Too Many Stories: Genndy Tartakovsky on Hotel Transylvania

Making a different version of the film in 2D, reuniting the cast of That's My Boy and an update on the 'Dexter's Laboratory' and 'Samurai Jack' movies.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


We got to interview Genndy Tartakovsky the day before they announced he was helming the new Popeye film. [Editor’s Note: Sigh…] But we did get to see some footage from his upcoming movie Hotel Transylvania, with Dracula (Adam Sandler) running a vacation spot for monsters. Do Not Disturb signs shout at passersby, except one that shouts at the maid to service the room. All the classic monsters are in there, though producer Michelle Murdocca told us their Frankenstein could not have bolts per Universal’s copyright. She also said there were three musical numbers the characters sing. Dracula has a daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), who would like to leave the hotel and meet humans. An American backpacker Jonathan (Andy Samberg) comes to the hotel and causes trouble for Drac. In our exclusive interview with Tartakovsky, we did talk animation, including his Cartoon Network shows and “Clone Wars” series.


CraveOnline: Is there any chance your “Clone Wars” series could come back?

Genndy Tartakovsky: [Laughs] Probably not, no.  They’ve kind of found their way I think with it. For me, at one point I was going to go to Lucas and I was going to be the John Lasseter of Lucas Animation. Then things didn’t work out but I definitely knew that doing Star Wars could be my next 20 years. So as much as I enjoyed it and as satisfying as it was, I have so many original ideas that I didn’t want to spend the next 20 years not doing anything. Especially I’m kind of spoiled in my career for sure doing so many of my ideas on “Dexter,” “Samurai” and “Titan” that I didn’t want to give up on it. I have too many stories to just be in that world for so long.


In casting Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg, were you hoping to recapture the magic of That’s My Boy?

[Laughs] You know, we were doing this way before That’s My Boy or I guess as they were doing it. So it was really about I thought of Andy as the young Adam Sandler on “Saturday Night Live.” Then Adam of course is really, really funny so it’s more about getting this great dynamic together and see what would happen with the two of them. They’re too really funny guys.


You described your approach to 3D as more depth than coming at you. Do you also have in mind some people prefer not to watch movies in 3D no matter how it’s done?

Yeah, that’s the challenging thing about kind of making two movies at the same time. It really is. If you’re really doing a full on 3D movie, I think you would do it a lot differently because some things just look better in 3D that don’t in 2D. So it’s a fine balance and I think we really stumbled upon this way of doing it, the way we shot this type of animation that really works well with 3D. Actually when I first started, they made me take a 3D class that’s taught on the lot and the way they were talking about it, I go, “This is exactly the way I was going to shoot the movie so it’s kind of perfect.” Sure enough, all the stuff that is lower to the ground looks really good because you get this vastness going back into space. So I’m not worried about it. I think it’s really entertaining as a 2D movie and I think the 3D really holds up and there’s a lot of scenes where you’re like, “Wow, that’s really fun. Look how deep it goes.”


Would you actually compose certain scenes differently for the 2D version?

There’s a few things where we use a lot of framing elements that are in the foreground, where in 2D it looks really good but in 3D if you can imagine the screen and all of a sudden there’s a character standing here, because he’s closer to you, he’s way in front and your eye just wants to go here and look at him. Meanwhile the story’s happening here, so in those shots we would actually just turn this person off so it works better in 3D.


So if people see the different versions they may notice there’s different shots?

Yeah. Maybe, yeah, totally.


What point of view did you have on the hotel industry that you wanted to spoof?

[Laughs] Well, hotels are fun and I worked at a Holiday Inn for a few years when I was younger so it’s just the craziness of it. There’s so many different things that can happen in a hotel, utilizing everything from guest bedrooms to the pools, saunas, organized activities, that type of stuff. We just wanted to have fun with it but it was also a very conscious choice in the beginning not to make a movie that’s all about the puns. I think that only goes so far, but with a hotel for monsters concept we can do puns all day long. So we wanted to make it a character story, a character comedy so we really focused on that more so than the puniness of it all.


Those “Do Not Disturb” signs were hilarious though.

Yeah, stuff like that where it’s so strong, you’ve got to do that. It helps to create the monster hotel feel of it all.


What are your thoughts on the classic animated structure where the mom is no longer in the picture and it’s a single dad?

I’m not the biggest fan of it because I feel like it’s kind of overkill to put it that far, but it’s something that’s very classic and it’s been around in animation since forever. You just kind of use these devices to help you with the emotion and the storytelling and the connection to the characters. But we had to tread these waters very carefully because it is a comedy and you don’t want the tone all of a sudden to get so dark so fast. We planned it and positioned it and took it in different places, but at the end of the day I think we found a nice balance in it.


What makes it organic in Dracula’s story?

Well, it kind of sets everything off. He’s a single dad and something happened to the mom that was really bad so now he’s going to make sure that same thing [never happens again]. You know, if your kid goes out and gets hit by a car, God forbid, you’re going to do everything it takes for that not to happen again. So then he uses that tenfold because he’s Dracula. It gets exemplified to a huge degree, building this hotel, having everybody come there, having Mavis never leave it, as nice as he can put it but to him, why would she want to leave? Everything is here for you.


Was the mother another vampire?

Yes, she was.


What conversations did you have about the teeth?

I was worried about it too because when I first started to see the teeth it was kind of like, “Oh, I don't know, is it too much?” Then we kind of embraced it. Yeah, they’re vampires, so their teeth are going to be kind of fangy. Not in a grotesque way but it’s just part of their makeup. When he becomes angry, we can make them even bigger. When he threatens Jonathan they can be bigger so there’s a little element of that. But you can’t avoid it. You kind of have to just get it out there and hope you’ve made a sensible decision about it.


Since you have so many different monsters, how many different programs did you have for all the characters in the movie?

Technically, it’s all one program.


So it’s one system but the individual animators control each monster distinctly?

Same system, yeah. It’s like one pencil for all the different characters and stuff.


Did you have a set of rules, like a bible for how each monster would behave?

Yeah, we set that up kind of early on. We talked about their personalities. Like Steve Buscemi, for Wayne the Werewolf, we don’t want him to move at all because he’s miserable and if you ever talk to a dad that’s beaten down, they have no energy to move. So for having so many kids, he’s constantly exhausted. So every time you see Wayne he’s kind of hunched over and he’s kind of droopy and he doesn’t move a lot. Versus Murray the Mummy who’s looking for love, so he’s always talking and always gesturing. He’s kind of the opposite of that. And I think the two sides of Dracula I think came out great, where Dracula sometimes is very reserved in his hotel manager mode, and then when he’s a freaked out Dad that he becomes crazy and neurotic and zipping around everywhere.


He’s never scary Dracula, is he?

There’s a couple of fun moments that I don’t want to give away, but no. I would take a six-year-old easily to see it.


What do you think is the awareness among six-year-olds for all the classic monsters?

I don't know, it’s hard to tell. I feel like there’s still enough around that you know who Dracula and Frankenstein and the Mummy are. Yeah, I think they definitely don’t have the kind of references that I had growing up where every other movie was a Dracula movie and there were a lot of spoofs on Dracula and comic books of Dracula. It’s definitely different but I think they’re aware of vampires and from that you can probably extrapolate that they know that Dracula was the first original one.


Do they have a lot of wrong ideas about vampires these days?

They do. Not wrong, but it’s just different. I think we try to establish it as soon as we go into the movie, set the parameters so nobody’s super confused.


Does any of Hotel Transylvania take place during the day?

Yes, it does.


How does that work?

You have to watch the movie for that one.


Does it change your work when most of it is set and lit for night?

Yeah, especially you’re making a comedy so you don’t want it to be super dark so we found a way to do night for day. Actually if you saw in the cemetery sequence, it was really bright because we made the spooky white mist so it still feels like a cemetery at night. We did a lot of tricks like that. We brought in a lot of really strong moonlight to make it a rich, blue night rather than a spooky black night. The movie’s very saturated, very rich in color so it’s very cartoony and broad. So that made it go away from that kind of deep, dark film.


There was talk about a live-action Samurai Jack movie. Is there any movement on live-action versions of any of your shows?

No, they keep trying to do a Dexter live action but I always said if we’re doing Dexter, I’m the one to direct it because that’s my baby and it’s the first one. You don’t want anybody to change it so much. Samurai keeps going up and down. Somebody’s interested, somebody’s not. I never say never for that one.


They’ll probably want a Hotel Transylvania 2. Would you stay on for that?

I don't know. It’s hard to tell right now.