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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 well."

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 – about six-foot-five and weighing about 250 pounds – 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 ‘101 Dalmatians' and Madame Medusa in ‘The Rescuers.' They move like humans but there's still somethi

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