An Early Look At 'Wreck-It Ralph': New Footage, Plot Points & More
by Ben Pearson
August 1, 2012
Yesterday, a handful of movie journalists and I visited the Walt Disney Animation Studio in Burbank for an in-depth early look at Disney's newest animated film, Wreck-It Ralph. This was no normal press event, though: we spoke with director Rich Moore, but also talked to producers, animators, visual effects designers, art designers, got a first look at artwork for Disney's upcoming movie Frozen, and screened the new short Paperman in its entirety (check out our video blog of that here). Read on for some highlights of the experience as well as a recap of the new footage and plot points the filmmakers unveiled. Check it out!
For those just joining us, the plot follows Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), a video game bad guy who has been smashing the same building in Niceland in the game "Fix-It Felix, Jr." for thirty years and who yearns for the same acceptance that his fellow Nicelanders give Felix, the protagonist who cleans up Ralph's daily mess. Ralph leaves his game and tries to win a medal in other games in order to gain their favor, and along the way he forms an unlikely alliance with Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, Ralph unintentionally puts the entire arcade in danger in the process. (See the trailer.)
It's clear the second you walk into the animation building on the Disney lot that everyone working on this film is passionate about video games. Aside from the dozens of concept art lining the walls and video game-themed maps and charts documenting the film's progress (one is an 8-bit racetrack with cars that represent each element of the film heading toward a checkered flag at the end of the track), the designers have actually created a real arcade version of "Fix-It Felix, Jr.", the game that Ralph calls home in the movie. (You can play that game online for free right here.) There are also a ton of other classic games lined up in their very own arcade, for when the animators need a respite from their work or a jolt of inspiration.
We were shown about 25 minutes of the movie, and though we had already seen some of it at Comic-Con, there was quite a bit of new footage that hadn't been seen yet. We were shown a scene in which Ralph heads from his Bad Anon meeting back into Niceland and realizes the town is celebrating the 30th anniversary of their game without him. Felix and the rest of the citizens are having a party on the top floor of their building (complete with some pretty slick dance moves) and they're horrified when Ralph crashes the party. This is the point where he decides to go after a medal in another game, which happens to be the FPS "Hero's Duty."
Jane Lynch voices Calhoun, a tough-talking Sergeant who leads the troops of "Hero's Duty" against Cy-Bugs in intergalactic war. A lot of discussions were had about the look and feel of this game-within-a-film, with triangular shapes, grey colors, and neon green highlights emerging as the most important visual elements. We saw a sequence in this environment rendered layer by layer, adding debris, flashing lights, and smoke to the original pre-vis until the end result resembled something like "Halo" or "Call of Duty" modern FPS. Hilariously, we also saw what the player looks like in the world of the game: a Wall-E-like robot with a screen for a face and two human arms that stick out to look like a guy holding a gun. It's a cool design, and a great example of how this movie makes us look at the world of video games in a slightly different way.
From there, Ralph crash lands into "Sugar Rush," the Mario Kart-esque racing game made entirely of candy and inspired by Dr. Seuss style architecture of Antoni Gaudi. We spend about half of the movie in this game world, and this is where Ralph first meets Vanellope. She takes him back to her place and Ralph discovers that they're kindred spirits: Venellope is a glitch in her game, shunned by the other characters just like Ralph is. She lives in the Diet Cola Hot Springs, an abandoned mess of a place inside a volcano with Mentos hanging like stalactites. (They occasionally drop into the soda "lava", resulting in an explosion that comically burns Ralph.) He smashes her a race track ditch in the ground and teaches her how to drive so she can practice and he can return home, and it's clear he develops a soft spot for the quick-witted girl.
After all of that, we got a quick glimpse at Disney's new film, Frozen, their next CG animated project that's loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen." The musical stars Broadway legend Idina Menzel as Elsa, a queen in self-imposed exile, and Kristen Bell as her sister Anna, who, along with a mountain man named Kristoff, travels into the icy wilderness to track find her sister and bring her home. Bobby Lopez (Book of Mormon, Winnie the Pooh) and his wife Kristen are writing the songs for this movie, and along with Menzel's talents, we'll also be hearing Bell's singing voice too. (The younger actress also got her start on Broadway.)
We saw some concept art for the various characters in Frozen (a goofy enchanted snowman named Olaf and a bizarre reindeer named Sven look to be the comic relief) and some dazzling locations, like a castle nestled into a gorgeous mountain range with interior designs that had a beautiful, ethereal, classic Sleeping Beauty look to them. There were also research photos from the crew's trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where they trudged through ten feet of snow to get an up close experience regarding how those motions look and feel so they can incorporate it into the film.
Jumping back into Wreck-It Ralph to finish the day, we spoke in small groups with the film's director Rich Moore and producer Clark Spencer about the film near the end of the day. Moore revealed that he actually began this project with Fix-It Felix Jr. in mind as the main character.
"Early on... we were approaching this that this was going to be Felix's story, and starting him out as a good guy and ending up as a better guy just wasn't a very compelling story. So Ralph existed as this supporting character to Felix, and Phil Johnston, the writer, and I said, 'Well, what about Ralph? This would be an interesting character to watch go through this kind of process of becoming a bigger person, a better person, a less selfish person.' The story really got traction at that point. It really started to take off."
We also learned that the movie had a few other previous incarnations, going under the titles of High Score and Joe Jump over the years. In keeping with the video game theme, one of the film's coolest elements is that they use characters we know from real video games. But even with those cameos, the designers still had their work cut out for them. Mike Gabriel, the film's art designer (who directed Pocahontas and Rescuers Down Under), said that the cameos only make up about 20% of the characters in the movie and that the filmmakers had to still create more characters than any other film in the history of Disney animation to round out the rest. There were 188 original characters created for this project, which is a staggeringly high number when you consider most animated movies only have 40-60. Here's early character concept art:
As far as cameos go, Moore had a few classic characters that he wanted to make sure he snuck in there:
"I love the classics. Dig Dug, I always liked Dig Dug. And I didn't just want to go for the big ones, but just kind of get in those little ones, the kind of tertiary ones like Paperboy and stuff like that. Q*bert, I loved playing Q*bert. He's such a weird character and just interesting. It's like, 'what is that world where he's jumping on that pyramid and these other guys that are with him?' So we really wanted him, and the fact that we were able to use him as the homeless character? It was the one character that a company would allow us to play a homeless guy."
There was so much more that we saw and talked about, but those are the highlights — the best of the best. This movie looks absolutely terrific, and from what I've seen so far, I'm almost positive it's going to easily be the best video game movie made to date. The animation for Wreck-It Ralph is set to be completed this week, so now it's up to the lighting and visual effects experts to put the finishing touches on the film in time for its November 2nd release date. Mark your calendars, people — this one is going to be totally awesome.
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