There are exceptions, of course. However it is unusual for a movie series – or franchise as the studios like to call them – make it past a trilogy, at least successfully. So it is with great surprise the latest animated Ice Age adventure is actually Part 5 and just as good, if not better than a few of the previous installments. Primarily, a mammoth, a sloth and a saber tooth tiger team up for a variety of adventures during the prehistoric era. Along the way a side-critter called Scrat has been the most recognized due to his physical comedy with an acorn. Three years in the making, I sat down with co-director Galen T. Chu to discuss anticipation before the first global screening, a set of new characters and how he feels about the resurgence of quality animation.
World premiere in Australia, how does that make you feel ahead of the screening?
Galen T. Chu: Wonderful, we have been working on it for three years now. It’s nice to be able to release it upon the world. The artists at Blue Sky have been fostering and nurturing, 550 artists, in fact, an incredible team effort for three years.
That’s about the average time span for an animated feature of this caliber, three years.
Yes, at least on this one we went from a first draft, which was from about three years ago.
How do you get so much mileage out of Scrat?
It’s incredible how much we do get out of him, and this time as you know having seen the film, there is a deep connection to the mythology of the first Ice Age film. He inadvertently launches the same space ship seen back then into the cosmos this time around. What’s nice is he is inside, around technology, totally different canvas for us to work with him on, usually he’s around nature or glaciers. It was actually quite easy to come up with fresh Scrat sequences as opposed to normally being quite difficult to do. It was fun coming up with various ways of torturing him before he grabs that acorn. The animators all love working on him.
When it comes to new characters, do you have the voice cast in mind before you start drawing?
Many times the characters have been designed first well in advance before the casting happens. But what does happen when the cast is voice recorded, we also record actions, movements or expressions. Then the animators can adjust specific actions to the characters to let’s say Jessie J might have or Jesse Tyler Ferguson, various ways they might shape their minds or whatever making it a little bit of a hybrid influence.
Nick Offerman brings a unique edge to his role especially his infectious laugh and cadence to the way he talks. The timing really drives his and all of our talent’s performances, it’s half the work done.
Do you have a personal favorite character?
Not just one. I love Scrat; he’s lovable and the reaction he gets from audiences in terms of his physical comedy is amazing. I was an animator at the forefront prior to being a director, so I worked a lot on Sid and with John Leguizamo, so I have a special connection with that character. He’s also lovable, and John is cool.
My third is Buck. I loved working with Buck and Simon Pegg as he is a brilliant actor, director and writer. It was so easy, he’s so talented, and everything flows. At the start of the film, he battled the dino-birds and did all that operatic singing, he did it himself. Even our composer couldn’t believe someone could sing Figaro so fast. Simon absolutely did floor everyone at the recording studio. You never know what to expect from Buck.
Whether it’s Illumination or Pixar or any other animated studio film coming out, are they competition or do you swap notes or use their films as inspiration?
We certainly don’t swap briefs but do admire each other’s work. Many artists work various studios for productions, and if we see something good here at Blue Sky, of course we’ll go “Wow, we better step up our game.”
What in particular do you want audiences of all ages to get out of Ice Age Collision Course?
We want to tell a heartfelt story always, we want the audience to have fun, laugh, smile but at the same time, there is a family message we always want to establish. In this case Manny is having a hard time letting go of his daughter Peaches as she is about to get married to Julian. Tugging at hearts and to feel emotional at the end is important.
It brought a tear to my eye and as you can see wearing glasses that means they fog up, so I can’t hide it and even worse when I have 3D glasses over the top of them.
(Laughs) So gratifying, Shane, that means a lot. This big screening will be the first time a large audience has seen it 100% complete. If you cried, that’s a good thing (laughs), so I am curious to see more reactions.
What led you to the world of animation? Were you an illustrator at a young age or just interested?
Always drawn to animation as a child, watching Ray Harryhausen films or Looney Tunes or Disney of course. It wasn’t until I took art classes in high school it became real to me and thought I can do this. Credit to my parents they didn’t shy away from encouraging me even if I had potential to become a starving artist on the streets. (laughs) Thankfully, animation is a good career path to have on a resurgence of sorts.
Whose idea was the Planet of the Apes reference?
You’re one of a few who noticed, well done, Shane. It’s on screen for a split second. It’s something I’ll credit the storyboard artist for that. At the end of Continental Drift, I think, was the Statue of Liberty thing, so we kind of reprised that as part of the meteor shower thing.
Is there another Ice Age in the works, any ideas, or maybe have you got plans to work on an original project?
You know when we did Ice Age 1 we never thought we would be here now doing a part five, so let’s see how the audience receives it, then we may start thinking up a new one. As for me, I will start to work on developmental projects and direct something other than Ice Age, maybe.