Rich Moore graduated from Cal Arts: the same school that produced Tim Burton, Jon Lasseter and Brad Bird. It took him to television, where he thrived directing episodes of The Simpsons, Futurama, Drawn Together, and the “Spy vs. Spy” clips on MAD TV. He won two Emmy awards with The Simpsons, and helmed some of the series’ seiminal epiosdes, including “Flaming Moe’s,” “Marge vs. The Monorail” and the original Treehouse of Horror. He makes his first foray into feature-length animation this month with Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph. He spoke to the press about his various projects at a recent junket for the film.
Question: Is this the first time you’ve actually paired the actors? Because that’s very unusual in doing animation.
Rich Moore: I think it may be the first time at Disney Animation. The usual process for features is to record the actors separately, individually on different days. But we felt that, with John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, the audience will want to hear their chemistry. So it’d be kind of silly not to put them together to play off of one another. TV’s a little different and The Simpsons does have the actors all together when they’re doing takes.The Simpsons is a kind of a different beast. But in feature animation, usually they’re separate.
Q: Speaking of that background, how did a guy from The Simpsons, and Futurama wind up at Disney? I mean, had they seen your stuff?
RM: Shhhh! They don’t know! [Laughter] It kind of goes back to my background at Cal Arts, the college that I went to. And there’s a big family from Cal Arts: people that graduated from that character animation department. And our sensibility and our roots go back pretty deep to that place. I went to school with Andrew Stanton, who directed Finding Nemo and WALL-E, and several of the people that founded Pixar. When we all graduated, our paths kind of split. Some of us went into television; some of us went into films. My path took me to The Simpsons right after graduating. Andrew and I always kept a strong relationship; we’re very good friends. And I became friends with John Lasseter, through that friendship with Andrew. And there was always an invitation. “Hey, come on up. We’re doing something great up here. Come up to Pixar. Come work up here.” And it always seemed like that there was always something keeping me back – that there was another show starting, or, “We’re gonna do another season of The Simpsons.” But you know, it’s kind of like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. “Someday. Someday I’ll take that big trip.” So circumstances never lined up where it was convenient to go work up at Pixar. Then when Disney and Pixar merged, Andrew called me up and said, “Look, we’re working with Disney now. You wouldn’t even have to move up north. You could work in Burbank. Why don’t you jump on in. It’s just like school, the way our process is. It’s like Cal Arts.” And I said, “You know what? Why am I not letting this happen?” It’s fun to work with friends, and it’s been great to kind of get back together with friends from college, and meet new people at the studio right now. That was four years ago, when I started.
Don’t get me wrong – The Simpsons and Futurama, those shows were fantastic, and the people were fantastic. But I have to say that working at Disney right now, and where the studio is, it feels like a new studio because it has new energy in it, and a lot of great projects in the pipeline. And these four years have really, creatively, been probably the most fulfilling of my career.
PRESS: How much did you have to school yourself in retro arcade gaming? Did you have to learn how to animate 8-bit?
RICH MOORE: Fortunately, I did a lot of research as a teenager. [Lauighter.] So I brought that research with me. My parents would have called that wasting time back then, but it turned out to be research. And it’s funny how you just never know, like something that people could say to you as a young person, “You know, this is a waste of time,” could turn out to be a boon for something down the line. And it was fun to go back and look at those old games, to study them. Not just to play them but to study them and really, critically look at them and say, “What makes these unique? Why do I like these? What is fun about these?” It’s been an interesting experience, to revisit those things from childhood.
Q: And I’m assuming you had to get clearance from all those, all those characters.
RM: No, we’re expecting tons of lawsuits. [Smiles.] Yeah, we got the rights.
QS: Would anybody not clear you? Did anyone not want to be part of that?
RM: No, just about everyone we went to said yes. And we didn’t send out lawyers to say, “We want to use Pac-Man.” It was a much different meeting: getting together with the people face to face, introducing myself, and telling them about the movie. And in the case of, say, Pac-Man, who’s a seminal game character, we would be in the wrong not to have him in this movie. I would go about pitching the story boards to those folks at NAMCO, saying, “This is how we would like to use Pac-Man.” And nine times out of ten, they would say, “Yes, great.” Even better, a lot of them would provide invaluable suggestions to the design. If we got a detail wrong or missed some aspect of it, they would say, “No, Bowser’s shell needs to be bigger” or “Chun-Li’s dress isn’t the right shade of blue.” That was invaluable to us, because we wanted to get all those details right, and they, of course, wanted to see their characters done as accurately as possible. It was a great collaboration.
The only thing we had trouble with was getting a character to be homeless in the Game Central Station. People weren’t so keen on it, because they thought it would imply that their characters weren’t popular. Q*Bert was our last shot. Gottlieb was, like, the last house on the street, and if they didn’t go for it, we were going to have to rethink that whole concept. Luckily for us, they were down with it… and Q*Bert has a big part in the movie.
Q: It seemed there was one big omission in the games. I didn’t see any TRON references.
RICH MOORE: We looked for a way to use TRON, but we didn’t want to just do cheap walk-ons, you know? We wanted all of cameos to kind of mean something, or be appropriate to the scenes. It was difficult to have to cut some characters like TRON, but it was probably best for the movie. Mario was another one. He’s probably the most important character in video game history, but we just couldn’t fit him in in a way that felt natural or that worked for the story. (We do make a reference to him, though.) If the audience responds and we’re lucky enough to be talking about a sequel, though, then we’ll definitely revisit them.