe Saldana).

Butler discusses the idea for the story, as well as Laika's "hybrid" approach to animation, combining traditional stop motion with new digital techniques and how it has evolved since 2016's KuboMissing Link is Laika’s first film to use 3D-printed replacement faces on all of its puppets, and the company reported that the rapid prototyping department printed more than 100,000 faces in total for the picIt also built roughly 100 miniature sets.

Abominable

Jill Culton, writer and director of Abominable, was featured in a September episode of Behind the Screen, during which she discussed topics including the creation of her independent female protagonist, research that led to a stylized look at China, casting choices and the state of diversity in the animation community.

Abominable, from Dreamworks Animation and China’s Pearl Studio, follows an independent teen named Yi, voiced by Chloe Bennet, who embarks on a journey to Mount Everest after she meets and befriends a young Yeti.

Locations included Yi's home, a big modern city; the Himalayas; and lush areas of China including the Qiandao lakes, Yellow Mountain, fields of canola flowers in the Yunnan Province and the Leshan Buddha.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Writer-director Dean DeBlois was featured on Behind the Screen to talk about how he brought DWA's How to Train Your Dragon trilogy to its emotional conclusion in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

The How to Train Your Dragon movies chronicle the coming-of-age story of Hiccup, whose father is the leader of his Viking village of Berk. DeBlois talks about topics including creating and introducing a new dragon, a Light Fury, who is Toothless' love interest, as well as using DWA new animation system Moonray to create the bioluminescent look of the Hidden World.

The two prior films in the series earned Academy Award nominations for best animated feature, and composer John Powell was nominated for the score for the first installment.

Toy Story 4

Director Josh Cooley and producers Mark Nielsen and Jonas Rivera discuss topics including new characters, production design, music, Easter eggs and the delicate animation in Toy Story 4. The filmmakers also reveal an earlier ending to the story. "The ending wasn't always the ending," Cooley says, adding that the earlier version "didn't have the weight of earning the title of Toy Story 4."

Led by production designer Bob Pauley, more than 10,000 items filled the Second Chance antique store in the movie. This includes numerous Easter eggs such as a black-and-white portrait of Geri from Pixar's Oscar-winning short Geri's Game. Meanwhile, an antique record player is used to bring the music from The Shining into the setting.