Embracing Change in The Croods
"You can't hide from change -- it finds us all," suggests director Chris Sanders about The Croods, an "adapt or die" caveman road picture that extends the naturalistic look achieved on How to Train Your Dragon.
In fact, the art direction, lighting and surfacing were more realistic to give it more weight and believability. At the same time, the Zion National Park-inspired landscape and strange floral designs and hybrid creature designs seem alien.
"The reason was to get the audience in the same mindset as the cavemen," adds director Kirk DeMicco, who conceived of the story with John Cleese back in 2005 when it was a DreamWorks/Aardman co-production.
"We went through a great deal of trouble to build a brand new world where people didn't know what was going to be around the next corner," Sanders adds.
Veteran animator James Baxter, who served as head of character animation, says the Crood family (led by Grug, the dad, voiced by Nicolas Cage) was made to look simian, while Guy, the forward-looking outsider (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) was more of a regular-looking guy.
"Ultimately they are more animal-like than he is," Baxter explains. "They will put their hands down on the ground in a loose way, or go down on all fours every now and then. We wanted them all to have animal characteristics, so Grug moves like a gorilla and Eep [Emma Stone] is more like a jungle cat; and Gran [Cloris Leachman] has her crocodile moments.
They tried to infuse their physicality in the way they hold their hands and feet, including the angles they chose for them to stand in. For example, they turn their feet in and the souls of their feet sideways when they walk.
Meanwhile, the creatures were designed as evolutionary dead-end hybrids. But the biggest concern was trying to figure out how crazy they should be. Early on it was so extreme that the animators thought they were aliens. And so they didn't want to mix up body types like a mad scientist invention. The combinations were rationalized in a bizarre way. The Turkey Fish is a bird that happens to look like a fish. Chunky, the Macawnivore, is a big cat with a giant head and silly fur. Douglas, the crocodog, is just a big mutt.
The latest development at their disposal was an individual sculpting tool that deforms any part of a character beyond the normal rigging capabilities. "It helped us grab and squeeze," Baxter continues. "For instance, to bulge muscles. The walking whale also had a lot of sculptors put into it so it would puff out and squeeze and blow air out of its blow hole in a more convincing way."