Filmmakers John Stevenson and Mark Osborne have long been martial arts movie fans, but they quickly learned there was a major difference between loving the genre and making a film using its many trademark conventions.
Add to that challenge the complex animation of a wide array of animals ranging from jungle cats to snakes and one can begin to appreciate the difficult task the co-directors faced on the set of the new film Kung Fu Panda.
“All of our characters are animals and are furry,” Stevenson points out.
“Doing fur well is a very complex and computer-processing intensive thing. Then there’s the clothing with Chinese robes and things. You put fur and cloth together before they start doing anything else, you have these very difficult interactions which have to be taken (into consideration).”
When an overweight panda —Kung Fu Panda's protagonist —named Po (Jack Black) is deemed the “Chosen One” in a prophecy, he must train under Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to confront the evil warrior Tai Lung (Deadwood’s Ian McShane) in a battle for the ages.
The problem is, Po is a tad under-qualified for the task and must first overcome hurdles such as his voracious appetite and general laziness before he can save China from Tai Lung’s wrath.
To call this sort of undertaking an animated logistical nightmare would be an understatement, one made even more complex by the fact that those aforementioned animals engage in complicated and realistic martial arts moves based on the original five kung fu fighting styles: crane, mantis, snake, tigress and monkey.
“The biggest challenge of all was not only to make our kung fu look great, but have a story significance and make sure we were telling a story throughout those fights so it wasn’t just people fighting for the sake of cool fighting,” the Oscar-nominated Osborne explains.
While the film is built entirely around Black’s brand of humour, the co-directors approached the project from a unique perspective.
Their challenge was to blend comedy and genuine martial arts in a way that would please young audiences, as well as kung fu fans, without looking like a parody or a reinvention of the genre.
“(We thought) what if Akira Kurosawa shot a Jerry Lewis movie?” Osborne recalls.
“What about a great, epic, beautiful, real, formal kung fu world with this central character? With Jack being the impetus, it made it clear we could have these two worlds collide with each other and let the comedy come from that situation.”
>> Kung Fu Panda opens next Friday.