Jason Clark Talks Ted and the New VFX World Order
With the successful release of Ted, it’s important to look back and realize the inherent riskiness in making an R-Rated adult comedy centered on an animated foul-mouthed talking teddy bear. There was no guarantee director Seth MacFarlane’s track record with Family Guy would translate into a successful feature film. It was producer Jason Clark’s job to find the right talent, the right technology and the right processes to harness Seth’s comedic genius and bring Ted to life. I recently spoke at length with Jason about the film’s innovative use of motion-capture and what he refers to as the “New World Order” in feature film visual effects.
Dan Sarto: Can you tell me a little bit about the genesis of the film, how you got involved with Seth and what was the germ of the idea that started this film rolling?
Jason Clark: Well, I guess the true genesis is an idea that Seth had. He worked with [the writers] Alec [Sulkin] and Wellesley [Wild]. Then MRC got involved and called me up and said, “Will you take a look at this?” because I had done the Stuart Little movies. I think it was right after I finished Monster House, so I had some experience with motion-capture and performance capture and CG characters in a live action world. I had recently worked at DreamWorks Animation taking the studio into [stereoscopic] 3-D, so I even had experience in that world. I was interested in doing a comedy and obviously I was a huge fan at that point of Family Guy, of Seth MacFarlane’s work. When I read the script and it happened to be an incredibly funny piece of work and it made me to laugh my ass off, I just knew I had to do it. One way or another I had to figure out how to work on this movie, because I loved the script and I loved the challenge of the movie. How do you make an R-rated comedy and do it with a CG character in the lead? That could be a very expensive proposition and you can’t afford an expensive proposition in an R–rated comedy.
DS: I think recent live action films have gotten better integrating CG characters, but it’s not the easiest thing to do.
JC: No, and to do that and complicate it with a comic character which required the kind of repartee and performance [we needed]. How can you take the empty spot and make it talk back to the live action actor in such a way that you can create repartee? How do you get into a fistfight for two minutes with the character that’s just sitting there? I mean these are the kind of things that require new operating procedures to be written. We weren’t saying, “How have they done it before? That’s what we’re going to do.” We were saying, “How they did it before, what can be learned from that to create a [new] production paradigm?”
DS: Was it a different experience working with a director on a film like this who is so knowledgeable about the animation process himself?
JC: Yeah. You know, he’s also got incredible leadership qualities, which means, he is that rare combination of several things you’ll want. He’s hugely talented, he’s really, really smart and he knows how to lead people, in a way that they could be most effective. If you surround him with talented people, he’s able to do his best work. His experience and his ability to communicate what he needs are highly tuned up. I mean he’s been doing it for 10 years on two TV shows. He just knows how to communicate as a leader of several hundred people in each of those groups; what he needs on a day-to-day, week-by-week basis and how to do it on a schedule. So when he walked into the role of being a leader of the movie as a director, it was great.
I remember having this conversation with him that’s very funny. I was nervous because it’s like, “Oh my God, he’s also got to act in the movie.” So he’s going to be directing a movie, going to interrupt and play the Ted voice and the physical performance of Ted live on the set, then go back to directing. He told me, “You don’t have to worry about that. I do that all the time. That’s going to be easy for me.” So, he’ll be running that show [Family Guy] and he’ll run in and he’ll do Peter Griffin, and then he’ll fork up Stewie lines and then he’ll come out of the booth and will be running the show.
His ability to multitask like that is evident in the number of shows he does and the number of creative endeavors he does simultaneously. Whether he’s doing an album or movie, two TV shows, performing live, I mean, he’s remarkable. So with all of those elements you have this unique person, incredibly talented. All we had to do is make sure we didn’t fuck it up for him.