patrick hanenberger

Q&A with Rise of the Guardians production designer Patrick Hanenberger

While at Comic-Con 2012, Rise of the Guardians production designer Patrick Hanenberger answered some fan questions from the Rise of the Guardians Facebook page. Read on for special insight into the making of the film:

Will W: Where did you draw the looks/accents etc., for each character from, other than taking some of Joyce’s original ideas?

Patrick: The ideas for the design of the characters came from real world inspiration, such as travel, history and mythology. We wanted to give each one of the Guardians a unique “cultural” background. We actually created a Guardians map (where they live, where they travel) and overlaid it with the real world map. That put Tooth somewhere between Thailand and China, North between Russia and the North Pole, Jack in northeast USA etc…

Jasmyn H: After experiencing the second trailer for this film, it seems you have brought in a tremendous amount of detail into this new feature. Spanning from just the sequence of the moon, the frost covering Jack’s face and sweater, and even the incredible amounts of glitter used for both Pitch and Sandy. What was it like creating the most intimate little details for each character and scene?

Patrick: Detail is extremely important for the design and look of the movie. It adds “magic” and a “whimsical feel”. Watch how Jack’s frost pattern changes when he emotes differently. The frost that shoots off his staff takes on different shapes, depending on the mood he is in. Watch North’s coat closely, and you will see yetis, Christmas trees and toy designs stitched in the pattern. The idea behind the coat was that the yetis made it for him and wanted to document the history of their collaboration. Watch the tooth drawers in Tooth’s palace. Each one has a unique facial design on the front representing the child to whom the box belongs. Also check out the various pattern designs in the Toothpalace on the giant continent columns. Each main column holds the teeth of an entire continent.

Lidia C: I see the characters have been designed with the principle “let’s make the opposite of what everyone expects” in mind. How did that decision come about? And how does it influence the story?

Patrick: It’s not necessarily the opposite; it’s more of what would really make sense. For example, North (Father Christmas) is much closer in our film to the Father Christmas figures around the world than the American version. The German Father Christmas (Knecht Ruprecht) would punish you if you didn’t behave. So we just moved away from the commercial versions and grounded these characters more in mythology. The Tooth Fairy, for example, is not a “princess fairy” but a creature inspired by the mythological “kinnara”, a bird human hybrid.

Elizabeth O: How different is it between the books and the movie? Why are the characters designed differently from the book’s illustrations?

Patrick: The books talk about a lot about the backstories of the characters. Our movie takes place today. We wanted to give the movie characters a bit more of a cleaner contemporary look. We worked really hard with Bill Joyce to keep the original essence of his designs and translated them into something that works for the movie and for the books.

Adam L: What exactly started the idea to make Santa a Russian giant?

Patrick: The Bill Joyce mythology of North talks about his backstory as a Cossack warrior. Cossacks were the perfect place for inspiration since their wardrobe resembles closely what a lot of Father Christmas figures around the world look like.

Todd B: Why did you choose Sandman to be mute?

Patrick: Sandman is the wisest of the Guardians. He doesn’t feel the need to speak. He communicates with dreams, which really shows how powerful he is.

Lisa C: Do you ever have to change your creative/artistic style for every project to adjust to the style of the film, or do you like to leave your own creative “stamp” on every film you work on?

Patrick: This happens all the time. Leaving your “creative stamp” can be dangerous because you don’t want your designs to distract from the narrative. But yes, of course you have to change your style all the time, depending on what the project needs. In this case it was all about unifying our 6 main characters and their worlds. That was THE most important thing. Second most important was to ground them in our reality.

Patrick Hanenberger, production designer on Rise of the Guardians, talked about his job of bringing the story to life through visuals. For Rise of The Guardians, he was tasked with creating a new take on the Guardians that everyone grew up with. They’re introduced as believable characters that are actually grounded in our reality. Patrick’s biggest inspiration was real geographic locations all around the globe. For example, North is heavily influenced by Russia and Cossacks, and Tooth’s realm is based on South East Asia. He said “Diving into those places that were relatable empowered us to make the characters believable.”

DreamWorks Animation kicked off Comic-Con with a filmmaker panel moderated by Anthony Breznican from Entertainment Weekly.  The panel featured DreamWorks Animation Chief Creative Officer Bill Damaschke, Madagascar 3 director Tom McGrath, Rise of the Guardians production designer Patrick Hanenberger and The Croods head of character animation James Baxter.

When asked where do the stories come from when making DreamWorks Animation’s animated films, Bill Damaschke spoke about the inspiration for Rise of the Guardians. He said “William Joyce, who wrote the books that the film is based on, is really into the holidays.  His daughter asked him one day, ‘Dad, does the Easter Bunny know Santa Claus?’ The answer was ‘Not only do they know each other, they actually work together and they do all the things that we think they do. They hide the eggs, deliver the presents and collect the teeth but they have another purpose on top of that.’ So actually building on that question leads you to so many things you want to know and so many avenues in the story we want to create.”