EXCLUSIVE: Matthew O'Callaghan Talks I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat
This all-new 3D animated short featuring Sylvester and Tweety debuts in Theaters with Happy Feet Two, November 18th
This Friday, November 18th, marks the long awaited big screen return of Sylvester The Cat and Tweety Bird in the all-new short I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat, which is set to debut in front of Happy Feet Two. The film, which is rendered in CG and stereoscopic 3D, finds Tweety and Sylvester continuing their timeless game of cat and bird as Granny naps through their chase. This particular short also features the return of legendary voice actor Mel Blanc, with a song he recorded in character before he passed away.
We recently caught up with I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat director Matthew O'Callaghan, who is also responsible for helming the three recent Road Runner and Coyote shorts that each played with various Warner Bros. films last year. We chatted about the return of these popular Looney Tunes characters in 3D, what it was like to include Mel Blanc in this most recent short, and what we can expect from the Looney Tunes in the near future.
Here is our conversation.
How did you get involved with directing these new Looney Tunes shorts?
Matthew O'Callaghan: You are going back a couple of years. I was coming in for an interview. It was a meet and greet with Sam Register, Tony Cervone, and Spike Brandt, the producers. I didn't know what I was coming in for. I was just coming in for a meeting. And they started talking about doing new Coyote and Road Runner shorts. Once I heard that, I sat up in my chair. I said, "Really?! You Want to do these Characters?!" They said, "Yeah, we want to do them in CGI, and we want to do them in stereoscopic 3D." They were all really excited, and I got kind of excited. I said, "I have one question for you...Are you going to do these with the same tone as the originals? Or are you going to soften them?" They said, "Oh, no...We are going to do them exactly the same. We want them big, broad, and physical..." I said, "Oh, man, I am so in on that!" I must have said the right thing. They brought me in. We did the three Coyote shorts. It was at the tail end of those. Those were going so well. That's when Sam walked into my office with a CD that had some of these songs on them...Did I answer that right?
Sure! And with this CD, I assume you are talking about the Mel Blanc songs that you are utilizing in this latest short...
Matthew O'Callaghan: Yes, I am...
What is that like, as both a director and a fan, to incorporate these original recordings of Mel Blanc's into an animated short that has never been seen before?
Matthew O'Callaghan: When they brought me the CD, and told me to listen to it...This was not a green light, go for it...This was, "Here is an idea. What do you think about this song?" Sam had a couple of songs, but I will just talk about the Tweety Bird one in particular. He said, "What do you think of this?" I told him, "Let me sit with it for a while. I will come up with something." I came back at them with the idea that you will be seeing soon. Have you heard the song at all?
No, I have not heard it yet...Matthew O'Callaghan: Okay. These things are out there. You can go on Youtube, and type in I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat, followed by Mel Blanc, and you will hear the song. Some people have actually done little montages, putting visuals to the song. Its out there, you can hear it. When he handed it to me, I listened to it over and over again. I watched a lot of Sylvester and Tweety cartoons again. I got familiar again. The big difference between the song and the shorts I was watching is...The song, if you just listen to it, is a very sweet duet. They are just singing, and then at the end, they sing in unison. I was thinking, "Wow, that does not work visually at all." Because it's too sweet. Even though we have the great Mel Blanc singing the song, visually, it will put people to sleep if I just have these two characters singing to each other. So, the missing ingredient was the physicality, the tone, the chase. The violent gags. That wasn't there. I thought, "How do I put this into song?" I came up with the idea, where, during every pause for breath, on the lyrics, that is where I would add a sting. The punctuation of a gag. Again, I don't know how you write this in print, but the way I pitched it was, "Dun-Dun-Dun-Dun-Dun-BANG-DunDunDun-Dun-Dun-Dun-SLAM!" By doing that, everyone started laughing in the room. Because you get that contrast of very sweet, and extremely painful. That was my initial approach. They loved it. The next challenged was, "Great, now that I have put myself out there, I have to figure out how to make this work." That is when the real work began. How do I craft a story here? And not interrupt the flow of the music? It was a very strategic, very calculated, very time-consuming process in getting this to where it's at today.
What is it like for you to see the Looney Tunes in CG as oppose to their original hand-drawn animation style?
Matthew O'Callaghan: Excellent question. I am a traditional animator. I was groomed and brought up at Walt Disney Studios. Pencil, paper, the whole thing. Half of my career was pencil and paper, 2D animation. My background, growing up, watching all of the classic cartoons, and then entering the industry at a time when there was still traditional animation...That is what I learned. When I became a director, and now that I am dealing with CGI animation, part of my DNA is 2D animation...My approach to this medium is, yes, it is CGI...Yes, it is stereoscopic...But it's got to look like the 2D animation. It has to have that feel. It has to have that squash and stretch. It has to have those great expressions. It cannot look like marionettes. That doesn't work with these particular characters, and it doesn't work with my sensibility. So, when we started going down this road of doing CGI, not a day has gone by without this happening...The 2D drawings and the model sheets from the 60s are put up around our desks. That is always the place that I go back to. It is never, "Ah, those are the models from the 60s...Forget about them! We're moving forward here!" These characters were designed, and they have a look and feel to them...Even though I am going to put fur and feathers on them, I don't want the audience to think about that. I want the audience to go, "I know these guys! Oh, great! They're back!" That's my objective.
Over the years, the original Looney Tunes shorts have been edited and neutered. They were originally a lot more edgier than some of the stuff we see released today. Were you able to go back to that same 60s aesthetic in creating these new shorts?
Matthew O'Callaghan: Yeah, you have to do them in that way. They do have the brand new The Looney Tunes Show on TV. The difference is, TV has different rules. The theater doesn't have any of those rules. So, I can hit people over the head with a bat. I can have one character hit the other character in the side of the head with a frying pan. It can be just like you remember it. It can be the same impact. It can be the same timing. The same level of physicality. That's what I loved as a kid. To honor these characters correctly, you have to do it that way. That was, again, a way of not moving away from what they did, but recapturing what they did. Honoring it, and respecting it. When you see the short, you'll see a lot of what I am talking about.
This particular short is playing with Happy Feet Two, right?
Matthew O'Callaghan: Yes. Uh-huh.
What, in your opinion, makes This a good companion piece to Happy Feet Two?
Matthew O'Callaghan: It is a little bit out of my control, in regards to that. I have not seen Happy Feet Two. It does have sweet little penguins dancing. And we have sweet little Tweety dancing. I don't know...Somewhere in the top floors, here, they decided that would be a good pair. I'm excited, because I think a lot of people are going to see Happy Feet Two. And I want a lot of people to see our short. That's the way it is.
How do you guys releases these shorts for the home market?
Matthew O'Callaghan: From my point of view, picking up the different DVDs, I think the shorts are on the Blu-ray versions of the films they debuted with, but not on the DVD versions. The three Road Runner shorts went out with three Warner Bros. movies last year. They were all in stereoscopic 3D, so that's how they paired them, then they went onto the Blu-rays of those movies as well, pairing them with their special features.
How many more of these shorts do you have planned for the immediate future?
Matthew O'Callaghan: There is this one, plus two more that we are finishing right now. But they will be released next year.
I, along with a thousand other people, I'm sure, collect all of the Looney Tunes on DVD. Is there going to be a home release that has all of these new shorts on one set? So that I don't have to buy the feature films they are currently available with to get them?
Matthew O'Callaghan: I'm not sure what their plans are. I know there is a Wal-Mart only compilation release that has the three new Road Runner shorts and a couple of other Coyote and Road Runner cartoons. It's in Wal-Mart right now. Or, it was a few weeks ago.
Well, I can't wait to see this new one next week!
Matthew O'Callaghan: I hope you enjoy it. It is a labor of love. It was an absolute pleasure. I was flattered when they said, "Here, do this!" I was also, like, "Oh, my God!" It was completely daunting. But it came with that exciting feeling of, "Whelp, I am really going to do my best to honor these creative geniuses that have preceded me. And do the best I can here." It has been a journey.
What other characters do you plan to bring on in the future? Is the next new one going to be another Sylvester and Tweety? Or are we going to see some of the other characters return to the big screen?
Matthew O'Callaghan: We're not sure at this point, to be honest. It's an on-going conversation right now. Everyone has been a little preoccupied with finishing these upcoming shorts. Part of the division comes with working on The Looney Tunes Show. It's not absent from our mind. It's just not immediate.
Is there any talk of ever resurrecting A. Flea?
Matthew O'Callaghan: No. That has not been one of the characters we've brought up here. If it's a personal favorite of yours, we'll let you know if we ever do it!