James Marsden talks about starring opposite the Easter Bunny
From the makers of the blockbuster Despicable Me comes a new comedy that blends state-of-the-art CG animation with live action: Hop. The follow up to Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment's worldwide hit tells the story of E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand of Despicable Me and Get Him to the Greek), the teenage son of the Easter Bunny.
Off the coast of South America, on the island of Rapa Nui fondly known as Easter Island, under the giant stone heads resides the most magnificent candy factory. Three hundred and sixty five days a year, the Easter Bunny reigns over a team of bunnies and chicks who prepare the candy-filled baskets that are delivered to children around the world on Easter morning.
On the eve of being ordained as his father's successor, E.B. takes off for Hollywood in pursuit of his dream of becoming a drummer. Once there, he encounters Fred (James Marsden of X-Men, Enchanted), recently fired and determined to pull his life together. After being lovingly kicked out of his parents' home, he accidentally runs into E.B. Feigning injury and shocking Fred with his ability to talk, E.B. manipulates Fred into providing him shelter.
Back on Easter Island, the Easter Bunny's second in command, an oversized chick named Carlos, seizes E.B.'s disappearance as an opportunity to plot a coup. Ultimately, Fred and E.B. are Easter's only hope and they find themselves returning to Easter Island, locked in an epic battle to save the beloved holiday.
The film is helmed by Tim Hill, director of the blockbuster Alvin and the Chipmunks, and produced by Chris Meledandri (Despicable Me, Ice Age, Robots, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!), founder of Illumination Entertainment, and Michele Imperato Stabile (Alvin and the Chipmunks). Hop is from a story by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (Despicable Me, Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!) and a screenplay by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch (upcoming Puss in Boots).
Hopping Into Action: Production Begins
Producer Chris Meledandri began building his family and animation film business, Illumination Entertainment, with Universal Pictures in 2007. At that time, his company was three years away from the stunning results that would come with its inaugural 3D CGI summer 2010 feature, Despicable Me. The animated comedy became an unequivocal, global blockbuster. With a worldwide gross of more than $540 million, Despicable Me grew to become second only to Toy Story 3 in U.S. domestic gross among animated films last year, and it became the sixth most successful film that Universal has ever distributed worldwide. It is now the 10th-biggest animated film in history.
Prior to founding Illumination, Meledandri spent 13 years at FOX where he oversaw the studio's animation division and the launch of blockbusters such as the Ice Age franchise. "We have this incredible opportunity, whether we're working exclusively in animation, or we're combining live action with animation, to write, design and animate rich, endearing and, hopefully, enduring characters," quotes Meledandri.
Meledandri commissioned Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (with whom he had worked on Horton Hears a Who! and Despicable Me) to develop the idea based on a concept by Illumination executive JOHN COHEN.
Together with Brian Lynch, Paul and Daurio created the fantastic story of E.B., the teenage son of the Easter Bunny who has no interest in his birthright. In the tiny region of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), E.B. has been raised with the expectation that he would one day inherit his dad's job. But all he wants to do is drum in a band and see the world that exists outside of his tiny island.
Halfway across the world, we meet Fred O'Hare, a 30-year-old who, though talented, has bounced from job to job--unable to find a career that is right for him. Meeting an unexpected houseguest in E.B. ironically proves to be the exact thing he needs to jumpstart his life.
Meledandri walks us through E.B.'s introduction: "On the eve of the power of Easter being passed to him by his father, E.B. is about 17 years old…in human years. He decides that it's not for him but when he tries to tell his dad, his dad won't listen. E.B. decides to split, leaving Easter in the lurch as he goes to Los Angeles where he pursues a career as a drummer. He ends up becoming the most unruly roommate of Fred. Ultimately, they're both characters who are struggling with the transition from adolescence into adulthood."
To give these characters a rich world in which to play, the writers created an innovative, imaginative back-story for the Easter Bunny and his kind, in which everything we've ever assumed about the spring holiday is explained. Notes Cohen: "The world of Easter has never before been brought to life on film. By answering questions like 'Where is all this candy made, who paints the eggs and how does the Easter Bunny travel from town to town?' our writers and design team created an entire world and new mythology located on Easter Island. It's a charming and fantastical factory run by bunnies and chicks where candy is manufactured and put into baskets, around the clock, in preparation for Easter."
When considering who would helm the follow-up project to his company's first film, Meledandri returned to a director whom he'd met during his time as president of 20th Century Fox Animation, Tim Hill. Meledandri liked the fact that Hill would be joining an expanded team whose approach to making live-action movies is so influenced by their experience in animation. He recounts: "We had a great experience with Tim, having developed Alvin and the Chipmunks with him and had been looking for an opportunity to work together again."
"Tim showed such amazing abilities as a comedy director on the first Alvin film," Imperato Stabile adds. "He is equally comfortable and skilled at directing human characters as he is at directing animal ones. His deep knowledge of the challenges and nuances--both technically and artistically--of blending live action with state-of-the-art CG animation has provided a daily education to those of us who are lucky enough to work with him."
Hill agreed to come onboard, primarily because Illumination shared his vision of not "simply making a kids' movie." He provides: "I never make movies for kids. I make them for me. To work, the sensibility and the tone have to be that of a comedy for any audience. On a comic level, the humor has to be more sophisticated than in most kid movies."
In addition to the humor he found in Paul, Daurio and Lynch's screenplay, Hill believed that audiences would appreciate that for the first time, filmmakers were creating a cinematic treatment of a huge holiday. He notes: "No one's really done a big film about the Easter Bunny. I think that audiences will respond to this character who is so beautifully animated. He's cute, and he's got a lot of character.
"I believe Hop will play any time of the year and for any audience," Hill continues. "We've created a piece of entertainment that's based around that time of year, and around a character that's associated with a myth…but it does play for all seasons. Hop is universal, because the story's universal."
Down the Rabbit Hole: The Look of Easter World
Hop takes place in two very different locations: Los Angeles, where Fred spends his time daydreaming, and the fantastical world of the Easter Island candy factory. To imagine Easter World, the filmmakers recruited a team that was supervised by production designer Richard Holland, with whom Hill had worked closely on Alvin and the Chipmunks.
This candy factory run by the Easter Bunny is a world unlike anything ever imagined. An enormous factory that cranks out gumballs of every color and where colorful cascades of jelly beans crash as waterfalls, the Easter Bunny's warehouse creates treats for every person's palette. You'll find chicks and bunnies working together to monitor the production of marshmallow candies and conducting quality control on the vats of glistening milk chocolate in this wonder world of Easter.
On the night before Easter, the Easter Bunny loads these decadent treats into a large egg-shaped sleigh that's drawn by a team of flying chicks. Santa's more widely known reindeer-led sleigh was actually inspired by the Easter chicks. Only the one anointed Easter Bunny can navigate the dark, swirling vortex of rabbit holes to travel across the world in 24 hours.
Meledandri explains the look of Easter World: "When you approach one of the monolithic Easter Island heads, the mouth opens and an elevator appears. It transports you underground to our magnificent candy factory. Our team has designed an imaginative environment that will delight audiences of all ages: a production facility filled with chocolate, bunny mold-making machines and lots of Easter baskets being filled. You'll find candy-funneling machines, candy chutes and rabbit-shaped 'oil' rigs that pump chocolate. It's all being done by these hilarious little yellow chicks and adorable bunnies."
Imperato Stabile shares how it's possible for this team to make this world look so incredibly detailed. "Tim and the animators have systematically and carefully created all the characters that live and work in this space…all digitally," she relays. "They've painstakingly ensured that the clothing and the fur look real…but they're a bit exaggerated. They made them just a little bit bigger than normal-sized rabbits and chicks so it's easier to see their expressions as they play off one another."
The Players of Hop
This handy guide will illuminate the rabbit, chick and human players who populate the Hop universe.Read more
Angelenos and Easter Islanders: Casting the Comedy
When casting the talent for Hop, the production team knew it needed to bring characters to life that had rich comedic personalities--whether they be animated or live-action ones. In the buddy comedy, the two pals happen to be a rabbit and a human being whose lives intersect at a moment when both are experiencing big changes. The entertainment of this film centers on the comedic interaction of these newfound friends. Read more
E.B. Joins Our World: Blending CGI With Live Action
Unlike wholly animated films, the construction of a CG/live-action comedy logically requires that the drawn creatures have many interactions with humans, as well as play in a world all their own. For Hop, those requirements meant executing the enormous challenges of constructing a true-to-life rabbit that would look as real interacting with friends and family on Easter Island as he would harassing the people of Fred's world. Read more
The signature characters of E.B., the Easter Bunny, Carlos and Phil were designed by Emmy Award-winning and Annie-nominated artist PETER DESÈVE, whose relationship with Meledandri extends back to their work together on the Ice Age films, for which DeSève designed the scene-stealing saber-toothed prehistoric squirrel known to tens of millions as Scrat. Read more
E.B. Interacts on Set
During production, Chris Bailey actually became E.B., serving as a double for the bunny when that was needed on set. Walking around with a 22-inch stuffed animal--the same height as the animated E.B.--as reference during rehearsals, he worked alongside the actors, Hill, cinematographer PETER LYONS COLLISTER and key crew to perfect the staging and pacing. Read more
Blocking and Animation
While animation has multiple pre-visualization steps, in a film that is a hybrid of animation and live action, post-visualization (also called "blocking") is much more common. Beginning with a plate that has an actor interacting with "Beanbag E.B.," R&H would take E.B. in the scene (e.g., one in which he is resting in Sam's hands) and roughly block the different phases that E.B. would go through in the sequence.Read more
When it came time to lighting the scenes with E.B. on set, a curious chrome ball was used. Explains senior animation supervisor ANDY ARNETT of its use: "This was for lighting reference, so when the lighters were ready to put the CG lights into our scenes to light E.B. and make it look like he was part of the set that was being filmed, they looked at the reflections that showed up in the photographs of that chrome sphere. Read more
Rocking Out on Hop: Music of the Film
The production team, under the direction of composer CHRISTOPHER LENNERTZ and music supervisor JULIANNE JORDAN, set out to create a musical experience for Hop that was young and fun and encompassed the energy and excitement of the comedy. Read more
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
TIM HILL (Directed by) began his career in New York City, where he wrote and performed in live comedy sketches and musical comedy.
As 3D productions are on the way to becoming the norm, CINCO PAUL (Screenplay by/Story by) is right on trend with two high-profile 3D animated films on his résumé. Along with Ken Daurio, he wrote the surprise blockbuster Despicable Me, which has made more than $540 million worldwide, and is currently writing the highly anticipated Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, an adaptation of the iconic environment-themed children's book, which is scheduled for release in March 2012.
Paul and his writing partner, Ken Daurio, are the hot Hollywood screenwriting team who also penned the Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! screenplay for executive Chris Meledandri during his tenure at 20th Century Fox. When Horton led to a box-office gross of nearly $300 million worldwide gross, Meledandri formed the film production company Illumination Entertainment, which specializes in animation. Illumination's first three movies given the green light were all written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio: Despicable Me, Hop and Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.
Paul and Daurio are known throughout the entertainment industry for their unique pitching style, often singing their pitches to high-level studio executives. For the Disney film College Road Trip, they belted out the '80s tune "Double Dutch Bus" complete with harmony and melody. An estimated 90 percent of their pitches in the last nine years have involved musical performances.
Paul met Daurio while working on a church musical and they bonded immediately. In 1999, they sold their first screenplay, Special; later, they turned it into a short film that went on to play in the festival circuit due to its dark comedic story line. Next came the 2001 cult classic Bubble Boy, which starred Jake Gyllenhaal as Jimmy Livingston (a boy without an immune system), a twisted take on the John Travolta television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Paul also recently turned Bubble Boy into a full-length musical, for which he wrote the music and lyrics. His other film credits include Disney's megahit The Santa Clause 2.
Paul studied at Yale University, where he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English. Upon moving to Los Angeles, he received his MFA in screenwriting from the University of Southern California, winning a fellowship grant to pay for his second year.
As 3D productions are on the way to becoming the norm, KEN DAURIO (Screenplay by/Story by) is right on trend with two high-profile 3D animated films on his résumé. He is set to co-direct Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, an adaptation of the iconic author's environment-themed children's book that is scheduled for release in March 2012.
Daurio and his writing partner, Cinco Paul, are the hot Hollywood screenwriting team who penned Despicable Me for Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures and Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! for executive Chris Meledandri during his tenure at 20th Century Fox. After Paul and Daurio's work on Horton led to a box-office gross of nearly $300 million worldwide, the duo found themselves in demand in the animation world. Daurio and Paul further forged their strategic relationship with Meledandri when Meledandri formed the film production company Illumination Entertainment, which specializes in animation. It's no coincidence that Illumination's first three movies that were given the green light were all written by Daurio and Paul (Despicable Me, Hop and Dr. Seuss' The Lorax), something unheard of in the history of animation.
Daurio and Paul are known throughout the entertainment industry for their unique pitching style, often singing their pitches to high-level studio executives. For the Disney film College Road Trip, they belted out the '80s tune "Double Dutch Bus," complete with harmony and melody. An estimated 90 percent of their pitches in the last nine years have involved musical performances.
Daurio met Paul while working on a church musical and they bonded immediately. In 1999, they sold their first screenplay, Special, which they later turned into a short film that played the festival circuit due to the dark comedic story line. Next came the 2001 cult classic Bubble Boy, which starred Jake Gyllenhaal as Jimmy Livingston (a boy without an immune system), a twisted take on the John Travolta television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Paul and Daurio also had the distinct honor of being handpicked by Audrey Geisel (the widow of Theodor Seuss Geisel) to pen Horton Hears a Who! and The Lorax film projects on behalf of the estate of Dr. Seuss.
Upon graduating from high school, Daurio began directing music videos for up-and-coming bands like Blink 182, AFI and Jimmy Eat World. More than 100 music videos later, he teamed up with Cinco Paul to write his first feature script. Daurio and Paul are now one of Hollywood's most sought-after screenwriting teams.
BRIAN LYNCH (Screenplay by) started his career writing and directing the independent sketch comedy Big Helium Dog, for View Askew Productions. Soon after, he sold a Muppet script to Jim Henson Productions.
Lynch has numerous movies in development including Puss in Boots, at DreamWorks Animation, and Nightcrawlers, at Warner Bros. He has also written the film adaptation of the video game The Sims, which is produced by Davis Entertainment. Lynch is also the creator of the hit animated Web series Angry Naked Pat and has been on The New York Times best-sellers list for numerous graphic novels.
THE ART OF ANIMATION
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