The Oscars: Chasing The Gruffalo
Taken from the classic picture book by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, The Gruffalo is about a bold mouse that survives in the woods by telling lies to predators to scare them off. Made by London-based Magic Light Pictures and produced by Michael Rose and Martin Pope, The Gruffalo is directed by Jakob Schuh and Max Lang. Schuh tells us all about the challenges of adapting an illustrated book for a half-hour production.
Bill Desowitz: What instantly attracted you to this?
Jakob Schuh: Well, I just liked it very much. Intrinsically it has a lot of energy. There's also something very subversive about it, though people in very close proximity to the production will disagree about that. Because what the mouse does, at first, he spins an inspired tale. But then he keeps repeating it and gets his punishment in away because he turns around and there's the Gruffalo. But he doesn't give up on it -- he just gets better at lying. It's a celebration of storytelling -- that's what we always said.
BD: How did you start off with design?
JS: The illustrations by Axel were helpful in a way. In Germany and Britain, they're very beloved characters so we tried not to lose the qualities that people like so much. But in the book, the characters are only drawn from the side, and the mouse, for instance, just smiles his way through the whole story. And so you have to find what's special about the book's mouse and then find your own mouse and how it works in the development of your story. Because in the book, it's not laid out that the mouse strays from the path of virtue and gets overconfident. You have to work into the character design some of the facial expression and stuff like that. But a lot of it is adapting, really, and hoping you hit the right notes.
JS: Yeah, absolutely. And I talked with Axel about it and he said both Sendak's work and the Beast in Disney are very archetypical sort of monsters that go way back. But I still think the influence is there.
BD: How did you come up with this technique of CG with physical sets?
JS: The physical sets were the beginning of that with that whole train of thought because Axel's drawings very clearly look hand-made. I just thought, "Well, if we do this in 2D, the ideal outcome would be a moving image of the book." And that's unsatisfying, to be honest, because you want to give the audience something more, so three-dimensions would be great, but I wanted to keep the tactile quality of his drawings. So I thought it would be really great to have all these sets built. And then the question was: What are we going to do with the characters? I didn't want to do it stop-motion because we had a limited budget and a limited time-frame, and directing the performances in CG is so much easier and rewarding. So we had the best of both worlds. And we did a little test and it turned out that it was a very economic way to make this film.