After building a career as one of the shining stars of traditional animation, director Genndy Tartakovsky’s sinking his teeth into 3D CG animation with “Hotel Transylvania.”
Throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, Tartakovsky’s distinctively and elegantly designed, often Asian-influenced cartoons were among the most deliriously fun and cool on television: he created “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Samurai Jack,” produced and directed “Powerpuff Girls,” and helmed Cartoon Network’s inventive 2D “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”
Now the animator’s making a foray into the world of computer-animated feature films with “Hotel Transylvania,” which re-imagines the vampiric Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) as an overprotective dad wrapped around the finger of his teenage daughter (Selena Gomez). The fanged father enlists the aid of the celebrated guests at his luxury resort – including Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy and the Wolfman – to keep his daughter from falling for a visiting human (Andy Samberg). Tartakovsky tells PopcornBiz about bringing unique visual style and an offbeat sense of humor to the big screen.
What was it that struck you about “Hotel Transylvania,” that you knew you could have a good time with it?
It's a big broad comedy and it's re-imagining Dracula – and that Adam Sandler is Dracula as a dad. That really captured the idea that this could be something new. You want to have a voice and you want to have an opinion, something that's unique and stands out when you're doing these movies. I felt that could be something that I could really grab onto.
What were the fun discoveries about Dracula that felt fresh?
The way that we animated him, the way that we posed him, he's very classical, but then he has two sides to him, where he's the dad with his daughter and he's much more slouchy, almost like she can do anything she wants; and then the controlling manager of a hotel where he's more upright and more classic Dracula. So you have the ultimate power, all the great powers, and the meager dad who's like, 'Okay, honey – whatever you want.' And I love the comedic Draculas that have been done, like 'Love At First Bite' with George Hamilton. I love it when you can kind of spin it and make it a caricature.
How did you land on the design you wanted to use for this movie?
I knew that we wanted to go broad with it. I wanted to do a broad animated comedy with a strong, emotional bed underneath it. So pushing the designs, pushing the CG medium and really breaking it, I never knew we could do it. I thought that they were always going to say no, because I wanted to do very unique expressions, different expressions that are unique for each emotion, pushing the poses to be crazy.
Sometimes Dracula has little fingers. Sometimes he's got big hands. Changing the size of the head depending on what the scene called for. All of these things that I've been dealing with in drawings for the entirety of my career, I wanted to bring those sensibilities – all those things that were done at Warner Brothers and Tex Avery type of animation. I wanted to bring that into CG, and we did. Sure enough, they started doing it and they were so happy that they were doing and I was ecstatic that we could take it to this level. It's one of the things that really makes the movie stand out.
CG is what's happening now, is there still hope to sustain traditional animation, and do you still want to work in it?
As much as I love what we've done and the people that I've worked with, I think for me it's that love of watching a drawing, especially on a big screen that's three stories high, or whatever, move and emote and become real. That's the illusion. CG is so real-looking that the disbelief, it's not a big enough of a jump. When we watch something that's drawn that's moving, like an old scene from 'Jungle Book' or from Warner Brothers even, it's so much fun and it's just a personal thing. I know that's what I fell in love with and I know that's why I got into this job, into the industry: because I fell in love with moving drawings.
People still love paintings. I think it's still going to be around. People still read comic books and comic strips. I think there's something about drawings that'll never go away because it's the expression of individual humanity. I feel like 2D will make a comeback eventually. It's not like it needs to make a comeback: we just need to make a movie that's different in 2D that can be commercially successful.
What specific things about Adam's performance informed what you did in the animation of the character of Dracula?
It's funny because I think I came up with who I wanted Dracula to be and to move like thinking about Adam's voice. And then once Adam brought his voice to it, it's the rhythm of the delivery. It's the craziness of the ups and the downs that we were really able to deal with. We really pushed Adam to be very broad – maybe sometimes broader than what he's used to doing. Live action and animation are so different, the way that you act. We needed it to be a caricature so that we could then make the animation unrealistic, and a caricature of what the real thing is. Once Adam got into this broad caricature zone we were able to support that, the animation was able to support that voice and then the two kind of blended together.
How entrenched were you in vampire/Dracula/classic horror mythology, pop culture versions of that, as just a fan before this project? Then, how much did you dig into it?
I wasn't a huge fan. I liked 'Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein' and I'd read the books and stuff, but I don't seek it out. I don't see every vampire movie that comes out. I don't see every Dracula movie that comes out. So I'm not a big fan of the vampire lore – and then once we got into it, I definitely did a little research, especially more like 'The Mummy' and 'The Invisible Man,' some of the secondary characters because I didn't know enough about them.
What do you think is the staying power of these classic horror characters?
I think there's a romance and mystery to it. Each monster is about dealing with it's own human failure, some human trait that goes wrong and it's about acceptability when you're different. I think those are universal themes, very human themes, and I think those big themes have stayed throughout. We all imagined as kids, 'If I could be a fly on the wall or if I could be invisible and not be seen, but still see everything' – I think those are such primitive and naturalistic things that we've all felt at one point. When they're translated into film it's very interesting and compelling.
Do you have a dream project that if this movie hits will enable you to do next?
Yeah, I think something original. I'm helping Sony develop 'Popeye' as well as one of my original ideas and we'll see which one makes it through. That's the thing, I have a lot of stories to tell and I want to be in a situation where I'm making a movie every two or three years.