This is an advertorial for The Smurfs, which will hit theaters on July 29th, 2011.
They're blue. They're three apples high and live in mushroom houses. They're hunted by a crazy wizard with a cat. They're the Smurfs and they're smurfing onto the big screen July 29th.
We got a chance to chat with the cast, some of the people behind the scenes and see what really goes into making these little guys come to life. In the film, the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) chases a few of the Smurfs through a portal into our world. They land in New York City, where they come in contact with a young couple (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays) expecting their first child. The Smurfs must work with their new friends to find a way back to their village before Gargamel and his cat Azreal capture them.
Let's start off with some fun facts. Animating these little guys is quite a feat. We actually got a chance to give it a shot ourselves and it was no easy task. (I made mine do the Evita pose.) The character design for the Smurfs allows for 11 accessories, 2 gloves, three types of glasses, nine kinds of props, 2 skin options, 6 different hats, four different pants colors and 20 controls on the body parts, allowing for 570,240 different combinations. There was even a consideration of the color of their blood. A little creepy, sure, but after seeing their slightly transparent skin with yellow, white, blue and red blood, you could really see why they took such care. (They went with red, in case you're wondering.)
The film will be released in both 2D and 3D. Director Raj Gosnell and producer Josh Kerner spent time with James Cameron on the set of Avatar, learning about the 3D process. ''I don't know if you know, but on the set, Cameron always refered to [the Nav'i] as the 'big smurfs,' '' Kerner told us. He said that they actually learned a lot about working with the color blue. ''There are challenges with the color blue,'' he said. ''Blue actually doesn't hold easily as a color on screen.'' Gosnell added, ''We learned a bit about 3D ... what we loved about their 3D techinque was that it was mostly environmental. It took you into this world. It was subtle. It wasn't stuff flying in your face constantly. We looked at some other 3D movies and found that some of the 3D treatments, we felt distancing from some of the characters ... as we proceeded into 3D in this project, we were very, very careful to have the scenes play ... to have the 3D have as little negative impact on the scenes as possible.
We also learned what a challenge it was for the actors, playing off creatures who aren't really there. Except for the opening in the completely CGI Smurf village, this is a hybrid film. We watched a scene which involved Papa, Grouchy, Clumsy, Smurfette and Gutsy running around a room with the live actors, and it was impossible not to feel sympathy for them. Imagine trying to keep track of where all these little blue creatures were and try to act! Jayma Mays, who plays Grace told us that they were lucky to have someone reading the roles of the Smurfs while they performed. ''We had two,'' she said. ''We had a lovely girl and a lovely guy that actually did different voices for the characters. It's helpful when you're looking at a bunch of stickers. We don't know which sticker belongs to whom and what—even when the lines are being read, we're not sure ... is that Grouchy? Who is that speaking to me? It really helped''
Hank Azaria, who plays the wizard Gargamel occasionally had a real live cat to work with for Azreal. ''Sometimes it's a combinations of CGI and cat ... mostly I was with the cat.'' They joked about working with live animals and whether or not cats were harmed during filming. ''They're incredibly pliable animals,'' Azaria laughed. ''They have nine lives! The funny thing was, I really would throw him a lot. Like, there's a scene where I aquire a robe, and I get it by just basically haggling with a guy, and going, 'Ah, screw it,' and throwing the cat in his face.
For you Smurf purists out there, those of you who grew up on the Saturday morning cartoon, you can rest easy. The production worked very closely with Veronique Culliford, Smurfs creator Peyo's daughter. She approved the newest addition to the bunch, Gutsy (Alan Cumming) and made sure her father's creations were in good hands.
Stay tuned for our interview with some of the animators for a look at the science behind The Smurfs. The film will hit theaters on July 29th, 2011.