Interview, Sony Pictures Animation, Studios

[INTERVIEW] ‘The Angry Birds Movie 2’ Director Thurop Van Orman and Producer John Cohen

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Thurop Van Orman, Director, Kristine Belson, President, Sony Pictures Animation, and John Cohen, Producer, at the Premiere of Columbia Pictures and Rovio Animations’ “The Angry Birds Movie 2” at Regency Village Theatre, in theaters Tuesday, August 13. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/for Sony Pictures/Shutterstock)

I love talking with the creative people behind the animated films we enjoy so it was a real treat to be able to have a conversation with Thurop Van Orman and John Cohen who are the director and producer of The Angry Birds Movie 2 respectively. It opens this week and is a fun animated comedy for the entire family.

RW Hi everybody welcome to the podcast. We’re so excited today to have a very special double interview here. We have the director and producer of The Angry Birds Movie 2. Here we have Thurop Van Orman and John Cohen here. Thank you so much gentlemen for coming on the podcast.

Both Woo hoo! We’re excited to be here.

RW So what we like to do is just give each of you a chance. Introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about how you ended up becoming a directors or producer of this film.

RW What about you Thurop? Introduce yourself.

TVN Hi. I’m Thurop van Norman and I’m the director of the movie. Before I became the director I started in TV. I started in 2000 at Cal Arts. And that was my goal to be a movie director and then once we got to Cal Arts,they told us “well,you have to put in your time, 15 20 years, till you can become a director” and I quickly lost interest in being a movie director! So I went and pitched my show Flapjack at Cartoon Network, and I’m glad that I had that experience. It was awesome to be able to make so many stories so fast and really experiment and try a bunch of stuff. And it really ended up when I look back to the timeline they told me it took 15 20 years before I got to direct a movie. It was just a different route I guess.

RW Well congratulations in finishing. So this is your first feature film?

TVN Yeah. I’ve helped out on a few. I helped develop the Little Prince movie. I worked on the Trolls movie at DreamWorks and then I just helped on a few movies here and there. Just giving notes. But this is the first movie they let me direct.

RW Amazing congratulations. What about you John?  Why don’t you introduce yourself to all of us?

JC Oh gosh. I was just trying to think about how to give a short version of this answer. So I I went to NYU for film school and then worked as an assistant for a few years after college. Then I ended up working for a producer named Scott Rudin in New York and then at 20th Century Fox in the animation division for Chris Meledandri. Then I was a studio executive on a bunch of movies there including the Ice Age movies and Dr. Seuss Horton Hears a Who and Alvin And The Chipmunks and put together The Peanuts Movie in that time when I was there. And from there I went with Chris to Illumination and produced Despicable Me, executive produced Hop and developed a bunch of the projects that came after that and then produced The Angry Birds Movie in 2016 and and then recently produced Angry Birds 2. So that’s that. Was fast right?

RW Yeah that was super impressive. Wow. So was it a challenge coming up with what to do for a sequel after the first one was a hit?

JC You know the challenge for us is really actually the fun opportunity because in the first Angry Birds we were focused on bringing the game to life and and telling that kind of weird story about birds and pigs, and pigs stealing birds eggs, and all of that. Then the the very cool thing that we were able to do with Angry Birds 2 is take the story into a totally new direction and really tell an original story. And so it was a challenge but also really fun to do.

RW That’s really cool. How early on were you involved in it Thurop? As far as the creation and idea and everything like that?

TVN I came on pretty early. I’ve been with it for about 2 1/2 years. John had already had the idea let’s make the birds and pigs team up. And he pitched that idea to me, and I was like ‘oh man oh that sounds amazing’. And I think John kind of already covered this, but the chance to work with the characters and the emotions of the characters and not have to worry about the game and servicing that but just to service a good story with these really great characters was amazing for me. I think also just being able to develop these amazing new characters in the work of Leslie Jones, Awkwafina, Rachel Bloom and Sterling K. Brown and all of the amazing new characters that we have and to develop them was pretty fun. They’re pretty amazing and pretty freeing to not have to service the the video game like they did in the first movie.

RW That makes sense. So how did you come up with the idea of Zeta as a character, and why did you decide to make her purple?  She’s such a distinct color. Curious?

JC That’s a really good question. You know we we actually tried a bunch of different colors, and we realized we didn’t have a purple character. So we wanted her to be distinct in the world of the movie. So, that was how we landed on that. But she was designed by Francesca Natale, our character designer, and she is so incredible and designed all the characters in the first movie adapting them from the games and then all of the new characters in this movie. And then working with our incredible production designer Pete Oswald, we then took those characters into CGI and into animation.

RW That’s really cool. I was very impressed with the script, and I thought it was very funny. I personally liked this movie better than the original, and I’m not just saying that because I’m interviewing you. I particularly liked all the jokes with music. Like when you would play like Lionel Richie or something like that. I thought you nailed those jokes, and I was wondering what that process was like writing the script?

TVN This movie we really treated it as a really board driven, storyboard driven movie and that’s pretty common in TV. It’s less common in features. But I think we gave ourselves the freedom to really come up with a lot of the humor in storyboard form and that’s where we wrote a lot of the movie. So that’s where a lot of those jokes came from. Some of the time the storyboard artist actually pitched their sequence with music, and we used that exact music because it worked so well.  Sometimes it’s like ‘wow that was pretty funny but let’s make it even funnier’ and we draw around ideas and come up with a better song. And we worked really collaboratively. So all of the storybroad artists, Sean Charmatz, the head of story, John Cohen and I would sit in a room together and we would just spitball ideas. Someone would pitch and we’d try to make it even funnier and everyone joined in. Everyone had funny ideas. So really with this movie a lot of the humor came from that amazing core group that really worked together and made the movie as a team.

RW That’s great. I love hearing that. The jokes were so funny and were so continuous, and they kept coming that I was laughing. So, I ended up really enjoying it. I was wondering about the hatchlings plot? It kind of was separated as its own thing. Was that was a challenge involving the hatchlings?

JC Yeah. It was something we worked on quite a bit and spent a lot of time with our whole team with like Thurop just mentioned. We were really trying to craft what their story would be, and we had many many different ideas along the way. But again, because the movie was so storyboard-driven it really lends itself to the hatchlings. Then of course, the hatchlings came to life in their voices with actual real little kids who were so much fun to have in the recording sessions. And I think just gave them that that extra authenticity as as little kids.

TVN We knew we wanted to do these little cutaways. And I think originally the idea was just like comedy relief to just break up some of the more dramatic scenes with our main characters with these funny little bits. But then when we screened the movie for the first time the kids were, (not just to get the adults but mostly the kids) were absolutely on the edge of their seats for these hatchling moments. It was very clear  ‘Oh now the movie starts for them.This is like the actual movie for a lot of the audience.’ And so we really just kept trying to find more and more fun scenes at once. Once we got rolling with some of these scenes it got easier and easier to find fun things to do with these characters and have them come in at the end and help wrap up the climax of the movie.

RW Yeah that’s funny. When I first saw those snakes I was like ‘Oh wow. They went there.’ And then it ended really cute. That was fun. So I was curious you had a number of new cast members in the film with Rachel Bloom, Dove Cameron, Leslie Jones. So how did you decide on this new cast? Was that challenging to figure out these new members of the team?

JC You know it’s always so important to us to find people who are great improvisational comedians because they not only come into the recording sessions and are able to perform the lines so hysterically funny but they contribute so much. Their improv and ad libs and even writing they would do on their own and then bring into recording sessions can really play such a nice part in the development of the characters. And so what we did was we just went after the people we thought were truly the funniest people out there today and we were so lucky we were able to have all of them say yes. They were so excited about everything that Thurop and the team were working on and doing, and every time we show them new material more and more people just got excited to be a part of it. So we were super lucky.

TVN And once we found them, and we really wrote the characters around them. Nothing bugs me more than hearing a voice that doesn’t go with the character of the movie and the manner of the movie. So we tried really hard to make the characters reflect the actors who were voicing them.

RW Yeah. So was it a challenge to writer the new character Silver: the new sort of love interest for Red?  That whole plotline but making her kind of stand on her own and become confident as the movie goes along? That story arc?

TVN It wasn’t really a challenge to write her in but all of the regular stuff for her except for the storyboard part wasinteresting. So the first pass of her character wasn’t as strong a character as she became once Rachel Bloom came in and gave her input. Because we tried to write a female character from our perspective and there isn’t anything offensive or wrong about it, but I think Rachel Bloom just fleshed that character out so much and made her so much more of a unique special character than I think we could have done on our own. We brought her up to a certain point and then Rachel Bloom made her amazing.

RW That’s really cool. Great. Last question I have is: what is your favorite part of the film?

JC That is a hard question. I’m going to answer with a very boring answer and just say that I am super proud of the entire film, and truly thought this was as an experience one of the most fun I’ve had in my career. That is because of Thurop and because of the team that we’ve been talking about. It was one of the most smooth productions I’ve ever been a part of. And and honestly one of the most fun.

RW That’s great. I’ll forgive you.

TVN I definitely have favorite scenes and a lot of them have already been brought up by critics. But I think coming from the TV world the most amazing thing for me is to see in this movie (and I’ve watched it hundreds if not thousands of times. I laugh every single time) The amount of nuance that the animators brought on wows me. Once we finished storyboarding and doing the voice acting and putting those all together, the animators elevate the movie so much. And we really worked closely too. They were very collaborative along the whole process. But the level of animation that these animators from Spy had- I mean they’re the best in the world. They’re not only amazing technical animators but the acting that they put into every moment and the nuance. Like it feels like you’re watching real breathing living sentient beings on screen, and it blows my mind. Just like the tiny little nuances of acting in every scene that it just tickles me to see it.

RW That’s really cool. Congratulations on the movie! When will people be able to see the finished film?

JC Well the movie is in theaters on Tuesday. This Tuesday.  All you who live in the US!  And it will start to start to come out around the world this week. And so we are excited! And I am on Twitter and Instagram at @JohnCohen1

RW Great. And are you on social media Thurop?

TVN Yeah I’m on Twitter. I think I think I’m just @littlethurop on Twitter and Instagram

RW OK great! And thank you again. I very much appreciate it. That’ll be great.

Both Awesome. Thanks so much Rachel.

We’d like to thank both Thurop and John for taking the time to talk to rotoscopers and make sure to check out The Angry Birds Movie 2 this week and let us know what you think!

To listen to an audio version of the interview click here

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic and podcaster. She loves all things animation and does a monthly podcast on classic Disney films and on obscure animation at Rachel's Reviews. She also is the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast. She grew up with mainstream classics like The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons but also loves indie and anime fare like Song of the Sea and Your Name. Most important to her is discussing all kinds of film and TV shows with her friends and all of you. Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachel_reviews and on her blog rachelsreviews.net