Interview: Bryan Cranston, Danny Devito, and the VFX team on ‘The One And Only Ivan’
One of the best-animated releases of 2020 is The One And Only Ivan. We were lucky enough to speak with Bryan Cranston, Danny Devito, and the effects team of Santiago Collmo Martinez, Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, and Ben Jones about the process that went into making the film.
DS: The thing I want to focus on is the intricate details found in the animation for ‘One And Only Ivan’, What can you tell us about this process?
BJ: I think you know that I would always sort of separated into two things now you got the performance and then you’ve got like the details and and and they both need to come together you know side by side to kind of connect with the audience. The Animation Team led by Santiago and Greg both went to the zoo and sat there watching their lives for you know days and really kind of learned about how that performance should be delivered</p>
DS: Mr. DeVito did they put you through a motion capture suit situation?
DD: I was fortunate enough to be able to charm them with my personality, my voice and my acting ability. I would just like to say about how impressed I was with the whole process. I fell in love with it. I actually did visit the mo-cap for little bit but all the movement like you were saying you know every thought that I had as Bob was because I felt so connected to what was on screen. I was just blown away by how every time I saw it it was a little tiny change here or there which made such a difference.
DS: Does an animation project change your approach as a performer?
DD: No, I think I did what I’ve been in several animated movies before and I love doing it. It’s just that it’s really cool. There’s really no real difference, you just give try to find the emotion and try to find and the thing that’s really sort of mind-blowing with Ivan, I mean look at those eyes you look at Bob’s eyes. It’s hard not to get into the moment, their artistry had a soul to it.
DS: What’s the challenge of an animator to take the emotion of a performer and have it show up on the screen, what are some things you had to look for to make that happen?
SM: Well I’m creating a character like Bob for example which I think was actually the most challenging character in the movie even more than Ivan and because everybody has a dog right and everybody has seen a dog they are very adamant. It’s kind of like getting just the right ingredients
DS: Bryan, working on a film of this nature where you’re not necessarily working with other actors but maybe people dressed in motion capture or looking at a sight line, does that present new challenges for you as a performer?
BC: Yeah it does if you’re not accustomed to it. Opening up your imagination I did a lot of improvisational work we add-in that you’re working doing what they call space work. They have a little bit so you see you keep your focus on size, shape, and scope. If you can do that and have your imagination really believe that you’re constantly holding that cup at the same diameter and it doesn’t change suggesting that you really committed to it, I think it makes it easier. That being said it’s not easy. Nick and Greg were on set to help me understand the dimension of a character and the of something in size. The dimension of a character the girth of something in the size and how it’s going to move and you know putting tape marks down when I’m looking down at Bob or up. It’s funny because all along after production was finished the director was showing me little tiny clips and things and at a certain point I went oh my god that’s fantastic. She went .. oh we’re not done yet.
DS: So with every curveball that you through them while in the voice booth did you visualize the animators as they being exacerbated?</p>
DD: Well, I tried to be really good (laughs) we became friends so they didn’t .. they couldn’t really beat me up, a good thing was they were in there with them every step of the way. It was a real collaborative.
BC: These guys must feel like painters painting and feeling like you’re never really done is there’s always something else you can do. You can get really myopic to it and you know perhaps, in that case, having a deadline from the studio delivery is actually a good thing. I’d be curious to hear what the guys think of that did it actually help to know you had to turn it in on a certain date or did that add anxiety.
NF: Actually you need to. So you know we have pipelines you know a movie like this takes hundreds of people we do it over three continents across the world you know we have so many different you know divisions in place.
DS: What was the biggest challenge translating the words of the source material into this visual medium?
NF: I think it was the thing that we debated the longest and the most it started from pre-production to probably never finished. It was about that balance of performance versus reality. We knew our animals have to completely photo-realistic not just look at it but at the same time deliver those performances.
DS: Earlier, Danny alluded to how life-changing it was seeing how detailed these animators were, I wonder if Bryan felt the same way?
BC: I can’t say that I had the same experience because Danny is lazy and he only just voiced acted (laughter). He arrived in his pajamas every day (laughter). What I will say is I didn’t realize that the overall look and the animation would be as effective as it was knowing that all the animals in this story are not real. Every single one of them. I was taken away and it allowed me, a person who’s been in this business for forty years allowed me to sit in that theater can be taken away by the story and not bumped out of it by some glitch or something that didn’t quite look real. I’m glad to have had that experience.
DS: Was it a conscious decision by you guys to really focus on the color palette of each scene?
SM: We didn’t know that we have a lot of scenes that took place at night. So we had a real set for that and then we had a virtual one where we spent a lot of time working out the lighting. You have a slightly different experience all the way through. In each scene we wanted audiences to become more engaged with the animals.
Check out these before and after VFX Shots from The One And Only Ivan sent in from Disney –
Here’s a behind the scenes look at the special effects in The One And Only Ivan –