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Immersed in Movies: Exclusive Early Peek at Blue Sky's Star-Studded 'Epic' -- 'Avatar' Meets 'Gladiator'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood March 22, 2013 at 4:03PM

Blue Sky founder and director Chris Wedge recently gave a sneak peek of his latest animated feature, "Epic" (May 24), at Fox (you can view the new trailer below). It's certainly no "FernGully," and it's a far cry from "Ice Age" and everything else Blue Sky has ever made. It's more like "Avatar" meets "Gladiator," if you had to pin it down.

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.

This article is related to: Immersed In Movies, Features, Animation, Epic, Christoph Waltz, Amanda Seyfried, Chris O'Dowd, Colin Farrell, Colin Farrell

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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.