“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” director Joel Crawford hopes audiences can “feel the imprint of anime” in his latest animated feature.
Talking with Variety, Crawford said the animation team leaned heavily into the hand-drawn style for the beloved cat’s return. Set after the events of 2010’s Shrek Forever After, the film follows Puss as he learns that he has burned through eight of his nine lives and embarks on an epic journey to restore them.
“The fun was picking up and expanding the ‘Shrek’ universe, but also the world of Puss,” Crawford said. “It’s a fairy tale idea that a cat has nine lives, but we thought, ‘How special would it be to focus on Pooh and he has one life left?'”
In particular, the 1988 anime film “Akira” served as inspiration. “I remember [as a young child seeing] the hand drawn explosions and it all felt so epic. It was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, I drew dust clouds afterwards and they were characters themselves, he said. “It was fun to take on that inspiration and design the shape of the characters, but also the action of the world.”
Crawford says updates to mainstream CG animation have made it easier to embrace unique styles. The film seamlessly blends 2D and 3D animation, as well as different frame rates, to amp up the action moments as well as push the boundaries of character animation. Crawford worked closely with head of character animation Ludovic Bouancheau to achieve that look.
The animators used a process called step animation for the action sequences, where certain shots were held longer to provide visual contrast. This can be seen in the opening minutes of the film, where Puss ends up in a fight with a giant and there are “pushed poses” that not only make the visuals impressionistic, but give the audience a false sense of belief that all is right in Puss’s world.
“It made it feel amazing, and the experience of it as an audience is that you get to see these exaggerated movements and gestures during the action,” Crawford said.
But his main goal was to highlight the personal touch of hand-drawn animation found in traditional anime. “So much of art is the human touch, and that’s what was exciting,” he said. “We wanted to get back to the artist and reduce the footprint of the computer.”
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” opens in theaters on December 21.