The Disney Studios opened their doors to the press this past Tuesday for an early look at their upcoming animated feature Wreck-It Ralph. The tour included a look at some completed scenes, storyboards and interviews with the filmmakers about the upcoming project.
“Video-game movies, by and large, have struggled to succeed,” said Supervising Animator Zach Parrish. “We’re not making a video-game movie. We’re making a movie set in a video-game world.”
The titular character has spent thirty years as the villain in an 80s-era arcade game. Tired of his lot in an 8-pixel life, he sets out across the other games in the arcade – each containing its own universe and rules – to find his destiny. Director Rich Moore nurtured the idea while working for many years on The Simpsons and Futurama. “I’ve always loved video games and I wondered what would happen if one of those old pixelated characters got tired of doing the same thing over and over again."
"Having a cast of such comic talents was a dream," he added, referring to a group that includes Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch and John C. Reilly in the lead. "We actually brought them all in together to record, rather than one by one which you usually do in this sort of shoot. It gave them a chance to improv and take the material in some unexpected directions."
It took a great deal of visual development to reach that stage as well. Disney unveiled a series of images detailing the evolution of both Ralph and Vanellope. The former appeared as a troll and a white ape before finally becoming a Lil Abner-esque hillbilly, while the latter felt much more urchin-like as she evolved into her final, more polished image.
The various video game worlds received similar attention. In addition to Ralph’s boxy home world (based on the limited imagery of gaming’s early days) the games included Sugar Rush (a Candyland-type world patterned loosely after Mario Cart) and Hero's Duty (a hardcore fps resembling Halo and its ilk). Each game demanded its own distinct visual look and a stable of art department developers to make happen.
“It’s like making three movies instead of one," Parrish said. "And it's even more than that because while you can't have any overlap, you still need figures like Ralph to work visually in all of them. It was an enormous undertaking."
As indicated in the previews, the film also includes cameos from real-life video game characters, including M. Bison from Street Fighter and the Pac-Man gang. Securing the rights was "remarkably easy," according to Parrish. "Once the companies saw what we were doing, they were onboard all the way. Most of them had notes about how to present their characters, which actually helped us do what we wanted to do. Those characters had to feel real and right, or else the whole thing wouldn't work."
The inclusion of so many gaming figures also helped blur the line between fiction and reality: the crew filled the screen with dozens of original "video game" characters created specifically for the movie. As Moore explains, "The idea behind those figures is that they don't come from any real video game, but that they tickle just enough memory cells so that you think they might. We want the audience to look at them and say, 'I *think* I played that game once,' even though they haven't. I think we had about two real-game characters for every ten onscreen. If it works the way we want it to, it will all look seamless and audiences will embrace Ralph's world completely."
Wreck-It Ralph opens November 2 in theaters across the country.