LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 4: Will Smith (C) poses with directors Troy Quane (L) and Nick … [+]
Nick Bruno and Troy Quane make their feature directorial debut with the animated Spies in Disguise, opening Christmas Day.
The family-friendly spy comedy is the latest from Connecticut-based Blue Sky Studios, the animation house behind the Ice Age franchise, the Rio movies and, most recently, 2017’s Ferdinand. Blue Sky is a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox Animation, a division of the Walt Disney Studios.
Quane has been an animator for nearly a quarter-century, having started out at Walt Disney Animation in Canada where he worked on several direct-to-video sequels of popular Disney titles, before going freelance and working with Warner Bros., Fox Feature Animation as well as Disney on a project-by-project basis. In 2003, Quane was on the story crew of The Wild, a CGI feature for Walt Disney Pictures.
He served as storyboard supervisor on 2007’s live-action Disney film Enchanted. Afterwards, Quane continued to contribute to various stories in production and helped develop a number of animated and live-action films, including The Incredible Mr. Limpet for Warner Bros., Candy Land for Universal, 9, for Focus Features, Arthur Christmas for Aardman Animation and Hotel Transylvania for Sony Pictures Animation.
Bruno is a 14-year veteran of Blue Sky, having begun his career as a junior animator on Ice Age: The Meltdown. He subsequently was on the animation teams of three more Ice Age films, along with Rio and Epic. He rose to the rank of animation supervisor on 2015’s The Peanuts Movie, before being paired with Quane to lead Spies in Disguise.
Quane and Bruno have an easygoing style that appears to perfectly mesh as they discuss their first collaboration as directors. They were paired up like freshman college roommates on the spy movie, starring the voices of Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Reba McEntire, Rachel Brosnahan, Karen Gillan, DJ Khaled and Masi Oka. They’re goal, they explain, was to make a spy film for kids who might be seeing their first-ever spy movie. Spies in Disguise was written by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor from a screen story by Cindy Davis, inspired by the animated short film Pigeon Impossible by Lucas Martell.
Lance Sterling (Smith) is a renowned super spy and Walter Beckett (Holland) is a nerdy scientist who work for a governmental crime-fighting organization known simply as The Agency. Their personalities are quite different from each other. Lance is smooth, suave, debonair and he is used to working alone. Meantime, Walter possesses none of those qualities but he’s highly intelligent and a passionate inventor of gadgets and formulas. As events take an unexpected turn, Lance and Walter are forced to embark on a mission that will require an almost impossible disguise—transforming Lance into a brave, fierce, majestic bird. Well, actually, he’s turned into a pigeon. With the fate of humanity at stake, the two opposites will have to work compatibly to retrieve a stolen weaponized drone.
Angela Dawson: What’s the advantage of having two directors?
Nick Bruno: Our movie is about teamwork and how important that is. We came together—we met on this movie—and it’s been a honeymoon the entire time. We genuinely work together and love each other. We both have the same story we want to tell. It’s great to have a partner in anything you do and have ideas you can bounce off of one another. Sometimes, we’d have ideas and wonder if they’re any good, so you’d have someone to take that idea to. It’s great to have a partner-in-crime all the way through.
Troy Quane: We saw eye-to-eye on 90 percent of it. There are some directing teams that split duties [but] we did everything together. That was simply because we mesh so well together. Although we come from different backgrounds—Nick is more the animation background, I’m more from the story/pre-production side—so it’s good to have those professional balances as well. Even though we never separated those responsibilities, we always came together. At least, you have someone there you know. And, sometimes you have a bad day. It’s nice to be able to go, “You’re on duty, man. I’m tapping out of this one.”
Dawson: What’s the background of the lead characters?
Quane: Walter is a guy who firmly believes we’re better together. His whole idea is teamwork. That is one of the things we hope comes through in the movie. He believes that as a world, it’s better when we come together. He’s a hopeless romantic at heart. We’ve also got this guy, Lance Sterling, who’s this amazing spy but he flies solo. He works all by himself. We always say this is a buddy comedy; the Lance-Walter relationship is a bromance. It’s a spy movie but it’s also a bit of a romantic comedy in that sense.
Dawson: Was Will Smith set to voice Lance voice? Was the part written with him in mind?
Quane: It was always Will Smith in our hearts.
Bruno: When we first started on the project, we knew we wanted to create a character who could stand up against James Bond, Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne, so we just looked internally and asked, “Who were some of our heroes growing up?” and the only one who had all that swagger was really Will Smith. So, we just started fine-tuning the character and the story emerged and influenced the design. When it came down to casting, our casting director, Christian Kaplan, was like, “Who do you want to go for?” and we were like, “Can we go for Will Smith?”
Quane: We were expecting everybody to laugh at us.
Bruno: But he was like, “Let’s try,” and we got him. I think what hooked Will was the idea of making a kids’ spy movie. At the core of it, in a world where people don’t trust each other and fight fire with fire, it’s about two people with opposing philosophies that learn to work together, and working together is what save the world. He really loved that.
Will Smith voices superspy Lance Sterling (left) and Tom Holland voices scientist Walter Beckett in … [+]
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Dawson: What went into the decision of showing Walter’s bare bottom in a kids’ film?
Quane: You show me one kid who doesn’t love a bare butt. I don’t know about you but my kids used to run around with bare butts all the time. It was just a funny little gag that made us chuckle. It was one of those things where kids will go, “Oh, I can’t believe they did that.” It feels like we’re getting away with a little something even though it’s benign.
Dawson: Did Fox/Disney executives express any concern about having it in the movie?
Quane: There’s always the “should we?” and we were like, “Absolutely.” We just had to answer the question with complete confidence. It made us laugh and we handled it with taste. There’s always room for a well-placed butt joke, fart or a burp in a movie, when it gets a laugh.
Bruno: You asked us what are the benefits of working as a team, and it’s making each other laugh. That’s what we did the whole way through with everybody that worked on it from Blue Sky Studios. It was nearly 600 amazing artists and our mandate for everybody was: let’s have fun making this thing, because if we have fun together, it’s going to show up on the screen. Usually, that’s what makes it bulletproof because everyone feels the fun and has a good time with it.
Dawson: Talk about your cameos in the film?
Quane: No one is more surprised that that’s still in the movie than we are, even though we’re the ones who get to choose what’s in the movie. We would just do “scratch” voices. When you’re making the movie, before you cast your actors, you do “scratch.” We had this moment where Lance is coming in, so how would he interact with people? We had this idea of him doing a fist-bump with someone, so we were in the booth doing the “scratch” voices, saying silly things. It was really to make our crew laugh. When we’d screen it for audiences, for some reason that kept getting a laugh, so we ended up keeping it in.
Bruno: We’re the directors; we can do whatever we want. The true acting came from our experience interacting with Will for the first time.
Quane: When we were waiting for Will to come in, we were like, “We’re going to pitch to Will Smith. No problem.” And then we heard his voice in the hall and Nick almost passed out and I almost wet myself. Then we collected ourselves and went from there.
Dawson: What was it like directing him? He can take over a room. So, how do you rein him in or do you just let him do what he’s going to do?
Quane: He’s a collaborator in the truest sense. The one thing I can say about our entire cast is, especially Will, is the guy you see in interviews is truly who he is in person. He comes in to do the work. He wants to get into the character. He thanks every single person who’s there that day; it doesn’t matter who they are. He really is a true, good soul, and a really smart and funny collaborator.
We’d start with the pages [of the script]. Being in the booth, we’d read with him, and suddenly we’d go off page a little bit—we’d start bantering—and we’d take that and go back to Tom [Holland during his voice session] and do the same. It really became this nice back and forth.
Bruno: We really wanted to get a spontaneity, particularly between Lance and Walter. We wanted it to look like those guys really are interacting like brothers in the back seat of a car. So, it was really important to get that kind of spontaneity between those guys because they were never in the [recording] room at the same time.
Quane: That’s animation. With animation, everything is planned. It’s not like live-action, where you keep the camera rolling and something happens. So, the one place that we can be spontaneous is with the actors and, luckily, both Tom and Will love to improvise, and that shows in the movie. There’s a natural quality to their dialogue because of that.