Dialogue: Chris Miller & Raman Hui

Animation directors of the year

It might seem strange that ShoWest has picked Chris Miller and Raman Hui as its Animation Directors of the Year when the duo's feature-film directorial debut, Paramount's "Shrek the Third," is still in the final stages of production. But the mere fact that Pacific Data Images/DreamWorks picked them to shepherd the latest installment of the big green ogre's monster franchise, which has amassed $1.4 billion in worldwide boxoffice receipts and sold more than 90 million DVDs to date, puts the pair near the top of the Hollywood animation food chain. The directors took a brief break from work on the film in early March to participate in a transcontinental conference call that connected Todd Longwell for The Hollywood Reporter in Los Angeles with Hui at PDI/DreamWorks' animation headquarters in Redwood City, Calif., and Miller in London, where he was overseeing scoring sessions with composer Harry Gregson-Williams at Abbey Road Studios.

The Hollywood Reporter: What was the big challenge making a third "Shrek"?
Chris Miller: It's a couple of things. One is to honor the characters that have been created that people love and the tone of the film, the kind of comedy that it is. I think that's first and foremost. And we've gotten a lot of characters that we've sort of brought along from the first few films. There's that, introducing new characters and doing something that feels new and fresh so it doesn't feel like something that's just rehashing and repeating what you've already seen.

THR: What was it like working with Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy?
Miller: They're Shrek and Donkey (respectively). They're amazing. And they both bring something very different during recording sessions that's very special. Eddie Murphy is amazing to record because he can kind of hit a light switch ...
Raman Hui: And he's the Donkey right away.
Miller: Usually, he gets it in a few takes. He hones in immediately. It's very laserlike. Mike is really helpful in terms of looking out for Shrek. Because we've amassed so many characters, and a lot of them are really fun, it's kind of easy to get distracted by them. You can just start going off on tangents. And Mike is a watchdog for his character, and he's great with story and, frankly, helping us kind of keep the story on track.

THR: One envisions Mike and Eddie frequently going off script with improvisations.
Miller: Sometimes. It sort of depends on what we're recording at any given moment. They both contribute in that way.
Hui: They do takes of something really funny, and then after that, we might even storyboard something to match the lines they come up with.
Miller: It's true. Usually, when you get something that's off-the-cuff from any performer and it works, it's great. You're creating every inch of the universe, so anytime where it feels spontaneous and fresh, it helps so much.

THR: I don't think most people really understand exactly what animation directors do. It's not like you pace around the room dressed in jodhpurs, holding a riding crop, barking orders through a megaphone.
Miller: Sure, you do.

THR: I bet you don't even wear baseball caps.
Hui: Chris does.
Miller: Sometimes. In some ways, it's just like directing any movie, I guess. It just happens in slow motion. It takes three and a half years. It's almost like you say, "Action," and then six months later, you say, "Cut. Next shot!"
Hui: You go from animation blocking, where the characters just slide, to then starting to talk and have facial expressions. On average, an animator does one second of animation a day. It's very tedious in a way.

THR: Raman, you're the co-director of "Shrek the Third," and Chris is the director. How do your responsibilities differ?
Hui: Chris handles all the recording, and he also wrote a lot of the script and a lot of the dialogue. Me, as a co-director, I just go to meetings. (Laughs) Anything I can do to help the movie, like making sure if something needs to get storyboarded, I do that.
Miller: It's a good balance. Raman just came from the visual side of animation, and he brought that expertise. And I came more from the story end of it. So, we kind of ended up covering it on both sides. That and, of course, having the incredibly talented crew.
Hui: And most of them have been working on "Shrek" since the beginning. I think one-third of them. I have probably been doing this for nine years and Chris about the same time. So, we all really know the characters.
Miller: There's such great continuity between all three films -- it's really a blessing. A lot of the time, I just feel like, "OK, today I just need to stay out of everyone's way." That would be a goal of mine: Don't mess it up.