Director Ash Brannon discusses the making of his new animated film Rock Dog
by Joanna Orland
Ash Brannon is a writer, animator and director who has worked on classic films including Pixar’s Toy Story and Toy Story 2, Dreamworks’ Over the Hedge, and the Oscar-nominated penguin film Surf’s Up. His latest film Rock Dog is a Chinese-American collaboration based on the graphic novel Tibetan Rock Dog by Zheng Jun. Featuring the voices of Luke Wilson, J.K. Simmons and Eddie Izzard, the film begins deep in the Himalayas as Bodi is being trained to become a warrior dog. Bodi’s heart truly lies in music, and he travels to the city in hopes of meeting his feline pop idol Angus Scattergood, played by Izzard.
When approached by the film’s producers about the prospect of directing a Chinese-American collaboration, Brannon was at first hesitant as he felt inadequately informed about Chinese culture. Upon meeting graphic novelist Zheng Jun, Brannon’s view quickly changed. “Working with Zheng Jun… it was just very clear that we’re not really that different and the ideas we had together worked for him, they worked for me, so I felt that we had some license to make a movie that can be universal,” says Brannon. “And again, you can’t chase that market or that audience, you just gotta kind of do what you feel is right and then hope that it strikes a chord.”
The universal appeal of the story is truly what appealed to the director when deciding to take on this project. “[Zheng Jun] was going to be a major in international finance until he heard a Bruce Springsteen song, and that sent his life in a whole new direction,” explains Brannon. “When we started collaborating on the story, I realized this is a universal thing we’re doing. Making music is something we all share and have in common, so I really embraced it, the opportunity.”
The art of animation has evolved since Brannon’s days as a trainee on Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The advent of CGI has expanded possibilities, “It’s like an artist having an array of brushes and pencils and markers and chalk – there are more tools in the kit now and there’s more flexibility in the ability to perform,” says Brannon. “You know, one reason Pixar made Toy Story – they chose that subject because that was a time when you couldn’t do fur and hair very well, and cloth, so they picked characters who were made of plastic – that made sense at the time. But now you’re not limited at all really. You can animate anything.”
With an array of animation tools at his fingertips, Brannon also needed an excellent cast to voice the characters of Rock Dog. “Eddie (Izzard) was top of the list for Angus. We needed a foil and kind of a counterpart to Bodi who’s this naive dog who’s just starting out, and I wanted to have a character at the other end of the spectrum who’s at the top of his career and maybe a little worried about his future,” says Brannon. “Because when you get so high and you’re in an ivory tower, where do you go? If you’re really disconnected from the world, how do you find inspiration any more?”
Our interview with Eddie Izzard