The head of story on Bolt/director of Rhino and the voice of Rhino talk about the short film on the upcoming DVD

Bolt is coming to DVD on March 24 and Blu-ray two days earlier on March 22 and Walt Disney Home Entertainment had set up another one of their famous "virtual junkets" which I logged on to. Here we got to see the short film Super Rhino, a humorous little short which shows us the tiny hamster Rhino coming to save the day. We also participated in a Q&A session with Super Rhino director and head of story on Bolt, Nathan Greno and the voice of Rhino in both the film and short, Mark Walton. Here's what they had to say about the new short film and the new DVD.

What did you like the most about Rhino?

Mark Walton: I really like how Rhino is comfortable in his own skin - he's enthusiastic and crazy, and he worships Bolt, and he doesn't care if anyone else approves or understands or likes his crazy laugh - if he was an evil jerk, that could be a problem, but I think his love of Bolt and his enthusiasm are contagious. Plus, he doesn't ever seem to let his physical limitations get in the way of doing what he needs to do - for a hamster in a ball, he does some pretty amazing things!

How was Rhino chosen to star in his own short?

Nathan Greno: When we were wrapping story on Bolt, John Lasseter asked us to start thinking about a short for the DVD. I pitched the idea of Rhino gaining the powers of his hero, Bolt. John loved the idea and asked me to work up a pitch. Needless to say, the pitch went well and I was given the opportunity to direct the short.

Mark, you originally did the scratch track for Rhino. Was any of that track retained, or was it all rerecorded?

Mark Walton: A lot of the scratch track was kept untouched - they were really careful when they recorded it, and a lot of the lines (like where he first meets Bolt and Mittens) stayed the same. A lot of the lines changed, of course, and every once in a while, they'd come back to me and say, this line is a little unclear, or could I say the line faster, but most of the time, they had me do lots of takes the first time through, and got the take they wanted.

Will Super Rhino be getting his own feature length film?

Mark Walton: If I have anything to say about it! Write to Disney once a day until it happens!

Nathan, What can you tell us about the difference between working on the film Bolt and the short Super Rhino?

Nathan Greno: Developing a full length feature is much longer process than developing a short. With features you're typically dealing with more characters, plot, emotion, story arc, etc. -- a short is the same only much... shorter! In the case of Super Rhino, I even had the advantage of using pre-established characters -- putting an unexpected spin on them was the fun part.

Nathan, are there any future plans for the awesome Rhino?

Nathan Greno: You never know! While we were working on Bolt we had no idea there was going to be a Rhino short! Time will tell.

Mark, how did you come up with the voice for Rhino? Was it based on any one?

Mark Walton: I'm pretty much just doing my voice, my personality. I mean, I hope I have a slightly stronger grip on reality than Rhino does, but we're both pretty enthusiastic about the people and things we're interested in, and un-self-conscious about how we come across to others. I tried doing what I thought was a hamster voice when I first auditioned, but the directors (who know me) told me to just be myself as much as possible. I do have other friends who are really into Star Trek, Star Wars, comic books, Disney, animation, etc, and I suppose I thought about them a little when Rhino was being really obsessive, but it's mostly me.

Mark, what scenes from Bolt do you think will look best on Blu-ray?

Mark Walton: The scenes that will look best in Blu-ray will have Rhino, in all his glory, on the screen. Actually, I haven't seen the Blu-ray transfer yet, but I bet any scene with a lot of detail (there are some beautiful backgrounds in the movie!) will really sing in Blu-ray.

Was Miley's recording for the short built into the studio sessions for the feature?

Mark Walton: No, the recording sessions for the movie were all separate, and recording for the short happened after the movie was mostly wrapping up. It was hard, because people were pretty wiped out from finishing the movie (some were still working on it) but they had to whip up the short in time for the DVD release! But the two were separate.

Nathan, besides getting to direct a story of your own, do these shorts also help give the studio confidence that you can direct a feature as well?

Nathan Greno: Absolutely! The shorts program at Disney Animation is a fantastic way for potential feature directors to cut their teeth. Taking on a feature is a huge responsibility -- directing a short is a great way to learn about other departments and the people who work in them. I feel prepared to handle my directing duties on Rapunzel because of my experience on Super Rhino.

Was Super Rhino always intended as a bonus feature/separate short? Have you considered other approaches, such as adding it after the credits of Bolt or in the film itself?

Nathan Greno: When we were finishing the story on Bolt, John Lasseter asked for short ideas for the DVD and I pitched Super Rhino. The short was always intended to be a bonus on the DVD.

In what way was working on Rhino different from voicing Goosey Loosey in Chicken Little (if at all)? Were there any specific, new challenges?

Mark Walton: Well, Goosey Loosey was fun, but all I was doing was basically doing crazy goose-like sounds - basically she's freaking out and going into some kind of berserker rage whenever I do her voice. Rhino actually has to act, and has a lot more range. Luckily, I got to do my normal speaking voice, so it was easier to focus on getting the acting right. Both were fun, but Rhino was a lot more involved. I had to be a lot more concerned with being clear and intelligible with Rhino, too - Goosey was covered up with a lot of music and loud sound effects, so it almost didn't matter what I did.

Is there a lot of overlap between video game animation and (animated) feature animation?

Mark Walton: Well, more and more people have worked for animated features as well as doing work for video games - animators, visual development artists, modelers, matte painters, etc. Obviously there are differences - video games have to be designed to be explored randomly, and the characters have to be programmed to do a lot of different possible things, whereas in a movie, it's just from one point of view, and you're coming up with enough stuff to fill an hour or two instead of 10 or 20 hours. And video game engines can handle the kind of complexity and realism you can't put into a movie - yet. But games are getting better and better - I imagine a day where you won't be able to tell a game from a movie, with great A.I. animation and photoreal, interactive environments, etc.

Nathan, do you usually try to put something or someone familiar in the movies you work on, since Rhino is the name of your cat?

Nathan Greno: You almost can't help it! We really throw ourselves into our work and the details from your life show up from time to time in the finished film. Our personal experiences really help to bring shape to the movies we make at Disney.

Mark, was there chemistry with the other actors? Or did you always work separately on the voice acting?

Mark Walton: Unfortunately, I never got to work with the other actors, but I got to spend a little time talking with some of them afterwards, like Susie Essman and Malcolm McDowell, who are both really cool. I'm friends with the woman who did the security guard's voice (Esther) in the dog pound - she's really cool, and is a school teacher! The good thing about recording everyone separately is it gives the directors more control - they can change one character's lines in a scene without having to re-record everybody, and the story changes a lot before the movie comes out.

As a visual development artist, how much of an influence do you have on the way a character ultimately looks like?

Mark Walton: It depends on the film and the director, and how early I'm brought onto a show. Sometimes I've come on really early, when a lot of decisions haven't even been thought of yet, so there's the potential, if I come up with some great ideas, that they might make it into the final character design. Of course, even if the directors like my ideas or the designs I do, they may end up changing the story so much, that those characters have to change, or get cut out altogether, and that's just the way it is. Sometimes the directors are designers themselves, or they want to work with a character designer who will do things in their own distinct way - sometimes the most important thing I do is figure out what they don't want to do, by experimenting. Either way, whether they use my ideas or not, I get paid, so it's all good. ;)

Nathan, as a story supervisor, do you actually change the content at times and come with your own suggestions or do you mainly streamline what's already there?

Nathan Greno: Animation story boarding works differently than live action story boarding. The story crew (along with a writer) really does shape and create the film -- the world and it's characters. We meet almost every day and brainstorm the plot of the film. It's a highly collaborative process -- and we continue to improve the story until we literally run out of time.

Mark, have you met Miley Cyrus and did you get her autograph?

Mark Walton: I did meet Miley Cyrus! This young woman at the studio suddenly shouted at me from down the hall, and was complimenting my performance, and I thought she was sweet - and then someone asked if we wanted a picture together, and I didn't realize until she came up right next to me it was her! She seemed really nice. I didn't have time to get her autograph, but I got a nice picture with her!

Mark: I've read that you once wanted to become a Muppet designer. What kind of Muppet would you (have) like(d) to design?

Mark Walton: Oh - nobody's asked me that before! I would have loved to make a Muppet version of this alien character I came up with as a little kid - he had one eye and big feet, kinda like Mickey Mouse's shoes, and rubber-hosey arms and legs. My brother has actually designed, built, and performed puppets for a children's theater in Colorado, as well as for "Die Hard: the Puppet Musical" in New York - it would be cool to do some puppet stuff with him sometime!

Nathan, what are the most important challenges when trying to make a short film work for the audience, as opposed/compared to a feature film?

Nathan Greno: My biggest challenge on Super Rhino was learning to work with other departments outside of the story dept. I honestly learned something new every day. I went from working in my story boarding bubble to working with every department in the building. It was an amazing eye-opening experience for me. The advantage with the Super Rhino short was having the advantage of using pre-existing characters -- the fun came from the unexpected story twists I put them through. When you develop an entire feature length film from scratch (as we did on Bolt) the challenge is developing an entire feature length film from scratch! -- the world and all of it's characters need to be created. There is no story/plot -- all you have is a blank sheet of paper.

Mark, is voice acting a difficult kind of acting to get right? Are a lot of takes necessary?

Mark Walton: The lucky thing for me, with Rhino, was that I didn't have to do a voice or an accent, or a character that was totally different from me. I know that some actors really miss working with the other actors in the room, but the nice thing for me is that you don't have to worry about costumes or makeup or hitting your marks or memorizing your lines - you get to cut to the fun part with a minimum of fuss. I did have to do a lot of takes - there were a couple of the lines in the big inspiring speeches that I did 60 or more takes for, and then they still brought me back a few more times, because they really wanted to get the performance exactly right. But that's the great thing - they'll keep trying until it's as good as it can be. It's tiring sometimes, but then everyone's happy with the results.

Nathan, why do you think it's so often the supporting characters from these animated films that people want to see star in their own shorts? (Mater, Jack Jack, etc.)

Nathan Greno: The supporting characters typically carry less story/plot weight -- so you can be more broad and pushed with them. Supporting characters also take up less of the film's screen time. A short is a great opportunity for supporting characters to shine. Rhino is so pushed and single minded -- the idea of him staring in his own film was really entertaining to me.

Mark, do you feel videogames and feature (animated or otherwise) movies are starting to resemble each other more and more? Is this a good development, and, if yes, for which medium in particular?

Mark Walton: I think it's really cool that videogames are getting more and more sophisticated and believable, and that people who worked on movies are being asked to art direct and design video games and characters, so they look better and better. When I see Jurassic Park on the screen, I predicted that games would be able to create a virtual experience that was just as real as the movies - we're not quite there yet, but it's getting better all the time. Ironically, I must admit that I have an easier time (myself) playing games that are really simple and non-realistic (like the games I grew up with in the 80's) - I tend to get lost and confused when the games get too complex! But I enjoy watching people who are good at playing games. I really enjoy playing games like Guitar Hero, where you feel like you're a great musician even if you're not.

Mark, how did Miley Cyrus feel about Rhino doing Best of Both Worlds?

Mark Walton: Frankly, I'm afraid she was consumed by jealousy and a serious inferiority complex - I can't blame her, it's gotta be hard to see the writing on the wall. No, seriously, I'm not sure if she's seen the finished film with my singing yet, but I'm sure my (purposely) bad version of the song makes her look even better by comparison.

Nathan, how important do you think "sidekick-characters", such as Rhino, are in a feature film?

Nathan Greno: Sidekicks should only be used when they support your story/plot. I don't think you NEED to have sidekicks in a film. Rhino definitely added humor to Bolt, but he also helped to drive the film forward. He's a simple, single-minded character -- but he's also one of the smartest characters in the film. His crazy rants to both Bolt and Mittens turn out to be surprisingly enlightening.

Mark, will you be doing a lot more voice acting in the future? Do you think it is a lot of fun?

Mark Walton: It is a lot of fun - at least for me! Rhino was a really broad, silly, over-the-top character that got to be funny, dramatic, angry, serious, touching, and it was great having my voice attached to a well-animated, cute fuzzy character! I just think it's a blast to come in in whatever clothes and pretend for the mic', and get paid for it! I haven't been asked to do anything else yet, but I really hope I get to do more voice parts - there's a lot of talented people I have to compete with, but I can hope!

Mark, usually a comedic approach is used for (American) animation. Why is that and do you think another, more dramatic approach is also feasible (like in Japan, for example)?

Mark Walton: Here's my take, for what it's worth: I think that a lot of people in the US, as well as other countries, have the idea that animation is primarily for children, and kids like to be entertained! And animated films here tend to have crazy fantastic situations that would be difficult to do in live action, like with talking animals or monsters or whatnot, and that lends itself well to comedy, I think. It's hard, because American film studios have taken chances on making films that are more serious and/or dramatic, but everyone here seems to turn out for the comedies, so it's hard to justify taking that kind of risk, but if more people did, maybe American audiences would get more used to it. Just like I wish that some of my favorite Anime directors, that tell some amazing stories, won't experiment with different styles of design, or more sophisticated animation or lip-synching, because Japanese audiences are used to the same-ol same ol, for the most part. Maybe if audiences all over the world would check out animation from other countries, filmmakers would be more sophisticated and experimental.

Mark, could you tell us something about the upcoming King of the Elves? Are you excited about it? And, since it is based on a P. K. Dick-story, will it perhaps be more dramatic/philosophical in nature than previous work?

Mark Walton:King of the Elves is looking really cool right now. I really like the short story it's based on, and I think the filmmakers want to bring a degree of realism and complexity that we haven't seen before. I think it'll be very dramatic and philosophical. But did you see The Iron Giant? I thought that had some really heavy, serious themes (in addition to a lot of great comedy) that were dealt with really well. There's a lot of pretty heavy stuff in animation out there if you're willing to look for it - check out Frederic Bach's gorgeous films, or Waltz with Bashir, if you're in a really good mood (it's pretty dark!) Or maybe you already know about all this, huh?

Mark, what are you and Nathan working on now?

Mark Walton: Actually, I'm really busy promoting the Bolt DVD/Blu-ray these days - Rhino is going to be doing TV interviews next, so that's pretty fun! Nathan is directing Rapunzel for Disney, which takes up all of his time, I imagine.

Bolt will be released on DVD on March 24 and Blu-ray, which will also include a copy of the standard DVD, on March 22.