'TMNT' lets Munroe break out of his shell


Before he was directing the new "TMNT" film for Imagi Animation Studios, Hollywood writer-director Kevin Munroe was creating video games at Shiny Entertainment and Midway Games. Like a growing number of Hollywood CGI auteurs, Munroe entered the world of storytelling through interactive entertainment.

"Even when I was making games like 'Earthworm Jim' and 'Freaky Flyers,' I always wanted to tell stories," he says. "I think I like making movies more because of the storytelling aspect. I think technically, both movies and games are at a really exciting place right now."

While Munroe says that many in Hollywood talk about video games catching up to Hollywood in terms of storytelling, he thinks the real breakthrough might come from the other direction.

"I think entertainment may become more interactive, rather than having games all of a sudden catch up and tell full movie-type stories," he says. "I think it's a nice goal, but I think there's going to be movement on both sides. I think there's going to be more interactivity with TV and movies."

Munroe, who still spends what free time he has playing video games, says that in the case of "TMNT," it was the Konami video games that kept the franchise fresh in consumers' minds in the years between the original films and his CGI update. Munroe also worked with Ubisoft on the new "TMNT" game, which is based on the Warner Bros. Pictures and Weinstein Co. film that opens Friday.

"With this Ubisoft game, you can switch characters on the fly," he says. "I remember when we first started to do 'Wild 9' (in the late 1990s), the whole point was to do a game where you could swap out characters on the fly and use every skill to get you through the level, and it was just impossible back then. The idea that teamwork comes out whenever you earn your brothers' trust in the 'TMNT' game, it just has that little extra layer of story and character that just wasn't there before, which is cool."

Munroe says that with the fine line between CGI and live action today, it's hard to tell whether a movie is a live-action feature. He referenced "300," which essentially is a CGI feature. Like Munroe, "300" director Zack Snyder was involved in the video game (for PlayStation Portable) based on the film."Using the CGI medium has allowed the Turtles to just be a little more expressive and create a more believable reality than the Jim Henson suits," Munroe says. "The camerawork is pretty crazy, and it makes you feel as if you're really tagging along with the Turtles."

When it comes to another "TMNT" film, which he has signed on to do, Munroe says he should be able to shave as much as nine months of development time off the 28 months it took to create the original.

"It's the video game mentality: What can we borrow from the first one to make the second one quicker?" says Munroe, who admitted that this film was made pretty quickly for a feature film. "Most of the game projects I worked on were much longer than this."

He says that the first 18 months of his game projects were spent chasing lofty goals that each member of the team wanted to champion.

"The next two years were a reality check of what you can actually achieve within the technology," Munroe says. "But that first year and a half was always the most fun because that's when you were pushing the limits of what you could do."

Munroe is now working on "Gatchaman," a Japanese anime feature that's due in theaters in 2008.