Harrison Ford is an undeniably big name.
Directing him is probably nerve-wracking enough, but to direct him in your first outing as a director on a film set? That’s an unadulterated 10 on the intimidation scale.
That’s what Colorado Springs native Chris Sanders did in the new live-action/animation hybrid movie “The Call of the Wild.” It opens Friday.
Was Sanders nervous?
“Oh, yes,” he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, shortly before attending the film’s premiere.
But it was also “very exciting,” said the director of the popular animated films “Lilo & Stitch,” “How to Train Your Dragon” and “The Croods.”
“We started talking beforehand and met several different times to talk about his character and his back story,” he said of Ford. “That made it go very easily.”
Adapted from the classic 1903 novel by Jack London, the film pays homage to a charismatic, 140-pound St. Bernard–Scotch collie mix named Buck, who’s uprooted from his California home and thrown onto a mail delivery dog sled team in the Canadian Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. Ford stars as John Thornton, a gold hunter who’s Buck’s final master.
The movie combines live action, which is filmed on set, with visual effects and animation technology to bring the animals to life, including Buck. On set, there were three full-scale versions of Buck made out of foam: sitting, standing and lying down. There was also a human stand-in for Buck, which helped Sanders know where to move the camera and gave the actors an eye line for the animated dog.
“It was neat. I got the hang of it,” Sanders said. “It sounded quite intimidating. You don’t want to spend too much time talking. You want to get in there and start shooting.”
Sanders spent the first six years of his life in the Pikes Peak region. He doesn’t remember much, minus the hill in his backyard and the incinerator, where his family burned their trash.
They moved to Arvada, near Denver, and he graduated from Arvada High School in 1980. But not before his school newspaper allowed him to use his drawing skills as its cartoonist, giving him an outlet for the art he’d been making since he was little. He fell in love with animation as a 10-year-old, after seeing the Ward Kimball animated shorts on “The Wonderful World of Disney.”
After high school, Sanders majored in character animation at California Institute of the Arts, then took a job at Marvel Comics. He arrived at Disney in 1987 and worked on “The Rescuers Down Under,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Mulan.”
“I never drew people as a kid,” he said. “I never had a pet, so I always drew animals. I drew my pets. Raccoons, polar bears, dogs, eagles, wolverines.”
The round and heavy characters in the 2002 film “Lilo & Stitch” are a good representation of Sanders’ style. When he pitched the movie idea to the president of the studio, he got the go ahead and a disclaimer: “He said I’ll make the film on one condition — that it looks like you drew it. Somebody did an analysis of my drawings to make a guide to learn how to draw like me.”
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