Chris Wedge Interview

Director Chris Wedge knows his Robots.

Today Movieweb sat down with Chris Wedge the director of the box office hit, Robots. During our discussion we talked about, among other things, Wedge’s reasons for wanting to make this film, his “process” when he works on an animated movie and his work on the legendary sci-fi opus Tron. During the interview Wedge was both effussive and honest in discussing why he makes movies in the medium that he does.

What was it about Robots that made you want to make it?

Chris Wedge: It’s a long story but it really was a fascination with the place. With what the world would look like. How it would move, how it would look. It’s kind of a geeky fascination with animation to begin with that started it. And that was it. We were mostly interested in how it would look... how it would feel. And then the characters and the story; all of that.

How involved are you? Do you draw the characters? What is your persoal process?

Chris Wedge: Well, for me, it depends on the project. On these gigantic feature films there are people on the staff who can draw 100 times better then I can, and animate better then I can, and light better then I can, write comedy better then I can. I basically am in the middle of kind of a creative typhoon and I’m just kind of talking the film up on to the screen. Minute to minute, meeting by meeting, day by day.

In your opinion, what is the one thing that makes or breaks an animated scene or even an animated movie?

Chris Wedge: Well, scenes are easier to talk about because I think that’s where you get down to the difference between animation and other cinema; techniques at least. For me, the big difference is that animation makes the storytelling primarily a visual style of storytelling. In my personal opinion that means you can use less dialogue, you can use more pantomime and you can tell more of the story with broad action and the character’s faces. The most fun obviously is to inhabit this world where cartoon physics is king. And that just means that things move with kind of an energy and exaggeration and appeal that is different from what we see in our world. We’re bound by, at least, Newton’s Laws of physics here and in animation we’re not. So, director’s can be extremely eccentric, you can sculpt motion in animation in a way that you just can’t do any other way. In any other performance medium. Acting, dance, sports or whatever. Animation is the only way to get some of these extreme emotional effects.

Would you say this is why you have chosen to work so heavily in animation?

Chris Wedge: I don’t know if I ever chose to... I just always had a fascination for it. I think I probably am doing animation because I started as a kid and I learned on my own, and I worked by myself a lot. It’s the only thing I really prepared myself to do in any kind of depth. And I’ve just kind of imbibed the technology and techniques and the thinking about telling stories this way. It just feels natural to me.

How do you feel about the thinking that 2-D animation is dead?

Chris Wedge: Well, it’s dead until somebody makes a blockbuster 2-D movie, then eveyone will run over to that side of the boat again. You look at Japan and Hayao Miyazaki’s films are the biggest films ever made in Japan; domestically there and they play to critical acclaim around the world. He won’t put more then 5 or 10 percent computer imagery in his movies. It’s disappointing to me. It’s a silly choice that some studios made to move out of animation. It’s part of the unfortuneate preconception that I think the public has going into see animation. A) That it’s primarily for children is unfortuneate in my opinion, and B) the technology has more to do with it then storytelling or character, I think is unfortuneate.

You also bring up the obvious point that everything is dead until someone comes along and shows that it’s not dead.

Chris Wedge: Yeah. It’s all going to be cyclical. Look, I’ve been working in computer animation for 25 years. I’m obviously a devotee of the technology. I just think it’s the one aspect of the medium that’s going to continue to revolutionize the filmmaking. It’s constantly changing and it’s constantly opening up new possibilities. The technology is evolving where 2-D animation was ultimately limited by how long you could pay how many people to make a movie. I mean computers, not that it’s in anyway a labor saving device, but it promises to open up exciting new technical possibilites.

What are some of your influences?

Chris Wedge: That’s hard to say. Ironically, I’m not a huge... I’m not a bigger moviegoer then anybody else. Honestly, I don’t go out of my way to see animated movies. I’m mostly influenced by.. the films I tend to like are the small films, small personal stories. With characters you can believe. Last year my favorite film was Sideways. I just think... it just really got me. I believed everybody. I felt the characters and their situations were compelling. It was completely enjoyable for me.

Can you talk about what you did on Tron?

Chris Wedge: Well, I get a lot of credit... they called us scene choreographers back then because the animation unit wouldn’t let us be called animators because we were working on computers. And we were some of the first people ever to make 3-D computer animation. I was one of two animators in a small company in upstate New York that did probably the lion’s share of the 3-D. You know where you get inside the computer, that light cycle race... and the tanks would chase you... and the big robot recognizers. That was animation that we would do at a company called Magi in the very early ‘80s. I animated on it but they called me an image choreographer.

What is next for you?

Chris Wedge: Well at Blue Sky we’re making Ice Age 2. That’s gonna be ready for next year. I’m developing a couple of movies on my own. One with the people inside Blue Sky and I’m writing another movie together with Bill Joyce who was a production designer on Robots and Jim Hart who is a fantastic screenwriter. And they’re all original ideas.

And they’ll all be in the animated realm?

Chris Wedge: Oh yeah, they’ll be animated. Blue Sky is a company I helped found about 18 years ago now, so I’m pretty much devoted to Blue Sky and animation for a while.

Pick up your DVD copy of Robots on September 20th.