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Immersed in Movies: Back to Basics with 'Hotel Transylvania'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood September 20, 2012 at 11:53AM

It turns out that Genndy Tartakovsky's hand-drawn vision for "Hotel Transylvania" was just what this troubled movie needed. The monster mash about letting go of your children and learning to live with humans (echoing Pixar's "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo") might be light on story, but...

Hotel Transylvania sketch

"Sometimes it was all about taking a character from one place to another," Kramer adds. "Other times it was more in your face. Genndy wasn't afraid to stretch characters. He doesn't have much experience with CG animation. To Genndy, it was a matter of hitting the feeling he wanted. He did draw-overs and it was freeing for the animators. And it's changed my viewpoint in being a little looser."

However, it put a lot of pressure on the cloth team when Drac's cape would suddenly flap around uncontrollably or even disappear. As a result they had to sculpt every single simulation to make it work with the hand-drawn animation style.

But Tartakovsky also wanted strong silhouettes and to suppress detail outside the line of action. For example, there's a long shot of Drac amid a big field of silhouettes in front and behind him, and he's the only one lit and in color. It's very impactful but also non-photorealistic and very cartoony. This wasn't easy: it required a silhouette tool that strengthened the geometry by drawing a wire over the character.

Ironically, when Tartakovsky first showed a test from a Cartoon Network series proposal to demonstrate his hand-drawn aesthetic, the animators were thrilled at the results but never thought they'd be pushed that far. "It was really pushed like 'Dexter,'" recalls animation lead Bill Haller. "But toward the end of 'Hotel T', we looked back on that and realized we'd actually surpassed some of things he was doing in that test."

Now that Sony's gotten a taste of Tartakovsky's method, they are preparing to systematize some of the techniques for "Popeye" and a more personal project also in development. It's all about energy and caricature.

"Probably the biggest challenge [of 'Popeye'] is keeping the essence but making it contemporary," Tartakovsky says. "That's one thing I haven’t figured out 100%. I feel like I've got a handle on what I want it to look like, so if you could imagine that rubber hosey animation with real clothes on him, it could be its own kind of style. So for me, I want to respect the past but still put it into now. I'm not saying like sunglasses on baseball caps but making it feel contemporary and keeping the essence that I liked as a kid. It's that same kind of pressure when I worked on 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars'; now it's our chance to do it without ruining it."

Now if Sony will only let Tartakovsky make his 2D "Samurai Jack" movie.

This article is related to: Immersed In Movies, Animation, Sony, 3-D, Features

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.