A Chat with the Team Behind Animated Oscar Contender 'Rise of the Guardians' (Video)

THR recently sat down in New York for a wide-ranging Q&A with most of the creative team behind DreamWorks Animation's big best animated feature Oscar contender Rise of the Guardians, which is sort of an animated version of The Avengers that is aimed at people of all ages, and which opened in theaters nationwide last weekend.

The participants were author and Oscar-winning animator Bill Joyce, who wrote the books upon which the film is based; Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who adapted the books into a single screenplay; veteran animator Peter Ramsey, who made his feature directorial debut on the film; Oscar-nominated filmmaker and DreamWorks Animation [DWA] consultant Guillermo Del Toro, who was one of Ramsey's advisors on the film; prolific composer Alexandre Desplat, who has received four best original score Oscar nominations over the last four years and composed the score for both this film and the Renee Fleming song that plays over its end credits; and producers Christina Steinberg and Nancy Bernstein, two of the people who kept this film on track over its five-year evolution from page to screen.

You can watch a few highlights of our conversation above or read about them below.

  • Joyce, who got the idea from Guardians years ago from his young daughter, who has since passed away, agreed to sell the movie rights to the idea to DreamWorks only after they promised him that they would make the characters as grand as kids remember them and that he could remain involved in the process. They agreed, and reached an agreement that called for him to continue write more Guardians books even while the script was being adapted by Lindsay-Abaire and the film was being put together by Steinberg, Bernstein, and Ramsey. He describes his experience working on the film as being "like getting paid for recess."
  • Lindsay-Abaire, who had previously worked with Joyce on the animated film Robots (2005) and wasn't sure he wanted to work on animated film again, was convinced to do so only after being assured by DWA that it would not change the scope or scale of the project after he came on-board. He says, "Ultimately it's a movie about hope versus despair. There aren't a lot of gaggy sidekicks in the movie. I said if you really want to make this big, action-y, epic movie with these huge emotions about wonder, and hope, and despair, and make it a family movie, then I want to do it. And, sure enough, DreamWorks kept their promise and they made that movie."
  • Del Toro, who is best known for his work in the fantasy and horror genres, reached a deal with DWA two years ago that called for him to make any/all of his future animation projects there, and also to serve as a consultant on some of their other films. He was credited as an executive producer on Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2, both of which were nominated for the best animated feature Oscar last year, and he served in the same capacity on Guardians. "Being at DreamWorks is the best job I've ever had," he says. "It's amazing. I wake up energized. It's like high school the way it should have been."
  • Ramsey, a self-taught animator who has worked at DWA for almost a decade, emphasizes, "We really wanted to stretch with the look of our movie to make it more than just an animated movie. We wanted to make a kind of heightened reality that you could only create through animation... We wanted to say, 'Look, we believe in these characters. They're real. They exist in our world. They bring their magic into our world.' So it was really important for us to show a real world, and then, when they were visible, that you really saw them, and you could be close to them, and you could really believe them as real characters. I think, you know, things like the skin and then the little welling in the eyes -- you can breathe the emotions, and you've got a closer connection, and it does something to you." He says that the look of the film's characters and environment really benefited from the input of "magician" Roger Deakins, the nine-time best cinematography Oscar nominee who served as a visual consultant on the film even while lensing Skyfall on the other side of the world. "He's incredible," Ramsey says.
  • Del Toro, a real character, says he values realism in animated films, as well, but in a slightly different sense: "The rate of characters that have been killed at DreamWorks since I came in has elevated 60%. 'Let's kill the Sandman in the middle of the movie,' you know? I said, 'Why not?' I said, 'In all great fables somebody has to f---ing die!'"