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Hey boys and girls, what an extreme blast to speak with an artist who has created one of my favourite fictional characters ever.  Besides directing terrifically popular cartoons like Dexterís Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls and Star Wars: Clone Wars {the good one}, animator Genndy Tartakovsky created the brilliant, Emmy-winning Samurai Jack.  In an exclusive interview for his charming first feature, Hotel Transylvania, Mr. Tartakovsky talked about losing Godzilla, funny monsters vs. scary monsters, the Twilight joke and actual news of what we hope will be a big-screen Samurai Jack movie.

Dig it!

 

Hotel Transylvania

Genndy Tartakovsky

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Congratulations on the record-breaking success of Hotel Transylvania.  Itís the largest September box office gross and the biggest gross for Sony animation.  Was this on track with what youíd hoped for the film?

Genndy Tartakovsky:  Yeah!  I mean, I want more, but itís definitely a good deal.  I think it did really good and the studioís really happy.

 

LMD:  Would that mean possibly more Hotel Transylvania? 

GT:  Possibly, for sure.

 

LMD:  There are so many classic monsters in Hotel Transylvania, how did you decide who made the cut?  Were there any others you wanted to include?

GT:  Well, first I think we, at one point, started designing our own monsters.  I mean besides the obvious Mummy, Frankenstein, Wolfman, The Invisible Man; we needed more to fill out the world.  We started designing whatever we could think of, but something kind of felt wrong about it because all of a sudden it didnít fit into the world because these monsters are iconic and so thereís a familiarity to it.  So, we realised that we would just stick to monsters that were kind of out there; Bigfoot, gargoyles, yetis, gremlins, floating brains, those types of creatures.  Once we started drawing them, we thought, ĎOh, yeah. These guys fit right in there.í

 

LMD:  Was there a giant Japanese monster I missed? 

GT:  At one point we tried to fit in Godzilla, but then legally, we couldnít use him, or weíd have to change him so much it wasnít worth it.

 

LMD:  Thereís such a fast pace to Hotel Transylvania, how did you determine the rhythm of the piece?

GT:  We wanted to make broad comedy, but to me, the pace doesnít seem as fast.  But when youíre watching it for the first time, thereís so much to look at, itís so visceral that it does move along faster, so itís like this illusion.  The beginning is definitely fast; the hotel intro, thatís probably the one thatís crazy cos thereís so much happening, but after that, I think it definitely slows down for a bit.  So, it was really writing the pacing, then I got a chance to watch it with an audience and to sit and really feel the movie with them really informed me.  I didnít want it to feel like a sprint from start to finish, but we have a lot of gags, so you donít want to linger too long.  You kind of just do your thing and move on.

 

LMD:  The film is surprisingly gentle.  Was there a purposeful intention to keep it from being scary?  Was there any hesitation about it being a monster movie that doesnít scare anybody?

GT:  No, absolutely, early on we were talking about were we going to make a scary movie for kids, thatís kind of kid-scary -- which is totally great -- or were we going to going to make just a funny movie with monsters and not scary?  That was the studioís direction, and for me, Iím kind of chicken and being scared as a kid, I remember staying away from things that were scary.  I got my monsters through Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

 

LMD:  How did you decide what pop culture references to leave in?  The Twilight joke was a big hit.

GT:  {Laughs} I think for that, in animation, you have to be very careful about dating yourself too much, but nowadays, I think itís a little bit better than it was 20 years ago, when you couldnít make any of those jokes at all.  But it felt relevant as a little aside and we always got such a big laugh from it that it felt okay.

 

LMD:  When we last met, you said the Hotel Transylvania script had been kicking around for a while before it was offered to you.  What did you add to it that wasnít there originally?

GT:  I think the tone.  The types of jokes in a lot of the scripts that had been going around before were very pun-heavy; where the humour was skewed way more on monster puns rather than on character.  So, like, ďOh, this hotelís out of the grave,í that type of thing.  They could be funny or get a little giggle, but, for me personally, I hate puns.  I usually try to stay away from them and so that would be the biggest thing; letís switch the tone to more character stuff, try to fit in more physical humour, try to be more visceral, more visual humour and get this more cartoony energy into it.

 

LMD:  Were all the character designs your own?

GT:  No.  When I walked in a lot of the secondary monsters were pretty much designed.  We got a chance to redesign Dracula, Jonathan, a lot of the secondary characters.

 

LMD:  You have a great voice cast.  Did you have certain actors in mind when you were redesigning or looking at the characters?

GT:  Yeah, kind of, Dracula was already Adam {Sandler}, so that was easy.  Andy Samberg was already Jonathan, so those two main ones were definitely easy.

 

LMD:  I thought Fran Drescher as the Bride of Frankenstein and Steve Buscemi as the Wolfman were excellent.  Can you talk about directing those performances?

GT:  It was great.  I mean thatís the thing, everybody of this calibre, the comedians, thereís really not a lot of directing.  So, weíre making sure that the pace is right and storywise and emotionally, weíre getting where we need to go, but joke delivery, theyíre super-sharp and funny.  I mean with Fran it was funny, because she kind of didnít want to do her voice.  She kept trying to do a different voice for the role and that was the only time I kind of gently said -- well, you canít say, ĎCan you be more annoying?í but you say, ďWe just want you.Ē

 

LMD:  This is not only your first feature, but itís the first time youíre working with computer-generated animation and the first time youíre working in 3D.  Did those aspects change the way you thought about the film or made a difference as to how you would normally proceed?

GT:  No, I mean I had the picture definitely in my head.  I usually try to imagine the movie in my head before I do anything, so I can watch it and see if itís working. It was something that I had to do because I couldnít think of it in 2D, so that part of it I had to get used to.  I had to get used to looking at lighting, or looking at different things and the steps in CGI animation are a little bit different than 2D, and so it takes a lot of faith and imagination and vision, I guess, to make it through the process.  Itís something to get used to when Iím looking at something so rough and so crude that I donít know how thatís gonna end up being the final look of the movie; thereís definitely some adjustments I had to make like that.  But generally, itís still just storytelling; itís character building, joke telling.

 

LMD:  Did you find it easier to work in CGI than hand-drawing?  Was it a shorter process?

GT:  For me itís definitely easier cos I donít get to do as much as I do in 2D.  In 2D, I draw a lot and I get involved.  I feel like I did more; maybe it was cos itís television and I just had to.  Here, I definitely left a lot to the CG artists.  I couldnít really get behind the animation table and animate.  So that part was good.  Iím sure if it was a 2D movie, I wouldíve animated a percentage of it, for sure.  So in some ways, the speed of it was fast and it was equal to what we were doing because of the deadlines we had.  Thatís not usual, but we had to.

 

LMD:  The movie has such a rich look; how did you come up with the distinctive colours and visuals of the world?

GT:  One of the driving forces for the look was actually the idea that, okay, we were making a monster movie, so right away you wanna make it kind of dark, but at the same time we didnít want it to be dark.  We wanted to stand out and so how can we get both?  So we started talking about Ďwhat if itís really saturated and it feels like one of those classic films like Gone with the Wind, that was very rich and colourful and maybe the background were a little grayed out to make the characters pop better with the way we lit it?í  So that was the philosophy, ĎOkay, we have and outside scene, lets not make the sky dark, lets make it this really beautiful saturated blue.í It feels like night, but itís actually a bright colour.

 

LMD:  Do you think the children of today who see all sorts of screen villains and monsters still relate to Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman?

GT:  I donít know if they can necessarily relate to it, but I think the characters kind of transcend being monsters and they become characters.  So, Dracula is a vampire and that kind of stuff, but actually he was just a concerned dad and a crazy, Daffy Duck type of guy.  And Frankís a warm-hearted uncle.  I think they transcend who they are and they become something very familiar to them.  I dunno, itís hard to jump into a kidís mind and see the world how they see it, but for me, thatís how I felt.  We were not focusing on all their monstrousness; actually, we were focusing on their humanity.  

 

LMD:  Youíre so well known for your television work.  What did you take from working in that medium that was helpful in feature creation process?

GT:  I think itís mainly the biggest thing is experience.  I mean, just making so many mistakes through my career, as well as making some good things and good choices informs everything that I do; so when I have to make a decision or some up with ideas, all that experience makes it quick.  In TV, if there was a story problem, I couldnít just say, ĎWell, let me just go away for a week and see if I can fix it.í  Instead, I would just lock myself in my room and figure it out cos thatís the only time we have.  So that kind of experience and trusting my gut and going through the paces so many times, it really meant everything for me here.  I couldnít imagine doing this under this kind of pressure, this kind of timeline without that experience.

 

LMD:  Speaking of television, itís the 20th anniversary of Cartoon Network. Since you were such a huge component to their success, what do you think that channel has contributed to the pop culture landscape?

GT:  Well, they opened up the idea that cartoons are okay.  That itís okay to watch cartoons and you can watch it all day long, and I think thatís been kind of the big thing. In the early days when Nickelodeon really started to break through and Cartoon Network came on, it started to push the envelope even more and we did more very character-driven, different type of cartoons. I think for our generation, we were the cartoons that the kids grew up on.

 

LMD:  Did you do any of the artwork for the Cartoon Networkís 20th Anniversary video which features Samurai Jack and Dexterís Laboratory?

GT:  No.  I donít own the characters anymore.  Itís all in their hands.

 

LMD:  Since weíre on the subject of my favourite samurai, can you tell me what, if anything, is happening with him?  When we spoke in June, you told me that J.J. Abrams was very keen to make the film, but got very busy with other projects, so the Samurai Jack feature was abandoned.  Is there any hope for the J.J. Abrams movie?  Heís gotta be close to the end of Star Trek 2 by now.

GT:  Well, the only thing thatís been kind of happening is that through all the press that Iíve been doing and interviews and reviews and all that stuff, Samurai Jack gets mentioned a lot, if not almost every single time, and so I think my bosses have kind of noticed.  So, theyíve kind of taken an interest into it and seen how really well known it is and to see if maybe thereís a model for them that it would make sense for them to do here.

 

LMD:  You told me that Samurai Jack wasnít mean to end where it did on Cartoon Network.  Did you have more episodes planned?  Is there an end for him?

GT:  There is.  Yeah, there definitely is.  I have the story and actually the idea for the movie is itís kind of like a beginning and an end all in one story.  So we would probably Ė and this is just what it is right now Ė we would do the origin story in a different way so itís still fresh for people whoíve seen it, but still makes sense for anyone that hasnít, and then actually end the story.

 

LMD:  The comparison of styles between Hotel Transylvania which has a lot of depth and Samurai Jack which is so flat, but yet so layered, is interesting.  Now having done a 3D CGI film, would you consider doing Samurai Jack that way?

GT:  I would consider it.  We actually just had a conversation about it on Friday.  The advantage of doing it in 2D is it would be more expensive, which equates to, it would be more risky in terms of its storytelling style and the visuals -- which Jack is. And if we were to do it in CG, to make something stylized look good, itís actually more expensive than to make it look real.  I think it could totally look good in CG, but I think itís a big movie and I would have to find a way to push the art as much we pushed it in CG.

 

LMD:  You did the storyboards for 3rd act of Iron Man 2, which now makes the placement of the last big fight in a Japanese garden more understandable, but you came to Iron Man 2 after shopping some animation ideas to Marvel.  Was there any hero in particular you wanted to animate?

GT:  Yeah, Iíd love to do a Fantastic Four series.  Iíd love to do Wolverine, The Avengers, Captain Americaís one of my favourites, Daredevil.  So, yeah I would love to do any of those and do it really true to the comic and find a style thatís different.

 

LMD:  What is coming next for you?  Iím hearing something about Popeye? Are you working on that or is a Hotel Transylvania sequel in the works?

GT:  For me, next is Popeye, or one of my original ideas.  Something completely new.  Weíve already started the story work on Popeye and weíve made one pass over the script of my original idea, so Iím doing a rewrite.  So, whichever one of those two projects is ready to go next, thatíll be my next thing.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Oct. 2nd, 2012

 

Bonus Stuf:  Earlier this summer, we had the pleasure of chatting with  Genndy Tartakovsky after a showcase of the first clips from Hotel Transylvania.  Here are my questions to Mr. Tartakovsky about animation in general and Samurai Jack in particular over a press lunch.

Dig in!

The Lady Miz Diva:  It seems like thereís more of a blurring of the lines between what is considered childrenís animation and what mightíve been meant more for adultsÖ

GT:  Yeah.

 

LMD:  Ö Which I think youíre partly responsible for.

GT:  {Laughs}  We never thought we were doing kidsí animation.  Our sense of humour is youthful; kids can like it, adults can like it, hopefully.  I donít really know what a kid likes.  I have 3 kids, but I know that what my kids like is not necessarily representative of the gamut of children.  So, like, if we make something, if we think is funny, thatís appropriate, obviously, that we believe that other adults as well as kids will find it funny. Cos otherwise you just kind of say, ĎOh, I think kids are into cowboys now. Let me do something with cowboys,í itís just totally insincere.  Weíve always done it that way.  Like when I did Samurai Jack, I had no clue if kids liked samurais.  I knew I liked it.  Kids like Star Wars, adults like Star Wars.  It should be able to please both.

 

LMD:  Itís kind of like Warner Brothers cartoons?

GT:  Yeah, Warner Brothers initially was made for adults, but through the years, we just grew up watching it.

 

LMD:  Now that youíve gotten the taste for features, have you thought about doing a live-action film?

GT:  You know, Iíve had some offers for live-action, but, for me, Iím an animator at heart.  Animationís my love.  So, a lot of people coming through animation; itís a stepping stone for live-action.  For me, I want to make a mark in animation.  If the right project comes along in live action, I would do it, but I definitely want to put a few features behind me.  Ideally, you want a situation like {Hayao} Miyazaki; he just makes whatever he wants when he wants it.  I mean, thatís a lofty goal in this industry. {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Speaking of features films and samurais, whatís doing with the Samurai Jack feature film?  At one point, there were at least 3 different projects, including a live-action movie.  There was a lot of something, then nothing.  The last I heard was that the late costume designer Eiko Ishiokaís last sketches were for costumes for a live-action Jack film.

GT:  Yeah, thatís all fabricated.  I donít know where half that stuff sometimes comes from. {Laughs}

 

LMD:  But is there nothing?

GT:  So the truth for the Jack movie was basically I was talking to J.J. Abrams about doing something.  Heís a Jack fan and he said ďLetís do Samurai Jack.Ē  I was like, ďI always wanted to do that, but nobody wants to do a 2D action-adventure animated film.Ē  Heís like, ďI have a good deal at Paramount. Anything for 25 {million dollars} and under, we can do.Ē  So, Iím like, ďAll right.Ē  So, we start working on it and it took a long time to get the story to where heís happy with it and Iím happy with it.  Anyways, he starts to get really busy on Star Trek and some other stuff and then we finished the outline, everybody was happy with it and then we turn it into Paramount and theyíre like, ďWhat are we supposed to do with this? We donít do this type of thing.Ē Iím like, ďYeah, I know. Itís J.J.Ē But then J.J. doesnít want to push his relationship and force them to do anything, so then I knew there was no way.  Nobodyís gonna make this unless he says, ďLetís make it.Ē And thatís the reality.  So, I just went there and they shot it dead.

 

LMD:  When was the last time you spoke with anyone about it?

GT:  Oh, it mustíve been at least a year ago.

 

LMD:  I always wondered -- and this is a question that gets asked around my house fairly regularly -- was the series ever actually cancelled?

GT:  Why did it end?  Well, we did 52 half-hours and I felt like I needed a little break and then Star Wars {Clone Wars} came along and so we did that.  And then right at that time Cartoon Network was switching over.  All the executives were switching over and then all of a sudden -- not that I got pushed out, but there were changes and I realised that I donít really have a place in that.

 

LMD:  So it was a decision to just leave it where it was?

GT:  Yeah, and I was kind of ready to move on and they werenít interested in doing more at the time.

 

LMD:  But if someone approached you, would you want to do it eventually?

GT:  Yeah! I mean I have a story to finish it.  I definitely want to finish the story.

 

LMD:  Did Japanese anime have any effect on you?

GT:  Yeah, absolutely!  Like Battle of the Planets, Speed Racer, all those shows, also Ultraman.  When I was a kid, it just made my sensibility what it is.  Those shows, and then Warner Brothers and Tex Avery, and then Hanna-Barbera, and then Disney on the outside, so all those put together.

 

LMD:  Do you watch any current anime now?

GT:  Nowadays, no.  I mean, Iíve got three kids, so we watch all the movies.  But when CG came along it was painful for me, cos I loved the drawing.  Watching a drawing onscreen, thereís nothing like it, especially when itís caricature. When itís realistic, you do kind of lose the appreciation for it.  So, for anime, thereís so much of it, I donít think Iíll ever catch up, but I liked Paranormal Agent.  I loved that one.  Fooly Cooly, I get into.  But itís like, theyíre so weird, I like something a little more grounded.

 

LMD:  If there was a Samurai Jack movie, who would you get to play Aku now? {Mako, the great Japanese actor who voiced Aku, passed away in 2006}

GT:  I donít know.  Itís something thatís plaguing me.  He {Mako} was just such a great person.  Besides how talented he was, he was really nice.  Weíd either try to do a soundalike, or maybe just completely reconceptualise the character.  We need him.  But I did have this idea that kind of involved his daughter, so maybeÖ

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 20th, 2012

 

Click here to read our review of Hotel Transylvania

 

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Photos

Exclusive photos by L.M.D.

Film Stills Courtesy of  Sony Pictures Animation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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