'The Bad Guys' director says the movie proves just how far DreamWorks Animation can go

·7 min read

When DreamWorks Animation released The Bad Guys earlier this year, it managed to impress both readers of Aaron Blabey's children's books and the animation aficionados. With its mixture of 2D and 3D animation, it possessed a look all its own, with a style and sass that appealed to both children and adults. It was also the theatrical debut of French filmmaker Pierre Perifel who has worked at DreamWorks Animation for close to 15 years on films like Shrek Forever After, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Rise of the Guardians.

With The Bad Guys, Perifel wanted to construct the film with mixed mediums and show an animation industry that has leaned hard into CG animation that doing something different is something audiences are more than ready to embrace. SYFY WIRE spoke with the director to ask about how France's love for animation influenced him as a filmmaker, how The Bad Guys proves to the industry that DreamWorks is more than capable of disrupting expectations, and what sequences in the movie pleased him the most.

To start, can you talk about France's reverence for animation as a medium and why the country appreciates it so much? And, can you explain how that culture shaped you as a filmmaker?

There are many reasons for it. I think cinema culture in France has always been, or wants to be, very author driven. It might not be as true right now these days, but it used to be, for sure. Authorship and having a real, true, unique, personal specific voice is important. It's kind of ingrained within the way I grew up, and with the artists and how the whole thing is structured over there.

Secondly, animation is a very important industry over there. It's a small industry, but in the world, it's the third biggest right now. It's very celebrated. And we have amazing schools to just train the younger artists. It's a country that is also a massive graphic novel culture and has always been curious of the big images of culture. France is a cross pollination and crossroads of importing U.S. animation and movies. We're big suckers of the Hollywood movies and animated movies. But also, I grew up with so much from the Japanese culture and in animation, whether it's manga or anime, from when I was a kid, so 40 years ago. And it's only really being popularized in the U.S. now thanks to streaming.

We grew up with Hayao Miyazaki and his first works. And French animation style has been influenced by Miyazaki and the Japanese stuff, and Walt Disney. That makes for a pool of talent that are so curious and, in a way, educated. They really want to try and push things with different techniques. Also, we haven't given up on 2D animation. 2D animation is obviously cheaper to make, so we have a lot of that over there. 2D animation and traditional animation allows you to just try out different styles and apply that to 3D if you need to. CGI animation is so difficult and heavy and pricey, so you usually don't take too many risks. And you look at Summit of the Gods, if you look at Arcane, it's amazing. I really appreciate the question because there is a true love for the medium. A true passion for it, and also the very deep sense of authorship that I think, helps push the medium a little bit.

Working within an animation industry that is entrenched in CGI animated movies. how hard was it to get DreamWorks to embrace trying something new? You proved with The Bad Guys that audiences will love different and it can make money.

What The Bad Guys kind of did is it reinvigorated the DreamWorks brand. We are also doing something that is different and the audience loved it. DreamWorks has been amazing, by the way. When I got to pitch the idea, it was my personal desire to do something that feels different and is a bit more graphic. They never said, "Oh, no. Let's not do that." They always was like, "Yeah, okay. We trust you. Go for it." Which, in retrospect, is amazing. I love that they took the risk, and that we actually went for it because by taking risk, that's when you push things, right? It could have been a failure.

When did you know it might have a chance with audiences?

When you release a trailer, people react on the style. And you're like, 'Oh, my God, that's right. It's quite different from what they've seen so far.' And it's terrifying, because it could be that people hate it because you're not doing the safe route. But no, they've been amazing at actually supporting this. I think one of the big helps to us was having Into the Spiderverse. It allowed for the big studios to kind of trust that it can be made, and it can be different. And I honestly believe, and I'm preaching for my own turf, that DreamWorks can be a disrupter like Sony [Animation] in making things a bit different. We don't have the same branding as Disney or Pixar. We can do different things. And we can travel into many different styles much more easily. To me, that's a massive advantage that we have and I want to exploit it. [Laughs.]

Was there a sequence in the movie that you felt was best captured the spirit of Blabey's book mixed with what you wanted to do to make it your own as well?

That's a very good question. I think action-wise, we pushed much more than the books do. In terms of the style of what I really wanted, the breaking out of jail, the Kung Fu fight, definitely is the pinnacle of what I wanted to see. That sequence is one of my beloved ones. As is the first sequence.

It has that flavor of the books a little bit where you have those cool gangster characters. It's so referencing Tarantino, obviously. But it's shot as one long shot. That's something that I really wanted, like how do you make a stamp on an opening of an animated film where you're not gonna see something classic? I am quite proud of it but also it's a very interesting lens. It's a bold choice, in my opinion, and I'm really glad that we did it. It was massive undertaking, technically speaking. I'm so proud of it because when you watch it, it's so different from what we usually see in animation. And even for kids, it must be jarring. It's kind of interesting as it's really live-action inspired. But also a nice, interesting blend of where we took it and what the book is. It's flat like the books, with interesting, funny dialogue like the books. And yet after that, we have a very, very clever, stylish, way of shooting the sequence with the cinematography.

Did you have to finish that sequence early as a sort of proof of concept?

No, because it took two animators three months to animate it. It's so long. It's two minutes, 40 seconds. It's the longest shot we've ever done. Maybe despite the opening of Spirit at the time. But in CG, it is by far the longest shot we've made in one take. It's a very complex shot.

Since The Bad Guys did so well, you're in that interesting place of choosing to follow-up with a sequel or moving forward with something new. Which way are you leaning?

I've been struggling with it because I was like, 'I just want to do originals and push things!' And then what happens is you fall in love with your characters. You don't want to let them go. You want to spend a bit more time with them again. If there's a sequel for this, I think I'll definitely be a part of it. But at the moment, we don't know. We're still waiting for the results with everything. To me, it's a perfect movie to make a franchise off. But if there is one, I'd love to be part of it. But at the same time, I'm working on new stuff. I mean those movies are long. They take a lot of time to make. When you're 40, like I am, you're like, 'Okay, I got 25 years ahead of me. Four years per film...." And that's with luck, by the way, because it means like you have to line them up! [Laughs.]

The Bad Guys is available to own on Digital, 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on June 21, 2022.

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