It’s easy to get struck by a moment, especially when they’re as vibrant, deep and emotional as some of the defining moments in this year’s Oscar nominees for the animated feature.
Whether it’s battling super villains, traveling through time, searching through dangerous but brave new worlds or hopping through a multitude of dimensions, the filmmakers behind these five films brought all the techniques of the craft to key moments, delving as deftly and deeply into topics of family, friendship and conflict in ways unique to the medium.
After 14 years, Bird returned to his favorite franchise — “It’s like a personal film wrapped in commercial movie clothing,” he says — with the idea he had while promoting the 2004 original: Have Helen Parr’s Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) stretch her wings as a solo superhero while Bob, aka Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), stays home with the kids.
Bird says the action scenes were the most challenging, citing Helen’s pursuit on her Elasticycle of an out-of-control train sabotaged by the mysterious Screenslaver as it speeds from city to countryside to another city.
“You have to convey a lot of information in a short amount of time, and clarity wants more time and pace always wants less time,” Bird says. “Pace and clarity are constantly at war with each other, and you’re looking for the sweet spot where you honor both.”
On the flip side is a dramatic sequence in which Helen is imprisoned in a room cold enough to limit her stretching powers and learns her ally and friend Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener) is Screenslaver. With Helen’s fury physically contained, Evelyn comes into her own as someone Bird describes as demonstratively comfortable enough in her own skin to create an “off-the-shelf villain” to serve her purpose. That part was especially fun to write, he says.
“It was a smart person inventing a villain to serve a purpose and yet some of her own feelings are coming through.”
Meticulous is a word easily applied to all Wes Anderson’s films, but perhaps never more so than on the stop-motion epic “Isle of Dogs.”
The tale of a young boy seeking his beloved pet after all dogs are banished from Megasaki City following an outbreak of canine flu, “Isle of Dogs” begins and ends with scenes set in the Municipal Dome that took at least 83 weeks to complete. “It was the first thing we shot on the first day and was the last thing we shot,” says producer Jeremy Dawson.
The film climaxes on the dome’s “Citizen Kane”-inspired stage and required animating dozens of dog, human and robot puppets. Different scales were used for the key moment in which ailing canine leader Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston) is given a cure to the dog flu and the sickly looking puppet was swapped out with a healthy one mid-scene. “Sometimes we had to get closer and needed to use larger-scale puppets,” says Dawson. “So we had an even bigger version of the backdrop, but it was only a portion of the set.”
But the longest effort was devoted to the shot that introduces the set, for which Anderson wanted the camera to look up at the top of the dome, tilt down, move past two crowded balconies and finish on the stage. “We had to build the roof of the dome just for that one shot, and we had to shoot it upside down to be able to structurally accomplish this dome and be able to do the camera move we wanted,” Dawson says.
Mamoru Hosoda’s “Mirai” starts slowly, with 4-year-old Kun welcoming the birth of his sister, Mirai, and quickly growing jealous of the attention she receives. But Hosoda soon takes those seemingly mundane moments to build an emotionally compelling case for the importance of family connections.
No scene illustrates this better than when Mirai shows her big brother the truth behind a family myth about how their grandparents met and agreed to marry over the results of an unlikely foot race — a story Hosoda pulled from his own family history.
”My wife’s grandparents got married because of a race,” says Hosoda, via a translator. “This is something I heard at his funeral, but it was something about ‘he challenged his wife to a race and won, and that’s why they married.’ But I knew that the grandfather had a bad leg. So how did he win? It was such a mystery. No one knew the truth, especially because the people involved had passed away. So I filled in the gaps with my imagination.”
Hosoda’s own young children inspired him to tell the story from the unusual perspective of someone as young as Kun. “Adults live in a society that is restricted with common sense,” he says. “But children can accept and understand fantastical things through their imagination, and I think that is why they are able to travel through time and experience amazing things.”
Rich Moore thought there was no sequel to make to the 2012 Disney hit “Wreck-It Ralph,” feeling he’d buttoned up the story very tightly with Ralph (John C. Reilly) gaining confidence from his friendship with Vanellope von (Sarah Silverman).
“But we were looking at it again and saying … this is really dysfunctional that he’s still judging himself by what another person thinks,” says Moore. “This is a co-dependent relationship that he’s found himself in.”
Disney’s “Ralph Wrecks the Internet” throws the friends into the vast possibilities and temptations of the world wide web, eventually forcing Ralph to give Vanellope a final hug and let her pursue her dream – even if it’s without him.
“It’s not a goodbye like it was in the first film, where we know they’re going to hang out after-hours and see each other every day,” says co-director and co-writer Phil Johnston. “For all practical purposes, the friendship as they knew it is over and now it’s something different. I think for us, having the guts to really say we’re going to say goodbye, it was a hard choice.”
While it’s expected to see Marvel’s famous web-slinger swing through the urban canyons of New York City, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sets a key teaching moment between a universe-hopping Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) and neophyte hero Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in an early autumn forest.
Brought to life with painterly care, the scene, complete with snow on the ground and shades of orange in gray trees, sees the red-and-blue clad heroes connect with each other, and to Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld).
Rodney Rothman, who co-wrote the script with producer Phil Lord and directed with Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey, says leaving the focus on Miles kept the scene and the movie on track. “It really became about focusing on that spine and I think that’s what allowed us to keeps it from becoming overwhelming or too complicated visually.”
Animation eliminated what Persichetti calls the moment of break, which occurs when a character in an effects-heavy live-action movie transitions to full CG. “There’s something about getting immersed into a world that’s fully animated and you never have a moment of break, so all of that stuff feels as natural as it ever could be and it might be even strangely more believable than when you’re watching it with live-action characters,” he says.