DreamWorks gets a little sci-fi trippy with Home (March 27, 2015), a new animated take on alien invasion and buddy comedy. Last week at Comic-Con, I spoke with director Tim Johnson (Over the Hedge) and Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon), who plays the banished Oh, who teams up with the resourceful human, Tip (Rihanna).
"I read the book [The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex] and I was very excited about the possibilities of this story as a movie, and I’m a big science-fiction fan, so for me this was a chance to subvert the genre, including making sure that at the core of the story, despite there being spaceships and aliens and invasions, was a really personal story," Johnson admits.
"What I like — and it’s even great for families to see — is that even your worst enemy, if you just took time to understand them, might end up actually becoming your best friend. If we just tried to step into somebody else’s shoes, and drop those quick, first judgments, then we might live in a much, much nicer world."
Parsons, who enjoyed playing off Rihanna, who displays vulnerability for the first time, adds that it’s an excellent example of people overcoming ignorance in unexpected ways. "Through their journey in trying to save the earth together, they really learn how to talk to each other and, more importantly, how to listen to each other and they become very close. And it’s something that crept up on me. You fly so blind acting in an animated movie. I vaguely knew all of this, but as we started to record and playback and see the first levels of animation, I [noticed] how this really became the core of the story coming through, and I couldn’t be more proud."
Johnson admits that the actors get to run the gamut of situations in just a single, four-hour recording session. "One scene will be hysterically, outrageously funny, and the next one will be running for his life, and the next will be an apology scene, and the next we’ll be saving the world. And so, for an actor, it’s gotta be more fun than sitting in a trailer waiting to do a page."
"This is a whole different way of play and to Tim’s point, the rapid switching and getting so much done in one day, is a little like some sort of acting 101 class. Rarely are you asked to quite so quickly shut the voices in your head off and just let go and trust what you’ve been asked to do and just do it. And I’ll be honest, it takes a few minutes every session to get warmed up in that environment again."
In terms of animation, the new Premo software program at DreamWorks has opened up much more detailed facial animation opportunities for Johnson and the team: "I used to be afraid of doing close-ups on animated characters and now I can’t wait to get tight and see the thinking," Johnson adds. "I was talking to Jim about how we use the way he listens as an actor to make sure that Oh is not just voicing with Jim’s voice, but listening with the way Jim digests information as a performer, so it’s been a phenomenal plus for us."
"I’m a complete ignoramus about Premo but I knew after watching a scene completed about two months ago that something was different. And I asked, ‘What’s new here? There’s something going on here that I’ve never seen before.’ And that was the effect it had on me. It’s not that it looks more lifelike, but it does reek of the essence of life in a new way, and I still can’t lay my finger on it. It speaks to the heart more than the head."
We’ll just have to wait seven months to experience how DreamWorks welcomes us Home.