Q: Which one of you is the actor and which is the producer?
Chase: The director and creator of the original movie, and the voice of Stitch, is Chris Sanders.
Sanders: Chris Chase is the producer.
Q: That voice you do is pretty out there. What happens when you do it? It sounds like it might be a bit gravely on the throat.
Sanders: I can’t do it for more than about 2 hours at a time.
Chase: When he’s having fits, we have to save that for last. All of a sudden it starts getting lower, and lower, and Chris goes, “I think we’re done for the day”.
Sanders: (laughs) Yeah yeah, it’s all over. I can’t do it for too long.
Q: After writing and directing the first movie, and really being the creative mind behind it, is it kind of hard to let go and let somebody else take over those aspects?
Sanders: I think there’s a little bit of suspense maybe, but these guys were working on the sequel even before we released the original film. Just in the case the film really hit and you want to be ready for that, so they were already writing and doing boards. The most exciting thing was when we went over and saw them, and saw these boards the characters were right and the characters were consistent. The most exciting thing and the thing that put me at ease was that they weren’t being too safe with it. They weren’t already feeling precious. I think that’s the thing you worry about the most, with characters like Stitch and Lilo, is that people will make it much too safe, and it will kind of lose its energy. And it wasn’t happening, so that’s when I felt really completely good about it and never worried after that.
Chase: We had a nice thing too that Tony and Michael, were story guys. Chris and Dean were story guys. So there was an immediate sort of easy connection for you guys in terms of how to approach material and how to develop it and what you wanted to do. It made it easy for me, like, “here, you guys go work it out!”
Q: How did you come up with the character of Stitch?
Sanders: He was an idea I had way back in 1975. I was working at Marvel productions and I wanted to do a children’s book. And I created this character, even had a drawing of him that I accidentally photographed because I was at the same time learning to develop my own film, and I needed images on film to develop. So I walked around my apartment and took pictures of stuff including my drawing table, and one of these pictures is the first drawing of Stitch. He looks a little bit different, he has a long tail and stuff, but it’s definitely him. It wasn’t too long before I realized I couldn’t do this as a book; it was just too subtle and too big of a story. So I put it away and really didn’t think about it too much. Until about 19 years later, I was finishing up Mulan, and the President of Animation at the time said, “do you want to do your own movie? Get me ideas” and I said, “you know, there is this idea I have”. So I sort of pulled it off the shelf after 19 years and dusted it all off, and that’s how this whole thing started.
Q: What made you decide to set it in Hawaii?
Sanders: After finishing Mulan, we had these mountains of people that you have to move around, and storywise that’s very difficult. I fantasized about doing a story that only had like 3 characters and set it some place where you really couldn’t draw a crowd. And so originally it was maybe rural Kansas, and it was a few months later that I relocated it to Hawaii just because I had a map of Hawaii on my wall and I was going to take a vacation there. I was just sitting back one day looking at that map and thinking, “well that’s kind of a finite place, I wonder if I could move it there.” It seemed like such a guilty pleasure to do that but it actually eventually turned out to be such a wise decision because it gave us so many other things, like the whole thing “Ohana” that eventually tied the movie together and made it ultimately work as a concise idea.
Chase: And really nice for us because it’s so specific. I mean the culture is very specific. The language and ways that they interrelate with each other and ways that they think about their families are different than mainland. It just gives you a lot work with, a lot to pull from. Sort of a rich tradition there is hula. There are so many things that are created for you by the culture that as filmmakers you don’t have to go and try to make everything up and find a new fresh way to say something that everyone has seen.
Q: Why was there a map of Hawaii on your wall in the first place?
Sanders: I like maps (laughs) and I wanted to go to Hawaii, so I thought “I need to study this whole place”. And I went to a map store. I’m obsessed with maps, you’d be frightened to know how many maps I have.
Q: Had you been to Hawaii prior to putting the map on your wall?
Sanders: Yeah, I had, one time.
Q: How did you end up deciding that you should be the voice? Or did somebody else decide?
Sanders: Kind of somebody else. When we first started doing the movie we wanted the character to be purely pantomime and it would really put the pressure on animation to do something wonderful. Like Dumbo-he never really speaks-so we proceeded that way and in about a year or 2 we realized, ‘you know, he’ll have to make a noise once in a while, just to indicate that he’s happy or he’s sad.’ So I did this voice at the studio, normally just to annoy people over the phone
Q: Do you feel that Andy Serkis stole your voice, for Gollum (from LOTR)?
Sanders: (laughs) I hadn’t thought about that. But now that’s going to keep me up nights!
Q: Did you have any idea that the first film would be as successful as it was?
Chase: There’s something about it that feels completely different than anything Disney has ever done. I know for us there was both great pleasure in terms of following up with that, there was this very fresh take, very fresh characters, and at the same time there was a feeling of completeness about the world. And I think when Disney is working well, they give you that. I think people completely embraced it as not being obvious, as being something a little quirky and off-center.
Q: How do you think the sequel is going to do?
Chase: I have no idea. I hope, you know we worked so hard, to try and be true to that, so I’m hoping the same people that responded to the first film are going to respond to this one.
Q: It’s going to be difficult to judge in that it’s two different formats, with the first one in theaters and this one straight to dvd.
Chase: All you can is hope that it’s going to be successful in its format, and hope for the best.
Q: I read that you guys spent a little bit of time over in Hawaii doing research. What kinds of things were you doing while you were over there?
Sanders: For the first one, we brought some of our background guys because we had decided to make it watercolor, and the only real way to capture color is to actually be there and reproduce it with a paintbrush. Photographs are always vulnerable to being reprinted or being scanned the wrong color, so our background guys just came out and drew and collected color. They sat in one spot all through the day, to capture the way the color changed. Everything had a slick kind of clean feel, being washed with rain. As story guys, we came there with less specific goals. We had to go the hangouts, and the cool that was that we met a lot of different people and that’s where we came away with the whole idea of “Ohana” and we actually met this girl who really changed the way that Nani was going to be written. She was a much softer character until we ran into this girl outside of a café who was around the same age as Nani, looked like her, but her attitude was a lot more edgy. And we went away after that and decided she had to be a bit more edgy than the way we made her. She’s a little too benign, too sweet.
Chase: That’s great because I think one of the best things about it is the relationship between the sisters. We loved that they fight and they have this thing, and it was all there for us in terms of coming to the sequel. Tia already had that for Nani.
Q: I heard that they’re shutting down the animation studio you worked with. Is that right?
Sanders: Yes, it’s heartbreakingly right. We’ve talked about this a lot, sort of all morning, and the industry seems to be in a push-pull between CG, hand-run animation and some sort of combination that we haven’t maybe seen yet. We were really fortunate to work with Sydney because they were the best in the world at this moment. They has assembled this great, great team and I think the movie feels like Chris’s original, and I think that’s because of them. Partly it’s because the artists loved the original movie, so they really extended themselves for us. These people worked incredibly hard to be true to the color of the animation and all the artistic concerns. It’s terribly sad for us. The hard thing about traditional animation is that if you’re going to have a pipeline, if you’re going to have a stable of artists, and if you’re not feeding them material to keep them constantly busy, you immediately go into a financial downtime. You’re paying your people and your business to do nothing. And it’s a very difficult thing, so if there’s any creative interruption and you don’t have that wonderful story…I think they’re amazing people and I wish it wasn’t so, they’ll go work somewhere else and do more amazing work for those people.
Q: Who came up with all the aliens in the movie?
Chase: That was a combination thing we did with the TV series. There was this wonderful sort of idea about all the other experiments, like he’s 626, and they’re all the other ones that have come down. A lot of those very specific drawings were theirs, and came out of that series. And we had this idea simultaneously about the creation of Stitch taken from monsters from across the universe, and there was this idea that led into that. So those sorts of things stepped out together.
Q: Given that Lilo & Stitch was the last really super successful traditionally drawn animation for Disney, do you think you guys might be moving into CGI now?
Sanders: Oh yeah, definitely. There’s a whole bunch of projects right now. The early parts of “American Dog,” which I’m doing right now, the next ones are going to be CG. It’s interesting to know 2 things about the move from traditional to CG. First, 2D and CG have already been blending. If you look at “Tarzan” and all those films, there’s a lot of CG in them. And the opposite is true; while working with CG, there was a lot more 2D in there than I had originally thought there might be. In the end, you will see stuff coming out that’s all over the place. The gifts of each will be chosen according to what the material really needs, because we have the same guys doing it, they’re just using different tools now.
Q: In what ways do CG films use 2D animation?
Chase: The CG films start in a hand-drawn place. In Chris’s film now, you have a whole stable of people who are painting and drawing and trying to come up with a look, and your stuff is initially on paper.
Sanders: Oh, yes. And the best CG characters really can hope to do is move like a 2D traditional character. That’s what they really aspire to, so getting that going is very difficult and it’s something that everybody in every studio is probably working on. There’s just things you do in a hand-drawn film. You want the CG character to have a kind of instantly malleable exterior, so that you can drive those shapes, and not make them feel too puppet-like.
Q: Were you resistant when the studios said your projects will now be CG?
Sanders: It was never something like that. I think that within the studio there is a huge amount of excitement to do that, because you watch a CG film and it just takes a long time to change over to do that. There’s a lot of physical things that have to change to allow you to do that. So that’s why it takes any studio a while to get that going, but everyone wanted to do it because there’s just so much that you get. One of things I get now is movement of a camera, that I never got before. During a scene where something emotional is going on, you can dolly in, change the lens, and do things you could do in traditional, but they would be very expensive and time consuming. The camera movement is one of the most important tools that you pick up. The limitations are really seen more with characters, and wanting to see things done instantly. We’re trying to make sure that those limitations subside over time.
Q: With so much available for consumers of entertainment these days, how do you think it will do? Why should I pick this up at the store?
Chase: I can’t predict the market, it’s an unfathomable thing, when I think of all the things that sell incredibly well that I don’t get. Then there are things I think are absolutely wonderful like Iron Giant, that aren’t financially successful. I liked the original movies so much and I think this movie in all the important ways is true to it: both in the physical and more importantly, in the storytelling. These characters are continuing the journey with a new family and new struggles and new things, and I think Tony and Michael captured that and you get that same feeling. You’re still in that world and in that sense I think it’s a success.
Q: Will you have to have seen the first movie to be able to enjoy the sequel?
Chase: You might enjoy it more if you’ve seen the first one, but I don’t think it matters. It’s not referential in a nuance kind of way. The thing that might bear some explaining is that there are now aliens living in her house. If you didn’t know where those aliens had come from, you might have some questions. But I don’t think there are things or events that won’t make sense.
Q: Can you tell us anything else about American Dog?
Sanders: It’s actually early enough that story-wise we’re still working really hard on it.
Q: When do you think it will come out?
Sanders: Last I heard, don’t hold me to it, is around 2007.
Q: What do you think is the message of the Lilo & Stitch movies?
Sanders: In the last days of Mulan, I was thinking about how strange it is that we’re always trying to come up with new ways to dispatch villains, and I began to get really enchanted with the idea of making a villain a hero, and redeem him rather than being that black and white with it. So that’s what the whole movie is really based on: the redemption of a villain. As time went on, it really became much more about family and that theme (redeemed villains) became something that you just don’t notice. The first one is more about family and not being too judgmental about what yours is like.
Chase: The sequel for me, is kind of about paying attention to people you love. It’s about these 2 characters that are clearly part of a family and they love each other and have these relationships that go from fighting to supporting each other. As it goes on, Lilo doesn’t always pay attention to her friends and things happen because of that, and in the end she understands that in a different way. And I kind of like that. I see that as a true thing.