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Interview with the Princess and the Frog Animators

Interview with the Princess and the Frog Animators

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Walt Disney Animation Studio’s upcoming animated musical, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, celebrates the art form that launched the Walt Disney Studios with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Along with this came the participation of some of classic animation’s ‘super stars.’ We were lucky enough to nab a few of these artists and sit down to discuss exactly what it means to be a supervising animator on the latest Disney musical fairy tale, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. With us were: Andreas Deja (supervising animator, Mama Odie), Randy Haycock (supervising animator, Prince Naveen, human and frog) and Mike Surrey (supervising animator, Ray, the Cajun firefly).

Q: So, Randy, what did you prefer, animating the frog version or the human version of Prince Naveen?
RH: The human was probably more challenging. I enjoyed the challenge of making this handsome, gregarious prince, and giving him a real personality. But, I did enjoy the frog quite a bit. I thought he was a lot of fun. I had a good time with that.

Q: here is a new, gorgeous, animated fairy tale film in the tradition of classic Disney storytelling. Do you feel the burden of responsibility?
RH: There was some sense on this film, but, we all believe in animation as an entertainment art form. And we felt like we had something to prove to those people who don’t believe in it. We’re not talking about the public. We’re talking about those people in the industry that maybe didn’t give it a fair shake in the past. We knew that we were going to make a great movie. And we knew that we could make a beautiful movie. And we all felt like we really had something to prove with that. So, I think it gave us a sense of purpose that was maybe even stronger than we normally have on a movie. And we were very, very determined and excited to do a great film.

Q: Are there still naysayers?
RH: Not as many. When people see the movie, they love it. Once they started testing the film with audiences, suddenly, they were saying exactly what we’ve been saying. It’s all about the story and characters, and giving audiences real entertainment.

Q: On what grounds were the naysayers saying “No”?
RH: Well, because our films weren’t making as much money for the theaters. It was mostly commercial.
AD: You look at the Pixar box office or DreamWorks or the others, and they were gigantic. So, from a business point of view, it seems logical to think, “Ah, the audience doesn’t like those films anymore.” But we all knew that that wasn’t the case. That it was about stories.
RH: We understood that we weren’t really making films like the great ones in the past. We didn’t necessarily have control over the material all the time as much as we would have liked.
AD: In other words, it wasn’t our film.
RH: The difference in this film, is that I think everybody was in agreement—that this is exactly the kind of film that Disney should be doing. It’s something that Disney always did best. Nobody else was able to do these kinds of stories the way Disney did. And, so, we needed to show everyone—the public and the industry—that we could still make the kind of movies that people grew up loving. Those characters became endearing and immortal for them. I think that’s definitely the purpose behind these films.
MS: For the audience members, when they see these films, they just feel really attached, and with a good, warm, loving feeling towards the kind of films we’re trying to make.

Q: What is it like for you guys when you watch one of your movies with an audience?
AD: It’s the best part. That’s the best, to see it with an audience. When we had our cast and crew screening, it went really well, we all enjoyed it—but we look at the stuff once it’s all finalized and think, “We can’t change a thing anymore. Maybe that should be a little slower. And maybe, we should have done that another way.” We’re very critical towards what we do and what we see. But once you see it with an audience, you tune in to what they’re thinking—whether they are laughing, or crying, or reacting with the characters. It’s just great. That’s the big payoff. All the hard work, really.
RH: At the [Disney convention] D23, they showed the first 30 minutes of the film to the audience there. They are huge Disney fans that come to this. But I was sitting in the audience when they showed it. It’s a singular experience to sit there, while I had the whole audience laughing at the scenes that I animated. And I’m crying, because I’m so touched that they love it so much. That’s why we do it. We don’t do it because we love our own drawings so much. We do it because we want to move an audience. And when we see the audience affected by our artwork, then that’s the real reward. That’s the final payoff for what we do. That’s really the reason.
AD: And also, when your peers or people you have admired in the past, like the film. “I like your work.” In this D23 screening, they had some Disney VIPs. The voice of Sleeping Beauty is still alive, Mary Costa. She’s 80-years-old, and a beautiful lady still. So she saw the first 30 minutes. So, you kind of wonder, “Oh, my God, she was Sleeping Beauty. What does she think?” And she adored our film. She is from the South, and she identified with Charlotte right away. She said, “That was me when I was young.” And I said, “You were man crazy?” [LAUGH] But, it’s fun to get that kind of feedback from people whom you really admire.
MS: We do get to do test screenings while we are working on the movie. They’ll show the movie, maybe once every three months, to people who work in the building. Now, the first few times you see the movie, people laugh at jokes and cry at the right moments. And then, the next screenings, people aren’t laughing as much, because they have seen the jokes numerous times. I just remember, we were about three-quarters of the way through animating the film. We were tired, and we had to go to another screening of it. So I’m sitting there, and the same jokes were coming up but, but everybody was laughing or getting really quiet. And I heard people sniffling. And I’m thinking, “Haven’t these people all seen this movie multiple times?” But it turned out that it was an audience of Disney employees from outside of Animation, who had not seen the film at all. And they were seeing it for the first time. When you get to see that reaction, you kind of forget that you are used to seeing the joke. Okay, here’s the funny part. There’s a joke. Okay go. All right. But then, when people are reacting and laughing and clapping—it gets you going again.
AD: You’re seeing a fresh perspective.
MS: Yes, it helps you to get to the finish line a little bit. It is a little jolt of energy.
RH: It helped us appreciate the film on a deeper level. We understood that we had made something, to see the audience reacting so positively to the film.
AD: I haven’t been in one test screening where people around me didn’t cry.

Q: Oh, really?
AD: All the time. Even in a really early screening of story sketches, Lisa Keen, a background painter, was just bawling and bawling. But people reacted that way early on.

Q: Do you see any of yourselves in the characters you animate?
RH: That’s a good question.
AD: I see other people. But when we’re creating our characters, other people tell us, “Oh, I see your way of gesturing in your character.” I don’t think we see it ourselves.

Q: How do you determine which character you will animate? I mean, is it by personality? Or more like a skill or technique that you’re particularly good at?
MS: Actually, it’s a lot like casting a live-action film. We’ve all worked with [directors] Ron Clements and John Musker on numerous films. So, they know our work. They know what our strengths are. And they have an idea right from the beginning whom they would like to animate which character. But they do leave it up to us a little bit. We all got to read the script early on, and then, when we spoke with them, they would ask us, “Which character stood out for you? What did you find interesting? What would you like to do?” But they really look at our particular talents. Take, for example, Nik Ranieri, who did Charlotte. We wanted Charlotte to be very funny. And they knew Nik is really good with funny characters. So, they definitely wanted Nik to do Charlotte, because they thought that he could do something special with her. Nik, on the other hand, was saying, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t do humans.” He did Meeko in Pocahontas, and I don’t think he’s ever created a female. Unless you count Ursula [from The Little Mermaid].
RH: He was scared.
AD: No, he was panicking. He would talk to everybody in the hallway, “I don’t know. I haven’t done this.” And, “She has to be so beautiful!” I said, “Nik, you’ll do fine. You can always ask Mark [Henn, supervisor for Princess Tiana] for help.” [LAUGHS] And he did well.
RH: I think we perform better when we’re a little worried. We can’t rest on our laurels. And I think that was what we felt making this movie—we all knew we had to make something really great. And maybe Nik being a little worried about it made his work that much better. Because she’s a delightful character. She’s hilarious. That is the genius of Ron and John—their ability to recognize what animators will bring. They have a clear vision of what they want from the character, and they’re able to match the character with the animator, and say, “He’s the right one to do this character justice.” Casting Charlotte to Nik was really the right thing. When you watch the film, you can’t imagine anybody else doing the character.
MS: Ron and John know that this is only going to help the character, because they know that Nik is not going to let Charlotte go by without her being right.

Q: You aren’t known as special “go to” guys for particular types of characters—like Mark Henn is “the Princess guy”?
MS: Well, I’ve done my share of—
AD: June bugs, ladybugs…[LAUGHS]MS: I was going to say sidekicks—Timon in The Lion King. Terk, Tarzan. So, I’ve done the funny characters before. The last time I worked with Ron and John was Aladdin. So, I went to them to said, “I’d love to work on this movie.” And then, a week later, they said, “Well, we’d like you to do this character, Ray. Go to the [early story reel] screenings. Tell us if you think it’s something that you would want to do.” And as soon as Ray came onscreen, I thought, “Oh my God. Of course, I’d like to do the character.” Then, it just becomes a challenge of doing something you’ve never done before. But that’s what keeps it exciting and fun.
AD: We’ve been giving Mike a hard time throughout the movie, because we spend all this time, creating these old ladies and beautiful girls. And then Mike comes in—works a little—and done. Footage done for the week.
RH: We all, I think, have certain challenges. Andreas had never done an old Bayou lady before.
AS: Not that I remember…
MS: Neither have I.
RH: Neither have I. And, Mike, you’ve never done a bug before. And I’ve never done a frog before. And even Mark Henn, who did Princess Tiana, had to animate her as a frog as well. So there is always something we’re trying to learn and figure out. I think anyone who’s in a creative field—actually, I think most everybody—I think they’re interested in doing better than they have before. This is the best character I’ve ever gotten to do. So while I’m doing it, I’m thinking, “I really want to shine on this. I really want to be a better artist, a better entertainer. What can I do to make this character the best it can be?”

Q: What other projects did you do before this and how did that help you with THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG?
RH: I worked on Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons in between. I really had to rethink why I was doing what I do. But what I realized is that animation is more than just drawing. Animation is about creating a performance. Creating a character. Bringing a character to life. Your ultimate goal is to bring a character to life, and to entertain an audience.

Q: Are you afraid to work in a film that deals with things like black magic?
RH: Nah, not for me.
AD: There’s always been magic…I mean, Snow White and the witch, way back in 1937. It goes all the way back to that. That was really scary magic. Scarier than ours.
MS: It is. It’s just that, for us and our film, it’s a fantasy element. It’s the magic element. We don’t treat it like a religion, or anything like that. It’s the rules of magic of our fairytale world. So, there’s good and there’s bad magic—in any fairy tale, there are evil characters that are magical. And there are good characters that are magical. But setting it in New Orleans, it is a part of that city’s culture. So it helped us to make it specific to our world of New Orleans.
AD: And we balance it with good magic, which is where my character, Mama Odie, comes in. And before this, I didn’t know about good magic. I always thought it was things like sticking a doll with needles, and then terrible things happen. But there is good magic as well, and that’s what I did.

Q: And a nice snake for once. Is it a reference to Shere Kahn from “The Jungle Book”?
AD: It’s so funny when people tell me this. “This snake reminds me of Shere Kahn!” I wish I had a sheet of paper to show you. Kahn looks completely different from my snake, Juju. I mean, not even close. But, because it’s a snake, you think of Kahn because he is so famous, you know? But I gave Juju these big eyes, bigger than Kahn, along with very small snouts. So, when you put them next to each other, they’re very, very different. But I accept the comparison. It’s a Disney snake. [LAUGHS]

Q: It was meant as a compliment.
AD: Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s one of those sensitive areas for me, but it was fun. I hadn’t ever done a snake. And, I remember, the first scene I did was the first scene with Juju. Mama Odie is in her boat, and she screams, “Juju!” And then, the snake kind of pops out of the sky and rubs up to her cheek. Their connection was really important to me. We have a few scenes where they connect and touch, and we see that they like each other. Maybe they’re like The Odd Couple, or mismatched roommates, but they also like each other.

Q: A bit like [directors] Ron Clements and John Musker when they’re working together?
AD: Yeah, it is. [LAUGHS] Mama Odie and Juju are based on Ron and John.
RH: Now, which is Ron and which is John?
AD: Well, Juju is Ron. If given a choice.

Q: Andreas and Mike, what did you do prior to PRINCESS?
AD: I did a job for Disney Tunes Studio, they were called at the time. It was a sequel to Bambi. So, I went down to Sydney, Australia, and helped them out for six months. I was able to find odd jobs. But then that ran out, and I was going to leave the company. And then, we had the management change. I mean, the timing was really close. Perfect, yet. I was packing.
MS: I left and worked at DreamWorks—I animated, just as an animator. I didn’t want to supervise. I worked there for about a year-and-a-half. Then, I had the opportunity to come back and work here in story on Rapunzel, for about two years. It was great. I thought it was nice to come back into the studio again—and times had changed. John Lasseter and Pixar, and everything was coming together then. And Ron and John were back. The energy here started to feel more positive. The challenge of animating after not animating for five years…then, having John Musker tell you that the scene you’re going to do as a test scene will be going into the movie!—that was a bit jarring. The scene where Ray says, “Let me shine a little light on the situation”—that was the first scene I had done in five years.
RH: It all comes back, doesn’t it? It all really comes back.
MS: Yeah. It was more enjoyable, I think.
AD: Now you treasure it more.
MS: Yeah. I did with every scene.
RH: Well, we certainly appreciate it more.

Q: It’s a beautiful film.
RH: Thank you very much. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
MS: Yeah, thank you.
RH: We had a great time working on it.
MS: It’s great for us…I mean, we see the funniest things. What [art director] Ian Gooding did with color, just unbelievable. We’re working in pencil lines and then, to see your character realized in color, oh, my God. He did an amazing job.
RH: Every step of the way, it just got better and better—from script, to story, to animation, to color, to music and voice and sound effects… Every step of the way, the film just got better and better. That’s such a rewarding thing. When we got to see the film finally finished for the first time, people said, “Oh, you’ve probably seen this film a million times, right?” “No, I’ve only seen it once, finished!” But it’s like seeing it for the first time, really, when everything comes together. Watching everything working for the first time—that was really a great experience.

Q: Congratulations on the movie. It’s absolutely fantastic . It must be really exciting to get to be working on Disney’s triumphant return to fairy tale form.
MARK HENN: Oh, absolutely and thank you for the compliment. It’s been a great journey.
ERIC GOLDBERG: You know, thank goodness for John Lassiter wanting to do it full tilt. It really is this company’s history, its legacy, There’s nothing going like it everywhere else.
BRUCE SMITH: Yeah, and we had a great team in place, right from the top with the directors, Ron and John; they really had a handle on the story and the characters and knew the story that they wanted to tell. And we just had a great team of animators. So from top to bottom it was really sort of an all-star team to really pull this together.

Q: How long have you guys been with Disney?
MARK HENN: Well, I guess I’m probably the elder here in one sense. I’ve been here almost thirty years, it will be thirty years this coming year. So, twenty nine and counting.
ERIC GOLDBERG: I was here for two stints. I’ve been back for three years. I was gone for a little bit, and I was here prior to that for about eleven years.
BRUCE SMITH: Yeah, and I’ve been here for about three stints, so overall it’s probably been just inside about nine years.

Q: How much has Disney changed between the old times and now? How do you feel about it now?

MARK HENN: Depends on how far back into the old times you want to go. Well, a lot has changed and not a lot has changed. I think this film kind of represents those things. Iin my mind one of the biggest changes is the fact that when John and Ed took over leadership of the studio, for the first time in a long time, we had a creative executive who is running the animation department, which is great because he talks our same language. He grew up in this business like we did and so he knows artists. And we understand him, so we have I think a much greater appreciation from that side of things because of John’s position and his background. And I think that’s probably one of the biggest changes.
ERIC GOLDBERG: Yeah, to be able to talk artist to artist is a huge, huge difference. We all have the same reference points, we all love the same kinds of Disney films, and the same kinds of things we like to see in animation. And so, you’re not talking to somebody not quite getting the process or not appreciating all the great Disney stuff that’s come before. I won’t say that that’s happened in previous regimes, but this one’s an improvement.
MARK HENN: Definitely.

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Q: I think it’s pretty surprising that you’ve got this southern accent. How did you get it, I mean, apart from your characters? All of you somehow have different accents.
ERIC GOLDBERG: I think it’s down to the cast that John and Ron chose, but also our awareness of the place and time in which the story was set. It’s in the South, it’s in New Orleans, and you have to have representative voices that actually sound like that. So I think really when you make one of these films, everything contributes to creating this role, this sense of time and place that you’re going to get lost in for the next ninety minutes. And, voice casting and likewise layout and production design and the color scheme and the way that the characters move—it all contributes to that place and time.
BRUCE SMITH: Just so you know, Eric is Louis, Mark is Tiana, and I’m Dr. Facilier. Just so you can understand each animator has his own assignment. And I think as animators, we fashion ourselves as actors with pencils. So we research our roles entirely, and that’s where you bring out the best in us. We try to put all of what we know, in terms of research and everything, right down to the accents.

Q: Mark, you’re a princess expert, it’s not your first princess?
MARK HENN : It’s not my first princess, no. I admit it, yes.

Q: How is Tiana a new Disney princess? How does she relate to what has come in the past?
MARK HENN: Well, I think she is following kind of a new trend in our princess, starting going back to say Ariel, where their roles in the story structure and the plot is a lot more proactive. You know, she kind of makes decisions and she really propels the story along much more so than I think some of the princesses from the past generation have. So I think she’s carrying that on in that sense. But, she has to stand all alone and be her own unique individual character so and hopefully, you think of them. I was at the screening last night and they had nine in one building, nine of the princesses were all there on these little stages. And it’s just amazing that they’re all nine individual characters and personalities. And but I think his notion that they’re more involved in the story is kind of a new thing that we started back in “Little Mermaid,” and I think subsequently they’ve had that kind of role.
ERIC GOLDBERG: I would also say for Tiana, that she’s a realist compared to the other princesses, as well. She has to work hard to achieve what she wants. And she understands, exactly what’s going on around her, which is very, very different from princesses past.
MARK HENN: She lives in a seemingly fully real world. People can maybe identify with being so focused on a dream or a goal that they, as I mentioned in other times, she pushes aside the rest of her life. And I think that’s the journey that she has to learn. That’s the moral, if you will, of what she has to learn on the journey.

Q: What exactly do you look for to create these characters? And their performances?
MARK HENN : Well, as Bruce alluded to, we think of ourselves as actors. But we draw. But we have other tools at our disposal. For Bruce’s character, the human characters particularly tend to be a little more difficult. So we’ve, you know, we had a lipstick cam in voice recording sessions, we videotape her, so I can see her performance and see some of her mannerisms, and we’ve had discussions. I mean, the other thing that we did, which is a very old process going way back to “Snow White,” is the idea of shooting live-action reference for the animators to look at. So you bring in an actress who will act out certain scenes and depending on the production, they can be fairly elaborately staged or just simply shot, literally. We would go over on an empty warehouse and just put up a camera and with very scant props act out a scene. And particularly with the dancing and the choreography, that was a big help, because I don’t dance that well and so it just helps. So I would look at the reference material and would start making notes and jots. I didn’t trace anything, it is just something as artists have done for centuries. It’s like having a model and creating from a model. And that’s one tool that we use. And the other things come from us, come from our own ideas and talking with the director and how these characters’ roles fit in the story.
BRUCE SMITH: Right, you where your character’s starting and where he needs to end up by the end of the movie. So in essence, it’s method acting in that way. And, you know, not to diss Eric, because he’s fantastic animato, but he brought his alligator into the studio one day and that didn’t turn out so well. [LAUGHTER] But still, he really has to study the essence of what a gator is, but truly exaggerate that form for the sake of the performance. And you have to know that that’s a gator, that’s an alligator, but you also realize that what Eric brings to the character is everything that you can think of, even in the Genie in “Aladdin.” There are no real genies to reference, but out of the imagination of this man comes a fantastic and brilliant performance. So all the way around, that’s how we work. We start with where we feel the bones of the character are, and you have to know where you are at any certain point in the film, because we don’t receive our footage in consecutive order. You know, we’re not starting from the start of the film, we’re not ending with the end of the film. We start comfortably in the middle someplace, so you have to know where your character is at whatever point in the movie and somehow, you have to make sure that your performance has that arc through the whole performance.
ERIC GOLDBERG: To Bruce’s point, we all have to start by knowing who our characters are. What their personalities are. And that evolves over time as the film is being made. But if you have a sense of what your character’s role is in the story and what your character’s personality is supposed to convey, then you can start thinking about, well, how do I convey that through the acting and the drawings? You know, it can’t come just by putting a bunch of drawings down randomly and saying, okay, I think there’s a character in here somewhere. For example, with Louis, Ron and John always wanted him to be a coward. They always wanted him to be a coward and then have his expansive side when he played his jazz. So it’s the kind of thing where I could play that as a contrast. With Dr. Facilier, they always wanted him to be oily and unctuous and very, very clever.
BRUCE SMITH: And it was not a stretch. I’m oily [LAUGHTER] and that’s how I come in and leave every day. So I had the easiest job, actually.

Q: Tiana is your first African-Amerian princess. How was working on that?
MARK HENN: I didn’t approach her any differently than I would have approached any of the other characters that I’ve done. It was certainly an honor to literally have a hand in creating her in that sense, and it is a big moment. But I really just said, who is this character? And really that was what’s most important. She had to be a very believable character, whether she was a white girl or otherwise, you know.

Q: Did you see her from the beginning being African-American?
MARK HENN : Yes, that was always the case. So I never gave it a second thought. It was like, who is this character? What is her role, what is arc to the film?

Q: She’s much more down to earth compared to others.
MARK HENN: Yes, it’s like Eric was saying, yeah, her life’s been tough, so she’s got her feel well planted on the ground, to a fault, like I say. Her life had gotten very narrow and focused on this dream, to a fault. So that’s what she had to learn. She forgot what her dad always told her to remember, which is about love and having that balance in your life.

Q: When and by whom was it decided to make Tiana an African-American princess?
MARK HENN: Well, when they pitched the story to John Lassiter, it was the perfect storm of ideas, timing and everything just working together.
BRUCE SMITH: Yeah, I think the way it worked is, first, is the idea of telling the princess and the frog, and then comes the setting. So great, let’s set this in New Orleans. And then with the setting comes the notion that this would be great to tell this story from this perspective, because in that time, during 1920’s, this culture was alive and breathing and really setting the foundation for what New Orleans was about at the time. And we hadn’t really told a story from the perspective of an African-American girl. So it all fits along the way. It’s our first contemporary fairy tale, it’s our first American fairy tale. So there’s plenty of firsts in here, and we thought about reintroducing this fantastic medium to our audience as well.

Q: Could you share your favorite moment in the film?
BRUCE SMITH: The moment would be Facilier’s song. It’s a great song because for me, when characters sing in the movies, sometimes the story stops, because this person is simply singing about it. But if you pay close attention to the lyrics, he’s really pushing the story along. That moment sets everything in motion. The prince is here off the boat and he’s looking for the green. And my character introduces him to the green, which he thinks is money at first, and then, he gives him the real green. And so then he passes that on unfortunately to Tiana. So in essence my character tells the story, sets the pace in a very entertaining way. And it was the first sequence that I got out the box, which was very odd, because I couldn’t warm up to the character. I couldn’t say, couldn’t you give me a couple of evil laughs that I can just warm up to the drama. No, you dance this guy and I’m like, what? So—Yeah, I just had to dive right in to the deep water right away without fins and a swimsuit even, so- in some cases, so, that was good.
MARK HENN: Tiana appears in the movie in so many different forms. I mean, she’s a little girl, she’s an adult human, and then she’s a frog, so I guess I’d have to say my favorite young Tiana moment is at the beginning, when she’s wishing on the star and she sees the little frog. That little sequence was one of my favorites.
BRUCE SMITH: That’s an iconic sequence, I think.
MARK HENN: And then the ‘sister sequence,’ when she’s in her blue dress and- and she’s reprising that whole notion of, oh, well, what else have I got to lose? I’ll try, because it seemed to work for Charlotte. But I love the frogs, I loved when she and Naveen were in their verbal banter back and forth, and he’s sticking it to her and she’s giving it right back to him and I think there were some great sequences there—that nice play back and forth. And those were some of my favorites.
ERIC GOLDBERG: I think for me, probably, at least concerning Louis, a lot of my favorite sequences are the introductions of characters. And I think when you introduced a character, if it’s not far enough, then people aren’t with it. So I’m really fond of Louis’ introduction and the bait and switch that they pull on you. You think he’s another gator that is going to attack them, but he turns out to be a jazz nut. And a rather large, little kid one at that. And then leading into the song. I had a ball animating him dancing, playing the trumpet, all that kind of stuff. So the introduction through the song is probably my favorite.

Q: Did you take anything from Pixar, or learn from them?
ERIC GOLDBERG: There aren’t any overt lessons from Pixar, let’s put it this way, because frankly, we all have the same reference points. You talk to the Pixar guys, and they say, oh, well, we look at the old Disney classics. [LAUGHTER] So what we were doing was the same thing that they are doing in- in their way. Now, granted, Pixar doesn’t make musicals, or hasn’t yet. But it’s a kind of thing where the points of reference are almost identical. I think where Pixar was very useful is frequently their story trust would take a look at our reels, and give us good notes, give us really good criticism in terms of where the story might need to be strengthened, where something might need to be dropped. And we do that internally amongst ourselves as well. So, I mean, all of us are our own worst critics. [LAUGHTER] And that’s what makes the movies as strong as they are, I hope.
MARK HENN: Right, but the other thing, too, the common denominator between us and Pixar of course is John Lassiter. And John is that glue that is making both those places work now, because he grew up here. He started in this studio and so he’s learned the same lessons that we all learned growing up. And he took those to Pixar, so it’s almost come back full circle now. But I think that’s one of the key things that’s unspoken. But the story trust, again, like Eric said, is one of those key things where they’ve taken everything they learned from how he did it at Disney, and then have added to that, and now John’s brought that back here and that just makes us better animators and makes us make better movies and stories.

Q: What were the biggest challenges? Working on this film, what was the biggest challenge for you?
MARK HENN: Well, frankly, for me, you guys may have it different, but just getting it done. [LAUGHTER] The studio was very gracious and said, great, let’s make this movie. But, here’s a budget, here’s a time frame—and we had to work hard. I don’t think I’ve worked as hard on any other film.
BRUCE SMITH: Yeah, I think a year ago around this time, we had no color scenes done.
MARK HENN: And we were probably less than fifty percent animated—
BRUCE SMITH: Less than fifty percent animated, that’s not how we normally are. That’s not on schedule.
MARK HENN: But everybody loved the movie and we had that ‘we want to show them what we can do!’ attitude.
BRUCE SMITH: We got growth spurts somewhere between last December and today.
ERIC GOLDBERG: I think it’s called fear. [LAUGHTER]

The Princess and the Frog is Available on Blu-ray & DVD March 16th!

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