I recently had the opportunity to chat with Director Gary Rydstrom about his fabulous new LucasFilm animated musical fantasy Strange Magic. In case you haven’t heard of the film it’s a fairy tale musical inspired by “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Popular songs from the past six decades help tell the tale of a colorful cast of goblins, elves, fairies and imps, and their hilarious misadventures sparked by the battle over a powerful potion. Our interview was partially moderated by one of the creatives at LucasFilm but we also got to ask questions as well.
Here is what Gary had to say about the film:
Thee moderator wanted to know if he had a character that was a muse to him that he was most engaged by in the film?
I think well I actually like the Bog, the Bog King, because that thing we talked about earlier (With George Lucas) about having your heart broken. I think we all go through a thing that’s a completely natural thing, it’s when you get your heart broken, you say that’s it, I’m not going to let myself be vulnerable ever again. He goes to an extreme but it’s something that I can relate to, you know. It’s so painful to go through something that makes you feel hurt and less than you should be and you just don’t want to do it again. So your solution for it is to put up this shield and never let anyone in again. , I know we all do that and I thought he was someone I could relate to. So once you get past that veneer and let your real self come out, it’s so much more satisfying both for him and for the one he falls in love with.
The moderator mentions the how great the Strange Magic musical number sequence is.
Also it’s a beautiful song.
The moderator wanted to know if he could tell us a little bit about what it was like to work with the cast and what they brought to their characters?
Well casting is pretty key for a movie like this and as George said, you have to find people who both act and sing and that the whole Alan Cumming, both actor and singer amazing. Evan Rachel Wood is as good a singer as she is an actress. Sam Palladio who plays Roland is an amazing singer as well as a very funny actor. Kristin Chenoweth who is funny and as I have said before, I was in the room with her as I was with all the actors when they were singing their songs and when she hit some of those high notes in Love Is Strange, it was like my glasses broke and it was amazing. For years again, I was doing sound effects as a career and I hadn’t really worked with actors much.
Then as I started to for animation, I really love it. Animation is the same thing, animators are actors too, but I love being in the room with actors and it’s really hard for them, because they’re acting alone, they’re not acting with other actors. It would have been great if they did, but it just doesn’t work out so it’s them. You describe the scene as best you can, you do line readings with them to set up the scene. Elijah made me work the hardest, because I would line read with him, but he’s very active and it requires a lot of energy, so I was often playing either the Sugar Plum Fairy or Dawn. AndI was actually pretty good at it, luckily none of those videos exist. But it’s part of directing then actors for animation is, is taking on that role and working with them, that’s why it’s fun, you know, since I don’t really act, I’m terrible at it. But it’s fun to, to help draw that out from the actors and be surprised by what they brought to it and they all brought their own personalities to the characters once we cast them. They all brought something of themselves to it.
Simple things, like Alan Cumming is Scottish and the Bog King has, you know, we talked about it, give it about a twenty percent Scottish accent, so it’s a twenty percent Scottish accent. Evan Rachel Wood is very much like Marianne but she’s the sweetest, she’s got the most amazing happy laugh. And she’s the sweetest thing but she can be tough as nails if she needs to be and so they all brought something of themselves to the role. I love that part of it, I love what the actors brought to this and I’m, I’m actually most proud, as George said, and I’m going to quote this, I’ve never heard it before, but it’s a great idea. It’s that it takes twice as many actors to make an animated film, that’s brilliant. I’m really proud in this movie of that combination of the animators drawing on what the actors do with the voice and creating that side of the acting, and together creating a character that it’s still magic to me when that works.
I got to ask my question which was, “When you first introduced the movie, you said that this movie is really about finding beauty in something you didn’t expect to find beauty in. What example in your own life did that happen to you, that you found beauty in something you didn’t expect to find beauty in?”
Well that’s interesting, what did I, yeah the, um, there’s a, uh, you know, in the movie it’s, it’s a, we do a place as a metaphor, kind of a, you know, a, a dark forest that you find beauty in. Um, I think and sometimes in, in, in art you see and I, I, I love art. And yet there are some paintings, you know, that have kind of a horrifying or that have a kind of a darkness to them. But then you can still see the beauty in the darkness, there. Same thing with music, there’s sometimes music that feels very dark especially modern music, which is a little more dissonant.
John Cage was always a favorite of mine but it took a while to kind of find the beauty in it, so it was some of that more modern music, you kind of have to get past the surface of it, in a weird way, and then you find the beauty. I don’t even know how to describe it. One of my favorite jazz artists, I love jazz, is Thelonious Monk, who does these riffs. When I first heard them, I thought, this is not making any sense, it’s not connecting for me. But then when it does connect, and you kind of see the beauty in it. That’s really the one analogy I can think of now.
And of course people, there’s always people that when you first meet them, you go oh, I just, I can’t stand being around this person and then six months later, you’re best friends. Or yeah, your married. I think well, it certainly happens with people. I think we do judge people at first and then once we get to know them, it’s amazing who we become best friends with or certainly amazing who we marry. So we always have to get past that, that, the outside, you know, the cover of the book, to find out what’s great inside, and by great we, that’s when we use the word beauty.
Speaking of art, the moderator chimed in that the visual arts in this film are stunning. Was he inspired by any particular artist, or fairy artists for the character look in this film?
Well this is a lot about artwork that goes back to, you know, some of the early stuff that George did. I think they drew inspiration from classic fairy tale art and some people did classic fairies, but made it their own. There is, as George said, it has a realism to it, so it’s not quite as ethereal as some classic fairy art might be from the classic fairy books and all that.
So I think all that was drawn together, but I think under the idea that make it a part of our world. You know, the back yard idea, so that the fairies a lot of the design of the fairies were drawn from butterflies, so things that really exist, so that for one reason if we were to imagine the story, if we see the fairies from a distance, we just think they’re butterflies. So that works for the story as well as a design thing, and then characters like Bog King and some of bug mashup, visual mashups of insects and different creatures.
It was so great to chat with Gary about this film and learn so much about the creation of such a beautiful magical fairytale.
Check out the trailer for Strange Magic Below to check it out for yourself:
Don’t forget Strange Magic is in theaters now and it comes to you from the mind of legendary film maker George Lucas.
For more info on Strange Magic visit:
Run out and see Strange Magic!
I was solely invited and provided transportation and accommodations to this media day by Disney. All Opinions are my own.