The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of The Bad Guys.
Marc, what was it like watching the finished product after doing the voice of Snake?
Marc Maron: I had no idea what the story was. When I saw the movie, it was like “oh, this is the movie?” I knew that I was with these other characters, and I have a hard time with scripts anyway, but when I saw the whole thing, there were twists and turns in the movie that I was a part of! I realized that’s what was going on. It was crazy.
Pierre Perifel: It’s funny Marc, in animation we usually don’t share the script. In live-action, when you arrive on a shoot, your script needs to be totally locked. You can’t really change anything unless you want to do pickups later. But with animation, it’s a work in progress all the time. You craft things, redo it, rewrite it, so we usually don’t share that script because we know it’s going to evolve so much.
MM: Right, it’s fluid. So it wasn’t like me just being weird and old? You never showed me a script is what you’re saying. Just little chunks of scenes and there was no way for me to actually put them together in my head. It wasn’t my fault. You did it.
PP: I did it. It’s really fluid, and at some point, the movie kind of takes its own life and you just go with it. It’s a very different process than what you would see in live action films.
with animation, it’s a work in progress all the time
Luc, how do you production design an animated film, especially considering it’s changing all the time?
Luc Desmarchelier: In animation, the production designer is in charge of all the visual components in the picture, everything. Creating the characters from the ground up, every set and every object within the sets, the textures, the colors, the composition, the lighting. All of that is in the general purview of the designers and of course, working in conjunction with all the other departments involved. It is a job that requires a lot of preparation and a solid concept to start with. A large part of the job is developing the visuals in pre-production. That’s where you try to solidify the ideas that underline the rules you want to set up for the world, and how it’s going to look. For instance, in color, we came up with this idea that was rooted in our references and influences. Like, we’re going to use only one color for the bad guys, and we’re going to use cool colors for the antagonist. That worked well because you can apply that to the police, who are going to be red and blue and black and white, and the villain was going to be cool colors in cool environments, while the bad guys were always the warm colors. This was the theory that we applied throughout the movie. It’s a simple rule that everyone on the team can understand and follow through in the spheres of their individual departments. If you come up with clear principles early on, you can apply them everywhere. After that it becomes like a marathon, ensuring these principles translate on the screen and making sure all the departments apply this visual consistency to the movie.
In a narrative film, a character might have some piece of wardrobe or a prop that helps them inform the character. How did you work together to develop the voice of Snake?
MM: When we first got there, they showed me the sketches for the character but I think they were still trying to figure out how to get him to move. They definitely had a look for the guy and it definitely informed my voice of him, seeing that he was wearing this Hawaiian shirt and the sunglasses. They showed me several different sketches and even his face influenced how I approached the voice.
PP: It’s funny because if you take it from Marc’s point of view, he’s first exposed to one sketch. I can pitch him the overall world in which the story is going to happen… the animals, the heist film, the action sequences, and just a couple sketches of Snake because Marc came in so early. First we do an animatic with storyboards and try to translate the script into film form. Usually this is recorded with scratch voices, temp actors. Then we bring Marc in and he does his thing, but he just sees lines and a sketch of Snake. Then the next time he comes in, we’ve started rigging and modeling the character and now he can see it with volume, and then maybe the next time he comes in, he can see it with animation. Slowly, we’re pulling back the veil on the production as Marc begins to discover the film. Luc and I, as well as the production team, are well ahead of our actors because we can visualize it all. But from an outside perspective, it can be overwhelming when you’re thrown into that bath. A lot of my work with Marc was crappily doing line reads with him while trying to pitch him what the scene was about!
MM: That was actually really helpful. You didn’t read them crappy, it was just always you for all the characters. You had to set the scene. So you’d be like “let’s do another read of this because he’s coming in from here, and this just happened, they’re driving in a car so don’t yell, or, you need to yell here.” That was essential.
PP: Because at this point, you still don’t have animation. The fundamental difference between animation and live-action is that we do all the editing of the movie up front. We don’t edit footage that has been shot. We don’t have six or eight hours of dailies to chop down to a two-hour movie. We produce very precisely only the stuff that ends up on screen. You cut and write at the same time, so that is where the fluidity comes from. Throughout the production, you can do snippets and try things out. Part of the movie might be in production far down the line while other parts are still being worked on and chopped up.
The first shot of the film is incredible, and the longest shot in Dreamworks animation history, almost two and a half minutes. It’s does a beautiful job of setting the space for the audience and putting us in a Tarantino-like movie.
PP: The movie used to start more like an Out of Sight werewolf would walk into the bank and super nicely rob the bank, like a gentleman thief. Then it would break out into the crazy car chase. We slowly realized the film was really a Snake/Wolf story. That’s also such a testament to how much things can change. Early on it was more of an ensemble story, and then we realized that the main two voices are Snake and Wolf. We needed to set them up early on. We discussed doing a flashback but I didn’t want to do a flashback, it felt cheesy forcing it into the movie. So we decided to start it with a casual conversation between two best friends. Then we decided to do a homage to Pulp Fiction in the diner and then you have the robbery and it sets up all these elements. Then we thought, what if we set it up as a one-shot? It’s so great visually and thematically. Later on, the Snake birthday idea came up because we really needed to bond those characters as a family, a dysfunctional family but one with a lot of love. I really wanted Tarantino-style dialogue where you just jump into the middle of a conversation between two guys that’s completely mundane. Marc and Sam [Rockwell] actually recorded this scene together.
MM: Once they realized a lot was hinging on the emotional connection between me and Sam, it was essential we had that connection. I think that was one of the scenes where we kept it loose and got to improv a bit. There’s a way that the two voices go together. My voice is, I think broader than Sam’s. He’s cool and I’m aggravated and I’m always operating at a pitch of crankiness. In that scene we had to figure out how these two voices moved together with humor and emotional connection and a bit of tension. It established a lot about the movie, those two characters, and where we’re going.
What were the key challenges for you, Luc? It must have been fun being able to pay homage to a classic scene while still making it your own.
LD: Yeah, it’s a classic. It’s a standard for any gangster film in LA, you’ve got to throw in a diner. The fun and the difficulty of it was to see how long we could make it last. If you want to do a really long take, in live-action or animation, you’re going to run into technical difficulties as well as staging issues. You have to plan the shot to make it seamless. In animation, the length of the shot within a single scene is a challenge for animators. There’s all kinds of problems. I think it was less a challenge for production design than it was for layout and animation. But the fun of it was figuring out when that cut was really going to land. You want to take the scene and draw it out and draw it out and cut at the point where it really makes a statement and vibrates.