The trailer for the upcoming DreamWorks, the adaptation of the children’s graphic novels The Bad Guys, has just been unveiled. For the occasion, AlloCiné was able to speak with the director Pierre Perifel, a Frenchman living in the United States.
After crazy adventures on paper, the Bad Guys created by Aaron Blabey will be entitled to a feature film on the big screen. And it is to a Frenchman, Pierre Perifel, that DreamWorks has entrusted this adaptation expected in cinemas on April 13, 2022. Meeting with a man who drew his inspiration from both sides of the Atlantic.
AlloCiné: This is your first feature film, how do you find yourself at the head of such a production from DreamWorks studios?
Pierre Perifel: In fact, I’ve spent most of my animation career at DreamWorks. I have been there since 2008 and I started as an animator, which I had done a bit in France before. Things were done little by little. From animator I went from supervisor to animation director. I was also a storyboarder and a designer.
In 2018, I made a short film, Bilby. I really found myself on this short as a director. So I then asked DreamWorks to make a feature film and they gave me their trust. I then came across the Bad Guys project from a series of Australian books by Aaron Blabey. When I saw the cover of the first book with the 5 villainous animals it reminded me of Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino for children!
It’s an ultra strong concept with 5 iconic animals and I immediately had a vision of what it could be like in a feature film. So the pitch was to make a Tarantino film, but for children. Or an Ocean’s Eleven for the kids. I immediately made a trailer in the form of a storyboard to better show my vision of the thing. I also gave a detailed presentation and the studio then gave me the green light to start production of the feature film. It was 3 years ago and now we are almost done with this amazing experience. I really had a blast and the movie is super cool.
What made you want to come and settle in the United States rather than stay in France?
I come from the Gobelins school in France and there were several French animators who went to the USA who made me dream. And I wanted to learn from them all the magic of animation. When I graduated from Gobelins, I did a short that caught DreamWorks’ attention and they contacted me.
So I took the opportunity even if it was a bit difficult to leave at the beginning because I had just got married and had a little baby. But after two years I adapted well to this new life. It is a wonderful experience to live abroad and discover the American system. We left to stay for 2 years and we are still here, 14 years later!
They give you all your chances if you know how to seize them.
The great thing about DreamWorks is that you can progress quickly and gain promotion quickly based on your performance. Internal promotion works well and they really give you all of your chances if you know how to take them. I’m someone who quickly gets frustrated if I don’t learn, whereas at DreamWorks I didn’t and I always have to learn something new and improve.
It’s a dynamic that allows us to show what we are capable of and to prove that we want to grow. The studio regularly does what it can to promote people. In any case, I’m still super motivated and I’m really lucky to be able to touch everything and to work with a whole bunch of talented artists.
How did you adapt this book series, The Bad Guys, to “DreamWorks sauce”?
In fact, the goal was not to make totally “DreamWorks sauce”. Aaron Blabey, the writer, was not originally a draftsman and therefore his illustrations are very simple. We couldn’t adapt them as they were. And so I set to work to find a style of animated illustration that was not classic and not in line with what we see at Disney or Pixar or even with us at DreamWorks.
Suddenly, the influence, in terms of design, is rather French. With influences from Uderzo or Franquin. But there is also the influence of Akira Toriyama and Dragon Ball! For me it was to bring back a much more illustrative imagery. There are no straight lines in our film, it’s like a painting: it’s totally unstructured. We mixed 2D with 3D, making things visually simple and clear. This fits the style of the story very well. For me, 3D is too ultra realistic and that’s no longer what interests me in animation.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of these five “Bad Guys”?
Gladly. This is the story of these 5 legendary animals: a big bad wolf, a snake, a piranha, a shark and a tarantula. They are the only animals, or almost, that evolve in a human world. In fact, these animals are a representation of our fears. They grew up being the number 1 enemies of humans. And they have that tag there, from Bad Guys.
One day they get arrested, but the wolf decides to make a deal with a kind of mentor, Professor Marmalade, and ask him to train them to become good guys, Good Guys. It starts off as a scam since they actually want to stay Bad Guys. However, in spite of themselves, they will start to change, especially the wolf who is fed up with always being the “big bad wolf” in all children’s stories.
The trailer shows it moves quite a bit with a lot of action. Does that make the work more complex these action scenes?
Yes, it’s complex to act in animation because there are a lot of different backgrounds and different camera movements. And you have to choreograph everything. At the same time it is fun and a great pleasure to stage. We have a lot of car chases and heists. We were strongly influenced by the cinema of Soderbergh, Guy Ritchie or Tarantino of which I am completely a fan. There is even a touch of Luc Besson! It was an opportunity to pay homage to that cinema. And to introduce children to the cinema of these great directors. It’s “cool” animated cinema where music plays a big role.
A Guardians of the Galaxy team.
I also took the composer Daniel Pemberton to whom we owe Spider-Man: New Generation, Venom, Ocean’s Eight and Birds of Prey. He’s an ultra cool Englishman. I have also assembled, for this film, a mixture of American and European artists so that it gives another kind of rather hybrid film, with a different look inspired as well by the manga as by the directors that I have. mentioned.
Not to mention that the dialogues are of great finesse and a very dark humor. This makes these characters endearing, they form a crazy equipped a bit like Guardians of the Galaxy. Especially since the big bad wolf does not believe in his wickedness and thinks that our actions speak more than the face that we can have. There is therefore a social subject in our film with the question of the “difference” which is addressed there. How we perceive the other. How we must learn not to judge “a book by its cover” and that therefore, “the habit does not make the monk”.
The “humanization” of animals is often present in animated cinema as in Zootopia. Why do you think?
This allows us to put a little distance when we are actually talking about our problems as human beings. At the animation level, to humanize them, it allows us to animate them in a more thorough and more caricatured way, it really frees our animation. This allows even stronger emotions to be put forward. What we did with The Bad Guys is really a mix between the world of humans and the world of these animals. These animals are a metaphor for the bad guy who isn’t really bad.
Interview by Didier Allouch in Los Angeles on December 10, 2021.