Director Hamish Grieve talks about his new 3D/CG action adventure, with piledriving, monster wrestlers and a young girl trying to follow in her late, great, wrestling coach father’s footsteps, debuting today, December 15, on Paramount+.
The roaring crowds, gleaming stadium lights, and thunderous bass tones that sing of an epic fight about to begin. Audiences gather en masse, crowding around a square, matted, roped-off stage under glaring spotlights to cheer – and boo – as the contestants arrive: a shark-headed tentacled monster and a ginormous horned-bulldog.
“Having giant monsters jumping off top ropes and doing suplexes and piledrivers whilst still feeling like giant monsters was tricky,” admits Hamish Grieve, making his directorial debut with Paramount Pictures and Reel FX’s 3D/CG animated, rough and tough monster row, Rumble. “If you go too far one way, it’s way too cartoony, soft and playful and not believable. But then you go too far to the other extreme and it could be the most horrific thing you’ve ever seen.”
Set in a world where monster wrestling is even more popular than the NFL, Rumble follows a young girl named Winnie (Geraldine Viswanathan) – daughter of a famed, late, great monster wrestling coach – as she tries to save her town from bankruptcy when its signature monster champ Tentacular (Terry Crews) decides to move away to greener, more profitable pastures. To stop the city from tearing down her father’s stadium, Winnie ventures into the underground wrestling world to find her town a new champ, where she runs into Steve (Will Arnett), a monster partial to playing the loser in fixed matches to earn a pretty penny.
Steve reluctantly agrees to help Winnie save the stadium because he shares her sentimental interest in its survival but turning him into a wrestle mania champ proves challenging, as his greatest strengths are napping, snacking, losing and, oddly enough, salsa dancing. Adapted from the 2013 graphic novel “Monster on the Hill” by Rob Harrell, Rumble – after not one, not two, but four premiere delays – finally gets released today, December 15 on Paramount+.
“It's been a very strange journey, to be honest,” says Grieve. “Remember that last shot in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where they take the Ark and just walk it into a warehouse? It felt like that after we finished the movie. I think we hold some kind of record for the time between a first trailer and an actual release.”
He adds, “But, all around, I had a lot of fun making this movie. I feel like I got lucky in a lot of ways, mainly with the crew that I had. They’re super talented and all my heads of department were just all-stars. So, I honestly had a lot of fun with my first director role.”
Rumble also provided Grieve a chance to fulfill a lifelong childhood dream: designing monsters.
“That was pretty much the best part of the whole experience,” says Grieve, who was a story artist on a handful of other monster-centric films, such as Shrek 2 and Monsters vs. Aliens, but not on the same scale as Rumble. “When I was a kid of 11 or 12, I was drawing monsters. That's why I wanted to get into this business. I wanted to design the creatures in Star Wars.”
He continues, “I came onto the movie, and we had a lot of monsters to design. So basically, me and my character designer just sat in the conference room with sheets of paper and started churning out monsters and sticking them on the wall. I ended up opening up the monster design to the whole crew where everyone had to provide one monster. Even the accountants got to do a monster. There's a lot of monsters in the movie right now, but that’s maybe just 10 percent of what we came up with. And there were a lot crazier designs as well.”
In the beginning, Grieve says there were “no rules” when it came to creating Rumble’s monsters other than “they had to be cool.” They came up with everything from rock monsters to slug monsters, but eventually settled on a pattern of designing creatures with more recognizable animalistic qualities.
“We started to figure out that we needed them to be able to fight and we needed them to be able to exist with Steve and the other characters in this world of wrestling,” explains Grieve, who designed the show’s opening wrestler contestant, King Gorge, a slobbery and pompous bulldog monster. “It was so many plates to spin. It's a wrestling movie. These monsters are wrestlers, so we wanted to pay homage to the WWE and the great days of the WWF, but also to the kaiju films and Godzilla and all of those great big monsters.”
Though kaiju and wrestling might seem as if they’d go hand-in-hand, the fight scenes in kaiju films are more akin to general smashing and bashing, while wrestling is more of an agile art form.
“If you look at movies like Godzilla, they use a lot of slo-mo and each step takes five seconds,” notes Grieve. “A lot of our early exploration and animation tests were focused on trying to hit the sweet spot with selling the weight AND the athleticism.”
Those balancing acts with Rumble continued, as the team also didn’t want their monster wrestling film to seem centered on violence, like many kaiju films that quite often focus on the resulting destruction. One method Grieve used was making sure that each uniquely designed monster also had their own unique fighting style that often revealed more about their character.
“I’m personally very prone to action exhaustion and it was important to me to make sure that every fight scene looked different,” explains Grieve. “We were really lucky to have some of the best fight choreographers in the business do about three days of video reference for us in exploring how to incorporate wrestling moves into our characters. They even used pool noodles to simulate Tentacular’s tentacles! And then Mia Michaels did an amazing series of sessions with some of the best dancers in LA so we could incorporate the salsa dancing into the fighting. The animators then took this reference and ran with it, adapting it to our very different monsters.”
But the biggest challenge – aside from designing monsters of every shape, texture and color, and making them as domineering as kaiju beasts but as believable as real wrestlers – was character scale. The monsters might be the stars of the wrestling matches, but their coaches and audience members are average sized humans. And with a monster and his amateur coach the film’s two main characters, there was no room for cheap tricks.
“But I really feel like this became an opportunity to make interesting choices and give Rumble a unique look,” says Grieve. “Doing over-the-shoulder shots when one character is five feet tall, and the other is fifty feet tall makes for a very different – and more interesting – scene than if it was two normal people talking. Every element had to come together: lens choices, location design, animation style, camera blocking. And we invented the hover bikes for the coaches as a way to allow them to interact with the monsters.”
But Winnie and Steve also interactions outside the arena and Grieve and the team had to come up with a way to make Winnie agile enough to exist in the same world as Steve and the rest of the monsters. “We figured, ‘Well, Winnie has grown up in the gym with her dad and these monsters and that could account for her having incredible parkour skills,’” explains Grieve. “Mowgli in The Jungle Book was a real touchstone for me for Winnie in terms of bringing that kind of life to the character.”
Grieve also hopes the team’s efforts with the character design, wrestle choreography and scale not only bring jaw-dropping entertainment, but also speak to the more emotional moments in the story as well.
“We needed it to be realistic enough that you bought the stakes of the movie and the weight of the characters physically and emotionally,” he concludes. “I think if we went full cartoon style, then you just wouldn’t have felt the drama in the fights and in those moments of conversation. It’s a surprisingly intimate film, and I hope the movie catches people by surprise.”