For story artist Colin Jack, boarding the heartbreaking backstory meant dealing with his own recent loss, made easier by enlisting the help of his son Gabriel.
For the past six years, DreamWorks Animation has been home for story artist Colin Jack, working on family-friendly and adolescent-angled stories like Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Trolls Holiday, Trolls World Tour, and the recently released The Croods: A New Age. While Jack mostly utilized action comedies and rom-coms as references for his boards on the new Croods sequel, inspiration for the film’s opening sequence, revealing a young Guy and the death of his parents, came from a much more emotional and personal source: his own family.
“Grab your hankies,” says Jack. “This gets a little sad. I couldn’t get through the practice run-throughs without choking up.”
Jack was boarding the most recent installment in the Trolls franchise when he got the proposition to work on The Croods: A New Age with Joel Crawford or, as Jack puts it, “the nicest man on the planet.” "I was working on Trolls World Tour when Joel, my old director from Trolls Holiday, came into my office and let me know he’d be directing the new Croods, and that I’d be working on it,” remembers Jack. “Thankfully, he didn’t give me a choice. My family really enjoyed the first film, and we were excited it was finally getting its sequel.”
While the first Croods centered around Eep and her family’s discovery of a world outside their cave home, The Croods: A New Age puts Guy front and center, diving into his past and introducing the Croods to a brand-new danger and opposition: passive-aggressive and highly territorial neighbors, the Bettermans, “emphasis on the ‘better,’” who are also key components of Guy’s character development in the film.
As a story artist, working with the director and head of the story, Jack used story pads, grease pencils, and Photoshop to sketch out and refine character movements, facial expressions, and background visual boards for major scenes in the film, such as the Croods’ family kill circle, the discovery of the Bettermans’ wall, Phil and Hope Bettermans’ matchmaker plotting sequence, and 2D cave art scenes with the young Guy backstory. The scene begins with Guy’s parents pleading with him to run from the rising tar, leading to a heartbroken but determined young Guy setting off to fulfill their last wish - for their son to find his “tomorrow.”
The already tearful scene proved extremely emotional for Jack, whose grandmother had passed away the week before he was assigned to board young Guy’s scenes. “She was a great storyteller and a huge influence me,” remembers Jack. “All the grief I was experiencing went into this scene.”
Jack’s personal investment in the scene, he says, made for a strong assortment of story art, though young Guys’ crying shots were also inspired by Elliott’s character in E.T. at the point where Elliot believes E.T. to be dead. But when it came time to pitch the sequence to Crawford, Jack had a difficult time getting through the dialogue. Jack brought in his son Gabriel to record temporary audio for young Guy, but the pairing turned out to be a perfect fit.
“The team loved Gabriel’s take on it,” says Jack. “Though they searched high and low for a professional child actor to replace him, they had a case of temp love and we convinced Gabriel to record a few more official takes.”
Jack attended every one of Gabriel’s recording sessions, watching his often very private son come alive in the booth and give vocal life to the emotions Jack poured into the scenes. “Being a dad and losing my grandmother right before definitely had me emotionally wrecked by this scene,” he reveals. “That being said, what I love about the scene is its connection to the end where Guy finds his tomorrow and it’s not a place, it’s Eep. It’ll take him the next 86 minutes to figure it out, but he gets there.”
He adds, “My family and I haven’t gotten the chance to see the film together yet, but Gabriel did have some ADR to do, so I was able to watch his scene with him. It looked stunning and for a moment I forgot he was even the voice of Guy. He liked that.”
Though the artistic journey for The Croods: A New Age meant a whirlwind of emotions for Jack, the story artist says it paid off and that the creative process is something that should always be trusted. “There are always challenges with creating story art, but every artist has a process for making a scene,” explains Jack. “If you can just trust the process it’ll work itself out.”
Jack is currently working on another family-oriented DreamWorks Animated film, The Boss Baby: Family Business, set for release in March 2021. The Croods: A New Age, now showing in theatres, is also available through Video on Demand as of today. You can find out more information on the film by following the director, Joel Crawford, @joelbcrawford.