By Edwin L. Carpenter, Editor – The Dove Foundation
Chris Juen is a visual effects producer and co-producer, who has been associated with some well-known films, among them Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Stuart Little 2, and The Polar Express. With the premiere of Arthur Christmas for the holiday season, Chris recently spoke with us about keeping the focus on family in his movies.
Dove: How did you become involved in Arthur Christmas or was it your idea to do the film?
Chris: “There was a partnership between Sony Pictures and Aardman, which is an animation company in the UK, and so I worked with Sony and when the project was brought over it was in script stage in what they call story reels and I looked at it. That was three years ago and I kind of fell in love with the story. It was very, very rich and very well fleshed-out at that point. It’s kind of rare to have such a well-developed story two years into a five-year deal, but it was a very solid story.”
Dove: We know that producers do a variety of duties but what exactly was it that you got behind regarding this film?
Chris: “My responsibility on this film was to help build the team here in the U.S., pretty much on the entire digital side. Most of the work was done here with the exception of about twenty five percent of the animation which was done at Aardman in the UK. I was involved with the building of the team–over the three-year-process probably 500 people touched it–and I kind of managed the day-to-day finances and schedule, and really just tried to help the director get her vision up on screen.”
Dove: We understand it’s always a challenge staying within the budget!
Chris: “Money and creativity don’t mix very well!”
Dove: What challenges did you face in completing the movie?
Chris: “The vision was very vast on this one. The big challenge was the scale of it. The whole thing is that we established a look and then we have to travel around the world. Arthur and Grandsanta spend most of their journey in a sleigh going all over different locations. Once the look was established we set the bar extremely high and then it was maintaining it. There’s so much detail in this movie and the attention to the detail has been placed on things that you couldn’t possibly catch in one viewing.”
Dove: What were a couple of the rewarding aspects for you?
Chris: “Watching these characters come to life and the story kind of come together. Working on an animated movie things are done in such segmented ways. You have artwork and then you try to build the artwork in the computer and color it in if you will and make it look like the real world. It’s when the characters actually start to move and come alive and the voice cast on this—we were very, very lucky with the actors that agreed to sign on (including James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, James Broadbent and Bill Nighy). Watching the characters come to life is when you really knew it was going to be spectacular.”
Dove: We know you have a great history in making family-oriented films. Did you influence this film or did you just see it simply would make a good family film?
Chris: “You could see—I mean, by the time I get involved the scripts are somewhat in place but there are always decisions that happen on the fly. I think the decision was based on what I could see the potential was and then I just do my best to influence it from that point on to be something that I would be proud of to share with my kids.”
Chris went on to say that the reviews thus far for the film have been outstanding and it’s been well received but he added that to him the most important thing is watching people’s reaction when they come out of the theater. “There are quite a few people that are teary eyed and kids are really enjoying it. A director made a comment the other night that, ‘It’s nice to have great reviews but if you can win over an eight-year-old you’ve really done something special’”.
Chris added that his background led to what he does today. He loved photography from the time he was a kid and later he served in the navy and learned about computers and electronics. He has now been with Sony for fifteen years. He laughed when he said when he started at Image Works that they were all young kids and nobody was married and now kids are their measuring stick of success!
Dove: Are there a few scenes in the film that you really love?
Chris: “The characters in this movie, how rich and defined they are, is something that I really get a kick out of. I like the family dynamic of it. I think everybody can relate to members of their own family and kind of point to it. I also like Arthur. I think Arthur is a unique and genuine character and I believe that everybody wishes they had more Arthur in them, and had more Arthur-type people in their lives.”
Arthur is a character who has a passion for his work and loves kids and Christmas, we have to indeed agree with Chris. Chris obviously is excited about this new Dove-approved movie. He said he hasn’t chosen his next project yet but is enjoying the premieres of the movie.