Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wreck-It-Ralph borne out of a man with game

I grew up when video games were a brand-new form of entertainment. I remember seeing Pong for the first time and thinking it was the cheapest animated show I had ever seen. Once I realized that it was an interactive game and that I could control what was happening on the screen, I was captivated. A love affair was born.

As a teenager, I spent untold hours at my local arcade – Golf n’ Stuff, in Ventura, Calif. – pumping quarters into the machines. I am pretty sure I personally financed the Japanese game company Namco with years of Pac-Man and Dig Dug play. And my favorite game from those earlier years was probably Dragon’s Lair. Being someone who loved hand-drawn animation (and would eventually make it a career), I was blown away by the idea that my two favorite things – animation and video games – had been combined into one. My parents loved telling me that I was wasting my days on these games, but I like to think that it was research for a project that would come later in my life.

In 2008, John Lasseter, the chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, asked if I would be interested in joining Disney as a director. I had spent an amazing 20 years directing on shows including The Simpsons and Futurama, but this was an opportunity to work with someone I had admired since my days as a student at CalArts. John was a pioneer of computer-graphics animation, and I jumped at the chance. But what happened next I could never have imagined.

He suggested that I think about developing a story set in the world of video games. The idea of a video game movie had been floating around Disney Animation for at least 10 years, though no one had been able to crack a story. So here I was being offered the opportunity to combine my loves at the greatest animation studio in the world. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

For four years I lived and breathed the world of video games. The team spent work hours playing games from Donkey Kong to Halo to Mario Kart, all of which would heavily influence what eventually became Wreck-It Ralph. And while I always believed in the film, I had days when I wondered if it would resonate with anyone outside the walls of Disney Animation.

Having spent the past eight weeks traveling the world – from Paris to Buenos Aires to Sydney, Australia – I can tell you that the amazing thing is how universal video games are. And while the movie has struck a chord with all ages, it has really hit home with people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, who reflect back on the untold hours they spent in arcades. I realize that I was not alone back then.

As for my favorite game of 2012, that’s a hard one – not because there are so many to choose from (there are), but because I had to give up video games to finish the film. The final year of production requires late nights and seven-day workweeks; I knew myself well enough to know that if I were to pick up a new game, I would be lost in it for hours, days and weeks.

The game I most wanted to play throughout the year (and it took unbelievable restraint not to purchase it) was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I look forward to disappearing into its clutches now that promoting Wreck-It Ralph is finished. See you in six months!

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