This week we got to speak to the multi-talented Genndy Tartakovsky about his direction of the new-to-theaters animated feature Hotel Transylvania. This film is a big step in an already star-studded path for Tartakovsky whose creative career also crossed paths with or was straight up responsible for Dexter’s Laboratory, Power Puff Girls, Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars, and soon Popeye – another animated feature coming soon. Have read here as we trade words with the director on his new vision for a monster-filled hotel filled with the likes of Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, and Andy Sandberg.
The story we’re seeing here with Hotel Transylvania is one with lots of monsters all having a fabulous time staying in a hotel run by Dracula. Of course Dracula has a daughter who wants to see the world, this all coming to a head when a human named Jonathan arrives at the hotel by chance – and there’s not supposed to be any humans at the hotel. Thus ensues a lovely comedy fest crowned with the top-notch visuals of Sony Pictures Animation and the music of Mark Mothersbaugh.
What we’re interested in is how Tartakovsky handled this movie with his past experience in more traditional animation in mind. How does Tartakovsky work with TV shows vs a star-studded feature for the big screen?
Genndy Tartakovsky: I think that one of the main differences is the pressure. With a TV show you work for multiple shows and when the show comes out, if one episode comes out and doesn’t perform as well as it could, the audience usually forgives you. Then the next episode is going to be better. There’s a pressure to perform, but it’s OK if you have an off episode once in a while.
With a movie, you have opening weekend and then that’s it. Everything is done for that opening weekend, and if you don’t get the characters right, and the humor and the entertainment and everything, then it fails and all that work is gone. It’ll be gone within 6-8 weeks and then that’s it.
So to think of it like you have one shot, it makes you think quite differently.
SG: You’ve had quite an expansive career when it comes to animation – how would you describe the difference between shows you’ve worked on like Dexter’s Lab or all the way back to Batman: The Animated Series back up to Star Wars: The Clone Wars and this new film Hotel Transylvania?
GT: In a way it’s hard to compare because one is CG and one is 2D. The two are very obviously different in the way we use the pencil. The one big difference for me, personally, is – when I worked on Dexter, especially – is I know how to do every different part of animation production. From the lighting to the camera work to the sound editing, mixing; I’ve done it all before.
Some things I can do better than others, obviously, but I know how to do it. So if there was something to troubleshoot, I could have an opinion about it. But then on CG, I don’t know how it works – to fix something, I have to trust my official tech supervisor Dan Kramer. All I could say is “yeah I don’t like the way that’s working,” but never say “let’s use this different lens to make it work.”
GT: I could just say “this isn’t working, let’s try a different way to try and fix it.” It was something that was very difficult for me because I’m so used to problem solving and having this push that’s a big part of being a director, in my experience. Especially on technical things – “why doesn’t this camera look right?” And then I’d figure it out. So in our production I couldn’t do any of it because I just didn’t know.
After a while I realized that I’m in good hands, and it became easier that way. In some ways it was a lot easier, in some ways it was a lot harder.
SG: You recently did a Reddit AMA post answering questions from the public – could you describe the changes in the way you’re able to communicate with viewers of your shows and now movies over this rather quickly evolving time period you’ve been working in?
GT: I remember when we started on Dexter, the internet was just sort of taking off – and we never went online to see the reactions. And now you can get thousands and thousands of reactions to a movie or TV show. I remember when we were doing [Samurai] Jack and it was taking off and after each episode we’d go and see what people thought, and on Sym-Bionic Titan it was even more intense and especially on Clone Wars. You could go to Star Wars [online] and totally see that all the fans were talking about if we messed it up or not.
What’s great for television is you get instant feedback. It’s a more specific audience that’s talking back, it’s not everybody, but you definitely get a clue, and see what people like, if your stuff is landing. It was really hard on Dexter – we would do an episode, we’d air it, I’d watch it at home, and I’d go “yeah I guess people liked it, I have no idea.”
GT: Then on Monday you’d get a rating, “oh I did a 2.2″, and that’s it. It wasn’t until I started doing comic book conventions and film conventions that I actually met some of the people who love the show and they would say how much they loved it. Then our numbers would slowly start going up, and you’d start to realize – “oh, it’s getting popular”.
It’s a really hard thing to capture, the popularity, especially when, in the beginning when Cartoon Network only had 12 million viewers. You know when Nickelodeon has a 120 or 160 or something, it’s different in such a mass. But what’s so much fun about a movie is that I can go to a theater to see if I’ve failed or succeeded instantly.
SG: What’s the difference between the built-in fanbase you had with Star Wars: Clone Wars and the audience you’ll have with Hotel Transylvania? Is there a big difference?
GT: For sure when you’re doing something that’s built-in like Star Wars, it’s all about getting it right – for yourself being a fan, and for the people who know the material and the last thing you want to do is be insincere about the material and change it so much that people hate it. Like saying “that was a huge disaster!” But here you’re presenting a new idea.
And you’re selling it for the first time, so you want to try to do something – you’re trying to sell your point of view. You want to do something that’s new and fresh and people have an experience watching. It’s a really big pet peeve of mine to – you know, I’m selling my point of view, it’s what I get hired for. And if my point of view is the same as 5 other directors, then I’m screwed. Replaceable.
But if my point of view is very unique, and strong, and people can sense it, then I’m much more successful that way. To me, that’s what the difference is.
Stay tuned for more entertainment coverage straight from the source here on SlashGear and be sure to check out Hotel Transylvania in theaters right this minute across the USA! This film has already set a new record for highest-grossing September opening weekend with a budget of $85 million and total earnings of $51.1 million – keep it growing!