DR. SEUSS' HORTON HEARS A WHO!
The Film's Look
Determined to stay true to the vision and magic of Dr. Seuss’ environments and
characters while translating his pen and ink style into a fully dimensional world, Jimmy
Hayward and Steve Martino visited the Geisel Library at the University of California San
Diego, which houses all of his original work. Searching for clues to Seussian design, the
filmmakers studied the author’s original art and read every manuscript, even his
handwritten notes and annotations. Says Steve Martino: “I was particularly taken by
some sculptures Seuss had done, which provided direction on how he would have
translated his ideas and world into three dimensions. We found some subtle references to
color, shape and texture that would incorporate into the film.
“Looking at the body of Dr. Seuss’ work for inspiration, we began to get into a
zone of Seussian exaggeration,” Martino continues. “It became infectious, and we began
to dial into Seuss’ visual vocabulary. We would digitally brush the hair of a Who, for
example, and ask, how can we do that Seuss-style? Being in his world stimulated our
From the Seuss works he and Hayward painstakingly studied at the archives,
Martino created a style guide that provided a foundation from which the filmmakers
created a fully dimensional, textured and realistically lit world. “We could take a camera
through the 3-D world we were building and explore it in great depth,” notes Martino.
Seuss enjoyed surprising people with little details and off-kilter designs. The key
to success in translating his work to the world of computer animation was making these
details and designs fun and relatable. The filmmakers called their approach “Seussian
logic” – a process that ensured every crazy gizmo and contraption was entertainingly
Who-ville, an entire city resting on a speck that has landed on a clover, resembles
in some ways our world’s day-to-day existence: people go to school, they work and they
shop. But a job in Who-ville might entail as Hayward points out, “laying on a couch all
day eating bon-bons.”
Modes of transportation in Who-ville mix fun with relatability. The city’s multilayered
streets are lined with sock-mobiles, roller-bladers on stilts, and unicyclists, to
name only a few of the unusual ways the Whos get around. “If there’s a way to get
someplace, we wanted to make it the most interesting and fun way to go,” says Martino.
The aforementioned sock-mobile – a car that has four legs and walks…with socks – was
a favorite of the filmmakers. It’s the perfect vehicle for a hospital zone or a library, or
any area where silence was golden. Another favorite was the bed-mobile. “It would save
a lot of steps in the morning,” says Hayward. “You could read a book on your way to
work, or catch up on some sleep.”
If a sock-mobile or bed-mobile sound too conventional for you, then you might
want to try Jo-Jo’s giant sling-shot device, which he uses to access an old observatory
that figures prominently in the story. First, Jo-Jo sits down on a unicycle connected to
the contraption, then he pedals back the unicycle, looking like he’s about to launch
himself into a wall, grabs and pulls back on a lever, firing himself straight up in the air, to
a hanging stairway.
What about recreation, like a game of tennis? Here, too, imagination and fun rule
the day. “Dr. Seuss never took a straight line from point A to point B, so we reasoned that
the Whos wouldn’t play on a ‘normal’ tennis court,” says Hayward. “We thought, Why
not elevate half the court in one spot, and have these crazy stairwells running between the
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