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Steve Martino Talks About Making “Horton Hears a Who”

1.Martino’s journey from art school in Ohio to Monty Python to “Ice Age” to “Horton Hears a Who.”Martino was bitten by the animation bug in animation class in college while studying to be a designer. He realized that he could move an audience with moving graphics and he enjoyed making people laugh. In the early 1980’s, he worked for television stations doing animations for the Super Bowl, NFL  and ESPN. He found himself moving along with technology and its leaps and bounds. Back in the 80’s he would never have dreamed of feature films with characters like today. One of Martino’s favorite parts of his job is that he is lucky to work with talented people A highlight of his career was sitting with Terry Giliam at studio and story-boarding. Martino thinks Giliam is “one of most creative guys out there.” He had a huge influence of Martino. For instance,  Martino was inspired by stories on how Martino made “Brazil” and how they used clacking in “Holy Grail” as a necessity since the film budget didn’t include horses. Working on a variety of film from “Holy Grail” to”Ice Age” and  “Robots,” where he was art director, Martino gained the experience necessary for co-directing “Horton Hears a Who” along with Jimmy Hayward.2. Goals for the filmMartino had three major goals for this film. First, they wanted to adapt the book by a beloved, respected author, and remain true to the work in storytelling while expanding what was between the pages.The second film goal was the animation. They wanted to create flexibility and movement. The character development team challenge. As a team they worked together to create the perfect tools for animators to move characters around mixing creativity with technology, making the animation fluid.Thirdly, they wanted to keep true to the style. Dr. Seuss was production designer in Steve’s opinion. They promised Audrey Geisel, the widow of Ted Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) that they would stay true to the style. According to Martino, one of best moments in the project was when he had lunch with Geisel after the project was complete and they and saw it in a special showing in a theatre. Martino laughs about how his hands were clenched on seat throughout the film, as if her were in a dentist chair, wondering how she would react. Before the credits even rolled, she stood up and applauded and commented that they took the story and lifted it to a new place.  Martino expresses that it was the pinnacle of the filmmaking experience to sit with Audrey and have her applaud what they had done.3. Animating “Horton Hears a Who”Hayward and Martino both sat down to talk about the book and discovered that they agreed on how it should be portrayed. They discussed what they imagined as they read the book when they were kids. Martino also factored in ideas he developed as he read to his own kids, who are now 14- and 11-years-old.  Hayward and Martino wanted to depict a sense of imagination  — not like this world. They felt the story needed to be more exaggerated and imaginative than our world and came to the conclusion that to depict this, they would create a unique two-dimensional animation style.Computers like to keep things on model and perfect form, and for this project the creators wanted to push character distortion –heads squashed or arms 3 times a natural length. The art team jumped on this challenge and embraced it although it was difficult.The animation project was huge. They had a special fur team whose entire job was to groom the fur digitally. This task encompassed the Who’s and the plants. There were very complex scenes, which pushed technical boundaries such as the field of flowers near the end of the film which had ½ billion clovers. The animators managed to fill space and even have clovers blowing in wind. In order to do this they had to intelligently render clovers based on the camera angle through some technologicalingenuity. Each individual frame for this scene took two to three days. Due to the complexity of the  scene, it took months to render.4.ResultsMartino  firmly believes the film became what it is because of the talent of the people working on it. The cast, in his opinion, was phenomenal and the recording sessions took the movie to a place he never would have conceived of as the actors improvised and all the talented people contributed with their expertise.Three years on a film is a long time to be working on one project. Especially when you are a parent with two children. In fact, his two daughters are in the movie as Who voices, and they were also part of the focus group. Martino loved the great story and great theme by Dr Seuss — no prejudice. He found that this was a great investment of time and life, stating that it was “so nice to work on a project where you can bring your family to the film without hiding your head in shame.”

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