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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 us imagined.

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 baby teeth."

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 mediums."

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 different."

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, the boogeyman."

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 film.

"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 magic."

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 creating."

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