Animator Yarrow Cheney says people laugh for the same things, irrespective of age

“I don’t have any pets now but I grew up with a whole bunch of animals. We had dogs, cats and birds, but also a pony, goats, ducks and chickens. So we had lots of different personalities,” laughs Yarrow Cheney, Emmy winner and Annie Award-nominated animator, production designer and the co-director of The Secret Life of Pets.

The inspiration for The Secret Life of Pets, however, came from producer Christopher Meledandri. “He was wondering about this idea of when people leave for work or for school and they leave their pets behind. What do they do when you're gone and it was that seed of an idea that blossomed into this big, big world. And they absolutely do have this little secret life that we just kind of expanded on and had a lot of fun with.”

Animator Yarrow Cheney says people laugh for the same things, irrespective of age

Yarrow has also co-directed Dr Seuss’ The Grinch and worked as the production designer on The Lorax. So what is it that makes Dr Seuss’ work so special?

Says Cheney, “He takes stories that resonate with all of us and he has a unique way of drawing out these characters that are like no others in the world but are still so relatable. The Grinch, for instance is not exactly a human, but he is someone we all can identify with. And I think that is where his work has such a unique feel. The character, design style, and the way he plays around with language and makes up all his own words. He is a very singular artist.”

Animator Yarrow Cheney says people laugh for the same things, irrespective of age

As for whether there is a process to follow when making an animated film in terms of ensuring that it is appealing to children but also that it has layers for adults, Cheney says, “I like to work on films that I am entertained by. I think one of the reasons our films tend to have wide appeal from children to adults is that we make them for ourselves, but we also make them for the entire audience. Illumination (production company) films are trying to reach so many people, trying to spread joy and humour and that is not always easy. Everybody laughs roughly for the same things whether they are three years old or 90. I think that is part of the appeal of our films.”

Considering some of the animators who worked on the original The Lion King were not too happy about the remake, does Cheney have an opinion on the trend of remaking classic 2D films into live action and 3D?

“Different artists and generations have been recreating stories for centuries. And now we are seeing the same thing in film where you have these new ways of creating films. And just like anything else you can do something badly with a new technology or you can give another aspect to the story that people have not seen, retrace the characters and bring out flavours that were there all the time but maybe were not as clear.”

In that regard, what are the animation films that have impressed him and the artists he admires. “One of the wonderful things about animation today is that there is so much being done in so many different ways. Look at Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It was so different and fresh. I am sure the people who worked on it didn’t know whether it would be embraced by the audience. But it came out and everybody loved it.”

Of course, it is impossible to let Cheney, who worked as a production designer on Despicable Me (1 and 2), go without asking him about the Minions, who became so popular, they eventually starred in their own movie!

Animator Yarrow Cheney says people laugh for the same things, irrespective of age

Cheney laughs as he says, “There was a lot of artwork done. Different iterations of them because were they humans or little monsters? The original design was done by the art director, Eric Guillon. One day, he did this little line-up of characters and they were so appealing and so much fun with these little overalls and goggles. Then the co-director of Despicable Me, Pierre Coffin, started doing the voices (he did a lot of the minion voices and still does them to this day) and he kind of formed their personalities in that way. It was definitely a long process.”

Animator Yarrow Cheney says people laugh for the same things, irrespective of age

Did he ever expect them to steal the show in that manner? “Halfway through making the film, we realised these characters were so funny. Every new scene they were in we would all laugh. We just love them. But you make a film and you never know what people are going to think about it. You always hope that they see it the way that you see it or they appreciate it. When the film came out, people liked it and then fans started making minion outfits, drawings and so on. That is when we knew that ‘Wow, people really embraced these characters’.”

Dr Seuss' The Grinch will premiere on Sony Pix on December 22 at 1 pm. It will air again on the same day at 9 pm.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 8:41:20 AM |

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