RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
Legendary Characters Require Legendary Artists
As Bill Joyce tells it, he had many sources of inspiration when he created his
"The backstories for these characters are so unanswered, I was able to take bits
and pieces of other mythologies - Greek and Roman, fairy tales, Tarzan - and
swish them all together in ways that would fit each story," he recalls.
The resulting drawings that brought life to those backstories were so intricate,
elaborate and visually stunning, they provided an invaluable launching pad.
"Everything in the film was inspired by the original Bill Joyce mythology, which
is fantastical, magical and wonderful," production designer Patrick Hanenberger
says - it was important to the filmmakers that "Guardians" have its own look,
separate from its literary counterparts.
Hanenberger, who joined DreamWorks Animation in 2004 as a visual development
artist ("Over the Hedge," "Bee Movie," "Monsters vs. Aliens") and later served
as art director for the TV special "Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from
Outer Space" prior to his current role on "Guardians," notes, "Because the whole
story is based on belief, the audience needs to believe in the veracity of these
characters," he says. "That limited us in certain stylistic choices that we
wanted to make. If you make something too outrageous or too crazy audiences are
just not going to relate to it. If it's too photo real, it's not an animated
movie anymore. For us, the big challenge was to find that sweet spot: It's an
animated movie that feels as real as it can be."
A step in that direction was the envelope-pushing work done on the complexions
of the film's human and human-like characters.
"The way we dealt with skin in 'Guardians' was groundbreaking for the studio,"
producer Nancy Bernstein says. "Our R&D department worked with a team who
formerly worked at Stan Winston's studio and together they built it the way you
would build prosthetic skin, that is, in layers. This allowed for translucency,
the way real skin responds to light. In the past, light would reflect off it but
wouldn't be absorbed by it. We had much more control over the way our characters
looked and the way their skin moved. We were also able to add subtle elements
such as facial creases, which take the animation up a notch."
Another challenge for the filmmakers was creating six unique environments - one
for each of the Guardians and for Pitch - that reflected the personalities of
each character, but that made for a unified film when looked at together as a
"Each environment is distinctive, but we made sure Bill Joyce's original style
was present throughout," Hanenberger says. "We wanted each of the Guardians to
be differentiated by their own color palates. For example, in the North world,
there are warm and cool blues and red-grays, with bright red crimson for North
himself; in the Tooth Fairy world there's lavender, salmon and preach, accented
by Tooth's iridescent turquoise. Our color palates were inspired by traditional
turn-of-the-century children's book illustrations done in pencil and watercolor
because they evoked a feeling of nostalgia.
"We also felt the need to have six different environments to give the movie an
international appeal," he continues. "We didn't want the story to take place in
a fantastic place that no one recognized. It couldn't be in outer space, it
couldn't be on another planet, it had to be on Earth."
Not surprisingly, the team was inspired by real-world locations.
"Since North is a Russian Cossack warrior, we looked at Russian architecture
such as the Kremlin," art director Max Boas says. "His home in the North Pole is
a giant wooden fortress. He's a gung-ho, untamable wild guy, so we wanted his
architecture to be very masculine and strong. His home is built by interlocking
wood pieces, a bit like the game Tetris. There's no glue, no nails, it's just
wood jammed together like a big puzzle piece."
For Tooth Fairy's palace, located in Southeast Asia, the team turned to Thai
"It's very bird-based and has a lot of wing and beak motifs," Boas says. "Tooth
is amazingly complex and a really fast communicator. Since she stores the baby
teeth of all mankind, she's basically a librarian, so we wanted her environment
to have the sense of a library," he says. "There's tons of detail everywhere:
carvings, mosaics and wall murals, because it's all about communication and
visual information. It's the most visually overwhelming of all the locations
because it fits her personality best.
"Her palace is made up of giant columns that represent the continents of the
world," he continues. "Within those continents are rings that are organized by
country, state, city, street, and house, and within that are millions of little
boxes in which the fairies store the teeth. It's all organized, color coded and
Pitch's dark dungeon was motivated by classical Venetian architecture and, in
fact, the production design team placed it beneath Venice, Italy.
"Think of an ancient palace that sunk into the ocean floor, surrounded by mud
and rock," Boas says. "That's Pitch's home. His whole environment is built at an
angle and it feels like it's falling off a cliff into an abyss. In addition, it
has negative elements from all of the Guardians' respective worlds. For example,
he has a globe, just like North does, to keep track of the belief of the world's
children, but it's colored grey and black."
In complete contrast to the architecturally significant domains of North, Tooth
and Pitch, Easter Bunny's garden home is an underground oasis where all life
originates. Bunny lives there with giant sentinel eggs, ancient stone sculptures
that come to life when invaders intrude, as well as magic eggs, which, on
Bunny's order, march out on little feet into the world and become the eggs found
during Easter egg hunts.
"Bunny's environment is very understated," Hanenberger says. "It's basically
rocks, grass and trees but it suits his personality and reflects what he's all
about, that is, to protect nature. Since his home is the birthplace of nature,
we designed a shrine environment after doing a lot of research on old temples,
forest spirits, hieroglyphs and ancient carvings. It's only featured briefly in
the movie but it's actually my favorite world."
To bring dreams to the world every night, Sandman doesn't need an elaborate home
base, either. He lives on a Dream Cloud right between night and day and travels
with the sunset.
"Think of him as navigating an ocean of clouds," Hanenberger says. "If you're on
a red-eye flight to the East Coast at sunset and you see that last little bit of
sunlight hitting the clouds, you should look outside for Sandman, because that's
where he would be."
And then there's Jack Frost. He's an Earth-bound vagabond and, unlike the
Guardians or even Pitch, he doesn't have a place to call home - although
something keeps drawing him back to a small town: Burgess, Pennsylvania.
"Jack has a magical connection with that town but he doesn't know why,"
The filmmakers made an intentional contrast between the all-American human town
and the global feel of the Guardians' dominions.
"To ground the human world in reality, we built it fairly flat so when the
audience sees the Guardians' various realms, they're beholding really
breathtaking stereo moments, which emphasize the magic of their worlds," Boas
When viewing Burgess scenes, Ramsey notes, "We wanted to see some of the grit.
We wanted to feel the atmosphere. We didn't want to feel like we were watching
some kind of Christmas card."
The "Guardians" team set out to use Tru 3D - standard in all DreamWorks
Animation films - in an organic way that was integral to the story, not as a
stunt or an afterthought.
"The use of 3D was never discussed as a gimmick, ever," notes producer del Toro.
"We wanted to create a world that was different from any other 3D animated movie
that we have seen. The movie takes a lot of risks and succeeds in texture,
color, lighting, and cinematography."
"3D is an integral part of the process," notes producer Bernstein, "Our goal was
to use it as another tool to enhance our storytelling. From the very beginning,
we envision every aspect of the film in stereo. Every decision regarding the
film's design, camera placement and movement, as well as animation and visual
effects is made after reviewing the work in 3D."
"We were constantly thinking about 3D in our production design," Hanenberger
agrees, "creating spaces that would look interesting in 3D and then trying to
find a rhythm throughout the story: How do these sets tie into the overall
stereoscopic kind of motif of the movie?"
"The challenge presented in a 3D film is how to assimilate the effects into the
story, and to be aware when composing a shot how it might be enhanced by 3D,"
says Visual Consultant Roger Deakins. "The film has a sense of wonder and magic
to it that 3D is very much a part of."
Adds del Toro: "Jeffrey Katzenberg is a huge believer in animation as a medium
to tell big stories with big canvases. He has a vision for 3D, for the expanse
and scope of the movies. The stories we tell are meant to be told in a big way.
They're not meant for the small screen, so we go for huge vistas, big moments,
big movements, big characters. But at the same time, we populate that with
moments of grace and intimacy and relationships that are even beyond what a
live-action movie can do. We're not emulating any other film. We tend to use the
medium to the max."
"Our movie is the biggest, most dramatic film DreamWorks Animation has ever
done," Hanenberger says. "It's a giant, epic story that needs to be supported
with giant, epic visuals. We had to do justice to this powerful story."
"You often hear live-action movies being called 'visual effects extravaganzas.'"
says Bernstein, ""Guardians" is every bit as visually complex and sophisticated
as those films. I believe that what makes our film different is the artistic use
of effects in the development of the characters; the visual effects are
seamlessly integrated into our characters and help define their personalities.
Jack Frost's power over wind and frost reflect his mood. Sandy's dream creations
display his playful and gentle nature. Pitch is able to corrupt dreams and
create brand new nightmare characters which are literally a combination of
visual effects and animation. We were careful to strike a balance where the
visuals would support the characters and not overwhelm the story."
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