The Making of DreamWorks Animation’s “The Bad Guys”

DreamWorks Animation
(Image credit: DreamWorks Animation)

LAS VEGAS—NAB Show attendees got a master class in creating a big-budget animation film on Monday, April 25 as the editor and director of the recently released DreamWorks Animation film, "The Bad Guys,” walked the audience through their creative process, using a scene from the beginning of film to show how the film was developed from simple line drawings to the final animation. 

Both Pierre Perifel, the director of “The Bad Guys” and John Venzon, ACE, editor of the film, stressed that the process of working on an animated film is very different from a live action film, where scripts are written, scenes are filmed and then the footage is edited.

In contrast, much of the work in animation is centered around editing from the beginning of the creative process. 

Venzon noted that people often think editing animation is a simple process of piecing together the animation. “And I say to them, no, no, no, we edit the movie first and then we shoot it,” Venzon said. “Imagine if you came on two years ahead of time, and you sat with your director and your writer and your producer, and you reworked and reworked and reworked the movie and then only after you were happy with the movie, you would then go out and shoot it? That’s animation editing. The first two years are really figuring out the story.”

This reflects the fact that animation is expensive, added Perifel. “You can have two animators working for three and half months to animate a scene,” he said, which means the story and how it will look has to be well established before the animation starts.

"The creative process that we go through in animation is because we can't shoot more footage than what we can use," said Perifel. "You know, it's way too long and complicated and expensive to do that. And so we crafted very carefully before we actually do the shooting itself. And so, we start with the script, obviously, and then refining it, refining it, refining it, until we're sure of ourselves. And then we do the the execution of it" with the animation.

To illustrate this creative process, Perifel and Venzon showed a series of clips, starting with a rough hand drawn animation of the opening scene.

The new DreamWorks Animation action comedy is based on the New York Times best-selling book series. It revolves around a criminal crew of animal outlaws and the first clip they showed introduced the animals with an opening clip of a fast paced bank robbery using simple line drawings.

This was exciting but failed to build up the characters in a way that would make them likable enough to carry a feature film, Perifel said.

So in subsequent clips, Perifel and Venzon explained how the characters were refined in a way that created an interesting family of animal predators that were about to attempt their most challenging con yet—becoming model citizens. These changes develop with increasing sophistication up to the last clip with the final animation, music, etc.

By that time, the potentially unlikeable cast of a wolf, snake, shark, piranha, and tarantula had been recast as a family that robs banks but doesn’t care about money. “We wanted the audience, especially moms who bring their young kids to a movie called `The Bad Guys,’ understand that it's all about having an activity that they all do together as a family," Venzon said. "Money is the last thing in the world on their mind. It's more like getting back at all the people who prejudged them and were prejudiced against them.”

Both men also highlighted the importance of remote production technologies during the creation of the film, which occurred during the pandemic. 

"There were actually quite a quite a few benefits to it," Perfil said, adding that it allowed the actors to record their lines at the same time in the comfort of their homes together rather than doing it separately in a studio. 

Collaboration on a project of this scale is also key and the creative team found their were able to use remote meeting technologies to keep in touch with each other. 

"Normally, we want to get off zoom as fast as possible," said Venzon. "But we found that the more we talked, the better things went. We would have meetings in the morning and at night just to say how things are going, what's going on today. Just trying to stay connected with our collaborators, that that made all the difference."

George Winslow

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.