Interview: Genndy Tartakovsky On 'Hotel Transylvania' - And The Return Of 'Samurai Jack'

Just because Genndy Tartakovsky has directed everything from Samurai Jack, to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, doesn’t mean he was prepared to take on “Hotel Transylvania” for his first feature. The animation vet is much loved for his crisp, clean designs, and the thick lines present throughout his animation... So jumping from the 2-D space to the 3-D was a bit of a shock to the system, as we found out when we chatted with him on the phone on the eve of Hotel Transylvania’s release.

Laughing, Tartakovsky noted that it was, “hard and easy at the same time. Initially, going on my biggest concern was trying to retain some sort of point of view. The computer tends to equalize everything, all the movies are slowly blending together, the way they look. Because of my previous work, I still wanted to have a signature.”

For Tartakovsky, that came out through the expressions of the characters, and the posing, leading to a “caricatured, cartoony style of animation.” On the other hand, Tartakovsky found that the backgrounds were done before he was even brought on to the project (he was actually the sixth Director brought in to rework the movie, when it was already in progress). Even some of the characters were completely animated, but through the flexibility of the animators he worked with, they were able to, “flex some of them into almost a new design, just through animation alone.”

More difficult for Tartakovsky? He didn’t write the script, something he’s long had sole control over on other projects. “That was more challenging, because you’re dealing with the writing and the structure of the film,” said Tartakovsky.

So given the ups and downs, would Tartakovsky want to tackle a CGI feature again? “I’ll be honest, this was a better experience than I expected going in,” said Tartakovsky with a chuckle. “I was able to get pretty much anything I wanted... But having a choice, I’d absolutely do 2-D. There’s nothing like watching hand-drawn animation on the big screen. It’s just hard when the marketplace isn’t really buying those kind of movies... It’s hard to sell them.”

How about going back and taking some of his 2-D work, and making it 3-D then? We noted that Samurai Jack, with it’s Asian influenced art, might be hard to translate into three dimensions, but Tartakovsky, surprisingly, disagreed. “I would approach it the same way I approached the 2-D,” said Tartakovsky. “I would make it an artistic, and as stylistic as I can, and we would just push the computer to do that. I think it would be more interesting, and more unique to do it in 2-D... But it could totally translate.”

Don’t hold your breathe, though, as Tartakovsky wants to concentrate on new ideas... With the exception of Samurai Jack, which he very much wants to finish the story for, and will do by any means necessary. “I’m trying so hard,” said Tartakovsky. “I’ve done a lot of interviews for [Hotel Transylvania] and every single one has this question, which I was really surprised at! I expect it when I go to Comic-Con or something like that, but from the press, it’s taken me by surprise, and it’s taken the studio by surprise. I think Jack is more popular now than it ever has been, and Sony’s taken an interest in it. We’ve got a great working relationship now, and we’ll see what happens.”

Until Sony does move forward with a Samurai Jack feature, Tartakovsky has a few other irons in the fire, including a new version of Popeye. “For me, it’s an opportunity to do an animated physical comedy,” said Tartakovsky. “That’s the goal, that the humor will come from the physicality of it, rather than the funny dialogue. The biggest challenge of that is that you’ve got a tattooed, pipe-smoking sailor, how do you make that contemporary today? Besides putting sunglasses on him, and a big, backwards baseball cap, I have to figure out how to make that work.”

Tartakovsky’s desire to direct Popeye doesn’t come out of studio edict, though: as a young boy, the Director got into animation by reading, and falling in love with comic books. That led to writing and drawing a Luke Cage comic book for Marvel, which never got finished. “I wrote and drew four issues, and then I never got to finish it,” said Tartakovsky. “I kind of want to finish it one day, and have it come out... It’s funny, I have these ideas for comics also, but making movies, or TV shows, it’s time consuming. I have to pick one or the other. I’m not sure comics sustain mortgage, and the house, and three kids. It’s definitely something I’d love to dabble in, but right now I don’t see it happening for a while.”

That doesn’t mean Tartakovsky doesn’t keep up with comics. “I read comics because of the art,” said Tartakovsky, citing John Byrne, Frank Miller, and Walt Simonson as influences. “I’d follow them wherever they’d go. Nowadays there’s fewer people that I’m really into. I’ll go into the store like once a month, and flip through comics, and I’m surprised I always end up leaving with nothing.”

Hotel Transylvania is now in theaters from Sony Pictures Animation.