“Why aren’t you guys studying? How do you have time to listen to some guy talk about cartoons when you’re in college?” Rich Moore, director of Disney Animation Studio’s newest release Wreck-it-Ralph, joked in a conference-call interview based off questions from student newspapers across North America, which was moderated by Disney Animations Communications Director Amy Astley.
Moore, who is best known as being one of the three original directors of The Simpsons and has worked on numerous other television comedies such as Futurama, says that in directing Wreck-it-Ralph he has had the opportunity to combine two of his favourite things: animation and video games.
“I thought it was kind of ironic because as a kid and a teenager I would get the conversation, I would get the talk, several times from my parents. It would go: you are wasting your time at that arcade and no good will come of playing video games. So, I like to think I proved them wrong.”
Wreck-it-Ralph, currently in theatres, is the story of Ralph (John C. Reilley), the villain in an ’80s arcade game who is tired of playing the bad-guy. He sets out on a cross-video game quest to try and prove he can be a hero. Moore says the concept of the bad-guy becoming a good-guy was not the original plan. He and writer Phil Johnston had initially tried to base the movie around Fix-it-Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer), who is the good-guy in Ralph’s game.
“Something about the perfect kind of hero character from a video game felt so Mario…it was tough to build a nice, comedic, story with a lot of heart to it around that character…it’s more interesting to watch a story about Donkey Kong than Mario, especially if Donkey Kong is wondering why do I throw barrels at this guy? And why do people hate me for doing it?”
Switching the focus from the hero to the villain was just one of the unconventional moves Moore made for the film. He says the recording process for Wreck-it-Ralph was different from other animated films in that Moore and his team scheduled the actors to “perform against each other” as opposed to reading their scenes individually.
“That’s what [the audience] wants to feel, the energy between those two actors and what happens when they place against one another,” he says. “So myself and Clark Spencer, who’s our Producer, took it upon ourselves to kind of reimagine the recording process in animation…we’re not slaves to a single process…our process is very fluid and nimble, it can change to service the movie and the people that work in the movies and I think the movie reflects the success of working that way.”
Moore says the strongest part of the film, however, was the collaborative element behind its creation. “It’s that collaboration between people in a creative environment that’s very—it’s electric and exciting to be there as ideas are being born…seeing it happen right before your eyes.”
The theme of collaboration is an important part of his fluid process. Moore attended California Institute of the Arts’ in the mid-eighties when animation was “bleak” and the driving force behind the program was student passion.
“No one was in it to make money or to have any sort of fame or to even have a job,” Moore says. “We went in without knowing what the hell we were going to walk into…but we loved animation and somehow wanted to work in it.” He says that while the industry has since revived and continues to evolve and develop, the creative energy and positivity he experienced in school is still as present and as pure on the set of Wreck-it-Ralph.
“Our class was a little family,” he says. “If someone was having a problem with their movie…everyone would pitch in and throw ideas into the mix to try and help them make it the best they could…It’s like we wanted the best for each other. I think that that spirit is alive at Disney Animation Studio right now.”
Moore says his favourite part of working on Wreck-it-Ralph, and being a director in general, is working with the people involved in the movie business. He encourages students who want to be involved in the industry to persevere and hold onto their dreams, no matter what obstacles or negativity they may face, because the experiences and friendships are worth the battle.
“I love the people that work in this medium,” he says. “I love the personality of the people that work in this medium. It’s probably the biggest group of weirdos that you’re ever going to meet. They’re so collaborative, they’re so creative, and have such great ideas that working side by side with these people is such a pleasure, and it’s fun to go to work.”