So, what was it like to step up to the directing chair? You’ve been involved in the other films, but Carlos directed all three.
Mike Thurmeier: It’s actually quite funny, because it doesn’t feel as though anyone went anywhere, you know? Chris [Wedge] and Carlos [Saldanha] are still there; Carlos is working on Rio and Chris is working on Epic.
Steve Martino: As a studio, the franchise and the characters from Ice Age have grown with all of us, so there is an ownership within the studio of it; clearly with Mike, he has animated in all those films. You know how they move, the rules of what Sid would do, what he wouldn’t do, how Manny communicates.
Mike Thurmeier: And the same writing team and Lori Forte producing joined us on this one. But it was definitely daunting, I mean the last one just seemed staggering; how well it seemed to be received, especially internationally. There was definitely a little bit of pressure, a little bit of stress. It was kind of good pressure.
Steve Martino: It’s daunting that you’re doing a fourth. The challenge is how to make it fresh, new, an evolution. The characters you want to be the same, but as we started we said, well, this is an opportunity to tell the story in a bigger way, cinematically. We used a wider aspect ratio because we had a lot of action out at sea, and we wanted it to be a movie that, when you see it in 3D, you would feel like you are in the action with the characters.
Mike Thurmeier: In terms of the characters, we make the assumption that the character dynamic between the three main heroes works pretty well. What has been cool for me in the last two movies, Ice Age 3 and 4, is to take that trio and put them in a situation that would be unexpected – a dinosaur movie or a sea epic – and see how the characters we love respond to that. I think that helps keep it fresh or interesting.
And you’re not creating false tension between the three of them, you’re not just throwing a spanner in the works just for the sake of trying to create conflict.
|Scrat is one of the most appealing characters for us to work with as animators and creators; he speaks a universal language.|
That’s a good point because they’ve worked out their issues; there needs to be an external force acting upon them.
What do you think makes the Ice Age films so successful?
Steve Martino: There are a couple of things. I think the characters form an unusual family – and at its heart, in this story in particular, we really hold up the theme of what it means to be a family. You know, looking out for each other, standing up for one another. That’s as opposed to a group, like the pirate crew here, who are more selfish. I think that family dynamic is relatable around the world. I feel if we can use those characters to tap into very real situations for people around the world, you know, then it connects.
Mike Thurmeier: We analyze this ourselves. We’re like, ‘We like making them and they’re cool but this seems outrageous!’. I think there is an element of non-specificity for where they are in the world; it almost seems like they could be anywhere. They seem global in a way, and maybe that’s appealing to the kids.
Steve Martino: And Scrat is one of the most appealing characters for us to work with as animators and creators; he speaks a universal language. It’s pure physical comedy, pure pantomime. It doesn’t rely on clever lines or pop culture humor, it’s purely about a simple desire, and the fact he will go to extreme ends to try to satisfy that desire, to have that acorn.
With no disrespect to the central threesome, I think he is everybody’s favorite.
Mike Thurmeier: He is good in that amount. I personally wouldn’t wanna see a Scrat movie because he works on his own as he is.
Steve Martino: He is like the dessert after a good meal.
Tell me about Blue Sky Studios; what would you say the culture is there? Do you have a specific approach to things?
Mike Thurmeier: I think the thing with Blue Sky is we are a smaller studio. As we started to grow and do the first Ice Age movie, there was a feeling of the little engine that could.
Steve Martino: Yeah, the underdog, sort of! Even though Blue Sky has got a bit bigger it isn’t as big as DreamWorks or Pixar, and I know that can be good and bad. There is still a little bit of that boutique house feel and not many closed doors. Another element is that we are in Connecticut. Everybody else in California, so they come up to the studio it’s a big deal. People move their families, people come from all over, and you have a tight-knit community around Blue Sky.
How many of you are there?
Steve Martino: Around 400. There were about 70 when I started.
Mike Thurmeier: There were about 70 when I started too. When I started at Blue Sky it felt like if you had any creative idea you could make a contribution to the film; it’s an open environment. I think some of the best ideas in our current movie have come from unusual places. Everyone has their particular jobs, but if you have an idea the door is open to communicate that. We show the film in progress to our staff and get feedback from them, and some really good suggestions
So there’s no kinda Biggie / Tupac, East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry with Pixar and DreamWorks?
Mike Thurmeier: The industry is too small. I mean, we were out mixing our movie at Skywalker Sound [in San Francisco]. Last time we went, we visited Pixar and there are 60 or 70 former Blue Sky people there, and it’s all still working as a family. Maybe on a corporate level there is something like that, but on an artistic level I don’t feel it.
Steve Martino: When we were at Skywalker, the folks from Pixar were mixing Brave, Madagascar was down the hall, and it was the first time they had ever had that happen at Skywalker. I think Mike began a corporate challenge in the form of a cartoon of Sid.
Mike Thurmeier: Sid was using a Jedi force push on [Alex] the lion from Madagascar and the girl from Brave. We posted it on our door, just as a joke, and I got nervous and pulled it down because I didn’t want to start anything. Then Pixar came back with a drawing on their door…
Steve Martino: It was Merida, from Brave, standing with her arrow through Sid’s head and an arrow through Alex’s head, and so cartoon wars began for a week.
Mike Thurmeier: It was fun! Everybody was having a really good time. Skywalker threw an animation fiesta, so they made a cake with all the characters on and had margaritas, and everybody from the studios was intermingling. It was good fun.
Steve Martino: It’s ironic that, when we spent time with the directors of Madagascar, in terms of our life experience over the last three years, they probably had the closest experience to us of anybody else on the planet.
In terms of the stories and putting the world together, how much research do you have to do into what animals were around at that time? And what the geography of the period was?
Mike Thurmeier: Peter [DeSève] has been our designer from the beginning; he is big in the industry and has done stuff for everybody. I think at this point he is starting to run out of ice age animals! He knows all the creatures that have ever lived in the ice age, and I think he has probably done a drawing for every one! So God help him if he has to do any more films. But there is definitely research involved.
Steve Martino: The most important thing through the entire film is my daughter’s handy-dandy earth science reference table! In here it’s got all the plates and currents which we used. It has Pangaea, how the continents formed into what they are today: we just took all of this and compressed it to 30 seconds! What I love is that we put our hand on the science and we have fun with it. Clearly we are going to play things in a bigger, more exaggerated fashion, in a faster time frame. We were saying yesterday that I think a great science course would be to put Ice Age on and have students tell us where we are wrong.