With the smash hit “Guardians of the Galaxy,” James Gunn directed perhaps the most visually arresting movie of the year. In addition to “Guardians’” outer-space setting and ambitious action sequences, he managed to make audiences believe in both a talking raccoon and lovable tree creature.

But “Guardians” isn’t merely eye candy — at the heart of the film is a story about a group of misfits working together, with a smart screenplay by Gunn and Nicole Perlman.

And Gunn says story always comes first.

SEE ALSO: Box Office: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Hits $600 Million Worldwide

“You need to make sure that technology is there to enhance the story and excitement,” he says. “And if technology does that, it’s great. If it overshadows it, it’s not so great.”

This mandate applied to bringing Rocket, the gun-toting raccoon, and Groot, the childlike tree creature, to life. “I have a very strange attachment to Rocket and Groot. I love them as if they were my children. And I created them in that respect, to really be fully characters who have many dimensions,” he says. “And all the technology, the rotoscoping and digital technology, are there to service the characters.”

Gunn, who began his career in the low-budget world of Troma Films before directing indie genre pics such as “Slither” and “Super,” found himself working in the Marvel universe with his biggest budget yet — something he says was completely liberating.

“That said, there are still budgetary restraints,” Gunn adds. “If I made the movie without restraints, it would have cost $400 million. I picture in my head what that film is, I create it in my mind, and it’s unrestrained.

“And then I try to match what it on screen to what’s in my head. With ‘Guardians,’ I had my full imagination at play for the first time ever.”

Gunn is a keynote speaker at Variety‘s Entertainment & Technology Summit, Oct. 20 at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey.

What: Variety Entertainment & Technology Summit
When: 9 a.m.- 4 p.m., Oct. 20
Where: The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey
Web: www.variety.com/entandtech