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Interview: ‘Croods’ Directors Kirk DeMicco & Chris Sanders Talk The Differences Between DreamWorks And Pixar, Working With Roger Deakins & More

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist March 25, 2013 at 11:59AM

This weekend, DreamWorks Animation’s new feature “The Croods” was unleashed in theaters nationwide. A zippy, prehistoric-set riff on the family-road-trip comedy, it features a clan of cavemen (and, it should be noted, cavewomen) who are forced to evolve after cataclysmic events threaten their way of life. It’s easily one of the most visually inventive and genuinely heartfelt movies to come out of DreamWorks Animation, and we were lucky enough to speak to Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders, co-directors of “The Croods,” about the development of the movie, the differences between DreamWorks Animation and Pixar, who their favorite cinematic cavemen are, how Guillermo del Toro and Roger Deakins helped, and why they utilized Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” in the score.
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The Croods
Guillermo del Toro is a creative consultant at DreamWorks Animation and obviously the master of monsters. Did he have any input into their design?

Chris: We never really talked to him about the creatures.We saw him very rarely, actually. We saw Roger Deakins quite a bit, and he was very involved in the day-to-day staging and lighting and stuff. But Guillermo we would see him at company updates and things and chat with him about how things were going. But we didn’t see him in production meetings.

I didn’t know Roger was involved with “The Croods.” I know that, Chris, you used him as a visual consultant on “How to Train Your Dragon.” What did he do here?

Chris: He was in the same role as he was in “How to Train Your Dragon.” We ran our layouts and camera movements past him when we had enough put together where he could get a sense of the flow of the action. He advised us on our lights and our color. He’s really fantastic when it comes to taking elements away, simplifying things, and thus making them stronger. If you over-light a scene it makes things less powerful because they look more toy-like and flat.

One of the things Roger was really amazing about was, on “How to Train Your Dragon,” he got everybody comfortable with the idea of areas of pitch darkness on screen, where you could see no detail to the backgrounds. A lot of the things in “The Croods” takes place at night or in a very dark cave and I think sometimes people are uncomfortable with spaces with no detail on screen. But with him you’ve got to be very comfortable with that, because that’s something he does a lot.

The Croods
I wanted to ask you about the music because the opening sequence has an orchestral version of the Fleetwood Mac song “Tusk.” Where did that come from?

Chris: Jeffrey had pulled that in.

Kirk: Yeah, early on we had said something like a marching band type of thing and it always stuck and we were always talking about “Tusk.” And we were talking with Alan [Silvestri, who Sanders worked with on “Lilo & Stitch”] and he was involved from the very beginning. And from the very beginning we had that opening hunt and we wanted it to be a kind of stand alone setpiece and Alan said, “What about the USC Marching Band [who famously contributed to the Fleetwood Mac song]?” We wanted it to feel almost like a football game and he came up with that idea. So we did it with the USC Marching Band and then, when we were scoring it at Abbey Road, they did some more tracks and layers.

What were your touchstones, when it came to caveman material? Obviously the long shadow of “The Flintstones” is felt.

Kirk: I love that. The long shadow of “The Flintstones” is felt...

Chris: The long shadow of “The Flintstones!” That’s actually a really good question. I think we took a lot of inspiration, at least initially, from the old Warner Bros. cartoons, where we have that nice, fast-paced opening that lets you understand things more. We wanted to introduce the Croods in action because with cavemen, you don’t want them talking, you want them out there running around. Our cavemen can run sixty miles an hour, they can throw rocks for miles, they can climb really well, so physically they’re very gifted but mentally they’re the cavemen you want them to be. They have these beginners’ minds where everything they see is going to be very challenging for them and hard for them to accept.

I would dare say that these guys are pretty original. Because on the spectrum of movie cavemen, with “Quest for Fire” on one end, with guys who speak a language that no one can understand and on the other end of the spectrum in the 2D, fully English-speaking side, is “The Flintstones.” And they have cars and jobs and phonographs and lawnmowers. And we’re somewhere in between those two but we’re a little closer to “The Flintstones” just because of the language. We certainly discussed what level of vocabulary they would have. We did discuss the idea of them not speaking English at all or even a made-up language that we would be able to understand but would be, sort of like “Clockwork Orange’s” future-speak, this would be past-speak. 

The Croods

We discarded all of those because of the story we were trying to tell. The story we were trying to tell is a pretty big story and it’s a pretty bold one. We’re talking about the very meaning of existence in this film and all of the Croods are struggling with one of the biggest questions of all, which is – why are we here? There’s no bigger question, I think, that you could really pose, to any character in any movie, really. So issues that large, they’re going to have to talk about it. That said, we were very careful to keep our ears open to certain words that would tend to shatter the world. And there were some.

Kirk: Like ‘vocabulary!’

What are you guys working on now?

Chris: That is an excellent question...

Kirk: Because we’re not really sure. We’ve been working the past few stuff talking about the movies. We’ve been working together for 5 years, so there are folders on our computer that we’re looking to dig into and pull some stuff out. But we haven’t had that conversation yet. I think we need a little vacation. Chris looks very tired.

Chris are you helping Dean at all on the “How to Train Your Dragon” sequel?

Chris: Yeah I’ve been looking in on that. I haven’t been able to contribute any storyboards yet. There was a thought that I could but not yet. I really had to finish this up first. This was monumental in scale so now that I’m done with that, there is a definite possibility I’ll do a little bit more on that one.

“The Croods” is in theaters now.

This article is related to: The Croods, Chris Sanders, Kirk de Micco, Interviews, DreamWorks Animation, Guillermo del Toro, Roger Deakins


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