The computer has always known how to do realistic–or at least try. Getting the rendering power and the computing power to catch up took a decade or so, but it’s doable now. I mean look at the movies that are made. Now going and doing something that is stylized and not photorealistic is gonna be a huge challenge. It’s a lot of what I’ve been working on and thinking about with these future films. If you want something to look different that means throwing out our old pipeline and reimagining it. Are we, as a studio, willing to do that? Are we ready to do that? Do we really want to do that? There are no guarantees.
One of my anchors has always been, if it’s distracting from the story and the characters, it’s gotta go. If this isn’t supporting the story and the characters it’s not worth it. I have never been one of those people who watches a film and says, “God, that was a terrible movie but I loved the way it looked!” Not that I don’t appreciate the craft of it. But I find that I want to be taken away while watching a film. I don’t want the design to distract me. It’s like my own definition of the difference between a look and a style. A “look” to me is like a watercolor where it shimmies, the whole frame is moving and it’s beautiful, and in my opinion more appropriate for a short film or maybe a commercial. Not appropriate when an audience has to identify with a character and really fall in love with a character. It becomes a barrier for them to get attached to the character and it’s gotta go. The movie A Monster Calls has some terrific animation sequences that work well within the context of the movie, but probably couldn’t have carried an entire film. “Style” to me is what we want to lean more towards. Just think of what David Hockney did on some of his theater sets, it’s wildly stylized and yet very clear and understandable.
AS: Should production design be invisible? Should a set be a character or just fade into the background?
RE: It’s both and it changes depending on what the storytelling needs are. I do believe a set can be a character and needs to be a character for the film, but it should also be invisible! It’s a character in the film but that doesn’t mean that it needs to “show off” or be precious.
AS: How many people are on your team for a given feature? Do you always work with the same team?
RE: Every film has different needs for staffing–and we often have several films in various phases of development, production, and post at any given time. I would say ten percent, maybe twenty percent, could be the same people that move from film to film to film. But they want to advance their careers and become supervisors or move from animation into story and art into story or story into art. But the art department alone on a given film is probably on average twelve people, total. Production Designer, Art Directors, and then we have Set designers, Texturers, Illustrators, Previs artists, Graphic artists. It varies, depending on the scope and needs of a film.
AS: And the rest of the team?
RE: It depends on the film and the complexity of the film but on a given film it’s usually about two hundred and fifty people total. And they’re overlapping because we often have a few films in development, one film pre-production, one film in full production, and then one film at least in post production.