"Gru is dastardly and commits crimes, but making him someone that you want to root for was the first hurdle," Paul recalls. "And the more we found these deliciously evil moments, the more successful we were. Finding ways a normal person wishes he could be a villain."
"We all wish we had a freeze ray gun to skip the whole process of standing in line at Starbucks," Daurio adds. "He has no idea how to deal with children: he's going to give you water, some candy and a newspaper to relieve yourself on."
But after running Fox Animation and overseeing Blue Sky , Meledandri was faced with new hurdles as a startup: where to find a studio?
That came later when Meledandri and Mac Guff owner Jacques Bled actively sought passage of the TRIP (Tax Rebate for International Productions), providing a 20% tax break, with a ceiling of up to 4 million euros per film. "It's millions of dollars in savings and it was conditional for me," the producer says about the first American animated feature made in France. "I had other movies that I could see making in this pipeline." (The next one is Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, to be helmed by Renaud and co-directed by Paul & Daurio).
Yet there were growing pains and cultural differences, to be sure. "But from the outset we had determined that we were going to be on board for an American production," Meledandri emphasizes. "We were going to be efficient, so we were not building into the process a lot of remaking of moments and scenes. We were going to create a structure where we go down a path and stick to that path. And we don't second guess ourselves all the way down that path. Everyone making core decisions were linked together. But, in France, Pierre is used to editing there in 16 minutes, 'and you're telling me we can look at it again tomorrow?' He's collaborative but has clarity of vision. It takes somebody like Janet [Healy] to knit it all together and bring the best of the European and American sensibilities."
To supplement Mac Guff's core animation team, the studio recruited 100 freelancers mostly from Europe. "From the outset, it was astonishing to me how similar the approach was in animation at Mac Guff," Healy continues. "They didn't call their approvals a sweat box, but it was all done from the front end before it goes into the back end of lighting, effects and compositing. All along we talked the same animation language.
"The one thing that was very different was they were used to working with locked story reels. Then they found what the work meant when we said we won't lock anything until we run out of time. It was a little learning curve but they accepted it. In retrospect, what felt daunting in the beginning but now seems commonplace to us was the ability to work across so many time zones efficiently with very little technical infrastructure. We said people need to work where they're most productive and comfortable."
Already with The Lorax, they're experiencing efficiencies and "understanding the complexities in the looks of the pictures and how to operate between departments and across sites. It's making it go faster so we can up the dial a little bit."
According to Paul & Daurio, The Lorax is much more epic than Horton, spanning time and generations. "Our approach is always to expand within the book and not go outside, taking cues from the background artwork and picking up every little clue to fill out the story," Daurio offers.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.