film reporter

'Horton' helmers became all but citizens of Whoville

"Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" is the first of the classic tales written by Theodor Seuss Geisel to be made into a computer-animated feature film. The story, first published in 1954, was made into a half-hour TV special, helmed by Chuck Jones, in 1970.

Fox's new "Horton" was created by its digital animation subsidiary Blue Sky Studios (perhaps best known for its "Ice Age" films) and features the voices of Jim Carrey as Horton and Steve Carell as the Mayor of Whoville.

The film marked the directorial debut of animation veterans Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino. Both are big Dr. Seuss fans, and they emphasized that their goal was to stay true to the work and legacy as it was translated into multidimentional animation.

The directors did a lot of research, including a visit to the archives at the University of San Diego. "I held the original art from the book and put on white gloves," Martino says. "We studied his pen and ink work; we read his manuscripts to see his development of the story.

"One major thing was that we looked at 3-D work that has been done," he adds. "Dr. Seuss had done several sculptures … and we looked at how he translated his drawing style into 3-D. From that, we created a style guide for the movie.

"The main task that Jimmy and I had was communicating to everybody how we were going to translate those drawings — his thinking — into three dimensions," Marino says. "(The drawings) are very organic and rarely symmetrical, often with odd little wrinkles and curves. We built that thinking into the style guide."

Part of this was developing an exaggerated animation style. "Often (the characters) look like rubber hoses, without joints," says Martino, explaining that the team developed technology "so character animation could move very fluidly and stretch. That was applied not only on the body but the facial animation."

Then there is the ambitious clover field, which the directors say consists of more than a half-billion clovers — and on any individual clover there might be as many as 800,000 hairs. Martino says, "The clover movement and wind dynamics were developed in-house. … We want this be an epic part of the movie."

Hayward viewed the animation as a character in the film. He also emphasized the role of the music and sound.

"The primary relationship in the picture (between Horton and the Mayor) is between two people who never see each other; they could only hear one another," he says. "We thought it was important to really capture sonically what that experience is like. (In the climactic scene in the film) the score is taking you there emotionally, but then the Who noise becomes the score. … It was very collaborative. (In some cases) we animated to music and sound design."

The directors say they kept in mind the Dr. Seuss theory of "logical insanity" when making the film, but they also coined their own term: entertainingly correct. Says Hayward: "We went way too far first and then pulled back the point when it was no longer entertainingly correct. … In other words, when it didn't feel authentic, we would stop."