PICTURES COME FIRST IN JAPANESE HIT, SO TRANSLATION STRIVES TO MAKE WORDS FIT
One of the most common misconceptions about animated movies produced by such famous American 'toonsmiths as Pixar and Disney is that the work of the visual artists who draw the characters is the engine that drives production on the films. In fact, it's the verbal artists -- the human actors -- who provide the bony scaffolding upon which the characters are later fleshed out by animators.
Making ``Monsters, Inc.,'' the big furry hit for Pixar in 2001, director Pete Docter spent days in a recording studio listening to Billy Crystal improvise much of the wisecracking patter for his animated character, Mike Wazowski.
But when Docter was put in charge of the American adaptation of ``Howl's Moving Castle'' -- the latest waking dream from Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, which opens in San Francisco on Friday and throughout the Bay Area on June 17 -- he had to keep Crystal's character on a much shorter leash. This time, the words had to precisely fit Miyazaki's animation, which meant that Crystal's vocal performance in the pivotal role of Calcifer -- a small tongue of fire with a big mouth -- had to be controlled down to the last syllable.
And there was no room for embellishments. ``Billy would play around, throw in modern references and little jokes,'' Docter says. ``But we made a decision to not put those in. Miyazaki creates a world that you get to live in for a while, and by the end of the film you feel like you've actually gone somewhere else. That world is so immersive that you can never wink and step outside the story with a reference to Starbucks or something.''