Director Genndy Tartakovsky Digs the View from HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA
You may not have heard of him, but if you grew up around the turn of the millennium watching Cartoon Network you most certainly heard of his work: "Dexter's Laboratory," "Powerpuff Girls" and "Samurai Jack." I went to Sony Pictures Animation to interview director Genndy Tartakovsky about his big screen debut making Hotel Transylvania.
KPF: For the last seven years, you've been trying to get to the big screen with a couple of projects that kind of got stuck in development, but now you're almost there. What was it about Hotel Transylvania that really gelled for you?
Genndy Tartakovsky: I think it was the opportunity to reimagine Dracula and, also, this father-daughter story. Being a parent, you want something in a movie to be from you so it feels sincere and it's not all make-believe, and so, those two elements really made me excited about the project.
KPF: In this film you got a lot of big stars. With casting, is it the bigger the better or do you look for seasoned voice actors?
Tartakovsky: I was used to seasoned voice actors and I've always been very very happy with their performance. With this, the caliber of comedians we have is so great that it's amazing just to be in a room with them, you're just laughing all the time. I was very satisfied with our cast because they're really good.
KPF: In the film, Adam Sandler uses a character voice and others, like Selena Gomez and Andy Samberg, use their own voice. When do you give direction to the actor to alter their voice for the character and when to give their own voice that the audience will recognize?
Tartakovsky: With an icon like Dracula, you think of a Bela Lugosi "bleah, bleh, bleh" type of guy. Adam initially had reservations about that because he was like "ah, people are going to make fun of me;" but then you're like "nah, it's okay, embrace it and make it your own." He got into this one where it's not exactly a Dracula voice but it has elements of that. For me, I'm a fan of character voices. Maybe it's where I'm from or just used to Bugs Bunny, but a voice that has some kind of affliction to it is really funny. Andy is so goofy and funny to begin with that he really IS that voice. And Selena, we wanted something that stood out in this madcap world of ours, that she almost plays the straight person, so it all fell in a really nice voice. Some of the comedians' voices already sound funny.
KPF: Most of your work (Dexter, Samurai, Titan) was done with traditional 2D animation techniques, yet Hotel Transylvania is done with 3D models, why the move?
Tartakovsky: Well, I think part of it is business guided. Nobody is really making 2D animated movies. If you want to work in the stage of this scale that so many people get to see it, you kind of have to do it this way. I love 2D but I found a way, I think, that I took all my sensibilities from drawings and applied them to a different pencil. That's all a computer is, it's still an artist driving it, so it's just a different pencil. A very high end, expensive pencil, but at the end of the day, that's all it is. We applied all the same principles, so I think it still has the same voice I had in my other work.
KPF: As a kid who grew up with your cartoons I have to ask, do you see your future with feature films or ever returning to TV?
Tartakovsky: I don't know. I love television. I'm very, very fortunate to have the experience I had in TV, having my own shows and stuff, and getting to where I am today because of it. So, I've always loved television. But right now, sitting with an audience and watching something is very satisfying; it's like you're doing stand up in front of the audience not necessarily having to do that pressure in front of everybody and telling jokes, but telling jokes through the way you do the pictures, and to have the instant gratification is amazing. Before, I'd make a TV show and then, it comes out, and you sit at home and go ok, 'well there it is, I guess it was good.' But you have no feedback at all. But here it's instant. You sit with an audience and people laugh or gasp or whatever and you're like, I did it! You succeeded. It's like telling a joke and having a person laugh, there's something that feels so good about it. It's exactly that same reaction. So, right now, I'm on a feature high for a little white.
KPF: I consider "Samurai Jack" the greatest cartoon series of all time –
Tartakovsky: Oh, thank you.
KPF: Even better than "Batman, the Animated Series," which is blasphemous to a lot people.
KPF: I have to ask, I know a couple of years ago we heard that they were doing a movie, so what's going on with that?
Tartakovsky: It keeps going back and forth. Different people come by and pick it up and try to make it and it never gets to that level yet. For me, my plan is to always finish the story. There's something about Jack that's lasted through all these years so hopefully that means we'll eventually make it. My boss here just started talking about it, 'Why don't we bring Jack over here!" And I go, 'Why not, you want it? I'll do it, so we'll see!"
KPF: Do you have storyboards or scripts completed?
Tartakovsky: No, we have an outline for a movie we had with J.J. Abrams, so we do have some stuff. I think it will happen.
KPF: What was the most influential movie to you as a kid?
Tartakovsky: I went to see The Jungle Book when I was about 12 or 14. Back then, you're old enough that it's not cool to see Disney animated films, especially back then, so I went by myself. I remember sitting in a sea of children and parents. When the movie started, I just got lost in it. I remember the feeling of being "oh my god, this is it! This is what it's all about it!" Next thing you know, it's over, just completely being entranced by it. That's the one memory.
I never grew out of loving animation. There's no artist in my family, there's no history of it. It's just something that happens to you when you're a kid, you get the spark and you can't outgrow it. When I was 17, 18, I'd wake up with a hangover or whatever and watch my Saturday morning cartoons when they used to be on. I've talked to other animators and they're the same thing. You get bit by this bug and you don't know where it comes from. We all like cartoons when we were kids and we all draw, but then you just don't outgrow it.
Hotel Transylvania hits theaters Sept. 28.