Stephan Franck talks 'The Legend of Smurfy Hollow'
Just in time for Halloween, Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow, a 22 minute CG-2D mini-movie inspired by Washington Irving’s classic tale. Released last month on DVD and digital download, Smurfy Hollow premiers on ABC Family this Sunday at 8:30am ET / PT as part of the "13 Nights of Halloween” programming event. I recently sat down with the movie’s director, animation veteran Stephan Franck (The Iron Giant, How to Train Your Dragon) to talk about the challenges of working with the Smurfs creative universe and bringing this latest project to life.
Dan Sarto: Tell me about the genesis of this project.
Stephan Franck: I grew up reading the Smurfs books. I loved those books as a kid. Being French, I was exposed more to the books than the Hanna-Barbera TV show. While I was working on developing my project Futuropolis, Raja [Gosnell, the director] asked me to help storyboard some sequences on Smurfs 2. All that childhood exposure came back. All those memories came back. I really knew these characters. So when Sony asked me if I wanted to direct Smurfy Hollow, I said, “Yes, absolutely.”
DS: The film mixes CG and 2D. Was that always the plan? And if so, why not do it all in CG, or all in 2D?
SF: Well, Sony wanted a special done in the same style as the previous Smurfs’ Christmas Carol Special. Certainly budget is an issue as far as the original decision to go 2D over CG. But for me, it was exciting that we got to put some CG into the film. You can do things with the camera that you just can’t do with 2D. That being said, I grew up with the Smurfs in 2D. I would draw them like crazy trying to figure them out. I’ve always felt they were never animated on model, with the quality of performance that really did justice to the characters. This project gave us a really great opportunity to do that. We had some really great animators both here in LA [Darlie Brewster lead the crew at Duck Studios] and in Spain [Sergio Pablos Animation Studios]. Much of the character animation was done by Sergio and his crew of Spanish banditos. They were just killer. What they did for the 2D Smurfs, I’ve never seen done to Smurfs before. That was really exciting to see.
DS: I assume the CG was done at Imageworks?
SF: All the pre-production was done at Sony Pictures Animation. Script, story and visual development. The CG part was done at Imageworks within the same pipeline as Smurfs 2. Same animators, same models and sets. We benefitted from a bit of a lull within the feature production schedule. We got to use their pipeline just long enough to work on our show.
On the 2D side, we used Duck Studios. Under the Duck umbrella, a lot of the character animation was sent to Sergio in Spain. They did rough animation and cleanup. The files would come back to Duck for ink and paint and compositing.
DS: You’re dealing with a hugely popular property – books, TV series, feature films, all sorts of merchandise. What type of creative approval process was required on this film? Where and how were the Smurfs rights holders involved?