Matt O'Callaghan tells us about directing the newest Looney Tunes theatrical short playing with Happy Feet Two.
After tackling Road Runner and Coyote in CG and 3-D last year, producers Sam Register, Tony Cervone and Spike Brandt along with director Matt O'Callaghan turned to another pair of Looney rivals, Tweety Bird and Sylvester the Cat in I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat. Only this time, they had a secret weapon up their sleeve: a CD of the eponymous 1950 novelty song sung by the late Mel Blanc and performed by the Billy May Orchestra. So, armed with the song, O'Callaghan and the team (including Reel FX, which once again did the animation and stereoscopic rendering) went about animating to the signature Blanc vocals and jazzy beat. Boy, does it swing, as Sylvester chases Tweety and Tweety clobbers Sylvester inside and outside a New York apartment while Granny tries to sleep. And the 3-D has both great horizontal and vertical depth going for it as well.
"I was just wrapping up the three Coyote shorts and Sam walked into my office and handed me this CD with some of these songs on it and said they had never been animated to," O'Callaghan recalls. "And that it would be really fun to put the classic Mel together with modern technology in a short. The problem was the content and so he handed it to me and I had to put together a pitch.
"And I think when I first listened to the song, I realized that it's a very sweet duet, which would be painfully boring if we just animated to that. But then getting more familiar with these shorts, watching them over and over again, there was such a great dynamic between cat chases bird and my first approach was to tonally make it feel like the old shorts. The only way I could it was to fit the punctuation of all the gags in between the lyrics, and so I pitched that idea with some boards, humming the song. And everybody laughed and I said this is what that has to be: a combination of very sweet song and very physical gags."
And the funny counterpoint wonderfully captures the spirit of the old rivalry. But because they were tied to the song, they had a newfound discipline that they didn't have to worry about in the previous Coyote shorts.
"So I had to position the right gag at the right place and there were some great gags that just didn't fit," he continues. "So I had to be very calculating and had to be very honest with stuff that didn't work. So then when we threw it in a New York apartment, that had great depth of field like the Coyote shorts, and that helped it swing a certain way. So I said, 'Well, if I'm going to be in a New York apartment, I'm going to go outside because that's going to give me full advantage here.'"
Sometimes, in fact, O'Callaghan had to work backwards in keeping with the punctuation of the gag and to figure out how to arrive at the right moment in the song. "It was ridiculously challenging but a ton of fun," he admits.
At one point, though, O'Callaghan realized that he had to have Granny in there (voiced by June Foray), and the only lyric that suggests anything was "She brings her broom down upon his back." But because he didn't want her interrupting the song, he had her napping. That is, until right before the lyric comes when she wakes up and starts hitting him on the back."You could see how I had to juggle a lot of things to arrive at what we did."
In terms of animation challenges, of course, the biggest difference here is that you have characters singing instead of the Road Runner/Coyote pantomime. "We have the fur and feathers again but we've advanced the technology a little bit," O'Callaghan continues. "But because you have fur and feather now, you have to be very careful when you're doing dialogue. You don't want the fur and feathers to mess up the articulation of mouth, so you have to get into grooming and watch how you handle the muzzle fur of Sylvester and the feathers around Tweety. But, likewise with Coyote/Road Runner, the main objective was they've gotta look like the same characters: you can't cheat them because now you have fur to deal with. At the end of the day, you have to go: 'That's Coyote/Road Runner; that's Sylvester/Tweety; and that was our main goal.
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication next year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.