“Storks,” the brainchild of the new Warner Animation Group screenwriting “think tank,” stretches the Looney Tunes ethos for CG in terms of both comedy and animation style.
First-time animation director Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), who wrote the script, teamed up with another directorial newbie, former Pixar animator Doug Sweetland (the “Presto” short), and they paid tribute to the Coen brothers’ “Raising Arizona,” a live-action Looney Tune of sorts.
Storks now deliver packages instead of babies for retail giant, Cornerstore.com, run by the greedy Hunter (Kelsey Grammer). That is, until Junior (Andy Stamberg) and human sidekick Tulip (Katie Crown) inadvertently unleash the long-dormant Baby Machine. They’re forced to deliver an adorable girl to her family, while warding off a Wolf Pack that’s also fallen in love with the baby.
But without its own in-house animation team, Warner Bros. turned to Sony Pictures Imageworks (now headquartered in Vancouver), which was a good match considering its like-minded Looney Tunes affinity (“The Angry Birds Movie,” “Hotel Transylvania,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”).
“There’s something about that [Warner Bros.] recipe that worked well,” Animation supervisor Joshua Beveridge told IndieWire. “We all spoke the same language, we all had a shorthand and there are a lot of tastes that blend nicely. It’s not as wacky as ‘Hotel Transylvania,’ and we wanted that pliability but not to the point where the characters are distorting. It was easier to exaggerate after those previous [Imageworks] films.”
They decided on a Downey softness look for the storks, but without feathers, which created a whole set of design challenges. Sony, therefore, designed a robust, pliable rig for the wings so they could change shapes (a thumb or a pinky that folds into an arm-shaped wing with a feather silhouette).
It had to suggest little-feathered details along the edges for it to be effective. “We used the Not Every Brick theory for treating our wings,” Beveridge said. “Here’s a wing with two or three little feather cutaways. Now you know it has feathers.”
But Sony had the most design rules for the face, which consisted of finding the home pose, how chunky the eye brows should be, where the eyelids should fit, eye bounce and how close the mouth corners should be.
To help animate the little tyke, Sony watched the “Babies” doc, which treats them like wild life footage. “The pattern we ended up observing was a certain thought process that can lead to some funny jokes,” Beveridge said. “Most infants react to new information with wide-eyed absorption. And once it’s safe to grab something, they put it in their mouth. So the baby throughout the movie gets to rediscover its hand a dozen times because it needs to re-investigate over and over again these same things.”
But the highlight of “Storks” is the Wolf Pack (led by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), which has the unique ability to form vehicular shapes when giving chase (such as the submarine in the trailer).
This necessitated creating a single rig shared by 50 to 200 wolves to save time and file space. Therefore, the geometric formation of these crowd splits was like a game of hot potato and could be switched on in only a few seconds.
“You need to see each silly face and how their cheeks all squish together,” said Beveridge. “There’s ideas within ideas. They form a big bridge at one point, and you see individual wolves cranking other wolves that are wheels and hammering wolves with wolf hammers and the wolf draw bridge being led down by a wolf chain. It’s over-the-top and elaborate and very thought out.”
In other words, it’s the ultimate squash-and-stretch Looney Tunes character.