RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
Do They Know Each Other?
Fourteen years ago, William Joyce's 6 year-old daughter Mary Katherine asked her
dad if Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were friends. It was a question that
intrigued the author and illustrator. After giving it some thought, he answered
with a resounding "Yes!" and began to weave colorful bedtime stories for Mary
Katherine and her younger brother Jackson, who heard tales not only about old
Saint Nick and the Easter Bunny but also about Jack Frost, the Tooth Fairy, the
Sandman, the Man in the Moon and even the Bogeyman. As the stories became more
elaborate, Joyce began to see their potential.
"This was the lore that began to develop in our household," Joyce says, "and I
soon came to realize that I needed to do something with it. It was interesting
stuff! So I began to draw pictures of these characters and figure out a basic
mythology for each one of them based on what I could find out about them," which
wasn't much. Clement Clarke Moore's "The Night Before Christmas"
notwithstanding, Joyce found that Santa Claus didn't have a lot of backstory.
There was even less for the other characters.
"Superman and Batman have mythologies but the one group of characters we ask our
kids to believe in as fact had none," Joyce says. "I looked around and said, 'Am
I the only guy that realizes this?'"
Today, Joyce, the Oscar winning writer-director of the animated short film "The
Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" and author of such books as
"George Shrinks" (on which the PBS children's series is based) and "Dinosaur
Bob" has amassed a collection of 13 stories in the "Guardians of Childhood"
series (only five of which have been released thus far) that depict the deep
folklore of each character - and surprisingly, they're more powerful than any of
They're "cool and grand and magnificent and heroic," Joyce says. "They have
giant empires that oversee what they do, whether it's traveling the world in one
night to deliver presents and Easter eggs or flying around 365 nights retrieving
Given their unique premise, there was a lot of Hollywood interest in turning
Joyce's rich tales and exquisite art into a feature film - even before any of
the books were published.
"Almost every other studio in town vied for this property, but none of them saw
the grander canvas that I wanted to achieve with it - because there's so much to
tell about these guys," Joyce says. "I didn't feel like it could be just in a
movie or just in a book. It needed to be across a whole bunch of different
It wasn't until he had a series of meetings with DreamWorks Animation Chief
Creative Officer Bill Damaschke in late 2006 that Joyce knew he had found the
right home for his stories.
"DreamWorks said, 'We agree. Work on the movie. Work on the books. Let the two
feed each other.' It has been the most interesting and exciting experience,"
Joyce says. "I've worked on movies before, but I've never worked on movies and
books at the same time and had them deal with the same subjects and yet be
The veteran filmmaking team that came alongside Joyce to bring "Guardians" to
life was equally passionate about the project. First on board was producer
Christina Steinberg, who had enjoyed a long career in live-action filmmaking and
feature film development before joining DreamWorks Animation in 2005 as a
producer on Jerry Seinfeld's Golden Globe nominated "Bee Movie" (for which she
was a Producers Guild of America Awards nominee).
"The idea was always that Bill was going to be writing the books simultaneously
as we were developing the movie," she says. "We loved the core idea, and we were
excited by the deep history that Bill's mythologies created. There are so many
stories to tell. For the movie, we came up with the idea of jumping into the
future after all these characters have become Guardians and telling the story of
how they must come together to fight the greatest force of evil in the world,
Adds Joyce: "I didn't want the movie to compete with the books and have people
say, "Oh. It was different from the book," and I didn't want them to know what
happens in the movie. I wanted to build a history for these guys. That's why the
movie picks up about 300 years after the resolution of the books series."
Peter Ramsey, who spent a number of years as a story board artist on numerous
live-action films including "Independence Day" "The Hulk" and "Minority Report,"
was approached to direct "Guardians" after helming DreamWorks Animation's hit
Halloween special "Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space" and
having previously been head of story on "Monsters vs. Aliens." He puts it this
way: "These characters represent fundamental elements that are vital not just to
kids but to adults as well: A sense of wonder, dreams, hope. It's a big story."
"We had a lot of conversations with Bill about the characters," Ramsey
continues, "about Jack Frost and his relationship to the group, about what the
Guardians mean, about their personalities and their roles. The biggest idea that
came from those conversations was that we knew that they were real, and to pay
attention to the fact that people believe in them and love them when they're
young. For me, that determined everything about how to present them in the movie
and how to follow them through the story."
That keep-it-real philosophy naturally extended to the visual design of the
"Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins consulted with us as he did on 'How to
Train Your Dragon' and helped us achieve a rich, real-world appearance," says
Ramsey. "We've got incredibly talented people, from production design to
animation to lighting and modeling, which have pushed hard to get a
sophisticated and stylized - but very lifelike - look. It's different from
anything the studio's ever done before."
Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire had just finished
writing the lyrics for DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek: The Musical" when
Damaschke, Ramsey and Steinberg brought him on board to write the screenplay to
"Guardians." Says Steinberg, "Given his love of superheroes and fantasy, he was
the perfect choice to screenplay."
Lindsay-Abaire recalls a visit to DreamWorks Animation, shortly after "Shrek:
The Musical" had opened on Broadway: "I met with Bill (Damaschke) and Christina
Steinberg, they pitched me some basic ideas, showed me the most gorgeous concept
art I've ever seen, and loaded me up with a stack of Bill Joyce books. A few
days later, I was writing a screenplay."
Soon, Lindsay-Abaire was also swept up in the world of the Guardians. "They're
great entertainments," says the screenwriter of Joyce's books. "He (Joyce)
writes these legendary characters and manages to make them flesh and blood
without losing their magic. He captures the unique wonder of childhood that
often feels like a distant memory to those of us who have grown up, and brings
that wonder back and makes it present again. That feat alone is a kind of
Joyce knew that "Guardians" would be in good hands, having previously worked
with Lindsay-Abaire on the 2005 animated feature "Robots."
"David is very astute and has a keen, subtle intelligence," Joyce says. "One of
the things that was difficult about the story is it's so big. We have all these
major characters and mythologies and we have to tie them together into one
narrative. The hardest thing on any film is to get the story clean, clear,
concise and entertaining - to find the emotional core of it, the thing that
makes you care. David had an instinct about how to simplify that story and keep
the characters centered while at the same time juggling all of them and all the
situations. It's got this epic feel to it but each story within the epic is very
intimate and feels very real."
Says producer Steinberg, "David was able to pull the plot of the movie together
and uncover the heart and soul of these characters while simultaneously creating
an epic fantasy adventure. He has the ability to find a unique voice for each
character that is expressive of truth and humor and universally relatable."
Award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who collaborated with DreamWorks
Animation as a creative consultant on "Megamind" and was an executive producer
on "Kung Fu Panda 2" and "Puss in Boots," returned as an executive producer to
add his unique perspective to "Guardians."
"Thematically, the movie has a lot in common with what I do," del Toro says. "I
really felt it was a project of great ambition, of great scope, of visual
richness and that it also had a big heart. I was empathetic to what they were
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