'The Grinch is a character we can all relate to': A chat with co-director Yarrow Cheney
Dr Seuss' The Grinch is a classic Christmas tale that needs re-watching with the entire family.
The film features a cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Pharrell Williams, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson and Angela Lansbury.
The story: Grinch and his loyal dog, Max, live inside a cave on Mount Crumpet. His main source of aggravation is Christmas time, when his neighbours in Whoville celebrate the holidays with a bang.
When the Who’s decide to make Christmas bigger, the green grump Grinch hatches a scheme to pose as Santa Claus, steal Christmas and silence the Who’s holiday cheer once and for all.
We got to chat with Yarrow Cheney, the production designer, visual effects artist, director and animator who is best known for his work in Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2, and The Lorax.
Cheney co-directed The Grinch with Scott Mosier. Excerpts from the interviews:
If you could, who would you choose between Gru of the Despicable Me series and the Grinch — to spend a Christmas with?
Yarrow Cheney: (Laughs) That depends on whether we’re talking about the Grinch before the film starts, or the Grinch after the film ends.
I would definitely pick the Grinch when the film ends, but I think it may be a little bit dangerous to spend it with the Grinch, before the film starts, as he might end up wanting me out of his mountain.
But that’s fair, as Gru wouldn’t like me hanging around Christmas time either (laughs)! So, it will be dangerous and fun on either side.
The Grinch definitely has a heart, while of course, Gru has a soft interior too... so it’s hard to decide.
The classic tale of the Grinch never gets old, and every Christmas, millions of kids relive and enjoy the same story. Tell us how the Grinch, and other works of Dr Seuss, affected you in your childhood?
YC: For me, growing up, there was the Grinch television special that ran every year during the holidays, that was directed by Chuck Jones, and Dr Seuss worked on it, and that was the first time I had an encounter with the Grinch, and as a child, I read the book. For me, it was definitely a big part of my childhood.
As an artist, Dr Seuss was able to create these wonderful worlds that were so different and so out of his imagination, and also so very relatable... he had an ability to make these fantastic, whimsical worlds that were also grounded in characters that seemed like us.
I mean, the Grinch is a character like that, whom we could all relate to — we all have bad days, and sometimes we despair, and prefer being guarded about the world, and protective of our little spaces. Sometimes, we can all be a bit like that.
The contrast of the cheerful, vibrant design to the characters of Gru and the Grinch, is interesting to note. In terms of production design, is this contrast intentionally amplified, for comedic effect, perhaps?
YC: In terms of production design of the film, what we were really trying to do, was to draw a contrast between this warm city, that’s Whoville, a warm town were everyone loves the holidays.
They are very joyful people, and they enjoy getting together, singing songs, and having a good time... and so, the colour palette and the design, everything was trying to make this place a warm place to be, where the audience wanted to be in, with people that the audience wanted to know.
And so, in doing that, we tried to draw a contrast between the Grinch, who lived up in a cold mountain, where everything is between rock and very hard surfaces. The mountain’s actually a big wedge shape, and it’s meant to contrast the warmth of Whoville.
That was the big idea behind the two main locations of the film, and what it said about the characters — the vibrancy and the colours really were a result of the characters that lived in the world, and the personalities and things they enjoy.
We really wanted it to be a warm place, where even though it’s snowing, everybody starts celebrating, handing out treats, and drinking hot chocolate... all the things that make you feel warm inside.
Are you more inclined to good-old hand-drawings and pen-and-ink sketches, or do you prefer working with tech? Do you believe a lot of new-age films are losing out on a human aspect, and charm, in a blitz of CGI?
YC: A lot of the artwork I did for the Grinch was using my traditional skills — I would draw on my iPad, but that is really more or less the same sort of skill set as on paper.
The wonderful thing about working in animation is that an artist can really jump in and use the skills they already know.
When 3D animation first started, the options were limited — but now, I do a lot of traditional drawing and paintings, but I use an iPad instead of pencil and paper.
It’s a great thing for artists because the tools give us a lot more to work with, which would not be possible on paper.
Watch Dr Seuss’ The Grinch on December 22 at 1 pm and 9 pm on Sony PIX.
— Jaideep Sen