If you were to make a list of your favourite episodes of The Simpsons, it’s likely that several of them would be directed by Rich Moore. Involved with the programme since its pilot, Rich was an integral part of the show’s glorious, peerless first decade. Rich followed The Simpsons by becoming the supervising director of Futurama – directing many of its best episodes too – and has now directed his first feature, Wreck-It Ralph.
Starring John C. Reilly as the eponymous Ralph, Wreck-It Ralph is about a villain from an arcade game who dreams of becoming a hero. Like his television work, the film is visually inventive, densely-layered, and as sweet as it is funny. To coincide with Wreck-It Ralph’s release, we spoke to Rich about making the film.
How did you first get involved with the project?
Disney had entertained the idea of a video game movie for about 15 years – there had been at least two other versions of the film that didn’t take off. When I joined Disney in 2008 John Lasseter said to me, “We’ve wanted to do this for a long time and no-one has cracked it. Do you think you’d like to take a shot?” I thought, well, yes!
I asked John if he wanted me to take what had been done before and make it work, and he said to start with the idea of the life of video game characters – what that means to me and what I wanted to do with it. I didn’t want to look at the work that had been done previously because I didn’t want to be influenced; if they never really got off the ground then I wanted to make a fresh start and build something from the ground up.
So many films based on video games are overly sombre, whereas what’s refreshing about Wreck-It Ralph is how fun it is. Was that a deliberate choice?
I always found that comedy was a big part of the culture of video games – I grew up playing them with my friends, laughing and joking. Video games movies always seem so grim, trying to tell these really heavy stories and taking themselves too seriously. They set stories in the world of a particular game like it’s any other setting, ignoring the nature of what games are. My approach to it was to own the fact that these are game worlds and that the characters within them know where they work.
What was it like to spend four years working on one film after a career of working in television?
On The Simpsons I’d do maybe four episodes a season, so over four years that’s about eight hours of animation, as opposed to a film’s 90 minutes. On a film you’re really concentrating on those 90 minutes and trying to make them the best they can be. But the longer schedule was great, actually. Television’s one of those worlds where you feel like you’re always behind, even before you’ve started. “You’ve really got to go fast because you’ve got time to make up.” “But this is the first day!” We were always sprinting, trying to get to the end of the line before the clock ran out. Wreck-It Ralph was more of a marathon. You have the luxury of letting things breathe and looking at them from a different angle and trying different things.
The film is littered with nods to video games. How did you decide which games you wanted to reference?
It was all based on the characters that we loved. What were the ones we grew up with? Which ones were appropriate for jokes within the movie? There were definitely favourites of mine, since I really loved playing games as a kid and a teenager, but I didn’t want it to all be coming out of my head. I went to a lot of the crew at Disney and asked them. We even put up a board in our break area that said “Which characters do you feel need to be in a video game movie – who could you not live without?” We got a great cross-section of different people’s opinions. There were hundreds of different characters suggested.
Until now you’ve worked almost exclusively with traditional animation. Was it difficult to transition to CG?
It’s like working with another tool. The fundamentals of animation don’t change: the same language that I used on The Simpsons and Futurama, talking to animators in Korea, is the exact same language that I used talking to CG animators in Burbank. For me as a director, I would be communicating with animators the same way if I was directing claymation. The job of a director is conveying emotion and clarity in a scene, and to that end the Simpsons and Wreck It Ralph are not that different. You’re trying to tell a compelling story with characters that the audience invests in and cares about, and set that story in a world that feels like ours but is fantastic. That’s The Simpsons, that’s Futurama, and hopefully that’s Wreck-It Ralph too.
Originally published on Oh Comely’s website.