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Animation and Anime

Quint tours Gore Verbinski's RANGO offices, sees footage and brings back some pics. Plus some info on Bioshock!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. On my latest trip to Los Angeles I was able to wrangle a tour around the RANGO offices. Beaks wrote a great piece on his visit back in June and I urge you to read that. Not only is it a good read, but it aids in my laziness so I don’t have to set up the story for you. Heh. The Rango offices were actually located directly across from Amblin’s offices on the Universal lot. While this wasn’t my first time on the Universal lot it was the first time I’ve had a drive-on and it was incredibly bizarre driving through the Universal backlot. I didn’t have to stop for any trams, but I sure as hell saw ‘em before I wound my way along the LA River, which isn’t so much a river as a big concrete slab with a trickle of water running along it. I kept expecting to see Grease Lightning racing another hotrod or the T-1000 to be chasing John Connor, but sadly no such action on this day. Soon after arrival producer Nils Peyron met me and the lovely Tamar Teifeld, the red-headed Paramount publicist that many a talkbacker has lusted after ever since I posted a rather geeky photo of her during our ILM tour for IRON MAN. We sat in his office at first and I noticed a lot of Halo and Gears of War statues. I asked if he worked on the games or if he’s just an Xbox 360 fan. Turns out Peyron was deeply involved in both games and now serves as Executive VP of Blind Wink Productions, Gore Verbinski’s production outfit. The first stop on the tour was the art room where hundreds of pieces of art representing the entire movie from start to finish plastered the wall. Most of this art were concept pieces by the legendary Crash McCreery (T2, Jurassic Park, Pirates 1-3), but there were some fully realized CG pieces. Beaks covered a lot of the story in his piece, but the rough is that Rango is a delusional chameleon whose already fragile world is literally shattered when his home falls off of the human family’s car somewhere in the middle of the desert. In search of water he stumbles upon a small town of desert creatures and bamboozles himself into the office of Sheriff as the town faces a crisis of their own: they think this band of gnarly desert rats have stolen their water. It’s up to Rango to muster up at least a sliver of courage to stand up for the innocents in the town and face down everything from political corruption, Gatling gun toting rats, a band of extremely negative Mariachi owls (who keep popping up to prophesize Rango’s imminent death) and even a bad-ass looking bounty hunting rattlesnake. The art for the snake was sweet. He wore a black cowboy hat (naturally) and had a bandolier filled with bullets wrapped around his snake-body. Oh, and he looked pretty evil. Kids will cry, I betcha. (And that’s a good thing, too). There were some amazingly huge set pieces shown here, including an aerial battle that takes place over a vast desert canyon. While we’re still talking art, now’s a good time to bring up an exclusive set of images I’m premiering with this article. Below is Crash McCreery’s concept piece for one of the townsfolk named Pracilla, voiced by young Abigail Breslin:

And this is this the finished CG rendering of the design:

Click either image for the super big versions. That’s just an example of how McCreery’s art is influencing the CG artists as they realize Verbinski’s vision. Rango is the first animated film from ILM, which in and of itself is pretty interesting, but not as interesting as Verbinski’s approach. Instead of recording the actors’ voices alone in a booth, as these types of films usually require, Verbinski insisted that if an actor signed on they made themselves available for a 24 day shoot. While he’s not using performance capture it’s similar to what Robert Zemeckis does with his animated movies, except here there’s no leotards. It seems that Verbinski is wanting to allow the animators a certain freedom while giving them a visual jumping off point to be able to translate the actors’ performances. With minimal props the entire ensemble gathered together and Gore blocked every scene and shot the movie. It’s there, I saw some of it. They could almost release it as a Lars Von Trier-style movie and call it a day. Watching Bill Nighy phsycially play a snake, getting into Johnny Depp’s face and flicking out his tongue while uncomfortably close was absolutely hysterical and I really hope that they release this edited footage as an option on the Blu-Ray, like the ability to watch the green screen stuff in 300. Just watching footage of all the actors play together I could already sense a chemistry and an energy that wouldn’t exist had they just came in and sat in a padded room talking to themselves. There was a feeling of fun, like they were having a blast… Harry Dean Stanton playing a blind rat, Ned Beatty as the wheelchair-bound old desert Tortoise Mayor and other familiar faces, like the lovely Isla Fisher, Ray Winstone and Stephen Root. A highlight for me was seeing footage of Depp doing the Hunter Thompson/Fear and Loathing throw-back you can glimpse in the trailer. The shot has Rango hitting the windshield of Raoul Duke’s iconic auto. You see an over the shoulder of Duke in the trailer, but the reel they showed me had a split screen of most of the moment; half the screen live action, the other half animated. Depp, of course, played Raoul Duke and the live-action segment had him in the full outfit with the cigarette holder sticking out of his mouth as someone threw what looked like a glob of paint at a piece of clear plastic doubling as the windshield. He jumped and leaned in, squinting at it, muttering something like, “There’s another one!” Depp was instantly back in character as if no time at all had passed. The animation didn’t look like Depp at all, but really looked modeled after Hunter Thompson himself. Another nice touch. Then they ran some finished or nearly finished sequences, which began with Depp’s Rango walking through the desert. He’s suddenly hears “Freeze!” He does so, eyes looking around like chameleon eyes do. He sees a giant cactus that he thinks it’s the cactus talking to him. Nope, it’s a desert toad making itself look like a rock next to him. A hawk soars above, shadow falling on them both. The toad changes tactics. “Better run, pendajo.” Much of this action is in the trailer, but Rango runs from the hawk and barely escapes the first attack when he accidentally dodges at the right time, making the hawk shove its head into an old tin can. Rango tries to tip-toe away, but steps on something that causes the tin-can-head to turn his way. The chase resumes, but luckily by the time the hawk frees its head Rango finds refuge in an empty glass bottle. Now cocky, he lounges back as the hawk stands confused. It pecks at the bottle, then scratches it slowly, letting the sound rattle Rango… With a mischievous look on its beak, the hawk grabs the bottle and flies upward further and further. Rango begins to realize what’s in store and braces himself as the hawk lets go, the bottle falling to the desert floor. As luck would have it the bottle’s impact is lessened by the smug desert toad, who stands and starts shouting in Spanish to Rango and the bottle, not realizing he’s now visible to the hawk. They both take off running, Rango using the bottle like a hamster wheel while the toad, keeping pace along side, begs to be let in. Rango just runs faster, leaving the toad behind. The hawk swoops down and scoops the toad up. As they fly away the toad screams out, “You son of a biii…” with the word “bitch” screeched over by the hawk. An homage to Tuco in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, perhaps? The second scene they ran had Rango gathering up a posse, wearing his sheriff’s badge and a vest. He’s totally in character, the actor side of Rango playing the part of leader to a T even if you know that Rango himself couldn’t lead a drunk to the bottle. Rango and his posse ride out in slow motion to some crazy guitar-heavy western temp score plays over slow motion shots of the gang riding what looked like road runners over vast stretches of beautiful John Ford country shimmering orange in the bright sunset. It was pretty epic and a good indicator of what’s to come. The landscape seems to be extremely realistic and while the character designs are definitely stylized there’s a photo-realism to them as well. The final bit they showed was a scene Beaks wrote about involving a defeated Rango going on a suicide walk across the highway at night. Shoulders slumped and head down, Rango drops his Sheriff’s hat, takes a deep breath and steps out onto the road. His pace never changes, but miraculously the busy freeway doesn’t kill him. Rango makes it to the other side and, visibly shaken, passes out. Pill bugs, or rolly pollies as I called them growing up, uncurl and en masse crawl towards Rango’s body and lift him up, carrying him into the dark desert… kind of like a crowd-surfing rock star… except unconscious. Okay, so just like a crowd-surfing rock star. There was an overhead shot that shows Rango carried out of shot… a beat, then a smaller batch of rolly pollys come into frame carrying his Sheriff ’s hat. Verbinski wasn’t there when I was shown this footage… he is splitting his time between the offices and ILM and I happened to be there on one of his ILM days, unfortunately, but Peyron was there to field any questions I had. The film will PG, but obviously a tougher than usual kid’s flick. Peyron also put up with my needling for information on Bioshock, a film he was also producing with Gore Verbinski directing until the studio backed out. They were building sets when the plug was pulled, one month away from shooting. There was a gleam in Peyron’s eye as he talked about this project. Gore was going to be shooting on real sets and doing as much in-camera as possible. I nodded in agreement. “If you’re going to use CG to create everything you might as well just play the video game,” I added. He agreed and went on to say it was going to be epic and said there was a crazy amount of jaw-dropping art they accumulated during pre-production… that he didn’t show me. Grumble-grumble-grumble. Oh, and Gore wanted to make it R-rated. And a hard R at that. Fuck, I want to see that movie. Peyron did say not to write-off a Gore Verbinski Bioshock. Gore still has the passion for it and sees enormous potential in the Bioshock world as a film franchise. We know that Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) is currently attached with Verbinski producing. I’m sure that’s what he was referring to, but something in the way he was talking about it made it sound like it was still possible Gore might direct should the right situation present itself . Could just be my imagination. The visit concluded with Peyron letting me take a peek in Crash McCreery’s office, which was pretty boss, let me tell you. It was a mixture of the old and the new. It felt very much like a home office or den… leather furniture, deep dark wood book cases… lots of dark browns and tan colors. There was a massive computer set up with graphics tablet and all other high-tech forms of computer drawing as well as an old fashioned stand-up drawing desk like you see in early pictures of the Walt Disney Studios Animation Department. Oh, there was also a framed sketch of, presumably, one of the first designs for Edward Scissorhands that McCreery did. I must have triggered some sort of alarm when I straddled the ground in front of it, tilted my fedora back, rubbed my stubble and started estimating how heave my bag of sand was because Peyron and Tamar ushered me right the hell out of there. It was a fun visit. The flick looks sharp and, more importantly, like a lot of fun. I’m a big fan of Gore Verbinski’s work and it looks like he’s jumping fully into this world, trying to make it as unique as possible. The 6 or so minutes I saw was already better than 80% of what Dreamworks Animation has put out so far. As an olive branch, I do love the more recent Dreamworks movies, but boy did they get off to a rocky start. And they’re still coming out with Shrek movies. Hopefully we’ll get some more looks behind the scenes of this project at things progress. And hopefully Gore Verbinski will send me a portfolio of all the Bioshock art. And hopefully I’ll win the lottery. And hopefully God will show up, stop all war and cure cancer, AIDS and indigestion. Hopefully… -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

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