Hi Marcellus, thanks. A lot.
Wow. Thanks for noticing these choices. This is a huge question, and I am not sure I can do it justice in this forum, without visual aids and lots of hand waving, but I will try to answer it. Let me know if I understood the question wrong. It’s a pretty open question.
From the very get go of the film we wanted to emulate a feeling of asian art in every way possible in the film, at the same time we wanted to bring the kind of excitement that we loved from the kung fu films to it. We knew we needed to marry all of this in to a single cohesive art piece. John Stevenson, one of our directors, spoke at length about the films that he wanted to bring inspiration from, especially Kurosawa, and he wanted us to think that we were making an epic film as if it was one of his, but with a Jack Black… or as he puts it, Jerry Lewis, character in the middle of it.
The start of this process was a inspiring amount of hard work from our story team, where they under Head of Story Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s guidance, captured the essence of the film, and when our editor Clare Knigh worked her magic on it set the stage for what we would go and shoot. Head of Layout Yong Duk Hjun did a great job in translating the story ideas to a filmic version, with an active camera when needed, and a subtle graceful one at other times. Much iteration between Layout department and Editorial allowed us to capture the pacing of the film. When the animation department came online it was time to make sure that the acting can deliver within that pacing, and carefully decide when shots needed to change the established pacing.
For fight scenes, Rodolphe Gueneden, story artist, animator and fight choreographer on the show, took a pass to make sure that the fights are as cool as they can be. He took what Jenn had established and “kicked it up” a notch.
As far as the comedy, that came from the hard work of the directors, the writers and Jenn, working with Clare finding the solutions for the comedy to land, and feel like it belonged in our film. Once we got passed that stage the rest of us to some degree were there to improve it when we could, or at least not kill it. The animation team had a great way of adding great timing to the comedy, and physical comedy where possible.
We did go back and fine tune a lot of shots to get the most out of what we had.
Oogway was a funny character. It’s probably not common knowledge, but his design was the first one that we nailed. Nico Marlet had made a great drawing of him, and John Stevenson pointed to it and said, that’s it. We always knew what the character needed to bring to the story, but I have to say that the choices that animation made and the delivery that Randall Duk Kim brough to him, really took him to a new level. I also love the fact that he sets up the film, and then bows out, leaving all these tormented characters to deal with what is happening. I know people who do that in real life.
The moment with Po that you describe is an example of what we sought a lot in the action sequences of the film. We didn’t want to disconnect the audience from the story that was being told during the action, so we paid particular attention to adding “character moments” to let us stay with the characters emotionally. It’s a tricky balancing act when you also want to build the energy. The most difficult part is that we all watch these sequences over and over again during the course of making them, and we lose somewhat the ability to evaluate if we’ve found the right balance. I hope your comment means we did, most of the time.
Believability is an important aspect of why the fight scenes retained their sense of pacing as well. Because the characters look and feel like they are there, and that they will die if they fall off the bridge, we don’t move into a “super hero” place where anything can happen. The camera is more believable as a result, it is grounded to the world most of the time, and when we do push the camera to do something “unique” it really makes a visual impact. It actually broadens what we can have the audience experience in a way.