How ‘The Bad Guys’ Used L.A.’s Cinematic History to Create an Animated Film Noir
Los Angeles’ ubiquitous smog, freeways, beaches and palm trees — as well as its place in moviedom — were all influential elements as filmmaker Pierre Perifel and production designer Luc Desmarchelier huddled over where to set DreamWorks’ latest animation, “The Bad Guys,” in theaters April 22.
Based on the children’s book series by Aaron Blabey about a group of animals — a wolf, a snake, a shark, a tarantula and a piranha — that are always portrayed as criminal types but are trying hard to reform here, Desmarchelier says the script didn’t define where the action would be taking place. So when conceiving ideas, he looked at Chicago and New York as potential settings for the gang’s last heist.
But the production designer says he and Perifel ultimately landed on a reimagined version of the City of Angels because inspirations from cop and heist movies and TV shows had a gravitational pull. “Starsky and Hutch,” “To Live and Die in L.A.” and even Tarantino films such as “Reservoir Dogs” were among those that had a distinct look that he could model his designs on. “We were attracted to the colors, the smog-filled air, the white and blue skies that we found so appealing,” Desmarchelier says.
The production designer notes that the backgrounds are more about a vibe than about portraying specific places. “We reimagined the city, so there’s no one place where you can recognize an actual building or landmark, but it still feels and looks like it’s L.A.,” he says.
One particular car chase sequence between the cops and the bad guys takes place at dusk. Attracted by the smoggy skies often portrayed in quintessential L.A. noirs, Desmarchelier wove that into his backdrop. “There’s a little bit of smog as the city lights up in orange,” he says. “You often see it in [film] cinematography; it’s intuitive when you think of night colors, and that design choice here worked beautifully to set off the electric blue [of night].”
Art director Floriane Marchix says watercolor-style backdrops depicting the city’s distinctive stucco bungalows and long staircases merged with 3D models and CG to inject vibrancy into the landscape and pay homage to Hanna- Barbera’s visual storytelling style.
While kids root for the animal heroes, observant adults will notice references to numerous caper movies such as “Ocean’s 11,” “Gone in Sixty Seconds” and even Brian De Palma’s “Femme Fatale,” in a scene set on a red-carpeted staircase that’s a dead ringer for Cannes’ Palais des Festivals.
Desmarchelier also riffed off other classics such as “Bullitt” and Hayao Miyazaki’s landmark anime film “The Castle of Cagliostro.” “There’s that confluence of East meets West,” he says. “It was about balancing it together. L.A was just the most appealing setting for this because I’ve been living here for many years.”
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