Rango Blazes an Innovative Path
ILM's first fully-animated film brings new ideas to an old art
When most people think of Johnny Depp, they remember his roles as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.
Those were all live-action roles. So it seemed strange to some that Depp would take on the role of Rango, a chameleon and aspiring actor, in the animated movie Rango. The movie was released on DVD on July 15. In the movie, Rango is thrust into the western-themed town of Dirt, becoming the town's new sheriff. The one catch? The hero with a mysterious past is fated to die.
This film marks the first fully animated feature by Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). It's a company that generally creates special effects for live-action films such as the Star Wars saga, the Harry Potter series, and the Indiana Jones movies.
Rango was also the first animated movie directed by Gore Verbinski. Before Rango, he had directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films and other live-action movies. Verbinski worked with Depp on those Pirates movies and thought he was perfect for the part of the seemingly ordinary chameleon. And when it came time to make the movie, the animation crew at ILM actually put Depp's own traits into Rango.
During filming, the crew at ILM recorded Depp's different expressions while doing the voice of Rango. They then compared Depp's expressions to those of the animated chameleon and the animators were able to put Depp's characteristics into Rango. So, in order to act as Rango, Depp had to draw on his live-action movie experience to craft his animated performance.
"If we can [take] Johnny Depp's behavior and the quirks he has, it's just going to help the animation so much more," said Kevin Martel, Associate Animation Supervisor and another newcomer to the fully-animated film field.
"[Verbinski and I] were both coming from the same place, so it was new for both of us," he added about making the movie. "We were really excited to try something new."
In this way, Rango is different than a lot of other animated movies where actors just do the voices for the characters.
Instead of recording in a sound booth, the actors would play out the scene with each other like they would in a live action movie, blocking out the scenes and talking at the same time. This process helped the actors get inflection and emotion into their voice.
"What we're doing on this project that is different is all the actors are together, ensemble, interacting with one another, kind of trying to get that magic that happens when actors get together," Hal Hickel, the Animation Director at ILM, said on the DVD special features. "We're getting a lot of improv and interesting accidents, things that you don't get in a recording studio."
This might be the most innovative thing about Rango — using live-action techniques to make an animated movie.
Some movies, like The Polar Express, use a process called motion capture to take a live-action performance and animate it so it seems more real than a cartoon. But Rango is different. The filmmakers animated the actors based on how they interacted with each other, using their voices in the movies but animating everything else.
Depp might have had the best description for this process. On the Rango DVD, he said, "Instead of motion capture, it's more like emotion capture."
For more about Kid Reporter Mimi Evans' visit to ILM, check out her post on the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps Blog!
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