3 Ways DreamWorks’ THE CROODS Raises the Bar for Animated Films

*This is one in a series of posts going behind the scenes of DreamWorks’ new animated film, THE CROODS. I’ve also written a straightforward movie review of THE CROODS, now out in theaters.

Earlier this month I was able to attend the Parent Bloggers Summit, an event hosted by DreamWorks at their Animation Campus in Los Angeles. We screened the upcoming 3D animated family film THE CROODS (in theaters March 22, 2013), and were given special behind-the-scenes insights into the making of the movie.

DreamWorks Animation The Croods Movie Poster

Though I’ll be sharing a full review later, right now I want to highlight 3 ways I believe DreamWorks’ THE CROODS Raises the Bar for Animated Films, complete with perspective from the filmmakers into the choices they made about setting, characters, and 3D animation.

The Croodaceous Period

Though THE CROODS is about a family of cavemen, the setting in which they live won’t be found on any known chart of historical time periods. Instead, THE CROODS exists in what DreamWorks filmmakers call “The Croodaceous Period,” or the “time between time.” It’s a fantastical world, based in a familiar enough earth for us to identify with, but full of inventive landscapes and creatures.

In deciding how historically accurate they did (or didn’t) want THE CROODS to be, writer and director Chris Sanders told us:

“It was one of the biggest things that weighed on us at the beginning – all right, do we want to be somewhat accurate to a certain time period or something like that? And there are so many things we needed to accomplish story-wise … There’s so much story to tell, and the type of story we’re telling, they just need to express themselves … As far as the time period, we made up our own, the Croodaceous. We made this chart that shows the Jurassic through today and the Croodaceous is a little slice in there.

Markus Manninen, the Visual Effects Supervisor on THE CROODS, further explained:

“We had to figure out how to create this time between time that the story took place in. It was important for the story that this felt like earth because we wanted this to be a family, a regular family that were trying to survive and go through regular life in their context of actual survival and eating …

But … we decided we really wanted to feel color come into this world. When the movie starts, we get to know the world that the family is in and the limitations (in some ways visually) of that, and then this beautiful blossoming color world comes to life in front of them. It shocks us as an audience because we’re going through the journey with them. We do this so you understand what the Croods are experiencing, as well.

… we put this whole world on steroids.”

color and light in DreamWorks THE CROODS

Writer and director Kirk DeMicco defined the delicate balance needed in creating the world of THE CROODS:

“We definitely wanted it to feel grounded so the stakes of the story and the family dynamics felt real. Everything we have in the film has some sort of spin on it, ‘The Croods spin.’ It took a while to find the right balance. Because if you pushed it too much, it actually looks like science fiction, and if you push it the other way, it looks like Dr. Seuss.

We’d be bending it all the time. And then the artist would say ‘What about this one?’ and we’d be like, ‘Okay, that’s The Croods.'”


Finally, Chris Sanders gave us some insight into the unique creatures in this film – animals like the liote (lizard + coyote), the piranhakeets (piranhas + parakeets), the macawnivore (mackaw + carnivore), and more:

“One of the interesting things about this film was that we wanted to create a world that felt prehistoric but was also fresh. A big part of that was going to be the environment – the other huge part of it was going be the animals.

I really felt strongly that we should have a couple of animals that are your staples like saber tooth tiger and mammoth. So, we’ve got a giant mammoth, and our saber tooth tiger, he’s one of the only animals I actually designed, giant head. And we moved his big saber tooth — teeth around so they’re more like tusks, so we kept him a little bit fresh.

But we were still trying to figure out what to do with the other animals.

One of our artists, Shane Prigmore, he came up with a really cool solution, which was to take animals and combine them, which gave a kind of a cool feel. You could almost imagine, a long time ago, animals were different combinations that maybe, as time went on, they diverged into separate things.”

creatures in THE CROODS

A Multi-Generational Family, WITH a Mom

You could make a party game out of trying to name animated films that include both a father and mother as characters. Brave. Mulan. The Incredibles. The point is, there are some, but they’re hard to name, because they are so few and far between. In THE CROODS, not only is there a mother and father, but a grandmother as well, making this a multi-generational family tale. It adds weight and gives heart to the story, and the filmmakers spoke with us a bit about not only the importance of including all family members, but the difficulties in it as well.

Chris Sanders explained:

“I think the toughest character was really the mom because you rarely have moms in movies. I think that she was probably one of the biggest challenges because she plays a very tough role. She needs to protect her family and do the right things for her family. But, she also needs to stand by Grug to some extent. And he’s the guy who’s really struggling.

When he gets pushed out of the cave, he feels like he’s the one that’s in charge, and she’s got to support him in all his decisions. And I think that she’s the most unique character in some ways and one of the ones that we have the most pride in at the end.”

THE CROODS family 2

Best Use of 3D in Animation in…Maybe Ever

I have seen a lot of animated 3D movies in the last few years, and I can say without hesitation that this is perhaps the best use of 3D in animation I have ever seen. The use of 3D is not a gimmick in THE CROODS, but instead a technique for making the film a completely immersive experience. I was awed by so many scenes.

The filmmakers explained their team’s collaborative efforts in finding those moments that would “pop” and give the audience a sense of being there with the family. They also pointed out that at DreamWorks, they frequently advance the medium of animation by creating new technology to achieve the effects they are looking for in a film.

It was during this discussion on 3D that Jeffrey Katzenberg stepped in to give his own testimony on DreamWorks’ dedication to 3D (my “cracker jack moment” I wrote about this month):

“There is more 3D knowledge, experience and movie making here within the studio than any other place on the planet today. We’ve now made a dozen movies in 3D.

If you look at it on the technology standpoint, those engineers who are perfecting the tools, the toolbox, it incrementally gets better each time. If you look at it on a creative basis, the experiences, the filmmakers, Yong Duk, who was the cinematographer on this movie, did Kung Fu Panda 2, which also had some pretty amazing breakthroughs in terms of the use of 3D.

The fact that we’re able to just keep building on top of it, I think we could certainly argue that there’s no place in the world today where there’s as much expertise and creative and experience knowing how to apply 3D in a way that really makes it an immersive experience. The goal always has benn, if we can transport you into that world and really make you feel as though you’re in the center of it, that’s the best use of it.

So, it’s less about gimmicks and things that kind of poke out at the screen as opposed to immerse the audience in it.”

THE CROODS pirahnakeets

THE CROODS fireworks

You can get a small taste of all the things I’ve mentioned here by watching this trailer of DreamWorks’ THE CROODS:

For more information about DreamWorks’ THE CROODS:

*Disclosure: The trip was provided by 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Animation. All opinions expressed are honest and my own.