Fil-Am directs ‘Ice Age: Collision Course’
LOS ANGELES—In an unusual situation, there we were on an afternoon in Paris, interviewing via Skype “Ice Age: Collision Course” directors, Galen T. Chu and Mike Thurmeier, who were in California where it was 6 in the morning. And by coincidence, as we chatted with the duo who were in George Lucas’ famed Skywalker Ranch, we learned that Galen was born in the Philippines.
They were at George’s movie ranch to oversee the final stages of the musical scoring of “Ice Age: Collision Course. ”
Both Galen and Mike were fresh out of college when they worked on the first “Ice Age” in 2002. As they contributed to the next three “Ice Age” animated movies, their careers also rose at Blue Sky Studios, a division of 20th Century Fox that is based in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Now, they share directing duties in “Ice Age: Collision Course,” where the pursuit of Scrat (the sabre-toothed squirrel, voiced by Chris Wedge) for his elusive acorn throws him outside earth. It’s a huge jump, career-wise, for Galen.
Among the voice talents in this fifth installment of the hit animated franchise are Jennifer Lopez (Shira), Adam Devine (Julian), Melissa Rauch (Francine), John Leguizamo (Sid), Queen Latifah (Ellie), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Shangri Llama) and Ray Romano (Manny).
“I was born in the Philippines,” Galen replied when asked about his background. “My family immigrated to the States when I was about 10 or 11 years old. I’ve been in New York ever since.
“I still have a connection to the Philippines and to Chinese culture, in particular. My wife is Chinese, so definitely, there’s a lot of stories that I want to be able to share to the world from that perspective.”
The boyish filmmaker said about his family’s move to the US in 1986: “It was mostly because my parents wanted all of us, kids—there are three of us—to have an opportunity to pursue whatever we wanted to try. They felt like we had a better chance in the States.”
As for his first name, which usually makes people everywhere “scratch their heads” and ask for its origins, Galen smiled as he explained, “My dad just got creative with my name because my brother’s name is Brian and my sister’s name is Marjorie. So their names are more common. With Galen, I think my dad wanted to try something different.”
With “Collision Course,” Galen joins “Inside Out” codirector Ronnie del Carmen and other Fil-Ams who are doing very well in animation.
Galen recounted his start at Blue Sky Studios. “As animators, Mike and I started right out of college. Actually, when we first started on the first ‘Ice Age’ movie, we did a little bit of story work before animation. Blue Sky was a small company at the time. I think we were 120 to 150 total (employees). Now, we’re about 550.
“Mike and I both moved up together. We became supervising animators on ‘Ice Age 2’ and then on ‘Ice Age 3,’ Mike codirected with Carlos (Saldanha) and I was a supervisor of the whole animation department. We kept going that way. This movie is my first opportunity to codirect with Mike so this is definitely a big step for me.”
He recalled how animation technology has advanced. “We were on SGI (Silicon Graphics Inc.) in the beginning. Big, hulking machines that were very expensive and very slow at the time.
“It’s funny, Mike and I didn’t really have a technical background. We were both traditional animators, and we learned the computer very late in the game. I was against using the computer personally, because I wanted to be a Disney animator at the time, and I focused my art studies in illustration and 2D animation.
“Certainly, the technology has gotten good enough that, as a medium, it starts to get out of the way. As an artist, basically what you want is as much of a connection to your artwork as possible and to not get bogged down by having the right code.
“Or in the very beginning when you’re animating, you try to move an arm and it will take five seconds for the arm to actually move, and that gets in the way of actually trying to connect to the work that you’re trying to create.
“These days, the computer and the technology are fast enough that they don’t really get in the way. You’re more connected to your work and the work is better for it.”
On bringing a fresh touch to an animated movie franchise, Galen answered, “Sending Scrat out into space was a bold idea, but then, it opened up the possibilities for Mike and me. Because one of the hardest things to do as directors on an ‘Ice Age’ movie is to come up with those great Scrat scenes and putting Scrat in a completely new environment surrounded by technology. It’s like we had to push ourselves into new territory that opened up those possibilities.”
Earlier in the day, we trooped to Art Ludique-The Museum to view “The Art of Blue Sky Studios,” an exhibition of drawings, paintings and sculptures from the studio’s films, including “Ice Age,” “Robots,” “Epic,” “The Peanuts Movie,” “Rio” and “Horton.”
“They did such a good job putting up a great show,” Galen said. “It was odd going through the museum because it was like seeing the past 15 years of my life all over the walls. We actually don’t get a chance to really see the artwork behind the movies as much at Blue Sky because after we make our decisions, we put the artwork away. We don’t see it until now, so it’s a fantastic show. I’m so happy they’re doing a Blue Sky show there.
“I wish there were more museums or venues to show the art behind the animated movies, because that would be a great step in that direction, where people can acknowledge it as, yes, this is museum-worthy work, for sure.”
Looking ahead, Galen said, “We’re probably going to start looking on what the next movie is. Certainly, as a filmmaker, you want to tell stories that are near and dear to your heart.”
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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