Interview with Wreck-It Ralph Director Rich Moore & Producer Clark Spencer #DisneyMoviesEvent
A couple weeks ago, I posted my voice recording session debut as Vanellope in Wreck-It Ralph and my experience at the Wreck-It Ralph Press Day at Disney Animation Studios in Los Angeles, CA. Today, I want to share with you another once-in-a-lifetime experience I had on that incredible day: a group interview with Director, Rich Moore and Producer, Clark Spencer, from Wreck-It Ralph!
We had just finished screening Wreck-It Ralph as a group (review coming very soon!) and headed upstairs to sit down with both the producer and director of the movie. After listening to them speak, I could really see how passionate they were about making this movie. They spoke with excitement and energy and learning what went on behind the scenes just made me love the movie that much more. It’s very interesting how a movie like Wreck-It Ralph all comes together. I encourage you to read through the interview and then go see Wreck-It Ralph when it comes to theatres on November 2!
How difficult was it to get approval from the game companies, and the commanding companies?
Clark Spencer: When Rich first pitched the idea, he talked a lot about wanting authenticity, which means you have to have the real video game characters.
Rich Moore: If you’re going to do it, you should do it right.
Clark Spencer: I always wondered what will we be able to get. We always said that if we can get a few characters, that’ll really help ground it. Amazingly, when we went out to the companies and they first heard the idea for the film, they were very excited about it.
Two years ago we went to E3, the big gaming convention here in Los Angeles and Rich pitched the movie to companies and talked about where the characters might sit in the film. The companies got really excited very quickly. Then it was a process over the course of many months of us talking with the companies and the legal teams meeting with each other to talk about what can and can’t be done. Not simply, but surprisingly, it went a lot smoother than you might ever expect.
Because there was going to be a lot of characters in the film and many of them weren’t going to be the main characters, companies were interested in being a part of it. I think in some ways that Toy Story blazed the trail for that. We were able to use it as a reference point in the game company stock because it was such a great franchise to be a part of.
Where did the idea for the movie stem from?
Rich Moore: The idea began about four years ago when I started here at Disney. I was invited by John Lasseter, an old friend and colleague, to come into the studio to develop ideas to be movies. I thought he likes to hear several different ideas before he approves on to go into production.
I was thinking what would make a good movie and someone had brought up that they had a notion of a story about video games. It was an idea that had been floating around here for many years and had kind of appeared in different iterations since the early 90s, but had never really got off the ground. It always ended up shelved and it had been shelved about year before I started here. I thought that video games would be an interesting world.
I like video games and it seems like it would be fun. It’s a place the audience would really like to visit. I could see the potential for spectacle, comedy and drama. It seemed like a great idea. So without going into the material that had been developed before, I started from square one with just the world of video games, the characters and what their lives are like.
I started to develop it. After about two days, I thought this is the worst idea ever because the characters have one job to do day in and day out. There’s no freewill. They’re programmed to do things so this would make a horrible movie and no one would want to watch these characters do their jobs. Then it hit me that it would be great if you had a character who didn’t like his job and started wondering is this all there is to life this one thing that I do?
I thought what if he is uncomfortable in his own skin doing that job. It felt juicy! So it really simply began with just those two things: a big overarching world/universe of video games and an internal conflict between the character and that world.
It was one of the pitches that I presented to John and it was pretty apparent that it was the strongest one. It was funny because when you are presenting an idea you can feel the energy. I knew the idea myself but in telling it to another person, I was getting excited. We could really feel it together as we’re talking about it. I’ve been moving on with that ever since for about three and a half years.
Did you have an actor in mind for the role of Wreck-It Ralph or did you listen to different voices?
Clark Spencer: In directing, there’s an old saying, “Good directing is 75% good casting.” and I believe that. It was important to me that we not just cast voices for the sake of casting a popular voice. Or someone we think, “Oh well, if so and so’s in it, more people will come and see it. And it equals dollar signs.”
I really wanted the actors to come from the heart of the characters. As we were developing, Phil Johnston, the writer, and I worked on the idea in the early days for around nine months. We would always say, “who is this like?” and “who would be good doing this?”.
Ultimately, someone is going to eventually voice this character so why not be thinking who would do it justice? We would always say, “Well, it’s kind of like….” and we had a big board where would put up pictures of people. Then we would say, “Ralph is a bit like this person”. It sometimes would change day to day!
It was our process of focusing on who the character is and who would really bring justice to that character. We knew pretty early on that John C. Reilly would be great for this character. I think Sarah (Silverman) was in the original pitch to John. I knew that we wanted to have a candy world and Sarah is the voice of a little candy.
The role of the character Sergeant Calhoun was a man for a long time. At one point, we said what if Calhoun’s a woman? All this was pre Jane on Glee. The star was right because Phil and I liked her from a lot of movies she had done previous to Glee.
We knew that Felix needs to be the nicest man in the world. We knew from the beginning that Jack would be perfect for Felix. It was all developed in tandem.
I love Dory in Finding Nemo. Its something about taking that fish design where it’s not just the fish and it’s not just Ellen Degeneres. It’s something magical that happened combining the two elements and a third element appears and it’s Dory. You can’t imagine the world ever existed without that character in it. That’s what I hope for the characters I create too. I want them to have the feeling they’ve been there forever and it’s like I know them.
Tell us about the different video game worlds in the movie.
Rich Moore: I knew early on that I wanted to celebrate the different video game history. You can look at games from the beginning like PONG and put it next to HALO and see how far we’ve come. We chose different genres of games that would illustrate the history of games. I would think what games would be fun to juxtapose and play up the difference that each one has .
We wanted an old arcade game like an old 9-bit one. We wanted a modern one like a shooter game, and we wanted to do a car racing game, but a whimisical one. We wantedall the worlds to be unique and special.
With the Fix-it Felix Jr.world, it was all simple from the design, camera work and animation style. There’s no circles or anything round. It’s all based on squares It was tough. If there was a big challenge in this movie, it was convincing the artists that work on it that
I wanted the audience to feel like they’re seeing three different movies. It sounds good in theory, but when you’ve been trying to homogenize for a long time in your career, it’s not something you change overnight. As the director, I had to be the one that said let’s make it simpler.
When we get to Hero’s Duty, we wanted super realistic from the character design, the design of the world and the amount of detail to the camera work.
Sugar Rush is a very whimsical world. This one involves classic Disney animation. I don’t think the audience has seen a film quite this way before. Each world feels familiar and has a style to it. I think this is the first time under one room that these things have sat so closely next to one another. It was a ballet making it happen and I think everyone pulled it off tremendously.
Clark Spencer: The hard thing is we don’t actually know what the production process is going to be like. We say we’re going to spend the first few months doing Fix-It Felix, Junior world. Then the next few months is going to be Hero’s Duty. And the next few months is gonna be Sugar Rush.
As a result, it meant the animators might be animating staccato type animation for one or two weeks for the world of Fix-It Felix, Jr. Then two or three weeks late, they will be doing realistic animation for Hero’s Duty. Then three weeks later, they would be working on the world of Sugar Rush.
It really did require people’s brains in all departments like Effects, Lighting, camera work, Animation to be continually changing. It meant that Rich had to be always trying to stay on top of them to make sure they were pushing as far as we could to make it great.
Does the music reflect each world?
Rich Moore: Henry Jackman, who composed the music, did a great job of like capturing what makes those three different styles unique. It’s funny that his first job as a composer was when he was a teenager and someone paid him to score a Commodore 64 video game and write a little tune for it. Once I heard that, I said, “You are the man!”. His experience and knowledge spans from symphonic orchestration to classic storytelling with music in movies. The stars really lined up perfectly musically with Henry.
Clark Spencer: He even drove his own team crazy because he was like, “We need to go back and find synthesizers that came from the ‘80s.”
Rich Moore: If the synthesizers break down, it’s hard to find replacement parts. It was great to see a studio with all the different synthesizers. Then to marry it with a full orchestra. It has a very rich sound to it.
Clark Spencer: On the sound design, you need to figure out what the sounds for each of the characters is going to be. But now that they define it for the three different worlds? o even for the world of Fix-It Felix, Jr., they need to say what are the 8, 9 centers going to sound like? It’s not going to be natural footstep that they’re used to doing from a foley standpoint.
Rich Moore : It’s easy to say all this stuff in the beginning. It’s going be three different worlds and we add the music, the sound and everything,. Privately, I would have moments where it’s like, oh my goodness what have I done? Can this survive the physics of everything we’re heaping on it? Is the structure going to just collapse underneath it? But we made it. Clark created a really good foundation for us to have fun with. He was always there to make sure that everything moves efficiently and swiftly and set up a great system that could allow a movie like this to be made here.
How much input did you have in the creation of the Fix-It Felix game?
Rich Moore: We met with them quite a bit. It was important to me that it not just be something that was very different from the movie. I wanted it to feel like it was a mobile version of an old retro game.
They did a great job of capturing that kind of game play from the 80s and it’s in a cabinet. I think we’re going to have those at some theaters. At Disneyland I think they’re going to have those on display for people to play. The iPad version does a really good job of taking like something that would have been an old game but then making a mobile version of it.
Clark Spencer: It’s funny to watch the, the chatter online of people saying, “Well, I didn’t know that this was a real game.” And other people saying, “No, it wasn’t a real game, they’re making you think that it’s a real game.”
Rich Moore: There was another layer though, in making the movie that we had to figure out like what is the actual game plan for these games? What’s it look like? What is the object? We designed many games.
It’s like a crockpot. It’s definitely not like a microwave. These things don’t happen like that. We sip at these ideas and ruminate over a long period of time to make sure that we have the right one. We make and remake the movie. We do several screenings of the movie and we do like seven to eight internal versions of the movie that are just simple storyboard panels married with the soundtrack.
We watch that and learn from our mistakes. We’ll put it up every two and a half months. I’ll have my colleagues watch it. Then we’ll sit in a room and for about five seconds they’ll say, “Rich, that was great.” And then for the next two hours they’ll go, ”But here’s what I don’t like. Okay, that one part, you know….” And we’ll all kind of creatively tear into it. Clark and I will then take all the information we gathered and apply that to the next version of the screening that we put up.
We really hone these movies over and over to find the depth to them. I think it’s a process that exposes the heart of the movies.
They’re very crude looking versions of the movie. It looks like comic strip camels- just kind of pencil drawings. It’s not the real actors performing, and it’s just people from within the studio. It just gives us an idea of what the movie is and how we can make it better.
Clark Spencer: I think it’s one of the amazing parts of the process.You spend all this time getting it up, and you go into that screening. You think this is really good. Then you watch it for 90 minutes with an audience. Then you go up in the room and it’s a few minutes of, “That was really nice.” And then it’s immediately, everything is broken, let’s fix it again. You walk away and think that’s going to be better and if we do this and these things’ll start lining up. You get really excited about that version of the movie.
It’s a very positive collaborative process where people are coming in just to give objectivity to something that you’re way too close to. They share what parts are working and what’s not as well as what could be added onto and new ideas you might not even be thinking of. I think that’s where we get this amazing team of people that gets to come together and work.
Rich Moore: I think just as a creative person, it’s as close to a perfect process as you can get.
I can even feel just inside when we would get close to those screenings that I really need another set of eyes to look at this and hear externally what people are thinking. It’s a group of people that just want the movie to succeed and it’s all in the name of making the best film we can possibly make.
Does it ever make you feel edgy?
Rich Moore: No, not so much edgy because I understand where it’s coming from. A lot of these people I’ve known for a very long time. I respect their point of view. Sometimes you think, “What?” The good thing is that you take the good and push the bad off to the side to use maybe for another time since it doesn’t apply with what we are trying to do. Our skins are pretty thick now.
Did you pick the people working with you on the movie?
Clark Spencer: It’s usually other directorswithin our building here. Then we also go up to Pixar and we share our films back and forth. We meet with their directors and screen the film. You are listening to all these different voices. And as Rich said, it’s not about saying, well, we have to take it all and somehow figure out how it all fits in there. You just take the pieces that seem like they really fit your characters in the story you’re trying to tell. Usually you find there’s a common theme with a lot of people saying this about that character. So clearly if something’s not working, we really need to focus in that area like if a lot of people saying that this moment in the film doesn’t seem like it resonates as strongly as it can.
Rich Moore: It’s almost like the dashboard lights in your car that come on, that say, CHECK OIL. It doesn’t feel like someone is saying, “Oh, it’s bad, it’s — I’m critiquing this.” It’s more like, “I think you should look at this character.” It’s almost like an Idiot light where something is going off and I can either choose to ignore it and say no, I don’t need oil.
Did you have ideas for other video game worlds?
Clark Spencer: We had ideas for lots of other worlds. One in particular was a world called EXTREME EASY LIVING 2. It was going to come in in the third act of the movie after Ralph got the car. Instead of going home he was going to go this place that was part SIMS, part GRAND THEFT AUTO. It was very kind of amoral and lawless. He was really going to hit rock bottom at that place.
It was just too many worlds and too late in the story. It hung around for a long time until around the third screening. At that point we realized, it was too much. We decided that we’re going to have to let it go.
John Lasseter loved that world also so it was heartbreaking for me to tell him, “I think we’re going to have to lose EXTREME EASY LIVING 2.” It was like, “You know what, it’s fine.” We had tons of ideas in TOY STORY that came back as LOTSO and the Daycare Center in TOY STORY 3.
If this does well, like we think it may, you can always bring it back. We put it on the back shelf, and on the back burner. Then can explore it again later. That made me feel good that it’s not gone forever and it’s just kind of waiting. So, knock wood, we will all get to see EXTREME EASY LIVING 2.
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WRECK-IT RALPH smashes into theaters everywhere on November 2nd
*I received an all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles in order to participate in this event. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.*