Sound Ideas
Barbara Robertson
February 10, 2015

Sound Ideas

Lucasfilm's first animated feature,  Strange Magic , is a madcap musical, a fairy-tale with two princesses who find true, but quite unexpected , love. Industrial Light & Magic created the film; Gary Rydstrom directed.

George Lucas came up with the idea for Strange Magic , and as part of the film's promotion, Lucas returned to his 4 , 700-acre Skywalker Ranch to talk about the film After screening the movie in the theater at Skywalker Sound, which Strange Magic Producer Mark Miller called “the best theater in the world," a member of the production team prompted Lucas with questions. The following excerpts are taken from Lucas’s answers.

The Story 

“I came up with the idea 15 years ago,” Lucas said. “The idea of an upbeat, fun, simple movie appealed to me. I had a small group working on it here, and it went on for years and years and years. I thought it would be fun to make a film that was more for tween girls than Star Wars [was] , which is for tween boys, even though at the end everybody loved it and it worked out. I hope that this one, even though it’s more tween girl centric, will engage the boys and everyone will like it.”

“The original process was to make a movie that was about the difference between being infatuated and being truly in love,” Lucas said. “Being infatuated is ultimately about surface issues. Being really in love is about interior issues. It’s easy to be infatuated with someone, but in the end, you want to have a deep relationship. Young girls especially are prone to infatuation. But, it’s not always the cutest guy in the class they should want to be out with.”

“I’d been a bachelor for 20 years – I was the cranky Bog King thinking I would never find someone,” Lucas said. “But I found someone who doesn’t look at all like me. I’m a ’60s radical, Wall Street-hating person from San Francisco. I met a woman who is the head of an investment management firm. She is the last person you’d think would fall in love with a Bog King. And I’m not into princesses. As time went on, we fell in love because we are exactly alike on the inside. It’s like the movie.”

“This story has been told over and over again, but it needs to be retold,” Lucas. “It was the same with mythological themes in Star Wars. This movie is a fairy tale, but it’s a story that needs to be told to every generation. Little girls and boys growing up don’t know this stuff. We do, and we can’t let it slip through the cracks. You don’t want, ‘Oh, I was in the generation that didn’t get that.’ One of the things, especially for young girls, is to be brave. Marianne goes from being a princess afraid of the dark forest to someone facing things that are scary, and getting through them.”

The Style

“I wanted the style to be very realistic,” Lucas said. “The idea was that you could go in the backyard and these guys all lived out there. Some people have made mistakes in animation by trying to say, ‘We want this to look real,’ which, one, isn’t possible, and two, is not bright. The whole idea of the art of animation is to create a style that is different from shooting a live-action movie. The style is part of the art. If you’re going to make [animated characters] realistic, why not shoot [actors]?” 

“We do that in visual effects – create realistic versions of an actor and intercut those for different reasons,” Lucas said. “The idea of making an animated character look real, we’ve accomplished. But one thing you can’t do: A computer can’t act. A computer can make copies of people, but it can’t be human. Computers aren’t crazy enough. An actor uses that magical thing called talent to create empathy and character. That’s something a computer can’t do. We need a human to be the voice.”

“We had animators in Singapore and all over the place pretending to be Elijah (Kelley, who played Sunny and was in the audience during the Q&A),” Lucas said. “They’d look in the mirror, make faces, and, as they would say, improve his performance. Elijah does it out of his soul playing a part he’s conceived in his head. An animator tries to make that fit in the scene and take his facial expressions to the next level. Elijah couldn’t do that because he was in a room five feet by five feet. You need the help of a co-actor, which is the animator, to be in the place. Those two work as a team to create a character. An animated film is not something people do to save money. It takes twice as many actors to do an animated film as to do a real one.”

The Music

“I love music,” Lucas said. “It’s part of my life. All kinds of music. In the beginning, the movie was twice as long. I feel pain that I didn’t use all the music. We had great sequences with great songs, but ultimately there’s this thing called discipline. A lot of the songs were my favorite songs and a lot had to do with trying to tell the story, finding a song where they say that. We’d go through them until we found the right one with the musical mood to get us from point A to point B, and actually say the words the actors were supposed to say to each other.”

“Marius [music producer Marius de Vries] knitted the songs together, and he’s a genius at doing that,” Lucas said. “I had a lot of faith in his being able to pull it off, but I beat these guys to death. Fortunately, Gary [Strange Magic Director Gary Rydstrom] came in and said, ‘We have to make decisions. We can’t have all this music that George wants.’ We had something like 100 songs, and they were all wonderful. And now, what do we have, 40?”

Someone from the audience calls out a number.

“Oh 45?” Lucas asked.

“No,” the voice answered, “25.”

“25,” Lucas groaned. “No wonder it was so painful.”

“But, they are all great,” he said. “You have to be strong, be brave, and sometimes trim some of the things you really love.  That’s the difference between having a buttoned-down movie and an indulgent movie. I’m extremely happy with the way it turned out. The story is told very efficiently. And we don’t go through long periods without music. I think it melded correctly between story, dialog, and music, and it all feels like it all fits together.” 

“But,” he laughed, “I’m very kind to my own movies.”

For an in-depth look at how the CG was created, see "Fairy-tale Endings" in the January/February 2015 issue of CGW.

Barbara Robertson is an award-winning writer and a contributing editor for Computer Graphics World . She can be reached at .