Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival 2012

In the 20 months since Guillermo del Toro announced his partnership with DreamWorks Animation, he has consulted on four DWA releases. Despite having his name attached to half a dozen potential toons, the live-action auteur remains somewhat coy about when his animated directorial debut will occur. Here, he gives Variety an update on his many toon projects:

Rise of the Guardians

Del Toro will executive produce the holiday-themed adventure, on which he helped to redesign some of the characters and suggest dialogue and ideas for the screenplay.

As he did with “Megamind,” “Kung Fu Panda 2″ and “Puss in Boots,” del Toro says his job is to check in on the film’s progress and support the director’s original vision — “to engage with them and help them believe in the stuff they wanted at the beginning of the movie.”

Trollhunters

Likely to be del Toro’s directorial debut at DreamWorks.

“I was very, very cautious not to jump right into directing until my apprenticeship was at a point that I knew how every part of the process is articulated and what I want to do different,” says del Toro, who has already prepared the “Trollhunters” novel, co-authored with Daniel Kraus, to be published next year. (Yes, the busy director also makes time to write fiction, though unlike his novel “The Strain,” which he penned with Chuck Hogan, this one was adapted from an existing screenplay.)

Del Toro submitted his latest draft in May and plans to co-direct the film with Rodrigo Blaas, a former Pixar animator who defected to DreamWorks Animation to develop his short “Alma” as a feature.

Alma

The plan is for Blaas to direct the full-length version of his own short, with an outline already in place by Cornelia Funke.

“I am just executive producing it,” del Toro says, “but I am helping with the shaping of the story and the design work. We are now in visual development, so that one is a little ahead of ‘Trollhunters’ because I went and shot ‘Pacific Rim.’ ” According to del Toro, his experience at DreamWorks raises his live-action game as well: “You become like the Flash. You’re able to see the building of a frame day-by-day, which gives you time to think about every shot. I noticed this when I was shooting ‘Pacific Rim,’ how much more nimble my head was, and I really think it comes from being there.”

Pinocchio

Though not scheduled to begin until summer 2013, this stop-motion twist on the familiar legend could leap ahead of del Toro’s DWA projects to become his toon debut. The director will co-helm with Mark Gustafson (“The Fantastic Mr. Fox”), with the production based at the Jim Henson Co.

“Ultimately, every project that I’ve been involved with has gone through Jeffrey (Katzenberg), and Jeffrey has an unofficial first look,” says del Toro, who describes the DWA topper as “somebody who, if you work hard, he works harder. I am a workaholic. I am a 24/7 kind of guy, but Jeffrey is like a 25/8.”

Day of the Dead

Another non-DreamWorks project, the Reel FX-produced CG toon has been described as a Romeo and Juliet-style romance set during Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos. Though “El Tigre” co-creator Jorge R. Gutierrez was previously pegged to direct, del Toro (who is producing) says an announcement is forthcoming.

The Witches

“I think it’s the best screenplay I’ve ever written in any form,” says del Toro of the stop-motion film, based on a book by Roald Dahl, which is stuck at Warners. “I adore that project, and it met with the approval of Dahl’s widow, who loved it and felt it was completely respectful of the book, but it’s not moving at all.

“In the last three years, I’ve given up trying to guess what my next project is. Things have taken such sharp turns. None of these were just announcements in the trades. They have hundreds and hundreds of storyboards, key concept art, fully developed screenplays, but obviously the step from that to a movie depends on how easy it is for the financial people to see it. Even in animation, I try to make movies that try things slightly different. I keep them well-tended, but it’s anyone’s guess.”

Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival 2012
Crossing over into toon town | Del Toro bullish on several projects
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