Animator takes on 'Hotel Transylvania'

Genndy Tartakovsky attends the "Hotel Transylvania" premiere during the 2012 Toronto...

Genndy Tartakovsky attends the "Hotel Transylvania" premiere during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2012 in Toronto, Canada. (Alexandra Wyman/AFP)

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:25 AM ET

It's ironic that animator Genndy Tartakovsky is a cult favourite of digitally savvy fanboys, given he is a proudly retro practitioner of '50s and '60s-style TV animation.

And it's even more ironic that his debut feature film -- the kidflick Hotel Transylvania -- is both CG animated and 3D, two mediums in which he admits, "I knew basically nothing."

"I'm used to telling people how to do things. But I don't know how to animate on a computer. I don't know how to light things. I had to depend on my visual effects supervisor and the studio to really take me there," says the Moscow-born artist behind cult TV cartoons like Samurai Jack, Dexter's Laboratory and Star Wars: Clone Wars.

Yes, even his contribution to the Star Wars canon was 2D and drawn. But it was that series -- and the blessing of George Lucas -- that put him on the list of feature directors for hire. "It took me 20 years in TV to open the door and be the new kid," the Moscow-born Tartakovsky quips.

So it was that he got the call for Hotel Transylvania, an animated feature about a holiday refuge for monsters, run by Count Dracula (Adam Sandler), that doubles as a comfy cage for his wanderlust-stricken teen-vampire daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez). The featured voice cast includes Kevin James as Frankenstein, Steve Buscemi as the Wolfman, Cee Lo Green as The Mummy, Jon Lovitz as Quasimodo and David Spade as The Invisible Man. Andy Samberg, meanwhile, voices the American backpacker who falls in love with Mavis.

An interesting connection between most of those monsters is that -- though they are technically in the public domain -- they made their film debuts in classic Universal horror films. This led to interesting exchanges between Sony Pictures and Universal, and a list of "don'ts" for Tartakovsky's rendering of the monsters.

"We couldn't have the bolts on Frankenstein. Dracula couldn't have a widows' peak. His cowl and his cape couldn't be red. They own the copyrights to those things. You couldn't make Frankenstein a certain shade of green.

"It all sounded crazy to me, because there've been tons of TV shows like The Groovy Goolies (1970s) and the Drak Pack (1980s). There's been tons of things where they use bolts (for Frankenstein's monster). "On this scale though they're very, very careful and they don't want any infringements."

Tartakovsky was also surprised at the all-business attitude of his cast of comics.

"It's funny. Coming into it, I thought, 'It's going to be crazy. There's going to be six hours of improved dialogue.' Then when I started recording, I found that if they like the joke that's written, they're really not going to stray from it. Surprisingly there was really very little ad-libbing going on at all."

Despite his mixed feelings about digital animation, Sony seemed happy with Hotel Transylvania, and has hired Tartakovsky to do a CG reboot of Popeye. He hopes to avoid the 3D part of the equation.

"The trend right now is away from 3D," he says. "It's kind of gimmicky. We watched the premiere in 3D, and I enjoyed it. But (otherwise) I only just watch 2D movies.

"The whole idea of going to the movies is to escape. And when you're wearing 3D glasses, it's always a reminder that you're watching a movie."

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos