Cultivating Gnomeo & Juliet
It's taken 11 years to make Gnomeo & Juliet, which was financed by Disney but independently produced by Elton John's Rocket Pictures, animated by Starz Animation Toronto and distributed by Touchstone Pictures. The ceramic garden gnomes and the lush neighboring red and blue Stratford gardens, to be sure, required Starz to raise its game beyond the previous 9. But not before the design team in London did its essential work, headed by director Kelly Asbury and producer Baker Bloodworth.
"It was important to have a regular gardener with homeowners that were not extraordinarily eccentric but had a passion for gardening," explains production designer Karen de Jong, who previously worked with Bloodworth on Dinosaur. "Getting immersed in the real environments in London and the surrounding area was about trying to get as much of that flavor into it. We went to Stratford on a number of occasions and were inspired by houses and the yards. They weren't too big but were big for gnomes. You never wanted to lose sight of where they are relative to their world. We always wanted to be heightened reality. But it wasn't candy colored. Scale was very important as well as having a wide range of [more than 200] flowers and plants."
Back in Toronto at Starz, Igor Khait (Everyone's Hero was hired to help the Starz management team, which includes David Steinberg, head of studio; Terry Dale, head of operations and training; Rob Burton, head of technology; and Matt Teevan, head of production. And they brought in Henry Anderson (Stuart Little) to supervise animation, Xavier Bernasconi (The Tale of Despereaux) to supervise lighting, Freddy Chaleur (Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas) to supervise surfacing and Corey Smith (Meet the Robinsons) to supervise effects.
Meanwhile, there were story issues that needed to be resolved: the end result was lighter and less daft. "Fairly early on, Kelly held up Grease as an example to us and said garden gnomes are ostensibly kitsch so let's not imbue them with heavy emotions," suggests David Stoten, head of story. He points to the "Hopelessly Devoted to You" moment in the backyard and the paddling pool that undercuts the sadness with humor.