'Rise of the Guardians'
'Rise of the Guardians'

But Del Toro felt even more connected to "Guardians" than "Puss in Boots" or "Kung Fu Panda 2." When consulting on the story and character design, he couldn't step back and be objective. The mythological force and visual beauty were that strong (each character hails from a distinct and dazzling world). Not surprisingly, Del Toro identified more closely with burly large-scale Santa (or North, as he's called in the movie): the tough Cossack soldier who nonetheless is full of wonder.

Del Toro added that he views his DreamWorks tenure as an apprenticeship and that he fully intends to direct "Trollhunters" when he's ready. "I'm learning so much about animation that it's helped me enormously with the [giant robots] in 'Pacific Rim," he told me.

Speaking of animation, DreamWorks has significantly raised its game, particularly with particle simulation. As you can see in the clip below, both Sandman and the villainous Pitch (Jude Law) weave powerful character shapes for opposing purposes, and the studio's effects team came up with a great technique for conveying a rich look that's also emotionally resonant.

More on "Guardians" closer to release. 

"Making Dreamsand" featurette is below.