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Ink & Pixel: Rango

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

You don't see too many of em these days, but Hollywood sure does love itself a good old fashioned Western-inspired epic on the silver screen. Since the birth of moving pictures, we've witnessed legends by the likes of Gary Cooper, Doris Day, John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Sharon Stone, Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood - as well as many other cowpokes – turn dusty two-bit towns upside down in the names of justice, love, and revenge. Be it man or woman, the wild west spares no one. It is often a place of loneliness, bloodshed and heartbreak.

Whoa there, pardner! The Western genre can't be that terrible a place, can it? Well, I'm not here to give an in-depth dissection of HOW THE WEST WAS FUN - and this ain't no Oregon Trail - so you best saddle up, cause we're about to venture into a water-less town called Dirt. While there, I'll introduce you to some of the meanest anthropomorphic gunslingers and steadfast cowgirls that animation has to offer. Join me, as we brave the scorching sun and tumbleweed ridden plains of Nickelodeon's RANGO.

Released on March 4th of 2011, RANGO, staring Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, and Bill Nighy – among many others – was produced by Gore Verbinski, Graham King, and John B. Carls and distributed by Paramount Pictures. Under the directorial eye of Verbinski, with a screenplay penned by John Logan, this computer-animated action comedy western pulls out all the stops to deliver an inspiring send-up to the heroes, heroines, and dastardly villains of Hollywood's Old West.

RANGO tells the tale of an eccentric and domesticated chameleon, who, after being ejected from a moving car, becomes stranded on a sun-bleached stretch of Mojave Desert road. After sharing a cryptic conversation with an Armadillo, the chameleon follows his shadow, in search of his salvation. One thing leads to another, and the chameleon finds himself entering a Western-style town by the name of Dirt, a locale populated by a menagerie of rough and tough wildlife.

Determined to blend in with the rough and tumble crowd, the chameleon (Johnny Depp) creates for himself a storied identity and introduces himself as Rango, a hardened wanderer of the Western sands. Shortly thereafter, Rango accidentally demonstrates his mettle by slaying a massive hawk that's been terrorizing the town and - as a result - earns a much-coveted invitation to meet the Mayor of Dirt (Ned Beatty). Believing Rango's victory over the giant bird to be a sign of hope, the Mayor asks that he stay awhile, and do the fledgling parish the honor of becoming its sheriff.

You see, the thing about the Old West is that things aren't always what they seem, and pretty soon Rango - along with Dirt's smartest cookie, Beans (Isla Fisher) - is about to discover that some varmint's been stealing the town's precious water supply. With a mysterious drought already underway, and the blistering sun growing hotter by the hour, it's up to Rango to form a posse, and put whomever's responsible behind bars, lest he and all the residents of Dirt expire.

Now, did you folks know that the concept for RANGO came about in the year 2003? Well it did! It was during a creators breakfast shared between the famed film-maker Gore Verbinski, and his friends John Carls and David Shannon, at a cozy spot called Art's Deli - located in Studio City, California. In fact, it was Carls and Shannon who first pitched the idea to Gore about a Western-inspired tale featuring a cast of animal characters, rather than the usual human variety. Verbinski was immediately sold on the idea. He and his friends crafted a four-paged outline, and the group began scheduling additional meal dates in the hope of seeing the project through till the very end.

RANGO's story reel – a collection of stills arranged in order and animated to a temporary soundtrack – had taken a total of 16 months to put together. The reel itself proved to be an invaluable resource as it acted like a blueprint for the film's creative team. Additionally, in an effort to keep the team as tight-knit as possible, Gore rented a large house in which several of his core staff members shared a workspace. This environment allowed each of the artists, sound technicians, and writers involved to be within shouting distance of one another - thereby creating a hive-mind of creativity within its hallowed walls.

Now, everyone knows that the creation of animated movies can often times take several years from start to finish, but would you believe that it took nearly a year just to create this film's cast of characters? The reason for this timeline is that artists often need to re-shape their initial attempts at creating a character. In the case of RANGO, not one creature of the animal kingdom was designed by a single person. It turns out that the denizens of Dirt were the products of several creative minds working in collaboration with one another; each lending his or her own creative edge to what would become the final design. Truth be told, even with a score of artists offering their input on the overall looks of each critter, it was an artisan by the name of Crash who created the final models for each of them. Coincidentally, Crash is the same artist that worked with Verbinski during the making of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN pictures.

One of my absolute favorite aspects with regard to the film-making process for RANGO is how Gore insisted on using a method Depp himself has dubbed “emotion-capture” to record all of the voice work for the movie. What's that exactly? Well, typically, actors are placed stationed inside a small booth equipped with the following items: a microphone, their beverage of choice, and a music stand to provide the actor with a place to keep their script nearby. In contrast, the many voices featured in RANGO were captured while allowing the actors to physically act out each and every scene as if they were shooting a live-action motion picture.

Often times you would find Johnny Depp in full-on mariachi regalia, Bill Nighy slithering about the set in a fine black suit, or Isla Fisher sporting a hoop skirt and bonnet. With mics placed just above their heads, and cameras rolling at all times, the result of this rare method of sound recording is that of a lively and organic bit of theater. Oh, and let's not dismiss the fact that having the cameras there to record the facial expressions and body movements aided the animators exponentially. With that material available to them at the touch of a button, each animator was able to capture and re-create the magic and personality of each actor. I urge you to take note of the way in which each character featured in RANGO behaves. I guarantee you'll notice Depp's iconic, Captain Jack Sparrow-like gait as Rango moves about town, or the frantic, squirrel-like twitches often seen when Isla Fisher becomes excited. I personally think it's a brilliant method of recording voices for animated motion pictures and wish that more directors would make use of it.

By the time RANGO had taken a long walk into the waning sun of its theatrical release, the film had banked a worldwide total of $245,724,603! Not only is that an impressive number for an animated film outside of the usual Pixar and Dreamworks arena, but consider that it was made using a budget of only $135 million, and you've got a major win for Verbinski and his fellow creatives. Personally, I love RANGO; it's one of my favorite animated films of all time. Not to say that studios don't normally take risks when crafting their animated films, but there's something truly inspiring about RANGO and the devotion upon which it was founded. The film's many tributes to the Old West make it clear that everyone involved in the making of RANGO came to the set with a burning passion for the genre, resulting in a superb movie-going experience for audience members, new and old.

Extra Tidbit: Featured briefly in the film - blazing across the highway in a cherry red convertible - are the characters of Hunter S. Thompson and Dr. Gonzo from the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It's pretty much the best Easter egg EVER!
Source: joblo.com

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