The premise for Wreck-It Ralph feels like a sort of nexus for folks who love Comic-Con: The 8-bit video game character of the title decides not to be a one-dimensional villain any longer, undergoing an odyssey that catapults him into multiple generations and genres of gaming history. Following a presentation for the film on Thursday at the convention’s storied Hall H, Movies.com sat down with Wreck-It Ralph director Rich Moore to talk about combining the cinematic and gaming worlds into a unique and yet markedly recognizable adventure, thanks in no small part to a wealth of cameos that gamers will undoubtedly recognize.
In addition to revealing the names of a few of the iconic characters who pop up in the film – although, unfortunately, not our personal favorite – Moore talks about the differences between Wreck-It Ralph and Disney’s previous inside-the-computer movie, TRON, and the process of combining old- and new-school gaming iconography into one cohesive and exciting whole.
Movies.com: The footage for Wreck-it Ralph looks terrific. But it seems like Disney already made a movie like this with TRON. How much does your movie examine that universe, and how much is the “inside the computer” concept just a framework for a different story?
Rich Moore: I loved TRON when it came out, but it felt like it was about computers. When it came out in ’82, it struck me more as, “This is what it’s like to live in a computer.” Not like a programmed world or a certain genre of world, where I guess they played games, but I didn’t feel like I was in a computer world – some kind of digital world. And I guess that was kind of the level of video games then, but I never felt like, “oh, they are in a video game, a genre world.” I think that’s where this is different – that our game worlds are more kind of true to how we know those different genres: platform jumper, first-person shooter or cart racer, where we kind of embrace that more instead of just playing it like, this is something happening on a motherboard or a game grid. Where visually each of the different worlds the story goes through is more true to the genres than the guts of a computer.
Movies.com: When the characters come out of their individual games, is there a unifying aesthetic for the shared universe? Fix-It Felix marvels at Sergeant Calhoun’s face in the first-person shooter game – does she look more like him once she leaves that world, since he no longer looks like he’s in 8-bit resolution once he’s out of his game?
Moore: No, the 8-bit characters on the screen look like 8-bit graphics, and then you go into their world and they’re three-dimensional. However, the design of the characters themselves is very simple, the look of them. The surfaces, their clothes, everything about that world is very simple, the world of Fix-It Felix Jr. The way they move is a little more staccato, that’s a little more evocative of that animation. But Sergeant Calhoun is from a new game, so there’s tons of detail in the armor, and her face has more texture to it and the hair is more realistic, like a real person’s hair rather than molded hair like Felix’s and Ralph’s. So those two together, wherever they go, they don’t kind of change like a homogenizing [transformation] where they kind of look of one piece. And that was a conscious choice to celebrate what it is that makes each of these worlds that’s unique.
Movies.com: How difficult was it then to create characters who were not complex visually, and it not seem like cheap animation?
Moore: Well, that’s a great question, and it was a huge challenge, to say, to your point -- when you make movies like this, that is the goal. When you’re creating the different areas and sets and stuff and the characters, you want it to kind of jell into one kind of look so that it makes the world feel kind of unified and complete, where this goes totally 180 degrees against that. We want these guys to look one way, these guys to look another, and these guys to be different still. That goes against the grain of this kind of animated movie. It was a challenge to remind people from design to color to layout, all of the blocking and the camera moves and everything in the shot, the animation, the lighting of the different worlds, they need to be different.
There were those questions of, if we make these 8-bit guys look so simple, isn’t it going to look cheap? Isn’t it going to look bad? No, it’s like finding what makes it unique and how you animate it.
Like in the animation, they would crack how the 8-bit characters would move, and then you couldn’t stop them. It was just like, “If I do it like this…” and then you just start to have fun with it. But there was that uncomfortable period of, “Uh, this isn’t how we usually do things and I don’t know if it’s going to work.” And I was like, “Trust me – it’s going to work. And if it doesn’t, we’ll try something else.” But when you hit it, it’s like, man – that’s really cool. It’s not something that happened overnight, but well, well worth the challenge.
Movies.com: How much did you embrace the structure of a video game in the narrative of the film – to have each new development feel like the next level or stage of a game?
Moore: There was a period of time once we had the world nailed down that this was taking place in the world of video games, that we said, okay, we’re not just making a movie going “oh, there’s Q-Bert!” It was, okay, let’s track that human story of Ralph, and this could happen anywhere, but let’s make sure that this kind of story plays well, and is a good story worth telling. And then we kind of rolled back the video game aspect into it, where we didn’t kind of get down and dirty, like, “This is Level One. This is Level Two.” But we knew that we were kind of building up to the ending, which should feel like a “Boss” level, we knew there’s got to be kind of like that fight -- and how can we not do that, if we’re going to do this type of movie. So I think there was a natural kind of timing in stuff, because everyone who worked on it was either a big fan of video games, or knows them really well – and received a good education over the three years that we’ve been working on it. So I think it’s in the texture of the storytelling – it’s in there – but it being kind of a Level One, Level Two thing, it’s not kind of on the nose, I think.
Movies.com: Was there a particular character or property you were personally interested in putting in the film?
Moore: I always loved Q-Bert and really wanted him in there, Pac-Man because I spent a lot of hours playing Pac-Man. Who else? Bowser, just because he’s Bowser – it was just great to have him in there. The ghosts from Pac-Man. Little things, like for every big cameo, there’s like three little ones, so like Paperboy, it was just like, “Yes! We got Paperboy!” and that was really great. So they’re all really special to me. Sonic, it’s just like I spent a lot of hours playing him. Burgertime is in there, so it’s just like, “Burgertime!” There’s a lot of great stuff in there.
Movies.com: How about Space Harrier? That’s my all-time favorite game.
Moore: No, we didn’t get Space Harrier. Sorry. But in the sequel, we’ll get him in there.