Dreamworks Animation’s The Croods Movie A Long Time In The Making!

Dreamworks Animation’s The Croods Movie, A Long Time In The Making!

You’ve probably seen the previews for the World’s first “First Family” The Croods, movie. The previews may have underwhelmed you because I will admit they did me. However I recently returned home from Dreamworks Animation where I was treated to a two day The Croods movie fest and I have a lot to share about one of the most visually stunning animated films I’ve ever seen. This movie was terrific, both a tear jerker and  spot on comedic timing. Definitely best for the over five and under 12 crowd The Croods has a lot to offer and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

Did you realize that animated movies are sometimes years and years in the making? This was exactly the case with The Croods. Movie director Kirk DeMicco shared with us that nine years ago he and John Cleese were writing together when the studio was teamed up with Aardman Animation. Aardman Animation is famous for projects such as Flushed Away and Chicken Run, however Aardman and Dreamworks relationship came to an end. Luckily though Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg really believed in The Croods so when movie director Chris Sanders came over from Disney in about 2007 he and DeMicco were able to get the ball rolling on The Croods.

Check out this discussion below between movie directors’ Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco and Storyboard Artist Steve McLeod.  

Kirk DeMicco, Chris Sanders, Dreamworks Animation, The Croods, Hollywood Directors

The Croods Directors Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco

Chris Sanders:  How many years were you on it {The Croods}?

Steve Macleod:  Five.

Blogger:  Wow.

Chris Sanders:  Five years ago.

Steve Macleod:  Started in 2007, yes, right out of college.

Chris Sanders:  How old are your kids?

Steve Macleod:  My daughter is in kindergarten now.  She’s six.

Chris Sanders:  So, now she’s old enough to see the movie.

Steve Macleod:  Yes.

Chris Sanders:  That’s the shocking truth of how long it takes to make these.  If you have a child at the beginning, they will be going to the premier.

Ever wonder what inspires a story board artist, which to be clear, the storyboard artist is the person who creates the big Comic Strip thing. Or as Chris Sanders describes:

The Croods Storyboard, The Croods Art, Storyboard Artist

The writing and story development happens on these boards as does in the script or recording sessions or anything, because the artists that do these, they’re also changing the story as they go.  So, they can change the dialogue, they can change the setup, they can add things, they can write things. So, this is where the rubber meets the road in animation as far as I’m concerned is the story process.

Steve Macleod, Dreamworks Animation Storyboard Artist, The Croods Storyboard Artist

Steve MacLeod The Croods Lead Storyboard Artist

The lead storyboard artist for The Croods was Steve Macleod, one of the most humble men I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. He really has a passion for what he does, and his sometimes childlike demeanor shows through when you get him talking about his projects. I shared lunch with him on Tuesday and listening to him talk about his first big project, The Croods and now his current project was somewhat thrilling. He even took the time to not only look at, but critique Stacey Nerdin’s (from TreeRootandTwig.com) daughter’s art and give her some tips on getting into the right college. I for one will be seeing any movie in which Steve Macleod participates artistically. 

Steve Macleod:  It’s kind of a back and forth.  I’ll get the script, I’ll read through it, and then we’ll do what they call a launch, and that’s where the directors will tell me all the little specifics or details that they want to include in the script, anything they don’t want to take out, what things are flexible.  We’ll start storyboarding, and then we’ll do an even rougher drawing, if you can imagine.

And then, after that, I’ll pitch a rough, they’ll give me notes, we’ll see how close we are, and we’ll do it a couple more times.  It’s a vicious cycle until finally we feel like it’s really close, we’ll send it to editorial who starts putting all the dialogue and some temp music and scratch dialogue.  It won’t be the celebrities quite yet.

And, yes we kind of narrow in on it.

Speaking of celebrities, if you’ve ever had the notion that these animated characters sure look like the celebrities who voice them, you’d be correct! That process is called rigging and it’s extremely complicated. The actress Emma Stone plays the lead female character Eep in The Croods. She might be gorgeous but she certainly “has a face for voice work”. Read below to find out why!

Blogger:  So, if you started designing five years in advance, when do you start casting because it does seem like the characters, at least Emma Stone, Eep, reflect her physicality in some way?

Chris Sanders:  Yes.  The designing of the characters and the building of the characters happens at the same time we’re casting because we want to keep that whole part of the process plastic.  If we have a voice come in, we do want the voice to be able to influence the design if it’s very distinctive.  So, we want to keep that plastic as long as we can.  So, there’s a bit of a schedule that we have to follow.

Building one of these characters takes at least a year.  You have to build the exterior of the character and you have to surface it.  But, there’s the invisible part of it called rigging, and that’s one of the magical parts of this whole thing.

The rigging is what the animators are going to pull on–.

Kirk DeMicco:  –It’s the puppet strings.

Chris Sanders:  What the character does is directly related to that rigging.  And you cannot rig a character to do everything because the rigging would be so extensive and gigantic, the character would in a sense get too heavy, and you can’t even move them.

So, the rigging is designed to work with a specific character for specific things.  So, Eep’s hair is a good example.  When she gets wet, there’s a whole crew that comes in and makes her hair look wet because she’s not rigged to just suddenly look wet.  We have to have special people do that.

All that kind of happens at the same time.  You’re designing it based on your concept for the movie.  You’re casting it based on the concept for the movie.  So, those two, the design and the voice, should meet up pretty well, but you want to keep that a little bit plastic so that it can influence each other.

Blogger:  Because you can see Emma Stone’s gestures on Eep.  You know, the way she speaks, the way she moves her lips is very particular, and you can see that on Eep.

THE CROODS, Eep, Emma Stone cartoon character

Eep Voiced By Emma Stone

Kirk DeMicco:  That’s very well spotted.

Chris Sanders:  Yes.  Well, actually, that’s really good–.

Blogger:  –Yes, because I like the way she speaks, and then I saw it, and I’m like that’s amazing.

Chris Sanders:  Yes, one of the things we do, whenever we record them, we have a video camera that is recording them from two different angles.  A lot of the time, we’ll grab a take that they did, and we’ll take the video as well as the voice, and we’ll give that to the animator because there might be something kind of special that the actor did during that take.

Emma Stone, I think we pulled more video on than any of the other actors because she is so animated.  She could change expression in one frame of film.  So, she’d be like happy and she’d suddenly have this cartoony upset face.  And when we would go back and play it, it would be like one frame she’s happy, one frame of transition, bam, she’s unhappy.

So, the speed at which she could change expressions was extreme.

And she had a couple of other quirks.  She actually has this very interesting thing she does where, when she smiles, sometimes, she’s frowning, and it’s very hard to explain that.  But, she was smiling, but the corners of her mouth were going down.  So, we gave that specifically to the lead animator who did her animation and said, can you get this in there, because we were always going to our animation and asking, can you get this in there, can you get this in there.  She goes, yes, she’s always be putting specific things in.

As you can see we learned so much about The Croods movie on this trip which was provided by 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks Animation. Some of the things we learned were a bit over my head but I enjoyed hearing about the years it takes to make an animated film. I think voice work is really wild so at one point they had us watch video of Emma Stone saying the lines and a split screen with Eep saying the lines and it was pretty magical. That character really came together.

You are going to be hearing more from me about The Croods movie each week until the release on March 22, 2013. You will want to see this movie. 😉

Lee Allport

*My flight, hotel and meals were provided by 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks Animation however all opinions are my own.


  1. 1

    I thought it was interesting when Chris Sanders said that Emma Stone wasn’t even a big star when they cast her in this, that she had only done maybe one or two small films. But that the fullness and raspy-ness of her voice fit so well with the bulkier Eep they were wanting to portray. I think they made an awesome choice with her! I enjoyed this movie so much, I can’t wait to finally watch it with my kids on March 22!

  2. 2

    I love that Steve Macleod took the time to look at Stacey’s daughter’s art. That is awesome.

    It is amazing how far animation has come, even during my life. The actors are providing more than just their voices now, and I’m excited to see how much Emma Stone’s character is like her in the film.

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