Meet the Despicable Me Directors
"The biggest surprise to me was layout," Coffin admits. "I'm so used to having quite precise storyboards and layout would know exactly what to do; and the same thing for animation: they would always refer to the storyboards to know what the scene is about. I was kind of surprised on this project -- and apparently it's quite common -- that storyboards can be imprecise about acting: it's mostly about the idea and the characters. But layout kicks in and they set up everything so the animation can start to work. But I usually let the animators take care of their own layout. That was handed out to specialists, which disturbed me at the beginning. It's just that the movie gets handed down to so many people that I had a hard time running after things and keeping them on track so animation would work within a storyboard and the layout that was set up. It was kind of confusing. But I suppose that's the only way we can do things, especially in the way that we started off with three sequences and a script that needed a little bit more than finessing. But they made the script work as we went along. Truth is, when I see the result, it does actually work, but it's kind of stressful."
But Coffin had nothing to lose in stressing the humor that he prefers, which is mainly British. He would argue whenever possible for a more subtle performance. "I hate movies where you can read the characters so easily. I didn't have control of the story, but I certainly had control of the acting. Every time I saw a cliché like a double-take, I would ask for other tricks to not make this like a regular human reaction. He recalls an old theater exercise about miming someone who has been waiting for two hours. Don't look at your watch -- go for the unexpected."
In fact, he found the contrast between Gru and Vector pretty simple. The hardest scene was the one in which Gru reads the bedtime story, Sleepy Kittens, to the three girls. "You know the story is crap and you want to tell them, but they like it, so you refrain yourself from doing so. And the fact that this guy doesn't refrain from saying so is super fun. But it does get emotional at the end, and so that whole sequence took more time than expected because we didn't want to go over the top. That little sequence is unpredictable because you don't know how it ends."
The experience with Despicable Me has worked out so well that Renaud and Coffins are working on separate features for Illumination: Renaud is co-directing The Lorax at Mac Guff with Despicable Me screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio; and Coffin has hopes of directing a pet project, Bones, but not before helming Flanimals, an adaptation of the Ricky Gervais series of novels.
"Lorax very serious subject matter [a fable about protecting the environment], obviously, but I think we found a way to make it entertaining, fun and still carry its powerful message," Renaud says. "We're in pre-production and figuring out fun things like fur shading and what a Truffula tree looks like in 3D. You know, taking those Seuss drawings and trying to make them dimensional, much like some of the challenges in Horton Hears a Who! That experience helped a lot because there are consistent design elements. I was just a story artist, but was witness to how things were done. We are trying to find a way to preserve the Seuss aesthetic but have our own spin on it."
Flanimals, not surprisingly, is completely different. "It's a world with some super weird creatures but very funny," Coffin suggests. "Basically all these creatures are kind of useless. Matt Selman from The Simpsons wrote a draft that's super funny and, hopefully, it will be launched into production in two years."
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.