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Interview: Genndy Tartakovsky Talks 'Hotel Transylvania 2,' Evolving Animation Tech And The Possibility Of Returning To TV

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It's almost time to check back into the Hotel Transylvania as the sequel to Sony Pictures Animation's hit 2012 animated feature, Hotel Transylvania 2, arrives in theaters on Friday, Sept. 25.

The whole monstrous gang is back for the second installment of this scary, funny kids' comedy. However, there are a few changes to the film this time around. For one, Dracula (Adam Sandler) has now decided to allow human guests to stay in the Hotel Transylvania. However, the biggest change of them all could be the most difficult for Drac to deal with as his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) considers leaving the hotel to raise her half-human, half-vampire newborn Dennis with her mortal husband Jonathan (Andy Samberg). Drac's old-school dad, Vlad, is also making a surprise visit to the hotel, and he might not be too happy to hear that his great-grandson isn't a pure blood.

At least we have legendary director and animator Genndy Tartakovsky returning to this franchise to direct Hotel Transylvania 2 and help us get through all of this drama. Hotel Transylvania 2's more exaggerated, CG animation may seem like quite the departure for Tartakovsky, who made a name for himself creating the beloved Cartoon Network animated series Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack, which Tartakovsky recently told T-Lounge he hopes to revisit some day, and Star Wars: Clone Wars, all of which feature his signature angular, comic book-like style. However, the action and physical comedy that the animation of Hotel Transylvania 2 helps get across to viewers makes it clear that this is a Tartakovsky production.

Tartakovsky recently spoke with T-Lounge over the phone about the animation in his new movie, the challenges of working in an ever-changing technological landscape and what he's got in the works for the future.

For Hotel Translyvania 2, I heard you used a "pushed" animation style, so I was wondering if you could explain what that means and how that was used in the film?

So, basically, we kind of continued further from what we did in the first movie. You know, it was kind of an exaggerated, kind of a cartoony style. Doing the second movie, we had Drac become a grandfather, so we wanted to kind of push the way he looked and the way he talked with his grandson. And so we pushed the facial animation more, you know, more range of emotion from him, more range of expressions, and really just the second time through with this kind of animation style, we were able to get a lot of our animators back from the first movie and really push the style even further.

What kind of challenges did you have facing you and your team for Hotel Transylvania 2?

Well, really, most of the challenges in movies nowadays, I mean for me, it's really kind of just create the story. You know, just try to get the story right, trying to work on the story to make sure that everything else that we follow with, animation-wise and technical-wise, that it supports the story. Adam Sandler and Robert Smigel wrote the script, and we just kind of worked with them and do the [story]boards and try to really figure out the best version of this movie we could do. That’s really always kind of the most challenging stuff.

As you mentioned, Sandler co-wrote the script for Hotel Transylvania 2, in addition to again lending his voice to Dracula and serving as an executive producer on the film. Was he kind of more involved in the production or animation aspect of the sequel?

Adam is very hands-on in all his films, so [he and Smigel] kind of want to see everything. So, they saw all the animation as we were doing it, and yeah, they have comments here and there and stuff. But you know, the animation comments they have are really more minimal compared to the stuff that they do on story and stuff.

How do you go about making monsters and scary creatures funny in the Hotel Transylvania films, especially when they're mainly targeting children?

The key there is we focus on the humor. We took a take on the monsters that they're real people, and they're funny. So, if we have people like Kevin James, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key and Steve Buscemi playing the roles, you're already starting from a really comical point-of-view. Actually, the thing that was most challenging was Vlad, Drac's dad, because initially, we wrote him as this old-school, powerful, overbearing character, and we made him kind of scary at first. And we started to realize, oh, you know, this doesn't feel totally right for the movie. So, once we got Mel Brooks to do the voice, all the comedy came out, and it was more in the proper tone of the movie. So, that's kind of the thing that we always juggle. We know what the tone is. It's kind of like a really silly romp. We don't take ourselves too seriously. And we try to fit everything else in. Sometimes, we try to keep things bright so it's not too dark, so it doesn't seem as scary, like our nighttime sky is actually like a really bright blue.

How does the process of creating the animation and bringing in the actors to voice the characters work? Are you doing one before the other or simultaneously?

The way we usually do it is we start working on the storyboard and once we have the storyboard done, we come in with scratch actors. We do the initial voice lay-down for the movie, so it's like I play Dracula, and you know some other different storyboard people play different characters. Then, we put music and sound effects on the story reel, and you get to watch the whole movie and really feel what's lacking and what's better, what's working, what's not working. Then, once we do the next pass over it, we actually bring in the real voice actors and lay down all the dialogue, and then we have a screening. Then from there, stuff that's working, we'll start sending into production and stuff that's not, we'll start re-working again.

What is it like for you working as a director and animator in animation today since animation technology is constantly changing?

Yeah, I mean, it's incredible. I'm a very kind of old-school type of person that I love hand-drawn things. Things that we do now in CG are pretty amazing. But it's also, I think, we're in our infancy with it because, you know, the computer is so good at mimicking reality — and you could obviously see that in all the live-action films — that it'd be fun to try to take that tool and try to take it the other way to see how stylized and interesting and different and really from another distinct point-of-view you could get with it. I try not to think of the technology as much because we need to entertain, so I think people won't care what programming tool we use or what renderer we use. They really care if we're communicating the jokes in the story and the emotions in the right way.

So, I really try to focus in on that, and all of the people at Sony Pictures Imageworks really focus more on the technology and how to get it there. We always kind of joke around, like they'll say some kind of technical term, and then I'll stick to it like, "Oh, I'm not sure the transparency map is working in the sequence." Not that I know what I'm talking about, but it still provides a good feeling for everybody. So, the technology is great, especially nowadays with everybody so spread out. You know, we have a team here, and we have a team in Canada. It was really nice to be able to communicate everything with monitors, and everybody's connected.

Because animation is getting so much more sophisticated all of the time, do you feel the need to innovate and show people things that they haven't seen before as you approach each new project?

Absolutely. I feel like you want to experience something new and different and something unique. I mean, I always strive to do something different, although TV projects that I've done, one is different than the next ... Going to the movies is more expensive nowadays, it has to be kind of an event or it has to be something that you haven't seen before that you could be like, "Wow, we can't miss that. We have to take the family and see it." So, I try to strive as best I can.

Where do you get your inspiration to do that, to give people something that they haven't seen before?

I kind of get it from real life. Now I'm a parent, so I have different experiences that I've gone through that I know, like, everybody's gone through this. It would be great to find a way to present that to an audience in a really entertaining and fun way that they haven't seen before. So, you try to focus on that, and just kind of looking at life all around you, you get inspired from it. You know, the stuff on the Internet now is crazy. You could look at different painters and artists, and so I try to see what's coming up, look at old illustrators that I'm just discovering and be inspired from that.

The animated series you've created in the past are much beloved. Would you ever return to TV in the future?

I wouldn't mind. I think TV is sometimes more creatively satisfying because, you know, every week, like say on Samurai Jack, we were able to do something new and different. We really challenged ourselves. Oh, this week, we're going to fight zombies, and so, we'll do a real scary one. The next week, we're going to do a rave, and so we'll do it not as scary and just do more focusing on the dancing and the music. So, that was really fun creatively, but then the speed makes you suffer, because we have to go so fast. We have limited budgets, and so, we just go as fast as we can. Everything that we do is really our first instinct.

The opposite of that is in films, we have great budgets, huge amounts of time, but then, you know, you have to prove that it's right over and over again, and you have to convince everybody that what you're doing is right. Whereas in TV, it's like, yup, that looks good, and then six months later, we saw it on the air. So, that part of it is more challenging. There's something definitely about doing something from your gut, putting it down on paper and then, it's on TV.

Last year, you announced that you are working on a new animated film called Can You Imagine?, and I was wondering if there was anything you could tell us about any new developments with that?

Recently, we had a screening of the first act, and it went over really well. Like, a lot of the comments I got from the artists were that they were super-excited, and it felt fresh and new and different. Now, we're just kind of going to tweak the story to make it cleaner, better, and that's kind of the progress of it so far.

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