Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax came out on Blu-ray this week from Universal Home Ent. The hit from Chris Meledandri looks gorgeous, showing off the outstanding work from Illumination Mac Guff in France. In addition to a deleted scene (see below), there’s also the mini-movies: Wagon-Ho!, Forces of Nature, and Serenade.
But the ecological cautionary tale from Dr. Seuss provided all sorts of story and animation challenges.
“The Lorax has its challenges because as a film we’re asking audiences to grapple with issues that have real weight to them and to find the expression of a movie that can both do justice to [Geisel's] intent as well as realize the storytelling that is highly entertaining and engaging,” Meledandri suggests. “But Geisel was so prescient. Even though he was writing in the ’70s, there’s almost a timeless quality in the way he perceives society and the individual that allows for both adherence to the spirit of what he’s saying and to be relevant in a contemporary world.”
Director Chris Renaud says, “One of the funny things that we discovered was that because they don’t look like trees or animals that we understand or relate to directly, you have to create, based on Seuss’ illustrations, something that’s believable. Because the Truffula trees are beautiful — they look like cotton candy. But, by the same token, you have to create something that the audience feels something for. So it can’t just feel like Candyland; you have to buy it as a real forest. So we looked at Birch trees and then figured out how to make those wonderful illustrations work in a 3-D movie. It’s a real fantasy forest that you could relate to when it’s being chopped down.
“We had a design that was very city-like and very dense, which wasn’t quite working. But we went back and looked at a little drawing in the upper corner of the page when the little boy is first coming to look at the Lorax. And we sort of used that as our basis: it’s got these big, curvy roads and a couple of building shapes. In some ways, the easier choice would’ve been to create a Blade Runner-like dystopian future with smog. But of course we wanted to create something that was fun and entertaining, but in some way relates a little more about where we are today, with inflatable bushes and plastic flowers and fake nature that still has a sense of fun, much like Disneyland or Las Vegas or Dubai.
“We did quite a few things that were new to us. With Despicable Me, we made very clear decisions with an existing pipeline, but we also knew it was our first film and there were a lot of things that had to be worked out with the cloth effects. But we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. With this one, we decided to throw all caution to the wind and had a plethora of furred characters and environments. Every Truffula tree is a fur shader essentially; grass — characters walking on grass; and large crowds of both animals and humans in the town of Thneedville; and of course in the forests. And we’re continuing to master crowds for subsequent films like Despicable Me 2. The Minions are simpler characters but there’s a nice hand-animated feel to the crowds, which we tried to maintain in Thneedville. Certainly some things are replicated, but we didn’t use any software like Massive — but certain spots call out characters in little background animations, which makes it fun. It gives that world life. I think at the end of the day, the crowds ended up being the most work intensive from the rendering point of view.”