Attendees of Comic-Con International can typically be credited with having wild imaginations. They like adventuring to strange, exciting worlds. Well, at last Friday’s panel for the animated feature “9,” fans were introduced to a new amazing universe where the main forms of life are machines and ragdolls.
Initially an Academy Award-nominated animated short, “9” is the creation of filmmaker Shane Acker. He was present at the panel along with producers Tim Burton (“Edward Scissorhands”) and Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted”), as well as two members of the voice cast – Elijah Wood (who voices 9) and Jennifer Connelly (voicing 7). Once on stage, the film’s trailer was shown to the crowd gathered in Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center.
Released by Focus Features, “9” takes place in an apocalyptic future where machines have wiped out mankind. In a last-ditch effort to preserve humanity, a scientist grants “life” to a bunch of ragdolls (numbered 1-9). These dolls – unsure of the reason for their existence – go on a mission to overthrow the machines and grant freedom to those that live in this frightening landscape.
After viewing this, the panel opened itself to questions from the audience. The first query concerned the genre of “9.” There is a very dark and mechanical – yet beautiful – style to the movie, so it’s somewhat hard to classify. Acker said he initially viewed “9” as steampunk, although someone online coined a new term for the film: “stitch-punk.” He enjoys this classification and typically uses it when describing this work.
Next, Burton was asked about his role as producer. He explained that he saw the short, fell in love with it – particularly its “stop-motion feel” – and wanted to help Acker realize his vision. Burton said he recalled all the problems he encountered in producing “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and thought he could help Acker in fighting any battles the animator might have with the studio.
Burton then told fans of an argument he had with executives over the fact that Jack Skellington didn’t have eyeballs. Apparently the “suits” were concerned about Jack’s ability to convey emotion without pupils. Obviously Burton won the argument, but as the characters of “9” don’t have eyeballs either, the producer said he was ready to “fight that fight.” Acker chuckled at this and added that, fortunately, he didn’t have this problem with Focus Features.
This led to another inquiry which seemed particularly relevant in light of the “missing” eyeballs – what methods were used to help the characters convey emotion? Acker explained that the animators learned to do lots with the characters’ brows and mouths. In addition, he said the characters’ body language became very important in showing their feelings.
One topic that did come up with the studio, however, was the film’s rating. As “adult” animation can be more difficult to sell to audiences, Acker confessed that the studio did convey a preference for a PG-rated film. The director said in talking with them, though, they understood he needed to be true to the story he was trying to tell. And while ultimately the film received a PG-13 rating, there is still no nudity or swearing that concerned parents need to worry about.
Acker was then asked about the history of the film. He explained that he only made the short as a “reel” – a sample of his animating and directing abilities. And when the short began to receive acclaim, producer Jim Lemley approached him to turn it into a feature. Acker was hesitant at first, as he had just spent four years making the short and wasn’t sure if there was more to 9’s story. He began thinking about 9’s world and its history, though, and felt there was enough for a full-length film. Four years after that, the feature is now complete; so this film actually represents eight years of Acker’s life.
Audience members next directed several questions to others of the talented panel onstage. Bekmambetov confirmed that “‘Wanted 2’ is coming.” The director said that they’ll probably start shooting in a few months, and actor James McAvoy would be returning in the lead role. His character will be working to wake up Fox (Angelina Jolie), who is encased in wax. Another fan asked about the possibility of a follow-up to the filmmaker’s “Daywatch” and “Nightwatch.” Bekmambetov told the questioner, “I don’t think that will happen.”
Burton was grilled next by a fan who wanted to know if the filmmaker’s long-planned “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” feature would be happening. “Not,” replied the auteur. “I worked on developing it for six to eight months, so I already feel like I’ve done it in a way.”
The question that followed was directed to Elijah Wood and concerned his most famous role. A fan was curious if the actor felt 9 was like Frodo in any way. Wood said, “Yes and no. Both characters are on a journey, and both come into situations larger than themselves. The difference is that 9 has so much more to figure out. He basically throws a monkey wrench into a society that’s established itself. They’ve sequestered themselves into a fear-based hierarchy that 1 [voiced by Christopher Plummer] has established which prevents [the ragdolls] from asking who they are and where they come from. 9 comes into this world seeking to understand those things.”
As the main characters of the film are dolls, Acker was asked about the possibility of action figures and/or other toys. The filmmaker said they are working with NECA (Hyperlink – http://www.necaonline.com) to create some fun and exciting collectibles for the movie. And with that, the trailer was shown again, taking the minds of the audience on one last adventure before the panel concluded.