As a brilliant animator himself for the better part of three decades, off and on, TIM BURTON is not easily impressed by new talent. So when he decided to back turning Shane Acker's Oscar-nominated student short into a feature film, it was the supreme compliment.
Then again, Burton says he saw some of himself, creatively, in Acker's dark and charming film about "stitchpunk" rag dolls that battle creaking yet lethal war machines on a post-apocalyptic sandscape. And he's absolutely right, of course: The visual echo is strong. (Both men have also been inspired by some of the same animation forebears, including, surely, the Brothers Quay.)
Among the actors charmed by Acker's short, meantime, was Oscar winner JENNIFER CONNELLY, who voices the feisty fighting character named 7. Connelly had never voiced an animated character before, but she, too, says she felt strongly about supporting Acker's vision.
Comic Riffs caught up with Burton and Connelly at San Diego Comic-Con this summer to discuss the challenges and charms of helping to make "9":
MICHAEL CAVNA: So what attracted each of you to this plucky band of post apocalyptic stitchpunks?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Shane has a really unique vision that I thought was really inspiring. I thought it would be really exciting to be a part of it -- to support it. It is his vision. We all want to support Shane -- that's certainly what I felt. ... I wanted to try to give him what he was looking for, because he's a really talented guy.
TIM BURTON: Same thing -- I saw the short. You could just feel his passion. My idea of getting involved with it was: You see a lot of personal films, but you don't see a lot of personal animated films.
Tim Burton at Comic-Con 2009 (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
MC: So as the producer, did you run interference and help Shane [whose credits include visual effects for 2003's "Lord of the Rings"] fight the studio battles?
TB: I used to have endless arguments with Disney, like [the studio would say], "Can you put some eyeballs [in]? There are these black sockets. How are you going to feel for a character that has no eyes?" And I was anticipating that. But fortunately, that didn't happen on this. The studio [Focus Features] has been great.
MC: Can you both speak to what about the story -- specifically -- drew you to it? Heroic futuristic rag dolls fighting robots isn't your everyday fare?
TB: We've all seen post-apocalyptic imagery, but the thing about this that's surprising is that it sneaks up on you -- the humanity. It's very touching. I just find it strangely emotional.
MC: Actors typically rely so much on their bodies for performance. How did you feel as a voice actor, not getting to use your body?
JC: Oh, I did. You just didn't see it!
TB: The animators appreciated it -- I can guarantee you that! . . . It's very important to an animator -- they get a lot from that.
MC: And how did the process feel different, as a first-time voice actor?
Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly speak during a "9" panel discussion at Comic-Con 2009. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
JC: I'm used to meeting with everyone and having a long rehearsal time and you can sit around and chat about things and exchange ideas. This was pretty much over the phone with Shane -- his explaining his vision to me. It's a more disjointed process than I'm used to. Over a period of years, you come in months later. There was this one session with Elijah [Wood, who voices the character "9"] where we didn't even have any lines together, but . . . he sort of did his lines and I watched him. And he watched me do my lines.
TB:It's kind of amazing that anything works out at all!
JC: You feel like you're invested in it, but it's a much more private, quiet way of working on something. . . . I was trying not to think about this character [named 7] as anything other than human. This little stitchpunk character.
MC: You're both parents, of course. Will kids want to see this film, given its bleak setting?
JC: As a mom, my kids [Stellan and Kai], they loved the short, so [they'll like this film]. If I watched that short once, I watched it a hundred times. They wanted to watch it over and over.
Hey love it.
MC: So what about your upcoming projects? Tim, you've got "Alice."
TB: I'm going back to work on it right after this!
MC: What about you, Jennifer?
JC: I did a film called "Creation" with my husband [Paul Bettany] in which he plays Charles Darwin and I play Emma Darwin.
MC: Is this your first time acting opposite each other in a feature film? I don't recall your sharing any scenes in "A Beautiful Mind."
JC: We had only one scene together, but I wasn't supposed to be able to hear him.
TB: (whose partner is "Alice" star Helena Bonham Carter): And they're still speaking to each other! . . . You know, it's harder than people think.
"9," THE OSCAR-NOMINATED SHORT FILM:
THE RELATED READ:
THE PRINT PIECE: Comic Riffs reviews Shane Acker's visually inspired "9" in The Post.