Chris Miller and Phil Lord juggle several projects; they say “no” to many others. While editing “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, they became producers of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (Sony Pictures Animation / Netflix). What made novice filmmakers Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe’s animated family comedy different – beyond the proximity to their editing bays?
“We say no to a lot of things,” Miller said in our video interview (above). “But when we come across something special and can contribute creatively to it, it turns us on. It felt like we were back when we were doing “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”, making our first movie. When we saw what Mike was working on, we could tell he was a special talent, someone who knows how to make things fun, which is difficult, and he also understood how to tell an emotional story, which is. rare.
After three years, they delivered a film that won accolades and is currently the frontrunner for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature – which Lord and Miller won in 2019 for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” “. They are now wrapping up the first part of the sequel, “Across the Spider-Verse,” for release this fall.
“Nothing we’ve ever done seems like a good idea right now,” Lord said. Now, he said, he understood that what you learn to break the rules on one animated film leads to being able to break more on the next.
Rianda relied on her producers to develop the animation tools necessary to achieve her goal of a hand-made, scruffy-looking film about imperfect humans – based on her own dysfunctional family from Salinas, Calif. The film adopts the student film and garage band aesthetic of its 17-year-old narrator, aspiring filmmaker Katie Mitchell (“Broad City” star Abbi Jacobson) who is traveling across the country to college. with his brother (Rianda), his mother (Maya Rudolph) and his father carrying a number 4 Robertson screwdriver (Danny McBride).
Rianda and the producers went through each scene under a microscope, trying out hundreds of ideas. “It was a process of evolution,” he said. “As some things died, others grew, and we would find things were getting closer to what we were shooting for. “
Miller said Rianda’s lofty ambition to avoid a hyperrealistic look changed the way animation was done. “It doesn’t need to have realistic students, the houses don’t have to look like exhibition halls, but cluttered and inhabited,” he said. “They could feel home-made and love the watercolor illustrations.”
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Production designer Lindsey Olivares came up with a “wobbly handmade analog look,” Miller said, “it’s really hard to teach a computer how to do it.”
“Lindsey’s artwork emphasizes your imperfections, things about yourself that you want to cover up, like bigger ears,” Lord said. “She celebrated the individuality of the characters instead of trying to shave these things off. We have a movie where that choice was made over and over again, taking the little things that make people wonderful.
Lord said he viewed the computer in the same way as a pencil or a paintbrush. “The three of us are dedicated to making films,” he said. “Animation is an experimental medium of jumping. Each animated film is an experimental film. It’s supposed to reveal and showcase our humanity.
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The animators focused on the improvisation of their actors. Olivia Colman voiced PAL, the shelved computer villain who launches a robo-apocalypse that only analog Mitchells can subvert; every morning Rianda gave her new lines to see what she would do with them. “Every line she hit out of the park,” he said.
In a universe where filmmakers debate how many drops of sweat to use on someone’s forehead, “when an actor stumbles upon a real unboxed moment, it’s a magical thing you have to preserve,” a Miller said.
The Mitchell analog family live in a world “where nothing is perfect,” Lord said. “In the PAL universe, everything is symmetrical and it feels like it’s shot by David Fincher.”
Lord and Miller said “Mitchells” fed into their work on “Across the Spider-Verse”. “It was fun to have the confidence,” Lord said, “to go even harder and push the medium even further and take Miles. [Morales] in places you couldn’t imagine.