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'Hotel Transylvania' Director Genndy Tartakovsky On Making The Hit Movie, His Take On The 'Dark Crystal' Sequel & More

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist October 3, 2012 at 2:22PM

Over the weekend, the animated monster mash "Hotel Transylvania" scared away September box office records and established its director, Genndy Tartakovsky, previously known for his work on the small screen with series like "Dexter's Laboratory" and the highly influential "Samurai Jack," as a major force in feature animation. We talked to the director about how he was able to crack the notoriously difficult story, what happened with projects that involved everyone from J.J. Abrams to Jim Henson's company to George Lucas, and what his approach to a 3D feature animation-based "Popeye" will be.
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Hotel Transylvania

Tartakovsky faced a number of hurdles with "Hotel Transylvania." For one, he had been working in traditional 2D animation and was switching over to 3D computer animation, which requires an entirely different set of skills. Tartakovsky had to transfer, in his mind, the 3D image "because everything looked so beautiful, I didn't know if it was right," into a 2D composition, at which point he was able to spot the strengths and weaknesses of any given frame. Later he would get better at the process and simply be able to address issues as they came out. But another hurdle was found in the transfer to 3D, a medium Tartakovsky still isn't completely sold on. "We were definitely making two movies at the same time. It's hard for me. I have a very strong opinion about 3D where it sometimes takes you out of the story," Tartakovsky said. "You don't care about what's happening because Dracula is standing right in front of you."

While "Hotel Transylvania" might be the director's first feature film, he has come close with some pretty huge collaborators. Tartakovsky directed a series of micro-shorts (between two and five-minutes each) that linked "Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones" with "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith." The shorts were quite amazing -- a sentiment "Star Wars" mastermind George Lucas agreed with. As Tartakovsky explains, "After we did the 2D ones, I was actually going to be hired to be their quote unquote John Lasseter of LucasFilm Animation," Tartakovsky said. "I was going to do a feature and then I was going to supervise the 'Clone Wars' series, and I was really excited. We got as close as my wife started looking at houses in San Francisco. And then I had a lunch with George and he said he really didn't want to do features. At the time I really wanted to do features because I wanted to break free from TV, I was just kind of burned out. And I realized that the next 20 years of my career could be just 'Star Wars.' So I pulled out of the deal." 

Dark Crystal

Another project that came tantalizingly close to production was a sequel to Jim Henson's influential fantasy project "The Dark Crystal," to which Tartakovsky had a brilliant-sounding approach. "So basically for 'Dark Crystal,' my whole take was it was going to be a [Hayao] Miyazaki puppet movie. It was going to have that feel to it. It was going to be in the spirit of 'The Dark Crystal' but pushing it further and being more modern. We did visual designs, we did a script, we started testing things, and then we were always a couple of dollars short, and it just kind of fell apart," he shared.

At one point he was associated with a live-action version of his "Samurai Jack" television series, to be supervised by J.J. Abrams. When Abrams left to shoot the first "Star Trek," things went quiet. They seem to have remained that way. "No, that's off the table now," Tartakovsky said curtly.

What is coming up is a whole slew of projects for Sony Pictures Animation, the studio that made "Hotel Transylvania" and was even happier about the weekend numbers than he was. While he says he's not that company's John Lasseter equivalent ("I think I'm just a director"), he admits that he will be working on two parallel projects – the company's big screen revamp of "Popeye" and a project of his own design. "For me the only reason I agreed to do 'Popeye' was that we're going to do an animated physical comedy," Tartakovsky said, openly. "In 'Hotel Transylvania' we started to really scratch the surface a little bit but we had a lot of dialogue and a lot of jokes based on dialogue. With 'Popeye,' I really want it to be, like 80%, all physical humor. And they agreed to that. It's the perfect vehicle for 'Popeye.' I'm going to push, whatever I did in 'Hotel Transylvania,' ten fold for 'Popeye.'"

And of his original project, he said: "At the same time as we're doing 'Popeye,' I'm developing an original idea at the same time. So who knows? Maybe if we're having story problems with 'Popeye,' and maybe my movie is going smoothly, maybe my movie will go first." When we asked him what the new project was about, Tartakovsky said, "It's too early. You don't want to know." But with anything the filmmaker is attached to, we do want to know, and we'll be eagerly awaiting more details.

"Hotel Transylvania" is in theaters now.

This article is related to: Genndy Tartakovsky, Hotel Transylvania, Interviews, Popeye


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