Rock 'N' Roll Key to Balancing Hero and Villain in DreamWorks' 'Megamind'

Issue 56A - Golden Globes Preview: How to Train Your Dragon
Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

Filmmakers Behind Year's Top Animated Features Talk Shop

Tom McGrath
Director, Megamind

Having grown up on such superhero fare as Richard Donner’s 1978 classic Superman: The Movie, McGrath took easily to the material that would become Megamind. He used rock ’n’ roll to visually frame the relationship between Megamind (Will Ferrell) and Metroman (Brad Pitt). “If there was a superhero and a villain and they were elevated to rock-star status, and presentation was a big deal, then it would be Alice Cooper vs. Elvis Presley,” he says. “So it was leather and spikes versus the rhinestones and fringe.”    

Bonnie Arnold
Producer, How to Train Your Dragon

Arnold got advice from DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg in the development of Dragon that would lead to a collaboration with Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins. “Roger gave us permission to do the things we really wanted to do,” Arnold says. “There are [scenes] that look like they were lit by a candle. There’s this line between the work in live-action effects and what’s going on in animation, and the line is getting more mushy all the time.”

Sylvain Chomet
Director, The Illusionist

The Triplets of Belleville filmmaker wanted a clip of French comic Jacques Tati in his next project and approached Tati’s daughter to get permission. He ended up making The Illusionist with Tati as the inspiration for the title character. “By seeing my style of animation, she thought there were things that were similar to the style of her father, and she mentioned this script,” Chomet says. “She didn’t want another actor to play the role of her dad, so we thought animation was the best way to realize this script. Tati was a very elegant man. As soon as we started to animate him, he came to life, and people started to see him.”

Chris Meledandri
Producer, Despicable Me

Making a villain the protagonist of your movie is a tricky task that relies on both the animation and the voice provided by an actor. “There has to be a vulnerable underlying quality that is appealing in spite of what he may be doing or saying,” Meledandri says. “Steve Carell absolutely has that. He was excited about playing a guy who starts the movie off being unlikable. He asked me, ‘How would you feel if I experimented with a voice?’ We talked about the idea of the character not sounding like Steve. The first [recording] session, he did this voice and it just fit. It became a defining contribution to the character of Gru.”

Lee Unkrich
Director, Toy Story 3

After Toy Story 2 was released in 1999 and proved a hit, it seemed inevitable that a third installment would be made. But there was a wrench in the works: A contract dispute between Pixar and its distributor, Disney. “What I felt was going to happen was that we were going to have a new partnership with Disney and that we’d get to make Toy Story 3,” Unkrich says. And they did. “John Lasseter told all of the directors what was about to go down. It was right after that meeting that John took me aside and said, ‘I want you to direct Toy Story 3 -- I can’t do it. I know you’ll do a great job.’ ”