THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE
Animating The Characters
With its broad characterizations and
improbable slapstick situations, "The Emperor's New Groove" proved
to be the kind of film that animators love to work on. The story provided rich
opportunities to let loose and do things that are only possible in the realm of
animation. Dindal and Fullmer carefully cast the supervising animators for the
lead characters and gave them the freedom to do what they do best.
Dindal observes, "We realized
early on that the entertainment value of this film was going to come from the
personality of the characters. With fewer characters, you can pay more attention
to the story and develop each of them in greater detail. It was a simpler
approach that emphasized the characters rather than overwhelming special effects
or cinematic techniques."
Drawing inspiration from David Spade's
expressive vocal tracks and Joe Moshier's initial character designs, veteran
animator Nik Ranieri was responsible for overseeing the animation of Kuzco, both
as a human and a llama. Ranieri and the 12 animators on his team studied llamas
at the zoo, visited a llama farm, watched lots of nature documentaries, and even
observed the animals up close when they came for a visit to the Studio. Being a
cartoon llama, the end result on screen does not necessarily reflect real llama
movements or attitudes, but does have some elements of authentic anatomy.
"Llamas have long necks which
makes it hard to do anthropomorphic movements and attitudes," explains
Ranieri. "That means it's difficult to have the character shrug his
shoulders or anything like that. We had a lot of struggles trying to make the
llama character expressive but we always found innovative ways around the
limitations. We tried to animate his fur like he was an Afghan or shaggy dog.
Switching back and forth between animating a human and a llama also posed some
challenges. They're really quite different other than the fact that they're
both scrawny and have similar eyes.
"David Spade has an excellent
voice and gave the character lots of attitude," says Ranieri. "In
fact, it's hard to imagine anyone other than him doing the voice. He's
perfect. He ad-libbed all the time and gave a great performance. We all expected
him to give a great comic reading but he also gave Kuzco the emotional range
that we needed.
"As an animator, I love doing
physical comedy and things with lots of humor. Kuzco was a very appealing
character for me because you had a lot to sink your teeth into. There were
plenty of opportunities for wacky humor but there were also moments of pathos as
Supervising Animator Bruce Smith was in
charge of bringing Pacha to life. "Pacha is probably the most human of all
the characters," observes Smith. "He has more human mannerisms and
realistic traits, which serve as a contrast to the cartoony llama he hangs out
with. He is the earthy guy who brings everything back into focus. Being a big
fellow â about six-foot-five and weighing about 250 pounds â we had to work
hard to give him a sense of weight and believability in his movement. Even when
things get broad and characters are scrambling all over the place, he moves more
like a halfback than a Tex Avery character.
"It's fun to do a human
character with a sense of caricature," adds Smith. "We went back and
looked at some of the great animation that Milt Kahl did on Roger in â101
Dalmatians' and Madame Medusa in âThe Rescuers.' They move like humans but
there's still somethi
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