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Virgien Talks Curious George 2 DVD

Director Norton Virgien (RUGRATS GO WILD) tells us about making CURIOUS GEORGE 2: FOLLOW THAT MONKEY, the new made for DVD animated feature from Universal Studios Home Ent. Universal Animation Studios did the animation and the production company was Imagine Ent.

Bill Desowitz: So what was your experience like with Curious George?

Norton Virgien: First of all, as a fan of 2D animation, I was excited when the first CURIOUS GEORGE feature came along. I think the first movie made many strides in updating the look of hand-drawn animation to have the depth and the richness that we're getting used to in computer animation. When the chance came to do a sequel and take yet another fresh look at the character, I was excited. There is something special to getting two years to concentrate on a single project and get all the layers and detail you can build into it. I like that a lot.

BD: What were the challenges of this one?

NV: Curious George is a character that doesn't speak and that's gold to the animators but it's scary to the film companies because it's much easier to react to a script full of dialogue than to a pantomime concept. And here you have two animals that don't speak because this is a road comedy between a monkey and an elephant. They travel by various means from the east coast to the west coast creating the usual Curious George havoc in their wake.

BD: And what's new about George?

NV: To stay true to the character since the first movie, we chose to make him appear a little older and a little closer to the personality that he had in the books, which was a tiny more rambunctious, and his curiosity comes more from a child-like place rather than from discovering the world for the first time place. So here we start out having him be at home in the city and now his problems are a little different: he has to work out relationships with the Man in the Yellow Hat and he finds a friend who needs his help and off they go on a wild adventure.

BD: And what was your vision for 2D here?

NV:  I wanted to find ways to put the same dynamism [of CG] into our craft. On both CURIOUS GEORGE films, there's intense work on the lighting so the characters are very dimensional looking, almost to the point where some people thought we were working in CGI. We also do a great deal with the cinematics and asking our animators to create depth in the way that things are staged. The biggest difference on this DVD project is that we had multiple pencil tests at every stage and the animators were very willing to plus and improve.

BD: And what was it like working with Jerry Lewis?

NV: Well, Jerry had a very firm idea of what he wanted to do with this character, and we had a fun time suggesting as nice as we could that he do his classic voice and when he broke out with, "Hey, Lady!" he brought the room down. So he was willing to put his insane Jerry Lewis persona into the crusty, old station master character.

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Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.