Since Paramount’s mock-Western Rango came out — and broke Disney’s near-monopoly on the animated feature Oscar — a decade has swept by like tumbleweed. To mark the anniversary, director Gore Verbinski has spoken in depth about the film’s unconventional production.
In an interview with Collider, Verbinski recalled how the production started out as a passion project: an idea cooked up over breakfast, then developed by a crack team in an empty house with little money and no studio attached. The director and his colleagues wrote, storyboarded, and recorded scratch dialogue, pinning notes and drawings to the walls until “the entire house looked like the inside of a serial killer’s brain.”
Soon Johnny Depp, star of Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean films, hopped aboard, followed by Paramount and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Rango was the director’s first fully animated film: “There was nothing in my resume that said I know how to make an animated movie, and that’s makes [sic] it exciting.” But he had experience working with animation, and with Pirates partner ILM in particular: “I have certainly made live-action movies with more computer-generated shots in them than in Rango.”
The process nevertheless differed greatly when it came to Rango. “The big change at ILM,” Verbinski continues, “was working with the animators and getting everyone to stop thinking about this in terms of ‘shots’ and to start thinking in terms of a whole film. Typically, when you work at a visual effects house, you are operating with a shot-based mentality.”
Verbinski also touches on his collaboration with renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins, who consulted on Rango, helping ensure the lighting obeyed “some real-world logic.” (Deakins too has spoken about this project on his excellent podcast.) The pair must have made happy bedfellows, as they are extending their partnership: in a separate article, Collider reports that Verbinski is at work on two animated features (including one musical), and Deakins is involved.