The film’s director Kirk DeMicco spoke to Cartoon Brew about continuing the studio’s run of aesthetic innovation with Ruby Gillman:
I was lucky because when I came on because Pierre Olivier Vincent, our production designer, was already designing the world of the film. He was inspired by the curves of an octopus itself so we see shapes like that throughout the film. Tables, chaise, cars, characters, buildings, and then the Kraken kingdom, they’re all designed with a similar style, although the scale gets massive. One thing you get a taste of in the trailer is the color and the bioluminescence of not just the world, but the characters too. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie with so many effects in the characters themselves. And we’re still adding more as we finish the movie. With Ruby, we have this character that has super mythical powers. Sometimes, by the time we got through boarding and layout and saw the shot, we’d think, “We’ve gotta make it even bigger!” The scale was really important for this film. Traditionally Kraken are the destroyers, the slate wipers, right? So how do you create a situation that can challenge a Kraken?
Dreamworks producer Kelly Cooney Cilella pointed out that Teenage Kraken being an entirely new property gave the crew a tremendous amount of freedom when establishing the look at feel of the film:
Working on something brand new was one of the most exciting challenges for us. The sky was the limit in terms of what we could do. It all started with character, with the Gillman family and Ruby specifically. Pierre leaned into the fact that our characters were sea monsters and the world that he and our visual effects supervisor Dave Walvoord created mirrors that as well.
DeMicco is a regular Dreamworks collaborator and directed the film The Croods for the studio. This time, he was joined by first-time co-director Faryn Pearl (story artist The Croods: New Age, Trolls World Tour).
Pearl is just the latest Dreamworks alumni to work their way through the ranks and land a leadership role on a production. Cooney Cilella told us how important it is that the studio continues to open doors for its own artists looking to move up in the ranks:
I think that’s one of the things that Dreamworks does best. I say that as someone who joined the company 20 years ago and was able to move forward with the help of mentors and guides all along the way. I worked with Faryn on Trolls: World Tour and saw up close what her sensibilities were and so she was one of the first people I thought of bringing on for this film. I knew immediately she’d connect with the character, and I was right. Faryn started as head of story and had a major influence on the character of Ruby and her high schooler friends, their quirkiness and sense of humor. When Kirk joined the film, we were able to promote Faryn to the co-director role, where she excelled. It was great to see Faryn get a chance to be mentored by someone like Kirk, and conversely to see Kirk use Faryn to bounce ideas off of and to look to for a different perspective than his own.
For DeMicco, Pearl’s presence was a boon:
I was super lucky to have Faryn with me on this film. She was already head of story when I came on, and I was so excited to work with her because she has amazing taste and is a great board artist, but she was ready and looking to take on a bigger role. I’ve always liked working with partners. I find that I do my best work when I have someone in the trenches with me. It was also good to have two of us because inside this huge, kaiju fantasy world is a beautiful, intimate story about a Ruby. She’s dealing with the tremendous responsibility of keeping her secret, but she faces the same issues that high school girls everywhere face as well. It was really helpful to have someone who could focus on the emotional wavelength of the film. Plus, Faryn is just super funny and that was key in telling this story.
Although Dreamworks films have a long tradition of strong women characters in key roles, Ruby Gillman will be the first titular woman character to star in a Dreamworks animated feature. In fact, most of the main characters in the film are women. Behind the scenes, the studio wanted to put together a team that would mirror that demographic profile. Conney Cilella explained:
It was important for us to have a lot of women in leadership roles. Our editor was Michelle Mendenhall who has done a fantastic job. She’s been at Dreamworks a long time as an associate editor and moved into the lead spot for this movie. Our composer was Stephanie Economou who just won a Grammy for Assassin’s Creed [Valhalla: Dawn Of Ragnarok] and she brought a youthful, fresh, contemporary vibe to the movie. We also had female artists working on the film. It was a great team we assembled.