Sure, director Chris McKay has been at the helm of such irreverent shows as “Robot Chicken,” where there are no limits to the skewering of pop culture icons in stop-motion animation glory. Still, when it came to handing the keys of its monolithic superhero brand over to McKay for “The LEGO Batman Movie,” Warner Bros. and DC Comics had nothing but trust in McKay to use LEGO’s bricks to help build a wonderful story about the Dark Knight and several other DC superheroes — even though it parodies them.
“I think in some ways they knew I would be OK because I have a giant Catwoman tattoo on my arm,” McKay said with a laugh Tuesday in a phone conversation from Los Angeles. “Plus, I’ve expressed my love for DC comic books and some Warner Bros. movies in general, like Richard Donner’s “Superman” and Tim Burton’s “Batman,” as movies that made an impression on me as a kid.
“Yes, the companies want to be very careful in how they present these characters and under what circumstances, but fortunately, they do have a lot of trust and faith in me,” McKay added. “I’ve been really lucky that let me do the things I’ve been able to do with this movie. Yes, we make jokes, but they are loving, affectionate jokes involving these characters.”
McKay is no stranger to the DC/LEGO universe, having served as an editor and animation supervisor on the 2014 blockbuster “The LEGO Movie.” Of course, that film featured LEGO Batman (voiced by Will Arnett), who now — along with his alter-ego Bruce Wayne — gets his own adventure in Gotham City, where he takes on such nefarious criminals as the Joker (Zack Galifianakis) and Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate).
The film, opening in theaters and on IMAX screens nationwide on Friday, also stars Rosario Dawson as the voice of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Michael Cera as Dick Grayson/Robin and Ralph Fiennes as Wayne’s loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth.
Behind-the-scenes footage from the film shows several of the actors in front their microphones, recording dialogue with their LEGO counterparts in hand, and McKay said they weren’t the only ones who used the tiny characters to glean some inspiration.
“We had bowls of bricks in the conference rooms so people could play with stuff when we were having meetings, and if you look at the animators’ desks, you’ll see stuff they started collecting from the first movie that they used to work out animation or design problems, or just to have fun,” McKay said. “I tried to promote that sense of play as much as possible and try to get LEGO to give us as many things as possible to do stuff. On the first movie, I had people doing building exercises with teams. We got a Death Star, Millennium Falcon and Star Destroyer, and split people up into teams to build stuff together. It was fun to see people get nerdy about all the details and geek out about it.”
Much like “The LEGO Movie,” “The LEGO Batman Movie” has a distinct, stop-motion animated feel to it, And while the animation in both films is completely computer-generated, McKay – whose credits in addition to “Robot Chicken” include “Moral Orel” and “Titan Maximum” — would love to somehow implement stop-motion into future LEGO movie projects. In the meantime, he said, it’s key to have people on the films that have stop-motion sensibilities.
“One thing I try to do is hire stop-motion animators who know a little bit about CG,” McKay said. “The rigs are simple enough for somebody who has a passing knowledge of CG to come in. On ‘The LEGO Batman Movie,’ I brought in one of my favorite stop-motion animators from ‘Robot Chicken’ — her influence on the animation and her character animation was so great that I thought she was absolutely essential to making this movie.”
Tim Lammers has created a new YouTube channel to highlight his extensive interview archive. Please click in and subscribe to it today!
Tim has talked with about 2,000 major actors and filmmakers over the years for TV, radio, print and online. New on his YouTube channel are clips from those interviews, including Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, Tim Burton, Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman, Mark Hamill, Kathy Bates, Matthew McConaughey and Christopher Nolan, with new interview clips being added daily.
Fortunately for director Otto Bell, not one, but two powerful forces came together for his thrilling new documentary “The Eagle Huntress”—a force of nature embodied by a teenage Mongolian girl and an actress who harnessed the power of “The Force” in the biggest film of 2015.
Now playing in select cities and expanding to more theaters Friday, “The Eagle Huntress” examines the time-honored tradition of eagle hunting in Mongolia and how 13-year-old Aisholpan Nurgaiv works to defy the conventions of a practice only reserved for fathers and sons. If she’s successful, Aisholpan will become the first female eagle hunter in 12 generations of her Kazakh family.
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The film is narrated and executive produced by Daisy Ridley, the breakout star of the international blockbuster “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” The opportunity to get involved with “The Eagle Huntress” couldn’t have come at a crazier time for Ridley, but despite her commitments to that galaxy far, far away, she was compelled to make time for the project.
“I was in the throes of the production of ‘Episode VII’ when my agent sent me the film, saying, ‘It’s amazing and all about empowerment,’” said Ridley, accompanied by Bell, in a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles. “I saw it and I was incredibly moved, and asked how I could become involved.”
Ridley came on board “The Eagle Huntress” in January, just in time for the documentary’s film festival run. Bell said the moment he learned of Ridley’s commitment to “The Eagle Huntress” is one he won’t soon forget.
“It was the night before the film’s debut at Sundance, and I had terrible butterflies in my stomach and I got this lovely phone call,” Bell said. “When I spoke to Daisy, it was clear to me that she was picking out corners of the film that only I had cared about. It was very clear to me that she had studied it and had been very moved by it.”
Bell first met with Aisholpan’s family about filming “The Eagle Huntress” on July 4, 2014. The meeting was a serendipitous one, since it was the day the girl and her father were about to find her the eaglet that would become her hunting companion in the film. Even though Bell and his crew weren’t expecting to start shooting that day, he knew that such a pivotal moment in an eagle hunter’s life was one that couldn’t be missed.
“We were having tea and her father stood up and said, ‘We’re going to steal an eagle from the mountainside this afternoon. Do you think it’s something you would want to film?'” Bell recalled. “Of course, we jumped at the chance. We weren’t exactly ready to start with the production, but we had to get that shot since there was such of a slim window to film it in, and we happened to be lucky enough to be on the ground for it.”
Bell especially feels fortunate that he was able to capture Aisholpan’s story as it was unfolding — a rare opportunity for any documentarian.
“So often with documentaries you’re filling in the blanks,” Bell said. “Something has already happened and you’re using archive footage, retrospective interviews and the like to fill those in. In this case, we were lucky enough to be there from the start of her journey. Her first step to becoming an eagle hunter always begins with the young apprentice stealing the baby from the nest and we were right there on the spot to film it.”
From there, Bell captured on film the rest of Aisholpan’s major milestones: the training of her eagle for a revered, annual festival where all eagle hunters compete, and the final step and going out and hunting in the frigid winter to graduate to full eagle huntress.
While Ridley’s path in life couldn’t be any more different from Aisholpan’s, there was a common bond that had resonated with the film star.
“There are similarities with my family because Aisholpan is part of an incredibly supportive family,” Ridley said. “In particular, in the film we see the relationship between her and her father, and the kids are so encouraging. In that respect I felt a resemblance to my own life with my parents and my sisters.”
Ridley’s participation in “The Eagle Huntress” says a lot about the character of the 24-year-old London native. Coming off a role in one of the biggest box office hits in movie history, Ridley could have easily opted for a big payday in any number of scripts that landed on her desk after “Star Wars” — yet she immediately committed to a smaller-scale production that she believed in.
“Going forward, the thing I’m most interested in is being a part of good stories,” Ridley said. “Aside from that, ‘The Eagle Huntress’ is a brilliant film. It’s just beautiful to look at even if you’re not concentrating on what the message is.”
Forget Larry, Moe, Curly, Shemp or any of those other Stooges (leave any Fake Shemps out of it), there’s a presidential candidate who said he wants to make America groovy again with your vote for president this Election Day.
That, of course, would be one Ashley J. “Ash” Williams, the deadite slayer from Elk Grove, Michigan, who promises to cut — chainsaw on stump — through the crap (He really will. Check out the morgue scene in this season’s second episode).
Ash declared his presidential bidthis summer as he was ramping up to the premiere of the second season of his flat-out frickin’ hilarious and extremely gory STARZ horror comedy “Ash vs. Evil Dead.”
The declaration came on his Ash4President website and posters for the series, where you could find the hashtag #Ash4President, and slogans “Hail to the Chief, Baby” and “Make America Groovy Again.”
“I swear to God, I hope that there are some actual write-in votes, where people go to the polling stations and they don’t vote for either one (of the candidates) and they write in ‘Ash Williams,'” Ash spokesman Bruce Campbell told me in a recent interview. “It’s gonna happen. There’s going to be somebody out there who’s going to do it, and I want to meet that person.”