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PUSS IN BOOTS

Putting "Puss in Boots" in His Place...
It's clearly obvious that the world of moviegoers loves Shrek and his cohorts. But when it came time to setting the origin story of Puss in Boots, filmmakers intended no offense by looking elsewhere than the woods and countrysides of Far Far Away. Joe Aguilar explains, "When we first started ‘Puss in Boots,' we realized that we couldn't deviate too far from the Shrek world, because that is the universe in which he exists. To completely redesign that world would just throw the audiences off. But, we knew we could go pretty far, while remaining in that universe. We pushed, as far as we could, the design and the caricature of our secondary characters—it has a different look and feel than the Shrek franchise, but we definitely stayed within the universe.”

Miller offers more specifics: "It's a sort of southern European Mediterranean fairy tale world that Puss lives in. It's very warm, bright and colorful. A lot of these decisions just came from the character. The Shrek world is very cool, with lush greens and blues—‘Puss in Boots' world is very warm, hot, romanticized. I think of it as a different part of the fairy tale/nursery rhyme universe.”

Producer Ouaou affirms, "I think, though, we really wanted to play with legends. We found influences in the old Sergio Leone films, and looked to more Spanish-based architecture. But we were conscious of not veering too far from where he was introduced. You can only go so far—too much, and he's no longer recognizable in his environment. We wanted to update the Puss in Boots fairy tale—we didn't necessarily feel like we needed to connect it to the original story.”

A bandit's share of the responsibility for designing Puss' world fell to production designer Guillaume Aretos, who served as Art Director on the second and third "Shrek” films.

Aretos asserts, "I was with that franchise for a long time, and that team is kind of my family now. Puss in Boots is a pretty exciting character to bring to the screen, because I think he's pretty special. "What excited me about the film was a chance to do something different—we took him into a pushed, stylized world, where we got to play with big, symbolic shadows, in this very colorful world.”

The director was adamant that the world they created support this gem of a character. Their shared goal was a place that lent itself to grand, sweeping cinema, full of active camera work and bold composition. As Puss is, by anyone's view, a ‘colorful' character, the landscape also had to offer and support a full palette of rich, warm, saturated colors. Above all, this was to be a place of action, adventure, comedy and romance, because, "this world should just be a reflection of who Puss is, at his core.”

The director worked with the artists to create a world with a familiar vernacular of style. "We really wanted to approach this like an old spaghetti Western of Leone, which we felt suited the character perfectly, in terms of size and scope. We adopted that expansive use of the camera, and even used some split screen. But we also didn't want to limit ourselves just to that—I'd say that that is definitely in the fabric of our film—because while Puss is suited to those types of films, he also lends himself to other genres that feature a strong, adventurous lead, say, Indiana Jones, 007, Zorro. There are others, too. So in the end, we started looking at the history of film, gathering inspiration from those larger-than-life characters.”

Production designer Aretos: "If you look at the design, the inspiration for it, as a whole, is very simple—it's the character himself. He's a twisted character—I mean that in a literal sense. In terms of shape language, we started twisting the shape of things. If you look at the sets, you can see that all of the houses are kind of tilted. Nothing is really straight. We have asymmetry, with very unbalanced characters—going from small to gigantic. So that all goes to the shape language. The other thing is that Puss is a very colorful character. We gathered inspiration from Latin culture, and looked at some Spanish movies. We went for a less realistic lighting; we went more free, more crazy. We got to play with big shadows, because Puss is a small character in a very big world. In the Shrek movies, Puss was about three-feet high, when standing in his boots, to balance always being with Shrek, a seven-foot giant. We realized that, in this world, that size wouldn't work—we're in a human world without giants, so we put him back to a normal cat size…if cats wore boots and stood upright.”

A saying of Aretos early in production became a guiding design principle: Crooked characters, crooked world. He illustrates, "We looked at the geography in the north of Spain, which is dry, but beautiful, and noticed that the olive and pine trees along the coast were bent by the winds. We also looked at other desert climates in North and Central America. This imbalance is in our characters and their surroundings.”

One of the more specific sites that drew the filmmakers' eyes was the town of San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico, with its sienna-colored neo-classical colonial buildings.

In the world of animation, one of the biggest differences between it and its live-action counterpart is in the use of an editor. Unlike live-action, where the editor customarily assembles the film toward the end of principal photography, an animation editor is involved from the beginning, up front, working during the story process, to help establish beats, rhythm, story arcs and other aspects that are the results of an artfully assembled collection of images.

Eric Dapkewicz is editor on "Puss in Boots,” and he began his ‘homework' by watching such classics as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and "A Fistful of Dollars,” along with other films that feature sweeping narrative and heroic leads. The end result was a unique style unafraid to feature an homage to the genre that reinvigorated the American Western—some scenes hold on a character, taking in the environment, perhaps a tad bit longer than what is expected in animation. An integral part of such an evocation of Leone is scoring, from composer Henry Jackman, whose work has been featured in everything from Hollywood action blockbusters to gentle romantic comedies. Like Dapkewicz, Jackman boarded the project in the first phases, and supplied music to aid in establishing the flow and feel of the movie (beginning with temporary tracks, eventually refining to final score).

It is this strong team effort from the get-go that Miller feels is the key to building a successful project. He enthuses, "The contributions from every department on this movie have been extraordinary. Guillaume and the art department contributed so much beauty, drama and color and were integral to the story we were telling. Our head of story, Bob Persichetti, and the entire team brought so many great ideas to the table. Head of layout, Gil Zimmerman, who shot the film, and his department, just translated vision into reality. I've been so fortunate, working with Joe and Latifa, these incredible filmmakers—all the chemistry was right and made for a wonderful collaboration and a really satisfying experience.”

Another noteworthy member of the "Puss in Boots” production team is award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who serendipitously was visiting the DreamWorks Animation campus early in production, which allowed for Chris Miller to spend some face time. The director recounts, "Guillermo really gravitated towards this story, he loved the tone of the pitch. And as it turned out, the very next day, we were screening the movie, and he was able to

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