El Dorado: The Old World Meets the
New in "Tradigital" Animation

by J. Paul Peszko

The Road to El Dorado. TM & © 2000 DreamWorks LLC.

Though Spanish explorers failed time and again to locate El Dorado, the lost city of gold, that didn't stop DreamWorks SKG from mapping out a direct route. With all the elements in place for a commercial success, their The Road to El Dorado, the studio's second traditionally animated feature, promises to be paved with box-office gold. Packed with laughs and excitement for the whole family, El Dorado is reminiscent of the live-action Hope-Crosby-Lamour "road" movies of the Forties and later classics like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Man Who Would Be King.

The idea for the film came right from the top. Four years ago, while The Prince of Egypt was still in production, Jeffrey Katzenberg decided DreamWorks' next animated project should be a departure from the standard fare. He wanted a change of pace from the majestic and sublime to a concept that was more fun, more exciting -- a comedy adventure. He also passed over the usual heroes for characters who were tainted and not so high brow. A couple of petty swindlers would do just fine. As for the setting, that had to be something new, something that had not been done before, a place teeming with adventure. What could be newer or more exciting than the New World at the start of the 16th century? This lush, pristine paradise lent itself ideally to the artistry of the animation team at DreamWorks.

After escaping Cortes' ship, Miguel (voiced by Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (voiced by Kevin Kline) find themselves alive but beached on strange shores in DreamWorks' The Road To El Dorado. TM & © 2000 DreamWorks LLC.

El Dorado features the voices of Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh as Tulio and Miguel respectively, a pair of two-bit con men who win the map to the legendary City of Gold in a game of chance. After a daring high seas escape from the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes, Tulio and Miguel wind up in El Dorado. Aided in their flight by Altivo, a very clever war horse, the pair runs into a delightfully saucy native girl, Chel (Rosie Perez), who helps the two con men dupe her tribe into believing they are actually gods. Not just a buddy movie, El Dorado is a two guys-and-a-girl movie with the girl falling for one of the guys naturally, leaving the other one to stew. If the story sounds similar to The Road to Bali, it is but with a marked contrast. Tulio and Miguel are much more daring and flamboyant than Hope and Crosby and decidedly more fun. The dynamics of their relationship, however, was not necessarily ingrained in the script, which had borrowed heavily from its live-action counterparts.

When it comes to winning the big game, Chel (voiced by Rosie Perez) holds Miguel and Tulio's secret weapon. TM & © 2000 DreamWorks LLC.

"The relationship of the two characters [Tulio and Miguel] and their relationship with Chel, I think, developed a great deal throughout the production," states James Williams, co-supervisor of scene planning and layouts. "Chel, of course, is a very different heroine in many respects. She's very much a mover and a shaker, so that rather than reacting, she's very proactive. Therefore, her entire aspect changed more than anybody else. It certainly is not really a movie about two guys but about two guys and a girl, which, I think, makes it much more interesting."

And indeed it does. If anyone deserves credit for this, Katzenberg does. Not for the tight control he exerted on the film but just the opposite -- his willingness to let the artists have their freedom. Rodolphe Guenoden, who was the supervising animator on Chel, certainly feels this is the case. "Jeffrey [Katzenberg] really gave me a carte blanche to do whatever I pleased with her, and we were of the same way of thinking, so I was really free to make her what I thought she should be." Kevin Turcotte, who supervised El Dorado's 18 background painters agrees, "I hadn't seen a feature film yet that gave the artists more control from start to finish. And that would be from a traditional start to a digital finish in most cases, although we had a few artists who were a hundred percent digital. And the results we got were pretty good. There was a lot of learning along the way, but when we had it meshed all together, it was working pretty well. I think we've got a real good way of working here."

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