Opening in theatres this coming April is a story of pirates with a twist from Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman productions comes THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS.
The film tells the story of the wonderfully bearded Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), a less than successful pirate of the high seas. He loves being a pirate and he loves being a captain but what he wants more than anything is to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award.
The only thing stopping Pirate Captain from reaching his goal is his bitter rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Selma Hayek). The quest now takes the crew from Blood Island to the streets of London where they must come to terms with the diabolical Queen (Imelda Stanton) and a young scientist named Charles Darwin (David Tennant).
Along with his crew The Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman), Albino Pirate (Russell Tovey), Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson), Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen) and Polly the less than parrot looking parrot, the band decides they will do whatever it takes to win the prize!
Peter Lord is the director and producer of the film but also is the co-owner and Creative Director of Aardman. Lord has received Academy Award nominations for his worked in his 1992 short “Adam” and in 1996 for “Wat’s Pig”. In 2000, Aardman’s first full-length feature was “Chicken Run” and in 2005 received an Oscar for the full length “Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”. He most recently produced the Aardman’s CG animated “Arthur Christmas” which won Best Animated Film of 2011 by the San Diego Film Critics Society and was nominated for a Golden Globe and BAFTA Award.
I was delighted when discovering that I would be speaking to Peter Lord himself regarding his newest project THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS and spend time at the Sony Pictures Animation studio learning about the film and its creator.
I’m so delighted to be talking to you today after seeing everything here at Sony?
It has been fun hasn’t it!
Tell me about the film and the difference with this animation?
This has been a summation of five years work. It’s the story of a pirate captain – cheerful and positive guy who loves being a pirate captain. He loves his crew and really loves his curly thick beard. Along with his bird Polly, The Captain’s biggest dream is to win the Pirate of the Year award. What is different, and that’s important to me, is that I’ve done a lot of CG films that it’s kind of a familiarity and predictability about them. I don’t think there are many makers who take their audience seriously. Its almost as if they don’t respect them really. I try to respect the audience and their intelligence.
What is it that makes you love this form of filmmaking?
The simple answer would be that’s what we do, that’s what we’ve done and always have done best. It’s our specialty and we’ve been working with it for so long that we’re pretty good at it. The handcrafting of what we do, from the flow of the hair to the ship on the seas is special to me. The expressions on the characters faces and how we make that happen is so much fun I can’t tell you. Each of the faces are lovingly painted and there are hundreds of them. I love it because it shows the scale of what we do and tells the story with live action. Not only do we animate but we crawl into these tiny spaces to make the changes in the characters. Each thing is done with someone twisting and turning through the set that takes dedication to what we are doing.
What made you decide that this is what you wanted to do?
Way, way, way back, the ability to create your own world is what I think it’s really about. I think that’s why people like it so much. There is some element in being able to create something that inspires people which you can also control and have influence over your own little world. That’s the way you start. Later, hopefully you get more sophisticated and not only control your own world but are able to tell your own stories. I do like to make people laugh, it’s a great pleasure for me and to watch them laugh in the theatre really is amazing for me to see. For a while, what we did was startling and new and then the tide swept past us a bit because we were making three-dimensional objects come alive. Now CG does that and they use very believable three-dimensional objects. Now there is something else added because the characters are still hand made but there is a humanity and intimacy in it, which is in the technique. There is something magical about it. I can’t explain it but I observe it and see people loving it because I do to and so I keep doing it.
It allows you to be childlike a little longer?
Yea, but I’ve never stopped doing that actually.
When you talk about the techniques, how does it feel to watch it all come to life?
It feels great. I’m very happy. I’d like to take all the credit but there are so many people that do this work. I tell them ‘here is what I want’ and they make it happen. These are things I know I can never do by myself.
When you read the book, could you see this happening?
No, I can’t imagine what I saw. I can’t even imagine what I could have thought reading the book. Somewhere back in Bristol I have schedules and I tried to imagine it thinking how things would be funny. But there is an evolution that happens from the book to the movie and I surely think that as a movie its everything I hoped for and maybe more.
By allowing others to join in your imagination?
Yes, it gets a life of its own. The team was so lovely and filled with so many people that I’m sorry they’ve gone on to other things.
So you had the idea for this film from a book?
Yes, at the studio we have a development department because we do movies and television series. Part of that is people going to book fairs and at the meetings there would be all these books on the table. Somebody thought this would make a good t.v. series and I saw it. I was a bit bored and picked it up and liked it. I saw the Pirate as someone with an amazing lack of awareness! I saw the book as smart, funny and unexplainably daft! It was very, very different with a unique vision of the world. Also a unique vision of pirates that I have not seen before.
And casting Selma Hayek?
There were two books and her character is way tougher in the book than she is in the movie. We liked her very much and is fabulous! We tried to give her a bigger part but it didn’t evolve it that way.
What was it about Hugh Grant that made you say “pirate!”?
This wasn’t how I expected a pirate to be and we knew from the book and everything about it that this wasn’t going to be a ‘arrrrghhh’ kind of pirate. With Hugh – it’s the comic acting. People often associate him with RomCom’s and I’m more interested in the com side than the rom side. He has great comic timing. Of all the actors he is the most interesting to work with. If he found a line that was a joke and he didn’t think it was written right he wouldn’t rest until it was. He was very strong willed in that way and I valued that because it made it funnier and made it more engaging in the process.
So the Captain’s crew is like a family, so was this animation crew?
Its important to me, I don’t expect film goers to know it but your with these people for a long time and in this case three years and value what they bring and their ideas. I like them as people and they are all younger than me so I felt like the patriarch!
For you, what was some of the most intricate sequences?
I’m trying to remember? <laughing> I do remember saying to the production people ‘here is the script now where are the easy scenes?’ – and there aren’t any! There is always a lot of people acting in the background so its very ambitious. In live action its easy – put a pirate hat on them and put them in the background. In our world, nobody does anything by themselves, they have to be animated! Someone has to think all of that through, nothing happens by itself. They have to imagine it and then they have to do it and its complicated. If you have the Pirate Captain in the foreground and characters in the background – each one has an animator.
Is the film an exact rendition of the book?
No, we added our own touches. Gideon who wrote the book also did the screenplay in the end. It evolved and there were natural changes. Better ideas come up through the draft. The first one was way to long and we got a chance to whittle it down into a great idea.
With the description of these character from the book or all you?
Well there are hints. We didn’t know for example that Bobo was funny until we started shooting it! They don’t have much character before we shoot they are just nice puppets. But when you start filming they come to life.
You obviously dealt with a bigger canvas for this film than you’ve done before, what was that like for you?
It was lovely! It was really great fun. I loved the fact that everyone was up for the scale of it. I could have been a problem and been all grief and woe but the fact that we shot digitally and used a lot of green screen made it easier. We had a CG and effects department doing so much, which was great. I would finish a shot and then four months later I’d see it looking amazing! I was happy to make this world bigger. I found myself talking about this that I’m not interested in how big or spectacular it is but the story mainly.
So why clay stop animation?
Well, its what we do best and I’ve been doing it for a long time. We’ve evolved into this amazing team that can do it so well. That wouldn’t matter though and it would count for nothing if it wasn’t delightful to an audience and I think it is. That’s whom I think of. The audience is an important thing. The audience kind of know its real, they can feel that reality and feel how much care and love has gone into everything. So many movies now are CG, both animated and all movies, which is fine and wonderful but there is no wonder in it because everyone from a four year old to an eighty year old knows its done with computers. That’s your answer, you see something amazing and you say ‘great design, great special effect’ but you don’t believe it because your brain tells you its done with computers which is easy. Still, in our world, there is a sense of wonder, a sense of amazement to put that on the screen. People like puppets, they do, look at the Muppets! Why do people like the Muppets? Obviously they are made of cloth, but people believe they are alive. Its old style magic and that’s what we do.
So your part magician too, and you get to be a kid and play with toys right?
It is indeed! I can tell you because its true that in the early days, Amy Pasqual came to visit the set and she saw the captains cabin and she was a girl with a doll house! She played with everything, touching everything!
So you’ll be happy to know I was touching everything that was in front of me!
Exactly, I can’t explain it. People like small things, they are fascinated by them. You stand there and look at small pieces of chairs, tables – anything miniature. You love the artistry of it.
What is your day like when your shooting the movie, you have different units going on at one time so how do you manage to be everywhere?
I don’t know. Someone organizes it for me really well. I had to do editorial, then approve shots that were finished, launch new shots and a lot of that involved acting out because it was the simplest ways of doing it.
So you are acting with the animators and with the actors as well?
I’ve got the voice already. Like Hugh Grant has already done his part and I chose the exact take I want and then on the morning of the shoot that line is down in the rehearsal area and then I and the others would mime along with Hugh Grant to catch the inflection of his voice, then we needed the whole crew to be the pirate crew and sometimes during the shoot I would go visit the set to update them. So I wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing! <laughing>