Wedge started designing "Epic" in 2005 and '06 (he prefers the lower case spelling to evoke a sense of irony) before going on hiatus until 2009. It was a case of reverse engineering. "What are their personalities and what are their issues? This is backwards. The characters and nuances are the last things that come and then we have to do all the work to make it all communicate properly."

Wedge makes no apologies: it's not intended to be cute. And while "Epic" is shot and paced more like live-action than animation, the performances are also more nuanced than the broad animation they're used to at Blue Sky. As far as convincing humans, it's a breakthrough for them. The attention to subtle emotion is evident even in the few scenes that I saw.

But when it came to casting his villain, there was obviously no compromising or casting against type with Waltz. We only caught a glimpse of him in a couple of scenes, but he's very droll. Yet imagine how daunting it was for Wedge to be in a recording booth with Waltz, who earned his second best supporting Oscar last month for "Django Unchained."

"Christoph is one of these actors that inhabits, so he's not just going to read the lines over and over," Wedge suggests. "He's doing the scene and he's doing the scene with you. And so I'm reading my lines, and I look up and there's Christoph burning a hole in my head with his eyes."

While "Epic" easily could have been a hybrid, Wedge says it wouldn't have been as magical. "In my head, I just pictured people in those samurai costumes riding through the woods, but the style of the humans and the style of the world are pulled from the same fabric this way. And it's easy to immerse yourself in it because the whole thing has a degree of artifice behind it."

Thank goodness there's still a stylistic divide between live-action and animation.