Chewing the Fat with the Team Behind TinkerBell and the Neverbeast

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Gruff and the fairies make up this huge wall mural inside Disney Toon Studios.

Last year on my L.A. Blogging trip, I got to see my very first TinkerBell movie. Yeah, I have two boys (and I’m a dude), so TinkerBell’s never really been in our toybox. I did, however, really enjoy The Pirate Fairy.  This year, Tink and friends left the High Seas for a different sort of adventure, a much bigger one.

TinkerBell and the Neverbeast (due out on Blu-ray/DVD March 3, 2015), tells the tail, er, tale of a mysterious and monstrous-looking creature called the Neverbeast. (Or Gruff to his friends.) Is he here to destroy Pixie Hollow or save it? That’s what Fawn and the rest of the Fairies hope to find out before it’s too late.

As part of our TinkerBell Tour, myself and 24 other bloggers spent time with Neverbeast Director Steve Loter and Producer Michael Wigert to get to the bottom of it all.

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What’s your favorite part of the animation process?

MICHAEL: My favorite part of the animation process is the collaboration and seeing an idea come to life through the work of a fantastic team of artists. It’s been an absolute joy seeing Steve’s idea, which started 4½ years ago, through storyboarding and design and animations, to see that coming to life through with some amazing people was absolutely a joy.

STEVE : For me it was a story. You get to this really sweet spot when you’ve got a script and then you’ve got storyboard artists visualizing the script. And there’s that something magical that happens there because the storyboard artist is a new voice. They look at the written word and they say, “Oh I can add a joke here. I can put the camera here that’s gonna’ emphasize this moment or emotion.” And for me, that’s when things really elevate. That’s a magic time for me.

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Director Steve Loter demonstrates his aversion to large dogs. Photo: Disney

Can you please tell us a little bit about how the Neverbeast movie came to be?

STEVE: The movie was inspired by my daughter. I grew up in a household with no pets of any kind, none. No dogs, no cats, nothing. And because of having no pets around, I have a fear of very large dogs. Many years have passed and I have a family of my own. And my daughter loves one thing above all else… very large dogs. And our neighborhood just has a ton of dogs. So she’ll see a neighbor walking a dog down the street and she’ll run up to the dog and she’ll throw her arms the dog in a big loving hug.  And, and it showed me something. Something very important.

My daughter has a huge open heart. So I had to sit her down and we had to talk about this encounter we just had with the dog. And she would say, “Well all animals are my friends. Why wouldn’t they be? In fact, the bigger they are the bigger the love they have to give.” And I thought that’s the story. That’s the story. Fawn, the animal fairy, loves animals unconditionally. She takes care of animals and she encounters a creature that can be perceived as a monster and her open heart’s going to be put to the test.

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Nyx makes a discovery while pouring over her books. Photo: Disney

How did you come up with those new Scout Fairies?

STEVE: Nyx is a very interesting character. As soon as I was hired on to direct the movie, my daughter is in a gymnastics team. So we would go to a gymnastics meet, her team would run up to me and say, “We heard you’re working on a fairy movie. Can you make fairies like us? We’re physical. We run, we jump. We, we do all these things. Can you make fairies like us?” And I thought, “That’s right. There isn’t. Where’s the physical fairy? Where’s the action hero?” And the Scouts came from that. That’s who the Scouts are. They’re physical. They’re very athletic and there’s a Pixie Hollow for them, absolutely.

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TinkerBell reluctantly helps her animal fairy pal Fawn. Photo: Disney

When you were creating the story did you have an idea who you wanted to cast in the various roles?

MICHAEL: We loved Ginnifer Goodwin and we knew she was going to be Fawn. That was easy for us. We had a conversation about who would be playing against her and we wanted somebody who could contrast the joyful bubbly nature that was Fawn. And so for Nyx we then discovered Rosario [Dawson]. When we brought Rosario up she just has this cool voice. And you can hear her passion and her belief in what she feels is right. That contrast was really beautiful and really nice. Working with both of them was just an absolute joy.

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Gruff the Neverbeast and his new pal Fawn. Photo: Disney

How long did it take to finalize the design of the Neverbeast?

STEVE: The Neverbeast came very quickly. Initially I hired a few designers to work with me to do some drawings from a verbal idea. Pretty quickly I realized I had this character in my head. So I knew what I wanted. I did a drawing very early in the process and we did a painting of it and then we showed it to John Lasseter and John said, “That’s it, done, there’s your character.” The challenge was following up on that because you have a beautiful 2-D painted imagine and now you have to realize that in a CG world, in a dimensional world.

The thing about Gruff is he’s made up of a bunch of different animals. I wanted elements to be recognizable by a child. “Oh my dog does that, my cat does that. I’ve seen that creature in a zoo.” All familiar elements. So he has the walk of a hippo or a rhino. He has horse fur like a yak and it’s white. He has these floppy dog ears. He has an armadillo tail that he can hang on stuff, but it also acts like a cat. You could tell his mood by the swinging of the tail and these big beautiful green cow eyes that you see you’re reflection in. Fawn sees a reflection in that.

Do those ornamental designs on him mean anything in particular?

STEVE: They’re intended to be tribal and earthy. I did a lot of reference. I looked at a lot of ancient literature. I also looked at some of the more modern comic book graphic novel sensibilities.  I wanted to find something that looked so old world. Something familiar, but very old. It was from imagination but definitely rooted in a lot of truth and material research.

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Producer Michael Wigert said the biggest challenge with Gruff was dealing with scale. Photo: Disney

What was the most challenging part of creating this film?

MICHAEL: Animating Gruff was definitely a challenge and bringing to life because his scale is so much larger than the other characters. 6’ character interacting with a 5” fairy. That proved to be very difficult because even just the choices in camera lengths you have to do something drastically different.  We would have scenes where the background is being fish-eyed warped because we’re trying to fit the characters in to the scene. But really it was all with the goal of making the relationship between Fawn and Gruff be believable.

STEVE:  What I thought was going to be a challenge was the ending honestly. In speaking of real life events, the ending was a real life event umwhen we had to put the family pet down. And a lot of dialogue spoken by Fawn is actual dialogue. My wife said it to our dog. I’m capturing the moment in time it actually happened to me and I’m probably going to be very particular about how I want this scene to feel. But when Ginnifer Goodwin came in to record that she did it in one take. She got it down in one take. She said, “I know what you’re going for. I’ve been there, I can do this.” And she did it.

MICHAEL: It was beautiful, but it was very hard to witness. I mean she definitely got into that moment and she was very choked up. I think everybody was. And so everybody had to take a few minutes after that and it was amazing to witness. We knew we had something very beautiful.

TinkerBell and the Legend of the Neverbeast

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On Blu-ray and Disney HD March 3, 2015

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2 Responses
  • Anne Taylor
    March 2, 2015

    Love creative people! My cousin did the voice of Vidia!

  • Alexa Nernberg
    March 1, 2015

    Great interview. Now I want to see this movie. I envy the talent you have to do this type of work.

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