Unlike most of their peers, directors of animated-live action hybrids live largely in the Hollywood shadows. Their names are rarely front and center even though they have among the the trickier jobs in the movie business -- balancing studio demands, creative needs and effects logistics.
Tim Hill learned of these issues firsthand when he got behind the camera for this weekend's "Hop." The buddy (bunny?) comedy tells of a slacker twentysomething (James Marsden) and the Easter Bunny's reluctant heir apparent (an animated rabbit voiced by Russell Brand). The Universal movie is the second offering from Illumination Entertainment, the "Despicable Me" production company headed by Chris Meledandri.
Even by hybrid standards, the challenges kept coming on "Hop," with the movie almost not making its Easter-themed release date. On a recent afternoon, Hill, who previously directed "Alvin & the Chipmunks," opened up on those challenges.
24 Frames: Part of what's tricky with a hybrid movie is that you're essentially directing two films for the price of one. Does that make for a difficult experience for a filmmaker?
Tim Hill: It does. You shoot half your movie, and then when you stop it's kind of a false summit. You think, "Whew, that's over." And then the mountain's so much higher. There are 10 or 15 minutes of full CG in this movie that hadn't even been conceived until after we stopped shooting. And we only had 10 or 11 months to make the movie and, once we stopped shooting, six months.
And you had the added issue of the Easter tie-in -- it wasn't like the film could get pushed to Christmas.
TH: The way you calculate this kind of movie [coming in] is you say, "What's the most time-consuming, what am I going to get screwed on?" You start to identify the hotspots that are really going to kill you. And in this case there were a lot of them. Animation you can change as you go -- it's not like live-action. You're spitballing way after you should be, and that's when we got into the "Oh [crap], are we going to make it?" And they [animation and effects studio Rhythm & Hues] finally said, "We're not going to be able to deliver your movie."
Yikes, did it actually get to that point?
TH: It was a crisis, basically. I think what they were doing is drawing a line in the sand. So we got it to them and then we said, "Where are we?" And they said, "This we can do and this we can't do." So there were a lot of things we still wanted to do and they would say, "We can't do that." They had hundreds of people working, but there wasn't enough time. They have to animate and go through so many processes. That's why it takes animated films two or three years to make instead of a year. They said, "You can throw all the money you want at us, but we can't do it."
So it wasn't about them hiring more people?
TH: No, they had people in India, they had a worldwide effort to bring out this movie. It was crazy. It really felt for a while like something was going to suffer. I got really worried. Either the acting would suffer or the characters would suffer, or everything would come out of the oven too soon. It would need a couple more passes that would make it better. Because I am pretty picky. So I'd say that there are a few shots in there where, I don't necessarily cringe, but I'm like "Oh, I remember we had to final that one because of the time."
When did you first get the sense this would be such a crunch?