Exclusive Interview: Guillermo del Toro Shifts to Animation


There’s a good chance that some time in the last few months (or even weeks) you’ve read one or more things from filmmaker Guillermo del Toro right here on this very site, and that’s partially because he’s literally been everywhere, making lots of public appearances even as he puts the finishing touches on Pacific Rim, his first movie as a director since 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

ComingSoon.net has certainly played a large part in getting word out on the hundreds of projects that Guillermo is involved with at any given time, but last week we sat down with him once again. Knowing we only had ten minutes this time, we decided to focus on the reason why we were there, which was DreamWorks Animation’s upcoming Rise of the Guardians, which solidifies the studio’s growing relationship with the filmmaker. At the same time, Guillermo is in pre-production for his own stop-motion animated Pinocchio, which he’s producing and co-directing with Mark Gustafson. This seemed like a good time to talk to him about his relationship with animation and why he’s chosen to go this route, and that’s what we did.

CS: We’ve spoken a bunch of time over the past few months, but this time I want to talk to you about the animation connection because that’s something fairly new in what you’re doing. I remember when you came to the DreamWorks presentation last year and Jeffrey Katzenberg announced your involvement. You’ve been doing live action movies for many years and doing amazing stuff, but now you’re shifting to animation. I was curious about that decision and getting involved with DreamWorks.
Guillermo del Toro:
By the time we were presenting the DreamWorks slate for the next two years, I was already there for a while. I did animation when I was a kid and as an adult. I had a company that did make-up FX but we also did stop-motion and clay animation. We did a few commercials in Mexico. I had all the equipment like the Mitchel NC camera, a whole studio, and I really enjoyed it, but then after “Chronos”–that was the studio where we shot the interiors of “Chronos,” that animation studio–but after “Chronos” I just concentrated on my career as a director. As time goes by, I start feeling this urgency to go back to a medium that offers complete control. There’s a lot of work but you can control the climate, the wind, the color, the sunset – you basically are creating everything from scratch. I went to Jeffrey and I asked him to allow me to direct a movie but before doing that, have an apprenticeship of the pipeline of DreamWorks and the techniques and the tools and the organization. That led to now we’re going to go for at least six years with DreamWorks – I’m so happy and if I can I will go the rest of my life there.

CS: Over the years, your cinematographer Guillermo Navarro has been a consultant there.
Del Toro:
Guillermo was a very big tool in this because he started talking to me about how great it was, what a fun time he had, and he said “I consult and it’s really fun and people are really open.” I started really thinking about it seriously.

CS: When you’re involved with a project like “Rise of the Guardians” and you have someone like William Joyce, who created the characters and this really is his brainchild, what do you feel like you can offer? Do you go through every single script and scene?
Del Toro:
Oh, yeah, completely. When we started this new incarnation, there were a couple things we knew we liked from the incarnation before, but we started by reorganizing the story, by saying what the function of each character was, what the theme of the movie was, relocated emotional content to places that were just a set piece. We killed off (SPOILER) and came up with the idea of Jack resurrecting from the ice, his flashback, everything. We reorganized all that and Bill was great because he was supporting all the changes. He said, “Look, I love the movie and it’s so far apart from the books that the books can exist in the same universe in a separate area.” He never said, “Oh the books are like this or the book are like that.” He was really a great guy.

CS: We’ve spoken so much over the years and there are things that come right from your head like “Pan’s Labyrinth” and things like that where you’re part of a bigger thing and working with established characters. You can’t get more established than Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny…
Del Toro:
But even then I try to identify and nurture and help with the things that are visually or thematically are things I feel like I have a kinship with, like the idea of choice and hope and fear and faith in the movie, they were all things I really advocated for. The scares, the sort of pathos in the movie, these were things that I was able to help nurture or defend through the process.

CS: I get the impression that Jeffrey’s trying to get animated movies are considered equal to live-action movies, because there’s still a pretty wide gap. There are people out there who still think animated movies are for kids and I feel he’s trying to win them over by making cinematic animation.
Del Toro:
No, it’s true. I have friends in animation, very well known directors in animation, who tell me they want to do live action because most of the time when they talk to their family or their friends, they say, “When are you going to make a real movie?” To me, this is very strange because animation is a medium, but it’s an amazing medium for storytelling and in my opinion, Jeffrey had a transformation in his life when he discovered animation. I really think it changed him to the core, and he approached it very bravely at the start of DreamWorks with things like “Prince of Egypt.” It was a huge, bold entrepreneurial majestic step, but I think that animation needs to grow into stories that are not just stories for family or kids and slowly, in France, in Europe, in Japan, you see a lot of animation directed exclusively to adults. By this, I don’t mean porn or sex, it’s really quiet little studies like “Triplets of Belleville” or “The Illusionist” or “Chico and Rita” or “Perfect Blue,” “Millennium Actress” – there’s really adult animation. I remember I was watching Japanese Anime with Jim Cameron, because we used to show each other the latest Anime back in the ‘90s and he said, “What amazes me about the Japanese sci-fi Anime is that they can get more value and that’s why they go for animation. The budgets are not restrictive. They can get really crazy.”

CS: Having tried to make movies as live action that ended up being too expensive, do you think animation is the way to go with some of those?
Del Toro:
Believe it or not, I’m getting even deeper into animation. I cannot announce any plans, but obviously I’m with DreamWorks, I work happily there, but I’m also producing and directing “Pinnochio” with Mark Gustafson, I’m producing “Day of the Dead” at Fox and I have many many plans for things that would not fit the DreamWorks model. I hope that I can end up doing some stories that are too crazy or too risky for live action in animation.

CS: “Pinnochio” is going to be stop-motion?
del Toro:
Stop-motion. We’re working with Shadow Machine in Los Angeles. They have a studio. We’re planning to shoot the movie over 51 weeks with 12 to 15 studio sets running at the same time. It’s a big endeavor, but we want to do it for not that much money so we can have all the freedom to do it.

CS: I see things like “Robot Chicken” and I’m amazed how they can get so much done for a weekly show.
Del Toro:
Those are the guys that are doing it.

CS: Oh, really? That’s pretty amazing since I have a general idea of how long it takes to do stop-motion animation.
del Toro:
They’re very quick but in this case with “Pinocchio” we’re giving them five times the time that they would normally put on a feature or more, because they work very fast but I want the animation to be very fluid and delicate.

CS: As far as DreamWorks, are you still going to direct a movie for them as well?
del Toro:
Yeah, yeah, I’m going to direct a movie called “Trollhunters” – we actually announced it a couple of years ago and we’ve been designing and all that, but they happen when they happen.

CS: Do you feel like you can direct animation and a live-action movie at the same time?
Del Toro:
No, I can do it with “Pinocchio” because with stop-motion, I just need to check in every day, but it’s a process that you cannot test. In computer-assisted animation, you can check the layout, check the movement of the characters and you can change it very quick. With “Pinocchio” you get basically what you get and to reshoot is really irresponsible so you need to plan it very carefully, but I think on animation in computer, you have to be at least 18 months exclusively dedicated to that movie, because you’re needed 50 times every day. “Pinocchio,” you have 15 sets, 12 sets, whatever, and all those animators go on their own for all day long.

CS: Right, because you can’t watch every frame being shot.
Del Toro:
In computer, you have to basically answer 150 questions a day.

CS: I wanted to ask you about something which isn’t something you’re working on, but did you hear about the Kickstarter that David Fincher did for “The Goon”? They hit their goal today…
Del Toro:
How much did they hit?

CS: $400,000 on Kickstarter.
Del Toro:
Oh, great.

CS: I was curious how you felt about that, because it’s an interesting way to finance movies. Do you think that’s a legitimate way to get going on a project?
Del Toro:
Absolutely. Robbing a bank… a wire act between the two skyscrapers… whatever you need to do to make the movie is beautiful.

Rise of the Guardians opens nationwide on Wednesday, November 21. Look for interviews with some of the others on the creative team soon.

(Photo Credit: C.Smith/WENN.com)