Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
BEHIND THE SCENES
ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
FLINT LOCKWOOD: Since childhood, Flint Lockwood has dreamed of inventing something that would make a difference in people’s lives. Unfortunately, all of his absurd inventions (including spray-on shoes, hair unbalder, and monkey thought translator) have ended in trouble for him, his parents, and his hometown of Swallow Falls. But this ceaseless optimist has never given up on his lifelong goal and now, his latest invention – a machine that turns water into food – changes the lives of everyone in his small town for the better. Naturally, Flint is ecstatic, but there’s still a nagging suspicion that something, as always, will go wrong… Bill Hader plays Flint.
Bill Hader, a regular on "Saturday Night Live" who recently had a memorable turn as General Custer in Night at the Museum II: Battle of the Smithsonian, plays Flint. "Bill’s got a deep, rich, action-hero voice, but he’s also able to get across that Flint is a geeky guy who doesn’t know how to talk to girls. Only Bill could show both sides of Flint, the hero and the vulnerability," says Lord.
Miller adds, "Bill is known for his amazing vocal range – but what was so special about his performance was that he was able to be really funny and at the same time really sincere."
Hader understood what made the character tick. "Like everybody, Flint just wants to be liked," says the actor. "He’s a bit socially awkward, so he thinks he needs to do something big – invent something that will make everybody happy. He thinks that he has to prove himself, but what he doesn’t realize is that people like him just for who he is."
SAM SPARKS: Sam is a cute, young, enthusiastic intern at the Weather News Network who dreams of becoming a professional TV weather reporter. She gets her big break when she witnesses – and exclusively reports on – one of the greatest weather stories of all time: a cheeseburger rain! As Flint’s food machine creates more and more delicious food weather, Sam’s career skyrockets to worldwide fame. Everything is perfect until Sam discovers large, unexpected food storms in the forecast. Only Sam can help Flint stop the out-of-control machine, but to do so, she risks revealing a side of herself that she’s kept hidden from the world – and that might mean giving up on her dream. Anna Faris voices the role.
"Anna is lovely, winning, and charming," says Lord. "Not only does she make the character appealing, cute, and fun, but Anna can deliver a joke really well. She’s got an amazing voice."
"When she was a kid, Sam was passionate about science and very smart, and she got teased for it," says Miller. "So she covered it up. She’s very beautiful, so it was easy for her to do – to push it down and pretend to be ditzy, so the mocking would stop."
The problem is, Sam can’t hide her excitement about weather, which comes out in energized bursts. Through Flint, Sam learns to embrace her true self.
"She’s afraid to be who she really is," says Faris. "But she’s passionate about weather and science, and when she meets Flint, her job becomes her dream job. She’s suddenly in heaven, and that brings her out of her shell."
The chemistry between Hader and Faris was evident. "They did some recording sessions together – it was a lot of fun to watch them," says producer Pam Marsden.
TIM LOCKWOOD: Tim is Flint’s old-fashioned, technophobic, reserved dad. He loves his son and tries to be a supportive father, but only knows how to communicate using fishing metaphors, which make no sense to Flint. When Flint’s amazing food machine turns him into the town hero, Tim is worried that things will end in disaster, like Flint’s previous inventions. Only when Flint loses faith in himself does Tim rise to the occasion and find a way to show his son how much he loves and appreciates him. James Caan takes on the role.
"I wanted to make Tim a monotone guy – goes about his business, he’s got his shop and the sardines and that’s it," says Caan. "Y’know, we all fall into patterns and habits – you do ‘em long enough and they’re hard to break. So I can see how Tim and Flint fell into their relationship."
STEVE: Steve, Flint’s pet monkey, is his best (and only) friend and most trusted (and only) colleague. Flint, convinced that mankind would be improved if humans could understand the deep, wise thoughts of animals, invented the Monkey Thought Translator. Unfortunately, just about the only thought that goes through Steve’s tiny monkey-brain is "Hungry! Hungry! Hungry! Hungry!" But Steve and Flint still share a bond, and when Flint must save the world from his out-of-control food machine, Steve proves what a fearless sidekick he really is. Neil Patrick Harris gives voice. Yes, it’s true: we got Neil Patrick Harris to play a monkey.
"It was the only solution: get a first-class actor to say one-syllable words. And there’s no one better than Neil Patrick Harris," says Lord. Could casting him have had something to do with Harris’s relationship with the filmmakers following their stint on "How I Met Your Mother?" "Possibly. But unlikely," says Miller.
"Steve is Flint’s right-hand monkey. Flint builds a thought translator that Steve wears around his neck, but since Steve’s A, a monkey, and B, not so sharp, he doesn’t have a lot to say. He says the same eight things over and over!" Harris kids.
"I’m a method actor," he continues. "I wanted to know, how does a mentally deficient monkey say, ‘hungry?’ Dumb? Straight? Empty? Loud? Nobody had any real answers to my questions."
MAYOR SHELBOURNE: The self-absorbed mayor of Flint’s small town of Swallow Falls, Mayor Shelbourne knows a good thing when he sees it – and a rainfall of yummy cheeseburgers is definitely a good thing. He persuades Flint to make it rain three meals a day, allowing him to transform the sardine-canning town of Swallow Falls into the food-weather tourist destination of Chewandswallow. But it isn’t long before the mayor pushes Flint’s machine too hard, resulting in a smorgasbord of giant food mayhem that threatens to destroy the town… and perhaps the world. Bruce Campbell plays the part.
"I always enjoy playing complete blowhards," says Campbell. "The guys who think they’re smarter than they are, or better than they are, or more handsome than they are. They’re always bound to take a fall. Usually, it’s an idiot who gets to be a little bit less of an idiot by the end. But the mayor, he’s just an even bigger idiot at the end."
And how to play such a role? "He’s got a bit of showman, a bit of car salesman," says Campbell. "Actually, the visual of me recording the role must have been strange. I had just blown out my hamstring in an accident, so my first session I was sitting in a chair with a big block of ice underneath my leg, stuffing tissue paper in my mouth to sound fat."
"BABY" BRENT: Brent is the biggest celebrity in Swallow Falls. When he was a baby, he posed for the label of Swallow Falls' only export: sardines. Now grown up, Brent lives off the glory gained in his infancy, even continuing to do the pose – in a diaper – for special events in town. But Brent's world is about to come crashing down when Flint’s food-weather makes him the new town hero. With his star tarnished, will Brent find a new purpose in life? Andy Samberg voices.
And how does he describe Swallow Falls’ brightest star (at least, in his own mind)? "Brent is a total moron – I mean that in the best possible way," says Samberg. "He was a child actor and the mascot for the sardines they used to produce in Swallow Falls. He became their local celebrity and kind of a hero, but now he’s all grown up and he’s one of the most massive buffoons in the history of film. When I saw what he was going to look like, I thought, ‘Oh, I hit the jackpot. He’s a complete weirdo.’ He’s got the whole sweatsuit thing going on – he’s an idiot."
EARL DEVEREAUX: Earl is the overprotective town cop who insists on everyone obeying the rules. Still, Earl has a soft spot for his "adorable angel son," Cal, and gives him everything he wants. When the food-weather starts falling, whatever Cal wants turns out to be all the junk food he can eat… and then some. Eventually, Earl’s lax parenting puts Cal in harms’ way, and he learns that you can’t just give kids whatever they want. Still, when Flint sees the unconditional love that Earl has for Cal, he longs for the same relationship with his own father. Who else but Mr. T could play the role? Nobody, fool.
Mr. T lends Earl both sides of his personality. "For the children, the ‘T’ stands for ‘tender.’ To the bad guys and thugs, the ‘T’ stands for ‘tough,’" says Mr. T. "I look tough and I act tough, but I’m nothing but a big teddy bear."
Mr. T is famous for the preparation he brings to his roles, and Earl is no exception. "Before I’d come in, I’d do stretching, get ready. This isn’t like on ‘The A-Team,’ when I was really throwing a guy – I didn’t throw anybody in the booth. But you still gotta be in shape, be loose, or you can hurt yourself. So I prepared."
"I’m not sure if the character embodies T or if T embodies the character," says Lord. "They’ve both got a lot of love, they’re both very intense, and they’re both real heroes."
"On the other hand," Miller says, "T has a Mohawk and Earl is bald. So in that sense, they’re total opposites."
CAL DEVEREAUX: Cal is the adorable young son of Swallow Falls’ town cop Earl and his wife, Regina. Earl and Regina love Cal so much they don’t want to put any restrictions on him, especially when it comes to how much of Flint Lockwood’s delicious food weather Cal should eat, which eventually leads to them all learning about the dangers of unchecked consumption. Cal is played by Bobb’e J. Thompson.
"I was thinking about whether I would use my own voice or a different voice," says Thompson. "And I thought, ‘Cal’s an all-around great kid. He’s a cool lil’ dude. And I’m a cool lil’ dude. I’ll just do my voice!’"
MANNY: Manny is Sam’s mild-mannered cameraman who accompanies her to the island of Swallow Falls and shoots the footage that makes Sam and Flint famous. An immigrant from Guatemala, the taciturn Manny keeps secret his many (many, many) skills honed in his homeland. Benjamin Bratt lends his silky smooth voice to the role.
And taking on a cameo role as the lead anchor at Sam’s cable weather station is none other than Al Roker. "He’s your typical pompous anchor – not like a weather guy at all," says Roker. "But I will say one thing: he has some great hair."
CREATING THE FILM
Taking the helm of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is the writing-and-directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who make their directorial debut. The pair got their start in animation in college, where they made animated student films. From there, they created the animated series "Clone High" for MTV before landing at the live-action situation comedy "How I Met Your Mother."
"The major difference between television and film is that television is primarily about character, jokes, and pacing, while film is about story," says Miller. "We knew from the beginning that we would have to nail down the story in a way that an episode of a television show just doesn’t require."
They would have help: not only an entire story team, headed by Kris Pearn, but a culture in which every opinion was heard and valued. "On a television show, your voice as the writer-producer is the last word," says Lord. "On an animated movie, people are encouraged to give their opinions and to be vocal when they disagree. It takes some time to get used to it, but it makes the movie so much better when your closest collaborators push you to do your best work. Nobody will let anyone else settle for second-best."
"Chris and Phil are very collaborative and also very specific about their vision for the film," says Pearn. "As storyboard artists, it required us to be just as specific – always looking for the best gag, the best emotional performance, the most efficient turn of story. Our little drawings aren’t final artwork, but they are the way we judge how the story is coming together. When you have a breakthrough moment that makes a scene work, it’s wonderful."
In addition to creating an entire cast of characters, the filmmakers also created a new setting for the story: the island of Swallow Falls, a one-horse town where the only industry – sardine fishing and canning – has been decimated by the public’s changing taste.
"We looked at towns like our own Culver City that have seen hard times and tried to remake themselves," says production designer Justin Thompson. "We let the visuals tell the story. We give Swallow Falls neutral colors, dirty textures, lots of wires everywhere. When the town is remade, everything’s shiny and new, bright and colorful, but there’s a disingenuous quality to it, too – it’s kind of fake and pre-fabricated.
Even in the details, Flint’s setting informs how he goes about creating his machine. "Flint is a dynamic, brilliant guy, but he just doesn’t have much available to him," says Thompson. "So he creates a computer as powerful as a modern desktop, but it’s the size of a room, because he’s using obsolete computers and 80s videogame consoles that he’s jury-rigged together."
Even after they figured out the story and the look of the film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs represented an enormous challenge for the directors and their team at Sony Pictures Animation. Not only would they have to replicate falling (and bouncing) food as it would behave in real life, but also real-life weather conditions like rain, sleet, and tornados. Sure, the fact that it’s a spaghetti tornado makes it completely absurd – but it still has to behave like a real tornado.
"Whether we’re dropping ten thousand pieces of food on the town or building a giant meatball that the characters fly into, it all falls to us," says Rob Bredow, the film’s visual effects supervisor.
The first step in creating these effects is to find out what the food does in real life. In addition to filling a bathtub full of Jell-O to see how it reacted to things being bounced on it, the filmmakers dropped food in front of time-lapse cameras so the animators could study how cheeseburgers react when dropped from great heights. Hint: there’s a lot of splatting involved.
To animate a falling burger, each part – lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, etc. – had to be built separately in the computer. "When that burger hits the ground," says Daniel Kramer, the film’s digital effects supervisor, "it can break apart, or it might stay together, or maybe it splats some ketchup and mustard on the ground. We had different systems for different levels of detail; background burgers might just hit, but the burgers in front – our ‘hero burgers’ – got special attention. We made sure every pickle was flying out just right."
Another challenging sequence is one in which Flint builds Sam a giant palace out of Jell-O. Not only is it the directors’ favorite scene, but it is also one that allows the technical team to flex their creative muscles.
"We began by filling a bathtub with Jell-O and dropping action figures into it, to see how they would bounce," says Miller.
But the bounce was the least of it. Jell-O is translucent, so light goes through it, but it also reflects and refracts off of it. The filmmakers would have to get all of these properties right – or it wouldn’t look like Jell-O and would spoil the sequence for the audience.
And it wasn’t just the lighting that would be tricky. "It’s a crazy sequence, and an interesting one from an animation standpoint," says Chris Juen, co-producer of the film. "Which do you animate first, the characters or the moving environment? And as the environment moves – effects animation – how does that affect the character animation, which is a different group of animators? But boy, when you see it final, it’s a magical place for the characters."
To light the film, the production used a lighting system called Arnold that it developed for the feature film Monster House, which was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Animated Feature Film. Until now, animated films were lit with separate lights falling on each of the separate pieces in the frame, then rendered together. The process worked, but was labor-intensive. With Arnold, lighting mimics live-action photography. Rather than points of light, animators can use area lights. And instead of simply capturing the direct illumination, Arnold allows them to capture the light that reflects off an object. Through this global illumination process, filmmakers are able to create much more complicated scenes.
"There was a lot about Arnold that still had to be developed, so we invested a lot of time and energy into the system," says Juen. "Arnold allows our artists to light like you would in real-life – in the computer, the artist can put the light where he wants it to be, and the shadows fall naturally. It’s a much more grounded, cinematic process than was previously done."
In addition, Sony Pictures Imageworks, SPA’s sister company, is very experienced in 3-D, having made seven 3-D films over the years, including Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. "The concept of food-weather seemed perfect to experience in 3-D," says Miller.
"The power of 3-D is to draw you into a movie even more, to allow you to empathize with the characters in a way you might not were you not so involved," adds Lord.
"We spend two-and-a-half years working on a film," notes Chris Juen, who previously worked on Surf’s Up, "and when we go and watch it in 3-D, even we’re amazed. You watch the spaghetti tornado in 3-D, spitting meatballs and objects toward the camera, and you in the audience really feel like you’re part of the story, rather than just watching it. For us, we think, ‘Wow, we built that! Amazing!’"