Cartoon Brew, in partnership with our exclusive online event partner INBTWN Animation, spoke with Migration director Benjamin Renner. The Illumination film is being released by Universal this weekend.
Renner is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker whose credits include the features Ernest & Celestine and The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales, as well as the César-nominated short film A Mouse’s Tale. It’s an award-filled resume, but it exclusively features 2d productions. So, we asked the filmmaker how he ended up working on a tentpole Hollywood cg film. Renner explained:
[Illumination] reached out to me, and I was like, I don’t know how to do 3d movies, so I don’t know if I can do that. But I went in there to be polite, thinking, “Okay, we’ll see how it goes.” Chris Meledandri, the guy who built and founded Illumination, told me that he had a pitch and pitched me the idea for Migration.
The filmmaker was impressed by the project but was still hesitant about directing a cg film. However, the allure of working with a large team of artists proved too powerful to ignore:
I was very keen on having experience with a Hollywood studio… I said, Okay, let’s try the experience and see how it goes, and if it’s not working, I will leave. Or, you know, they will fire me.
Like Renner’s previous animated features, Migration stars anthropomorphized animal characters as the protagonists. According to him, animals make good protagonists because they allow for storytelling without the cultural assumptions that come with human casts:
I’ve always had this love for telling stories about humans but using animals because there’s this great thing where you can talk to anyone when you remove all the cultural boundaries. With ducks, you can use the sort of innocence that they have, sort of like a very human character, very grumpy, I would say French characters, in a way.
Illumination films are well known for their soundtracks and often feature pop music that was or became very popular. Asked about the music in Migration, Renner very honestly explained that his opinion of the film was low before the score was added:
Before we started doing the music, I felt the film was a big, big crap. You know, I felt like there was no emotion in it. It was really a waste of time. Probably because I spent four years on the movie, I couldn’t feel a single emotion. But [composer John Powell] came in… from my point of view, he made this movie, like 100,000 times better than what I thought it was.
At its core, Migration is a road trip movie. Renner said the National Lampoon Vacation movies influenced production, but only indirectly:
I tried to avoid watching too much of them just to be sure I was staying fresh. And because I don’t like to do a movie that has references to other movies. I’d rather have references to life and family-related things or anecdotes that are funny because they’re so special and human-related.
For more anecdotes and behind-the-scenes trivia, watch the full interview above.