Hey, friends. Barbarella here. If you’re looking to get out of the house and check out an animated movie, INSPECTOR SUN is currently in theaters now. When a somewhat inept detective (Ronny Chieng) takes a much-needed, albeit mandatory, vacation, he becomes embroiled in a case when a millionaire onboard his flight receives a death threat.
I had the pleasure of chatting with director Julio Soto Gúrpide about directing this animated flick. Check it out!
Barbara: What aspect of directing animation do you think people would find most surprising?
Julio: I will say, it’s very different directing 2-D animation than 3-D animation. 3-D animation is more like real life. You have real sets with real volumes and proportions, and you have the characters inside a 3-D world, whereas in 2-D you have the freedom, the liberty to do anything. 3-D is very constrained and very complicated, very tedious, and it takes a long time to do.
Barbara: How much time did you have to do this movie?
Julio: From the first day of production, it was eighteen months, which is a pretty quick schedule for animation, but obviously, on the development and everything that takes place before that, that’s longer. I would say two or three years before that, we were working on the script and getting it to a point where we liked it. I would say five years, altogether.
Barbara: What kind of prep work goes into working on an animated feature?
Julio: It’s complex. I’ll give you an example: We have a sequence where we have a colony of thousands of ants, and they stand on top of each other. They build a tower where the queen is on top. Obviously, each one of these individual ants has to have its own life. It’s doing something to make it realistic, so to build that, you need to work a lot on the research and development part to get things like this to work. We spent maybe a year just designing that scene. Some of the scenes are very complex, and some other scenes are a lot simpler. Obviously, when you have two characters just talking to each other, it’s just a matter of acting. I would say animators are kind of like the actors in the animation world, because they record themselves, references in the mirror, doing all kinds of poses and funny things. They like acting; a lot of them went through acting classes. I mean, it’s very cool.
Barbara: I’m really fascinated by animation. You’re the first director with whom I’ve talked about directing an animated movie, so I have all these questions. How involved are you with the animators? Are there different tiers of animators? How does all that work?
Julio: Yeah, there’s a hierarchy of people. It’s a bit like on a boat. You have the captain. You have the seniors. You have the juniors and everything in between. I’m very much involved. More than 265 people worked on the film, but in one single room, we had 45 animators, and I was sitting with them for ten months, probably, and with the director of animation. In some countries, they call it supervisor, and in other countries, they call it animation director. He’s the one that deals with the intricacies of every shot, whereas I give a general idea of what the scene needs to tell and what the motivations and goals are of the characters. I give the conflicts, contrast, and the animation style, in a way, or what I want to achieve with that scene, whereas the supervisor is the one who deals with the technicalities of it, so to speak.
Barbara: Can you draw at all?
Julio: Yeah, my background is in fine arts, actually, it’s in painting.
Barbara: Cool! Are you going to sell your paintings at some point?
Julio: I did already. I had quite a few shows in New York when I lived there. I got a bit worn out. It was a very small world that was only open to the people that were knowledgeable about it, so it became a bit of a niche. I didn’t feel comfortable because I wanted to tell stories. I felt a little more comfortable with making movies, because you knew that thousands of people were going to see them, or even millions. Our previous film (DEEP) was probably seen by, I don’t know, 50-, 100-million people. It’s very different.
Barbara, When you’re directing voice actors for this, how do you approach that differently from live-action directing?
Julio, It’s very similar, very similar. The only difference is you don’t do the blocking of a scene, like on the set. You don’t tell them to express with their hands or pose. All you do is work with the voice. It’s very unforgiving, in a way, because all you can do is hear a voice so it has to work perfectly. It has to match what the character looks like, the attitude of the character, the personality of the character. It’s different, but it’s very similar. The main character is played by Ronny Chieng, who’s a live-action guy. He’s becoming very famous. He started as a standup comedian, so he’s used to being in front of a lot of people. This is something that you’re doing in a closed room with the microphone, so I would say, for the actors, it’s very different; for me, it’s similar.
Barbara: Are you in the room with him when he’s doing that, or are you in a separate room? How does that work?
Julio: Usually, you study the scene together, and then he goes into the recording room. I like to be in the recording room because it feels that you’re more supportive to the actor, but I guess some actors don’t like somebody to be there, because it’s a very tiny space, it’s like a cubicle, but I like to be there, personally.
Barbara: I’m familiar with Ronny Chieng from “The Daily Show” so I recognized the voice immediately. What was it like working with him? What is he like behind the scenes?
Julio: He’s a super nice guy. We were talking for maybe an hour before we started doing the voice acting - I’m talking like the first Skype I had with him - and we started talking about politics and the environment. He’s a very knowledgeable guy. Politically, he’s very active and very humble. I like working with him a lot because he has, without being obnoxious or irritating, this kind of grumpiness to him that fits this character very well. He’s funny and a bit grumpy; that’s what I was looking for in this character, actually.
I enjoy what Ronny Chieng brings to the role of INSPECTOR SUN, but it's those intricate animation sequences that really win me over. Now playing in theaters!
Here’s the trailer.