In October of 1957, America had plenty to be worried about. Rock n roll. Television. The bomb. And on the fourth day of that month, the Soviets successfully launched the first manmade satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. The space race had officially begun. The Cold War just got colder. People were unsure about their neighbors, even questioning their friends.
In the small town of Rockwell, Maine, Annie Hughes (voice of JENNIFER ANISTON) is just worried about putting supper on the table for herself and her nine-year-old son, Hogarth (voice of ELI MARIENTHAL). A single mother holding down a job at the local diner, Annie has her hands full with Hogarthheadstrong and imaginative, always on the lookout for the latest attempted takeover by mutant aliens or subversive invaders.
So when a local fisherman comes into the diner with a tall tale about a huge metal man falling into the sea, the only one to pay him much attention is Hogarth, who sets out exploring to find the enormous robot. What he does find is a 50-foot giant with an insatiable appetite for metal and a childlike curiosity about its new world.
Rumors of everything from an alien invasion to a Russian secret weapon bent on destroying Rockwell soon spread through the small town, prompting the arrival of government agent Kent Mansley (voiced by CHRISTOPHER McDONALD). Keeping one step ahead of Mansley, Hogarth convinces his beatnik friend Dean (voiced by HARRY CONNICK, JR.) to hide the Iron Giant (voiced by VIN DIESEL) in Deans junkyard.
But it isnt long before the rumors turn into paranoiathe situation escalates and the possible destruction of Rockwell looms. Hogarth turns to his friend, the Iron Giant, who ultimately finds its humanity by unselfishly saving the towns residents from their own fears and prejudices.
In times like these, you really find out what your friends are made of sometimes, even metal.
Acclaimed animation director and writer BRAD BIRD was given a unique opportunitythe full backing of a major studio while maintaining the creative autonomy and independent spirit that has allowed him to create the groundbreaking animated projects that has cemented his reputation as an animation auteur. He comments, "Warner Bros. gave us the strongest support to create The Iron Giant and allowed us an unbelievable amount of creative freedom to put our ideas up on the screen."
Warner Bros. presents "The Iron Giant," a full-length animated motion picture directed by BRAD BIRD. It is produced by ALLISON ABBATE and DES McANUFF. The screen story is by BRAD BIRD and the screenplay is by TIM McCANLIES, based on the book, The Iron Man, by British Poet Laureate TED HUGHES. It is executive produced by PETE TOWNSHEND and the music is by MICHAEL KAMEN. The film also stars the voices of JAMES GAMMON (as Marve Loach / Floyd Tubeaux), CLORIS LEACHMAN (as Mrs. Tensedge), JOHN MAHONEY (as General Shannon Rogard) and M. EMMET WALSH (as Earl Stutz). "The Iron Giant" is distributed by Warner Bros.
About the Production. . .
In 1968, a childrens book by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes (1930-1998) was publishedits title in the U.K. was The Iron Man and, in the United States, The Iron Giant. The story of a huge robot and its friendship with a young boy grew out of a story told by Hughes to comfort his and American poet Slyvia Plaths (1932-1963) two children following their mothers death.
In 1986, rock musician Pete Townshend (one of the founders of the British band The Who) became interested in writing "a modern song-cycle in the manner of Tommy" and chose as his subject Hughes book, The Iron Man. Three years later, "The Iron Man" album was released and, in 1993, a stage version was mounted at Londons Old Vic.
Prolific theatrical producer/director Des McAnuff, who had adapted the Tony Award-winning "The Whos Tommy" with Townshend for the stage, believed that "The Iron Man" could translate to the screen, and the project was ultimately acquired by Warner Bros.
Towards the end of 1996, while "The Iron Man" project was working its way through development, Brad Bird was developing a feature for Turner during the period when Turner had been merged with Warner Bros. The noted animation writer and director had worked on such groundbreaking television projects as "The Simpsons," "The Critic" and "King of the Hill" and the had rightfully earned the reputation as an up-and-coming force in the resurgence of the popularity of animation. (Bird had also written, directed and co-produced the acclaimed "Family Dog" that aired on Steven Spielbergs weekly television anthology series, "Amazing Stories.")
Following the Turner/Warner Bros. merger, Bird was invited to come to Warner Bros. Animationthe studio of such classic animators as Friz Freleng and Chuck Jonesto discuss working on a film for the studio. While at Warners, Bird viewed sample artwork from projects the studio had in development and there he saw a drawing "of a young boy and a giant robot. It stuck with me. Later, when the Turner thing didnt work out, Warners asked me if there was anything I was interested in. I read the Ted Hughes book and I really liked the basic mythology of the story, but I had something pretty different in mind. So I pitched my version of The Iron Giant and they went for it."
Birds version of Hughes tale kept the central characters of the story, but surrounding the relationship between Hogarth and the Giant, the director put a distinctly American spin on the 30-year-old British childrens book.
He explains, "Hughes book is a great story that tries to show kids about the cycle of lifeeven though there is death, life has a continuity. My version is based around a question I asked the execs at Warner Bros.what if a gun had a soul and chose not to be a gun? Basically I wanted to honor the book, but also take it in a new direction."
Screenwriter Tim McCanlies worked with Bird to realize the script. Bird comments, "Tim and I had a wonderful experience collaborating on The Iron Giant. I first fell in love with Tims work when I read his screenplay Second Hand Lions. I knew then that he was the perfect writer to help bring The Iron Giant to the screen. Tims writing has a sweetness and an innocence to it which speak to the very core of our film."
Later during production, the filmmakers sent Ted Hughes a copy of "The Iron Giant" script. The author sent a letter back, saying how pleased he was with Birds version. In the letter, Hughes rather poetically stated, "I want to tell you how much I like what Brad Bird has done. Hes made something all of a piece, with terrific sinister gathering momentum and the ending came to me as a glorious piece of amazement. Hes made a terrific dramatic situation out of the way hes developed The Iron Giant. I cant stop thinking about it "
Bird broke with Hughes tale by adding key new characters and altering both the setting of the story and the origin of the giant. He explains, "Its now set in America in 1957. It deals with things like Cold War paranoia, and we have new characters like Dean, the beatnik, and Kent Mansley, the government agent. Also, the giant comes from outer space, where in the original story, he just emerges from the ocean."
The shift in setting was carefully considered by Bird. He continues, "The 50s are a wonderful time in which to set this movie. America was at a crossroads. We were learning to live with the atom bomb; the space race was just beginning; paranoia was at a high; and all of this got into the movies of the time giant ants and mutated Martian men. Thats a pretty funny response to all of those influences. So if youre going to have a story about a human boy who befriends a metal man, its fitting to put it into the context of the fear that existed at that time.
"Maine is primarily a rural setting. Theres something about juxtaposing a large technological creation with farmland and treesa big, shiny metal thing looks completely out of place. Theres also an innocence and a Norman Rockwell-type of feeling with that place, and I wanted to see the idea of innocence being visited upon by paranoia," he explains.
Key to the filmmakers retelling of The Iron Man is the giants fundamental purposewhatever its origin, it was undoubtedly created as a weapon a gun with a soul.
"In our version of the story, the boy is basically the parent and the giant is the child. I think that each one of us has both the potential for great good and for horrible destruction. Every day, in big and small ways, we are choosing which side of us we are going to act on. Hogarth helps this machinethat is built for another purposeto find a different side of itself, and it becomes somewhat human in the process," the director concludes.
Birds pitch to Warner Bros. was in late 1996. A deal was made, and work bgan on "The Iron Giant" on January 2, 1997.
Building a Better Giant
Allison Abbate had just completed co-producing the animation on the Warner Bros. hit feature "Space Jam" when she was brought on board to produce "The Iron Giant." The pre-production period began in what was to be a tight schedule, and the filmmakers literally started with only Birds treatment and a few preliminary pieces of art. Abbate began her duties as producer by assembling a team of supervisors who would actualize Birds vision.
Abbate remembers, "Once we were given the green light to begin pre-production, Tim McCanlies and Brad started writing the script and working simultaneously with the story board artists. We began with just a treatment and Brad would bat ideas back and forth with the story board artistsit was an amazingly dynamic time, and it really allowed all of us to get into Brads head. We hammered away at it and by August, we had about 30 minutes of the film story boarded and we were given our green light to go into production."
The conscious decision had been made to create the majority of the main characters using the classic two-dimensional animation process. But even at the earliest stages of development, filmmakers were using technology to push the envelope of the classic animation process. Scenes begin to unfold during the story boarding phase as still pencil sketches; however, on "The Iron Giant," the artists enhanced the story reel (the filmed compilation of the pencil sketches) by adding camera moves and simple effects to the drawings, giving them the look of rough animation. Much of the mechanics and dynamics of the shots were worked out during this early stage.
From these early sketches, characters began to emerge.
Head of animation Tony Fucile was in charge of assembling the team of animators who created the characters and their world. He explains, "Once design begins on the characters and the look of each is approved, we wind up with something called model sheets, which function as blue prints for the character. Basically, character designs are taken and then rotated in space so animators can figure out how to draw them from all angles. We experiment with various emotions, facial expressions and body positions. This gives the animator more freedom, because he has studied what shapes are underneath the skull, how the ears are attached, that sort of thing."
The model sheets would prove even more valuable on this film, as Bird had chosen to give artists entire scenes (or chunks of the film), rather than assigning one head animator the responsibility for a particular character (as has become customary in recent films). Bird and Fucile worked side-by-side with the staff drawing the characters "on model," ensuring that the animators draw the characters in a homogenous style, downplaying their own differences in personal styles or ability.
"Everyone is trying, especially at the beginning, to figure out how do I draw these characters? We have about 50 animators and 75 or so clean up artists [who literally clean up the animators drawings], so well have about 125 people working on the same character. We didnt want Hogarth to suddenly turn into somebody else," comments Fucile.
A Rock and a Hard Place
The title character of the film, however, is made of metal, which posed an interesting challenge for the artists. Bird comments, "It is difficult for a human to draw a big, solid metallic object. Animators excel at drawing movement and living, fluid objects. The giant originates from a different world, so we chose to create the giant using computer animation, CGI, which would give him the mass and solidity and also give the impression that its from a different place. The separation between the 2D-animation and the CGI is something that helped establish the fish-out-of-water facet of the story."
Filmmakers took great care, however, to bring the giant into Hogarths world, not wanting the character to appear so foreign that it would not mesh into the scenes in and around Rockwell, Maine in 1957. Bird explains, "I gave the crew sort of an edictimagine that this is 1940 during the golden age of animation. How would you draw something like this by hand? So we simplified the characters shapes and also analyzed the qualities of hand-drawn animation versus computer animation, ultimately looking for ways to meld the two."
Animators knew that computer-generated lines are exact and lines rendered by hand are imperfect. ("We took months to create a computer program that actually wobbles the lines of the giant a bitjust enough so that it feels hand-drawn," adds Bird.) Existing special software was also extended and modified to accomplish a myriad of thingsaiding in shading of the giant, varying the lightening and darkening of some frames and altering grain patternsto affect the giants realistic inclusion in his strange new (and classically animated) world.
The first sketches of the giant were completed by Joe Johnston, who then worked with Bird and production designer Mark Whiting and supervising CGI animator Steve Markowski. Whiting shaped the giants look to match the bucolic landscapes he had meticulously designed for the film; Markowski brought the giant to life with movement. The giant designers also incorporated visual references from period sci-fi films, such as "The Day the Earth Stood Still," in creating their "homage" to the giant robots of the post-nuclear horror films.
"But there is also an innocence to the giant," counters Abbate. "His design is very simple and clean. We wanted him to appear almost like a baby at the beginning of the film. Hes a little bit like all of uswe all start out not knowing who we are, where we come from or why were here and we all have to choose our life path."
Someone else who contributed to the realization of the giant was artistic coordinator Scott Johnston, who drew on his extensive experience in computer graphics to help Bird and his staff of artistic supervisors solve the problems inherent in mixing classic animation with CGI.
"We wanted the giant to be an alien presence," offers Johnston. "We also wanted to keep the rigidity of his form, yet allow him to be able to express a wide range of emotions. He has a simple jaw shape that cant really bend into a smile or a frown, but he has other ways of expressing thoughts and ideas through physical movements."
Early in the production, the filmmakers and staff had traveled to Maine to absorb the feel of the films setting. Abbate comments, "Brad liked Maine for its innocence, and we chose the time period because it was an era before people became jaded. Maine is rugged and beautiful, and graphically, a little stark. It is also a place and a time where you would be able to hide a big, giant robot in a small town and not have it discovered for a few days. We also wanted to set the story in the fall, starting with colorful foliage and ending with snow."
Filmmakers also looked to period artists, such as Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper and N.C. Wyeth, for their style and use of color. Period magazines, graphics and films were additional inspirations for the look of the film. The decision was also made to shoot the film in "wide screen," a format popularized in the 1950s.
The Giant Talks
Strong choices had been made with regard to the appearances of the characters and the specifics of their world. Director Bird had equally strong views about the voices that would aid in bringing the characters to life.
He says, "I am not a huge fan of designing characters to have the look of the celebrity voicing it. I feel thats a very limited way of thinking. I prefer to approach the whole issue by asking, Who is the character and how does that character look? Then I find a voice to suit the character. I mean, Homer Simpson looks nothing like Dan Castellaneta, who voices him. I like to find a voice that compliments the design of the character."
Bird continues, "I look for actors with distinctive voices. In live-action films, actors can use their whole bodies to convey who they are. The challenge here is to make sure all of the nuances of character can come through with just the voice. That serves the animation as well. It you want the best out of your artists, you want to give them a soundtrack thats inspiring. You also dont want to hamstring the animators into any kind of visual actingyou want them to invent stuff to go with the voice. So the voice should inspire the animator, and the better the voice, the better the animation."
Filmmakers chose Jennifer Aniston, televisions Rachel on the long-running Nielsen hit "Friends" and star of several feature films, as the independent Annie Hughes. "Shes a play on the usual 1950s mom," says Abbate. "We updated her. Shes single, working, young and attractive. Shes far from your usual Donna Reed-type mom."
"The thing I liked about Annie and this project," observes Aniston, "is that its not at all whats expected. Shes more like a mom from the 70s than the 50s. Shes very strong, like a mother tiger protecting her son, Hogarth. Shes funny and really spunky, in that great kind of Laura Petrie way. Theres also a tremendous heart to the story. Im really happy to have been involved in the film."
Grammy-winning musician and actor Harry Connick, Jr. was cast to voice the role of Dean McCoppen, a beatnik sculptor who owns a junkyard that serves as the giants temporary home. Abbate comments, "Dean is a outsider in this small, somewhat conservative town. Harry Connick was the perfect choicehe just exudes that cool cat kind of beatnik mentality. Plus, he has that southern drawl so he sounds like hes an outsider."
"I had an idea immediately who Dean was," says Connick. "I grew up in the South surrounded by guys who see the world in different way. Artists, jazz musicians, crazy guys in New Orleans. I had a blast working on this project."
For Hogarth, Bird wanted a fresh young voice with a quality different from most child actors. "Hogarth needed to be innocent, but tough enough to be on his own most of the time. Hogarth has lost his father, plus hes too smart for the kids his own age, so hes developed a great imaginary world of his own making. Hes always on the lookout for nuclear monsters or invaders from outer space, but hes also constantly rescuing animals who need a home."
Eli Marienthal, a then 12-year-old theatrical actor with several television and feature credits, filled the role of Hogarth. He says, "I think Hogarth lives in an imaginary world, so when the giant comes along, hes sort of fulfilling Hogarths fantasy. I really think its more a story about friendship than just a story about a boy and a giant. I also really think that theres so much of Brad Bird in Hogarth that there is no way I could have done it without him."
(Scott Johnston also comments on Hogarths powerful imagination and enthusiasm for life. He says, "When I look at Hogarth, I can get a sense of what Brad must have been like as a kid.")
For the voice of Kent Mansley, the government agent bent on discovering and ultimately destroying the giant, filmmakers cast feature film regular Christopher McDonald, for whom Bird tailored the role. Abbate says, "Christopher has that perfect combination of good looks and strength, plus he can also be funny, self-deprecating and even just plain eviland that all comes through in his voice. We actually made it a point of designing Kent to look like the stereotypical perfect father so that he would really fit into the family of Annie and Hogarth. We wanted him to look like the all-American guy but be evil to the core."
"I play Kent, and hes pretty full of himself. He wants to break out of the bowels of Capitol Hill, where he has this little windowless office," elaborates McDonald. "I had done animation before, doing the voice of Jor-El for the series of Superman. Your imagination takes over and the possibilities are limitless. But its also very challenging because its only the voice that comes through. In a way, its a little like Shakespeare, because the words are key."
For the key role of the Iron Giant, filmmakers signed actor and filmmaker Vin Diesel. Abbate explains, "In the beginning, the giant is really not able to speakhe wasnt designed to speak. So his first words are very mechanical sounding. Toward the end of the film, his voice becomes more human. We were going to be electronically modulating the giants voice for that mechanical sound, but we needed a deep, resonant and expressive voice to start with. Vins voice is great. You can really hear his heart. He makes the giant imposing but still charming."
Diesel felt a kinship with the giant, saying, "The Iron Giant is misunderstood. His strength is the bane of his existence and despite the fact that hes designed as a killing machine, he is really as simple as a child. Ive always said that I feel like a bull in a china shop, and with the giant, he moves to scratch his back and buildings fall. Actually, I think we came from the same planet.
"Im an animated actor, so to speak," continues Diesel. "I use my body, my hands, my expressions. And in doing this kind of work, all of that is irrelevant, all of that is erased. The voiceit was a luxury to just get behind the microphone and go to work."
To round out the cast, filmmakers hired an esteemed group of actors with an amazing and varied list of credits. Veteran actor and Tony-winner John Mahoney wore the stars as Kents boss, General Shannon Rogard. Familiar character actor M. Emmet Walsh gave the wild-eyed fisherman (who sees the giant fall into the ocean), Earl Stutz, his voice. Accomplished actor James Gammon voiced two of the townspeople, Marve Loach and Floyd Tubeaux, and Oscar-winner Cloris Leachman stepped into the shoes of Hogarths teacher, Mrs. Tensedge.
Young at Heart
As a means of paying homage to the generations of animators who inspired Bird and assisted him in his career, the filmmakers enlisted the help of two classic animation veteransVictor Haboush and Ray Aragon. Producer Abbate says, "Victor and Ray really helped us in the early stages of visual development, especially when we visited Maine and began to adopt the style of our story. They were an inspiration. In some ways, Victor and Ray also helped us bring Dean to lifeboth were these incredibly creative guys who were artists and cool cats in the 50s."
The director was also intent on actively involving current students at Cal Arts on the film. While staffing, Bird saved spots for several students to work as rough in-between artists (who take animators key character poses and execute all drawings in between to complete action on segments of the film). Bird hired four animators who had worked together on an animated short at school. Later, impressed with the groups skills, the director offered to let the four animate an entire sequence of "The Iron Giant"fittingly, a scene in a classroom.
He says, "We had a very young crew and they were completely on fire, and I have to say we really used that. I wouldnt have given it to them if I didnt think they could handle it. The Cal Arts students animated their sequence and then returned to school. There were quite a few stories like that on this film where what we lacked in experience, we more than made up for with passion and enthusiasm."
Allison Abbate comments, "Everyone was really motivated to keep to our tight schedule. I actually think that not having an extended period of development helped us in a way. There is less wasted time because the artists have an investment in their sequences and they work together to solve problems immediately as they arise. Having Brad at the helm kept us all very clear about the vision. It was exhausting and it was great."
(Actor Diesel notes, "Brad directs like a conductor. He literally gets all of the notes by waving his hand.")
One of the advantages of animation over live-action is, as Abbate points out, "getting to see your movie long before its going to be finished." Periodically throughout production, the filmmakers assembled the film and looked at it, analyzing everything from story points to character continuity. The film, like any artists vision, went through periods of change and growth; some segments were extended, others, eliminated.
Warner Bros. Presents "The Iron Giant," starring the voices of Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., Vin Diesel, James Gammon, Cloris Leachman, Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney, Eli Marienthal and M. Emmet Walsh. The music is by Michael Kamen. It is executive produced by Pete Townshend. The screen story is by Brad Bird and the screenplay is by Tim McCanlies, based on the book, The Iron Man, by Ted Hughes. The film is produced by Allison Abbate and Des McAnuff. "The Iron Giant" is directed by Brad Bird. It is distributed by Warner Bros., A Time Warner Entertainment Company.
Copyright © 1999 Warner Bros. (All rights reserved). This written material to be used solely for advertising, promotion, publicity or reviews of this specific motion picture and to remain the property of the studio.