INT: Jonas Rivera
We just got a chance to speak to Up producer Jonas Rivera after screening the film in 3D on Wednesday. This is not an official review but I can't help myself...SEE THIS FILM! Up rips your heart out in the first part, stomps on it, and just as you're digging around in your purse for tissues, hoping that your date doesn't catch you (I am NOT a crier so don't tell anyone, Ok?), it throws in a talking dog, a crazy bird and makes you laugh so hard your eyeliner has no chance of survival.
Who knew a story about a 78 year old man tying balloons to his house and floating off to fulfill his dream of exploring South America with a 8 year old stowaway Wilderness Explorer could be so funny! Just trust me.
And in some ways, that's why people go to movies. And so in that conversation and in that thinking, a drawing of a floating house with balloons was done, among other thousands of drawings. And that one just sort of appealed to us, cinematically. It just looked cool. I don't know, that kind of gave birth to the idea. And then it was like, well, who's in that house, where are they going, why are they going there, what drove them to go and then that's when character study started.One of the fun things was that on the list of things we wanted to do was 'old people'. That's cool and you don't see it much. So we did this drawing of this old crabby guy with a beautiful bouquet of balloons and that made us laugh and we pinned that drawing up and those kind of ideas merged and became the story of Up.
A 78-year-old hero seems like a hard sell, even though it worked beautifully. Was it a difficult pitch? It's funny. You'd think that would be the case but it wasn't really here, because, one, we never really think about it. Think, oh, how are they going to sell this or how are they going to market this or anything like that. We just thought, oh, what's a cool character and what's the story? In fact, when we first got together, one of the first pitches was to John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton and Ed Catmull, and some of the executives at Pixar, and there were very few visuals or storyboards or anything. And we did a table read of the script and told the story, and when we were telling the story of their whole life together (Carl Fredrickson and his wife) and how that pans out and ends, John Lasseter was crying. I mean, just even after the script he had tears in his eyes. And that told us that, yeah, there's an emotional core here that will work and seems to be engaging. And if we have that then we can convince everyone that this character will work. But that's what I love about Pixar. That never even came up. John didn't say, 'take it easy guys, this is going to be a hard sell'. He said, 'make sure there is a reason he's 78...make sure there is an emotional reason to tell the story.' I never cry at movies, but after seeing the first 45 minutes earlier this year, I knew I had to bring tissues. Did you ever worry that you might be going to far with the beginning? Well, not really. I mean, we were aware...we knew we were going to have some fun because we love animation and sort of the silliness of some of the movie, with the dog and the bird and Russell (Jordan Nagai). We knew we were going to come up with some cool action. At the end of the day we wanted to make an action/adventure movie with a 78-year-old man. In fact, during that pitch we made everyone laugh by saying, we promise you one thing. We promise the slowest fight in the history of cinema. And that made everyone laugh. We thought, well, that's cool. We're going to have some fun and some humor, so therefore it's even more important to have an emotional core. And some emotion and some reason to care for Carl doing this. Kevin's (the bird) voice isn't listed on IMDB. Who did it? Yeah, Kevin is sort of a hybrid of sound effects and some vocalizations by Pete. Actually, Pete Doctor (the director). It was sort of not ever really a speaking role. He just kind of squawked and chirped and we cut it together. Then we brought it up to Skywalker Sound and they kind of fabricated the voice. (laughs) I think it's part goose. Who knows what's in there.
You've got some amazing voice talent here. Tell us a bit about casting the roles. Yeah, well, obviously Ed Asner was perfect. We kind of knew it even early on. We designed these characters and in some cases, building them on the computer well before we cast them. But we knew with Carl Fredrickson, we needed somebody who could balance out that curmudgeon-style 'get off my lawn kid' guy, but also add some heart. A twinkle in his eye like your grandpa might have. We always thought of him as a cross between Spencer Tracy and like, your grandfather. Like the greatest hits of old timers. And like, who could do that? Who has the comic chops to do that? And we knew we had to get somebody funny. And Ed is certainly funny. And he's so precise. His comic timing...he's like a surgeon. In any event, he has this great line...we'd walk into the session...and he'd say, 'oh, it's you guys again...great' and then half an hour later he's hugging you and you're drinking coffee with him. He just struck that balance for us and we loved it...he was so good. I saw the screening in 3D...what made this story the one you did in 3D? Well, some of it was timing and some of it was content. I mean, Lasseter had seen some of the work they were doing at Disney on Bolt, and they were doing that one in 3D. And he said to us, 'I think this is the one we should move with because this is a movie about flying and there's the jungle and the canopies and there's a lot of great opportunity'...and we said, yeah, we can make this work. We knew though that what we didn't want to do was make it a distraction or have it pull you out of the story. So I don't know if you noticed, but it's like the reverse of what you might think a 3D movie would be. We tried to treat the screen more like a window then a proscenium you'd break. We didn't poke it out over the audience. We didn't do any of those gags. We kind of look at it like, our job as film makers is to somehow allow the audience to forget that they're at the movies. And we worried that if you used 3D wrong, all you'd be doing is reminding them that they're at a movie, you know? It's the same thing with sound. With surround sound. You use it too much, the audience starts looking for the speakers. You want to feel it. But it was cool because Pete said, 'Whatever the technology is, I don't care. I want to use it as a storytelling device. How can I put the audience in the characters shoes by doing this?' So that is what we tried to do. You know Mythbusters is going to test the whole balloons flying a house theory, right? They are? I didn't know that. Not yet but I'm assuming. (They did it with a little girl and balloons in Episode 21.) I wouldn't doubt it. There are so many computer scientists here that tried to figure it out. How many would it take. Twenty billion or something like that. Clearly our movie math does not line up. I think it's about twenty thousand in the movie.
So what new technology did you guys come up with for the film. I remember you telling us something about Kevin's feathers when we saw the earlier footage. Yeah, Kevin's feathers...I mean, these are all things we've done in the past but I felt like it was a new...I mean, we've never done balloons but we've done simulations. It's more about reusing the tules we have and reapplying them in a different way. I mean, we have a supervising technical director. A guy named Steve May. And he knew he was going to have to re-engineer our simulation pipeline to make these balloons work. I mean, we didn't have the ability...there are twenty thousand balloons. Rigid body balloons that have to know how to interact with each other and when one moves, they all move...and they're all on strings that are tied to the house, that is tied to the characters, that are wearing clothes. And they all have to simulate when and react to the torc and tension and react to when they're walking. There's a ton of engineering in that. It's like the engineering that we used in the aprons in Ratatouille. But an apron in Ratatouille is light years away from what I just explained. We had to really, really, I don't know, fatten up our pipeline to make sure that worked. The feathers on Kevin was another one. They had to look like real feathers. So we modeled all those feathers with the right stems and the right kind of feathers that come off of them and we we shaded them iridescently so the light coming off of them refracted the right way on those feathers. I mean, we studied ostriches and cassowaries and iridescence, even on moss...and all those feathers collide with each other and we had to make sure that they wouldn't and they could ruffle and the animators would have the right controls. It's a ton of work to do for what you hope is invisible to the audience on one level but that the audience will kind of fall into the level of detail because it's part of the world. I really didn't know what to expect when I went to see the film. Are you concerned at all that people don't know what they're going to see? You know, I actually look forward to that. I mean, I love idea that you get to kind of...I hope anyway...that we get to over-deliver. I go to the movies, personally and I like to be surprised. I like to kind of know what I'm getting into but then see something and say, 'I didn't expect that. I didn't expect them to go that far.' Those are the ones I remember and enjoy the most. We even talked about the title of the film, Up. Cars tells you what it is. Even Ratatouille gives you a sense, but this is a bit more of a mystery...we thought that was really fun. Up comes to theaters on May 29th, 2009.