The A-List: ‘Hotel Transylvania 2’ director Genndy Tartakovsky

By Jennifer Walden

Hotel Transylvania 2 has been kicking some box office butt since it was released on September 25. In this sequel  to the original, the story follows Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) and his posse as they team up to teach grandson Dennis, who is half-human/half-vampire, a few lessons on how to be a monster, all in an effort to (once again) keep daughter Mavis safely at home.

The sequel is not only a return for the “Drac Pack,” it was also a reunion for the Hotel Transylvania creative teams at Sony, with visual teams at Sony Pictures Imageworks and the post sound team at Sony Pictures Post being guided by director Genndy Tartakovsky.

Genndy Tartakovsky  

Genndy Tartakovsky

After finishing work on the original Hotel Transylvania (2012), Tartakovsky and the Sony animation team immediately started on Popeye and were concurrently developing Hotel Transylvania 2. “We had a script from Adam Sandler and Robert Smigel, which was completely different from what we ended up with in the movie,” notes Tartakovsky. “We worked out all the story problems and then we watched the film in animatic and storyboard form, to see what was good and what was bad.”

They made adjustments until the story felt solid, and then Tartakovsky and his team began work on the design, building sets and new characters in preparation for animation. He notes, “The story is what drives everything initially.”

Tartakovsky, who cut his feature film directing teeth on Hotel Transylvania, explains how that experience informed the entire process on Hotel T2. “I knew where we fell short on the first one visually and animation-wise, so we tried to strengthen that,” says Tartakovsky. “On the first film we just made it all work, but this time around we wanted to actually write some new programs to fit this style of animation. The style of this film, the style that we do, it doesn’t work well with computers, because computers are good for mimicking live-action.”

But the world of Hotel Transylvania doesn’t mimic live-action; it’s quicker and cartoonier. So tools based on real-world physics aren’t always applicable. Imageworks developed a new motion blur system and new ways to manipulate clothing. New rigging techniques were made, and they developed simpler ways to do the modeling. “We made a lot of animation tools to make this style a little more feasible and make it happen quicker.”

Another turbo-boost to the process came from Tartakovsky picking up visual elements for returning characters, like Dracula, Wayne (voiced by Steve Buscemi) and Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James), and using those as a starting point for the sequel. “Everything was upgraded and then we developed a library system so if we liked an expression that Drac had from the first movie we could just punch it in and that would be the starting place,” says Tartakovsky. “We would be half-way there and then the animators would push and pull him to get him to be even more extreme or in a more specific mood.”

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In the case of Blobby — a minor character in the first Hotel Transylvania, Tartakovsky knew his role would be expanded in the sequel. He redesigned Blobby, giving him more rolls, giving him arms and lending an extra jellyness to the character. “We developed this whole system of jellying up and down. We knew the range that Blobby needed to be in, so we went for it. That’s the great thing about working at Sony Imageworks; the process is not super complicated for them because they’ve done all these VFX movies like Spider-Man and Edge of Tomorrow and Alice in Wonderland. They’ve done projects 10 times harder and they bring that experience to our world,” says Tartakovsky.

New characters include human-sized bats called Cronies that hang out with Vlad (Drac’s dad, voiced by Mel Brooks). Tartakovsky drew inspiration from Nosferatu for his initial sketch, which he then turned over to character designer Stephen DeStefano. “He really nailed it by finding the right balance between scary and funny,” Tartakovsky says.

Composer Mark Mothersbaugh was also tasked with balancing the scary with the funny, particularly during fight scenes and scenes involving Vlad and his Cronies. “We wanted to make sure that the scary elements didn’t overtake the film, so we made the music more fun and silly to take a bit of the pressure off that,” he explains. “Also, because we have much more of the human world involved, we ended up doing more contemporary music for this one.” One of Tartakovsky’s favorite moments in the score happens during the big fight at the end. “I saw the film in the theater this weekend with an audience and they were actually cheering on that scene — I think the music had a lot to do with that.”

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