Gary Rydstrom is the director of LucasFilm's newest movie Strange Magic, out in theatres now! Gary has seven Academy Awards for sound design and editing, and he has directed numerous films including the Pixar short Lifted, Toy Story 2, and Hawaiian Vacation. Gary talked to us about how Strange Magic was a beautiful chance for sound effects to tell a story. “In our story, we have a lizard that sounds like a dinosaur. But by the end, it's fallen in love. And so if you listen to the sound it makes when it's in love, it's this kind of purring,” Gary said. “Even the lizard changes in this movie.”
As part of the Strange Magic Press Day at Skywalker Ranch, I had the pleasure to interview Gary Rydstrom about his work on Strange Magic along with 24 other awesome bloggers. Read to to learn more about the movie.
An Interview with Strange Magic Director Gary Rydstrom
America Graffiti is one of Gary's favorite film's and the use of song to help tell the story is something that he loves. It's one of the reasons he wanted to work on Strange Magic—to be able to tell the love story through song. The movie is about finding love in unexpected places, about finding beauty in something you never expected to find beauty in.
“If you think about the songs in the movie that are love songs, there aren't that many positive love songs, which I always like to point out, because love is hard, it's not always happy. I love that part of it and making a musical was really fun,” Gary said.
Gary talked about how even in art, in life, you often find beauty in places you don't expect to find it. “There are some paintings that have kind of a darkness to them. But then you can still see the beauty in the darkness. Same thing with music; there's sometimes music that feels very dissonant. John Cage was always a favorite of mine, but it took a while to kind of find the beauty in it,” Gary said. “There's always people that when you first meet them, you go, ‘Oh, I just, I can’t stand being around this person!' And then 6 months later, you're best friends. I think we do judge people at first, and then once we get to know them, it's amazing who we become best friends. So we always have to get past the outside, the cover of the book, to find out what's great inside. That's when we use the word beauty.”
On the Message of Strange Magic
The Bog King is a character that everyone can relate to. “I actually like the Bog King,” Gary said.” At some point in life, we all have our heart broken. “It's a completely natural thing, when you get your heart broken, to say, ‘I'm not going to let myself be vulnerable ever again.' He goes to an extreme, but it's something that I can relate to. It's so painful to go through something that makes you feel hurt and less than you should be, and you just don't want to do it again. So your solution is to put up this shield and never let anyone in again. I know we all do that. Once you get past that veneer and let your real self come out, it's so much more satisfying both for him and for the one he falls in love with,” Gary said. “That's why the Strange Magic musical number is so great because they finally both let everything down and they can relax.”
One of the key things in the film is that it's okay to be different, and that your uniqueness makes you special.
“We are really surprised, I think, by how we fall in love. I hear this over and over from people: it comes at us as a surprise. ‘Oh, I didn't expect that.' When that happens is when you reveal your true self, then the other person falls in love with that true self. Often we try to hide that true self, because you think it's odd or different. And you hide it because you think, ‘Who would fall in love with that?' But then we fall in love with that, what makes you unique,” Gary said. “What she becomes, it's her version of what the Bog King becomes, this kind of Goth protective tough girl. So being different is not only okay, it's what's required. And learning what's different about each other is what's required for falling in love.”
On Casting and Animation
“Casting is pretty key for a movie like this. You have to find people who both act and sing. Alan Cumming, both actor and singer—amazing, Evan Rachel Wood is as good a singer as she is an actress. Sam Palladio, who plays Roland, is an amazing singer as well as a very funny actor. And Kristen Chenoweth…I love being in the room with actors, and it's really hard for them, because they're acting alone; they're not acting with other actors. It'd be great if they did, but it just doesn't work out, so it's them,” Gary said. “You describe the scene as best you can, you do line readings with them to set up the scene. Elijah made me work the hardest, because I would lines read with him, but he's very active and it requires a lot of energy, so I was often playing either the Sugar Plum Fairy or Dawn. And I was actually pretty good at it.”
“It's part of directing the actors, for animation, is taking on that role and working with them; that's why it's fun, you know, since I don't really act, I'm terrible at it. But it's fun to help draw that out from the actors and be surprised by what they brought to it, and they all brought their own personalities to the characters once we cast them, they all brought something of themselves to it.”
“Simple things, like Alan Cumming is Scottish and the Bog King has about a 20% Scottish accent. Evan Rachel Wood is very much like Marianne, she's got the most amazing happy laugh. And she's the sweetest thing, but she can be tough as nails if she needs to be, so they all brought something of themselves to the role. I love that part of it. I love what the actors brought to this. I'm actually most proud, as George said, and I'm going to quote this, ‘it takes twice as many actors to make an animated film;' that's brilliant. I'm really proud in this movie, of that combination of the animators drawing on what the actors do with the voice and creating that side of the acting, and together creating a character that it's still magic to me when that works,” Gary said.
On His Favorite Musical Moments
Gary Rydstrom has two favorite musical moments in the movie Strange Magic. One is the musical sequence of “Strange Magic” between Marianne and the Bog King. The song has been done as a duet in the movie and it isn't originally done as a duet. Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming do a fantastic job on this musical number. Gary also said that “the moment that makes me cry every time,” is when Sunny (Elijah Kelley) sings “Three Little Birds” to Dawn toward the end of the film. It's a little a cappella bit and it makes him tear up every time he sees it.
Watch the Strange Magic Trailer
STRANGE MAGIC is a madcap fairy tale musical inspired by “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Popular songs from the past six decades help tell the tale of a colorful cast of goblins, elves, fairies and imps, and their hilarious misadventures sparked by the battle over a powerful potion. Lucasfilm Animation Singapore and Industrial Light & Magic, which created the CGI animation for 2011’s Academy Award®-winning film “Rango,” bring to life the fanciful forest turned upside down with world-class animation and visual effects.
STRANGE MAGIC, a new animated film from Lucasfilm Ltd., will be released by Touchstone Pictures on January 23, 2015!Disclaimer: I was selected to attend an all-expense paid trip to the San Francisco area courtesy of Disney to experience these incredible events, along with a group of 24 other bloggers. All opinions, excitement, and smiles are my own.