Toon guru says oui to Paris

Cheney coming off of 'Despicable' success

Animation production designer and California native Yarrow Cheney didn’t expect to end up living in Paris, but that’s where he’s now happily ensconced, having just come off of “Despicable Me,” the high-performing Universal toon produced in France by Illumination Entertainment.

The film also re-affirms that animated features don’t have to be sequels or book-based to pull auds. Cheney joined the project after doing early concept work with co-directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. “I would ichat with them, and then they started talking about a more permanent job,” says Cheney. “And they said, ‘Oh, by the way, it’s going to be in Paris.’ I said, ‘No problem.'”

In the French capital Cheney worked with ideas originally created by art director Eric Guillon. “Eric was the key concept person on the film,” says Cheney. “He came up with character and location designs. My job was to apply those to the look of the film and make sure everything was consistent.”

Operating in somewhat of a vacuum and with limited English, Guillon expressed his ideas through humor. “There wasn’t really a narrative in the beginning,” he says, “so I decided to add comedy to the scenes I sketched out as a way to communicate. Yarrow would take those concepts, work them out graphically and translate them into stereo 3D.”

In toons, 3D adds work to what is already a complicated process. “On an animated film every detail and nuance has to be created from nothing,” says Cheney. “Stereo adds to the complexity but also gives you more tools to enhance the audience’s experience.”

He points to the scene where the ultimately lovable villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) flies his rocket over the city. “If it had been a traditional 2D shot most of the buildings could have been included in a painted matte element, but because stereo shots give your eyes depth information we had to build, texture and light every single building.”

Cheney got involved at the early stages of production, overseeing the team of artists who designed the sets, characters and props. He had less to do with the interim stages of modeling, rigging, layout and animation, but jumped back in when the finished animated sequences were lit based on the art department’s color and lighting keys. “That’s where I came back into the pipeline… seeing the shots with the directors and CG supervisor Bruno Chauffard and giving notes or approving the lit shots.”

Cheney has no plans to leave Paris anytime soon. He’s now working as production designer on Illumination’s next animated feature, “The Lorax,” based on the Dr. Seuss book, along with Guillon and much of the same crew that worked on “Despicable.” Pic is being directed by Renaud and co-helmed and written by “Despicable” scribes Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio. There’s also talk of a “Despicable” sequel.

Bookings & Signings

Composer Michael Giacchino (“Up”) has been tapped to compose the original score for Matt Reeves’ “Let Me In.” Dattner Dispoto has signed d.p. Declan Quinn (“Rachel Getting Married”).

Montana Artists has signed 1st AD Lynn D’ Angona (“Saving Grace”), vfx supervisor Bill Millar (“Castle”), 2nd unit d.p. Chris Patterson (“Inception”) and production designer Meghan Rogers (“Temple Grandin”).

Agency has booked 1st AD Nilo Otero on Joel Schumacher’s “Trespass”; line producer Tom Karnowski on RZA’s “The Man With the Iron Fists”; editors Malcolm Jamieson on an untitled Josh Marston film, Peter Ellis on ABC’s “Community” and Scott Balcerek on ABC’s “My Generation”; d.p.’s Andrew Rawson on ABC’s “Cougar Town,” Bob Aschmann on APTN’s “Cashing In,”Michael Weaver on NBC’s “Parenthood,” Mathias Herndl on “Endgame” for CanWest, Attila Szalay CBS’ “November Christmas,” Michael Mayers on NBC’s “Outlaw” and Dave Insley on CBS’ “Blue Bloods”; UPM’s Meredith Zamsky on NBC’s “Love Bites,” Rebecca Rivo on HBO’s “Cinema Verite” and Warren Carr on David Bowers’ “Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2”; production designer Brent Thomas on “Wimpy Kid 2”; producer Richard Heus on ABC’s “Body of Proof”; and costume designers Hala Bahmet on Famke Janssen’s “Bringing Up Baby” and Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko on HBO’s “Big Love.”

Innovative Artists editor bookings: Maysie Hoy on Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls,” Michael Ruscio on Showtime’s “Dexter,” Sue Blainey on ABC’s “Castle,” Matt Barber on NBC’s “Chuck,” Terilyn Shropshire on Salim Akil’s “Jumping the Broom,” Timothy Good on Fox’s “Fringe,” David Cook on CBS’ “The Good Wife,” Cara Silverman on Ken Kwapis’ “Everybody Loves Whales,” Charles Bornstein on Lifetime’s “Lies in Plain Sight,” Matt Ramsey on ABC’s “Private Practice” and Richard Halsey on Camilo Vila’s “The City of Gardens.”

Innovative Artists has booked line producers Butch Kaplan on Aaron Harvey’s “Catch 44” Kevin Reidy on Carl Franklin’s “Bless me, Ultima”; d.p.’s Stephen McNutt on CW’s “Hellcats, Sidney Sidell and David Geddes on Fox’s “Lie to Me,” Gordon Lonsdale on Fox’s “Bones,” Cort Fey on CBS’ “CSI,” Zoran Popovic on Chris Siverston’s “Brawler,” Eric Edwards on David Dobkins’ “The Change Up”; and production designers Richard Berg on Fox’s “Mixed Signals,” David Chapman on CBS’ “November Christmas,” Gregory Van Horn on ABC’s “Private Practice” and Michael Wylie on ABC’s “Mr. Sunshine.”


For more Bookings & Signings and to read previous columns, go to Variety.com/Caranicas

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