Story, Story, Story!
Tony: How do you answer the common question, “what does a director do on an animated film?”
Dean: Yeah, I get that all the time, especially when the parents ask. My answer is now that it’s pretty much the same as what a live-action Director does. We do all the tasks of a live-action
Director except, in some ways, in reverse and in other ways
really expanded. For example, because we storyboard the script so heavily, we end up with a working model of the movie that is edited together
first. Whereas in a live action movie you would go out and shoot
your script as blocked through a camera and then all those shots would be filtered by the editor for a first rough cut. We do our first cut [of the
film] up front because all of the money is spent on animating all those individual shots, so we want to time it right down to the frame so not to waste time or money. It gives us confidence that knowing the piece of the movie that we’re working on works. It also allows everybody to be on board and say, “OK, this three-minute sequence is good to go so we can spend the millions and millions of dollars it’s going to cost to create it.” So, beyond that you still work with actors, you still try to get the best performance you can out of them. You then sit down with your animators who are the other half of the actor and talk about the interpretation of that line and how it fits with the overall scene and how that scene fits with the overall movie. Beyond even that it’s kind of working with the artists and technicians on the movie to make sure that their work is contributing to the individual shot and that that shot is made well and that it makes sense with the other shots; that there’s a through line of emotion and logic. That is really the director’s job. You need to know the story so well that you know what everyone is doing and you can walk into any department and carry through that focus and clarity, and say “Yes, that’s a beautiful watercolor painting except that it’s not really getting across the emotion needed for this shot, for this theme.” I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to sit down and pull out a water color brush and show them how to paint it. Chris [Sanders] and I knew that we were going to be going into departments where we had no authority whatsoever and dealing with things that we didn’t know how to do. I mean, they were the pros and we were amateurs at best.