Hoyt Yeatman, director of the upcoming 3-D family fantasy movie G-Force, told reporters that the film's story—about a covert team of guinea-pig spies—is a much more realistic idea than one might expect.
"We began working on the design of it and also the story of it, and I began doing some research," Yeatman said in a news conference a few weeks ago in Culver City, Calif. "Little did I realize that most of everything that I was playing with and contemplating doing—although it sounds like a fantasy—to a great extent actually exists right here and now in our U.S. government."
G-Force follows the adventures of a team of guinea pigs who are given weapons, training and equipment in order to stop a billionaire who intends to conquer the world. The movie mixes live action with computer-generated animals and visual effects.
Yeatman said that his four-legged characters do actually have a historical antecedent. "For example, if you were to Google 'squirrels in Iran,' you'll find that about two years ago 12 squirrels were found having gone into the Iranian embassy equipped with video and audio surveillance equipment," he said. "If you go to DARPA.mil, which is the agency of the U.S. government that makes these strange little weapons and covert stuff, you'll find a whole area on cyborgs. Basically what they do is they take insects—they're primarily cockroaches and moths—and they actually put nanotechnology, very small electronics, in the brain stems of the pupa, and they have these little radio controls that carry surveillance equipment. So you look back through history and you find that animals and insects have been very much a part of our intelligence system as well as even in U.S. government."
Yeatman and visual-effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk appeared at the press event to screen footage and field questions from reporters. The following is an edited version of that news conference. G-Force opens July 24. (Possible spoilers ahead!)
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer said that Hoyt is an inventor. What, if anything, did he create for this film?
Stokdyk: One of the cool things about working with Hoyt, his visual effects background, is that he brings a lot to the table. He's an inventor, and he created this whole device that actually captures the set, and it captures all of the lighting our [director of photography] did on set and brings it into a nice format that we can use in our visual-effects pipeline. With this we're able to get placement of lights and intensity of lights and detail and shadows on the set, and we definitely on this movie improved our lighting pipeline so that the characters look more real and tangible in the plates. It's definitely a combination of both, that base level and then that extra level of artistry on top of it, where we add layers of nuance to it.
How did you decide how much to anthropomorphize the guinea pigs versus making them look completely real?
Stokdyk: It was really important from the beginning to Hoyt that these guinea pigs feel like real guinea pigs. There was an inherent tendency to want to make them more athletic-looking and more like secret agents, but the key concept of the movie is that they're guinea pigs, and all of their physical limitations, their tiny little arms and legs, that make this movie play.
Seeing them do all of this secret-agent action stuff is really fun to watch. So going into this movie with all of these challenges when we were designing the characters, we had to take this into consideration—we were dealing with the big head, the tiny arms, even the fact that their eyes are around the sides of their heads like prey and not predators. We wanted to keep them all, because they were inherent to the look of the guinea pig, but we had to figure out a way to work with them.
So we did stylize things on a very subtle level; we kept the eyes around the sides, but we keep them angled forward just a little bit—hopefully not enough to notice, but enough that we can get both of them in a close-up. Even working with the buck teeth, that [affected] all of the mouth shapes that we could do when they were speaking, so we had to be very careful, because with full-size teeth, you get a big, cheesy grin and it would look great, but with a guinea pig you have a big, open hole with two teeth in the middle, so you have to be very careful about how you make the shapes. Otherwise they can look goofy when you don't want them to.
Hoyt, you said that your son originally came up with the idea for this. What was your son's reaction when you told him his idea was going to be made into a movie?
Yeatman: I don't think he really understood. He was about 5, and now he's 11. I purposely only showed him a little bit [of the movie], because I want him to see the final piece. He's really excited. He did a couple of the voices, so he got to go to Disney to record. Just to go through that part of it is really fun.