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HAPPY FEET

Dance
Perhaps no musical element was as integral to advancing the story as dance, which is the essence of Mumble's own Heartsong.

Miller says, "When we decided to make a film about a dancing penguin, I couldn't expect the digital artists to animate brilliant dancing. After all, a dancer, like an animator, acquires their skills over a lifetime. So the best way to make the penguins dance was through motion capture.”

Miller believed Savion Glover was just the man to lead Mumble's tap revolution. "Given that Mumble is a virtuoso tap dancer, who better than Savion to play him? Savion's inimitable dancing was motion captured for Mumble's tapping in the main dance sequences in the movie. He's a dazzling percussionist,” states the filmmaker. "His rhythms are so complex and sophisticated. Tap dancing is music you make with your body, and Savion is a virtuoso. You can play him anything and he'll improvise to it. At one point, we played him a helicopter and he mimicked the sound with his feet. He was moving so quickly, he was faster than the camera could record…or than I could see with my naked eye. He is quite extraordinary.”

Having made his Broadway debut at age 12, Glover has shared the stage with such tap dancing legends as the late Sammy Davis, Jr. and Gregory Hines. "Savion is the latest in a line of classic hoofers,” notes Miller. "He loves tap so much, it is absolutely part of him. He feels an obligation to pass his knowledge on, which is why he was the only choice of dancers to give Mumble his Heartsong.”

"I truly believe that kids are going to see this tap dancing penguin and say, ‘That's too cool.' George Miller is bringing back tap, and I'm just grateful to be a part of that,” says Glover. "I'm not the only one; I know there are many great hoofers looking down on George right now and saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.'”

Judy Morris backs up Savion's belief. "The composer's little son was completely entranced when he saw Savion at work, and ever since he's been tap dancing like crazy.”

Warren Coleman recounts just how extraordinary Glover is. "At the start of every motion capture take, the performers stand still to be ‘snapped' by the computers. But at times we could hear a ‘brrrrrr' noise… It sounded like a tiny machine-gun. The sound technician desperately tried to find its source so we could start capturing. He checked the air-conditioner, computers, sound equipment, everything. But then it would disappear and we could start. It was only later that Savion let us in on his little practical joke. He had actually been tapping, with foot movements so tiny and fast that no one could detect them even up close, under powerful lights. He had us all completely stumped, particularly the sound guy.”

A predominantly live-action director, Miller had initially considered creating "Happy Feet” in a live-action format, a la the "Babe” movies, where actual penguins would be digitally enhanced to sing and dance. The idea was quickly abandoned. "We knew it wouldn't be easy to train a penguin to dance,” jokes the director.

"Live action and computer animation are essentially no different—all the principles of filmmaking apply to both,” Miller comments. "When I work with animators it's like working with actors in ultra slow motion; you're dealing with nuanced performance frame by frame. The main difference is that you break down synchronicity. The voices are done at one time. The body movements, the facial expression, the lighting, the camera work, the costuming and everything else, are done at different times. In live action they're more simultaneous.

"Also, in making a film in the digital realm, the material is utterly malleable. You can move your characters, or your camera, or your lights anywhere. You can work your story to a much finer degree than you normally would

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