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KUNG FU PANDA

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting
John Stevenson is well aware of how high a bar the filmmakers, cast and crew had set for themselves: "When you have a title like ‘Kung Fu Panda,' you're totally setting yourself up. If we were going to do kung fu, it had better be really good. It was very important that we have really cool and accurate kung fu and not just floppy hand waving. There's a big difference between kung fu and various other martial arts. We were determined that it be kung fu and not jujitsu or karate or tae kwon do or any other discipline. But, at the same time, we had to make it unique to our movie, because our protagonists are, after all, animals.” So how do you create original, animal-based kung fu movements, and not just animate "humans in animal suits?” Filmmakers and crew began by learning as much as they could about the art, and (in addition to marathon viewing sessions of kung fu movies) they invited wushu instructor Eric Chen to lead them in a class.

"We asked him to not go easy on us, because we wanted to get a sense of how it was for Po, to be completely unsuited and unfit — as most of us were — and face somebody like Shifu,” says Stevenson.

The result? A day of kung fu training, and a lot of sore and bruised bodies. "But it was great in a way,” Osborne admits, "because it really gave us a sense of how hard it really is to do some of those stretches and exercises. Even the simplest movements were very taxing for somebody as out of shape as I am.”

For those of the KFP crew who didn't practice any type of martial arts (some of the animators actually did), there was a great deal of empathy for their reluctant hero. Fortuitously, animator and story artist Rodolphe Guenoden — a long-time martial arts practitioner — was on the "Kung Fu Panda” team and assigned the newly-created position of kung fu choreographer. Guenoden became the go-to guy with any questions about kung fu authenticity. "Because he's such a good animator, he was able to take our characters' animal qualities and figure out how a cat could get into the correct stance or execute the right move and make it look accurate. He was truly instrumental in defining the look of our kung fu,” says Stevenson.

Producer Cobb adds, "Ideally, if you were making a movie about kung fu, you would have all your animators actually be kung fu masters, but it turns out there aren't that many in the world. So, we were really lucky to have Rodolphe, who had trained in martial arts for many, many years and is a brilliant animator. He was part of the story team from the beginning and became a really valuable asset throughout the animation process.”

Guenoden says, "I was in storyboard for two-and-a-half years, then I moved to animation. So I was an animator first and now I was taking care of supervising the action and all of the kung fu onscreen. I've always been into martial arts — I've studied different styles for 18 years and always wanted to combine it with animation. I first got the opportunity to do that on ‘Sinbad' in 2D. I studied all the fighting scenes, but I wanted to do more. As soon as they green lighted ‘Kung Fu Panda,' I jumped straight into the storyboarding, trying to do more of the action and all the fighting in the movie. I was a happy camper.”

Precision is essential to achieving authenticity — the positioning of the foot, the movement of the hips — so practical training was augmented with classes, referencing videos and sketching from that. For the animators, however, it was preferable for them to do the moves themselves and understand the movements and positions, so Guenoden held ongoing kung fu classes. "It gave me a way to talk to the animators. They could get how the character's foot would be placed, how the spine would be curved, how the hips would lead. Before the sessions, I used a lot of drawings or I would mime it. But after

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