Happy Feet Two is released in the UK this Friday, 2nd December and you can see our review here.
HeyUGuys – Coming from Mad Max and Mad Max 2 which were very cynical and very dark movies about the future to Happy Feet 2 which is very optimistic, do you think you are more optimistic with age?
George – Probably, even though I’m now making another Mad Max film after all these years. People ask why did I get into these [Happy Feet] movies and I say two reasons: kids and technology. Once I had kids I only got to see kids movies and you do a lot of reading books to them and then I’m lucky enough to be in the era when this technology started. With the first Babe film we had a script written for ten years before, waiting for the ability to make real pigs talk and CG came along and I always loved animation, one of my top movies in Pinocchio and I always said that Chuck Jones and Buster Keaton taught me how to make Mad Max because they were pure filmmakers and they understood the pure syntax of filmmaking. So, it seemed natural to get into these stories.
Was it easy to find another story for the second Happy Feet film?
In this case it was easy because the films take a long time and in the last year of Happy Feet 1 the characters were so much in my head, they were like imaginary friends and I had the story for the sequel while I was finishing the first one. I had the story but I decided to do two other films in the meantime. One was Justice League which was closing to finishing but due to some complicated rebate system which was just starting in Australia it fell down. And then I was to do the next Mad Max movie, Fury Road, which I’ve tried to do twice and we had unprecedented rain in the centre of Australia and what was the red, flat plain is now a flower garden and the great salt lakes in the centre which you could drive through for miles is full of pelicans and fish so that film was pushed back. So then came Happy Feet  but we hope to shoot [Fury Road] in Namibia next year.
Will Fury Road be closer to Mad Max 2 than Mad Max 3?
It’s not a reinvention, but it’s going back into the world and this is many years later now. It’s not following any chronology at all. I love that world because it reduces human behaviour to a very elemental state. In that very spare landscape, a little bit like Happy Feet, you’ve got Antarctica and that has the same sort of quality. We’ve got Tom Hardy played Mad Max, who is a wonderful actor and Charlize Theron. I never wanted to make another film, but the story got me. And I kept pushing it away and the story just kept on playing in my head. It probably means I’m crazy.
Will Mel Gibson be returning for a cameo?
No, no. We’ve talked about the film and even doing it in 2001 and then it’s not like The Unforgiven, you know – about an older man going back to past.
So, when will shooting start on that?
Middle of next year. We’ve already got all our vehicles built and being shipped out to Namibia.
Do you think Happy Feet will become a franchise?
Honestly it depends entirely on if there’s another story. It was interesting that at the end of the first film I had the story for the sequel and then I got more into the world. Happy Feet 1 happens over the lifetime from birth to young adulthood of Mumble so we needed to get an epic scale by seeing the Penguin world from a microscopic vantage, from the very large creatures like Elephant Seals all the way down…
When casting the Krill did you find the most famous actors with children?
Not exactly! You came from wanting friends, actors who knew each other because they play friends who have known each other their whole lives and I knew Brad [Pitt] somewhat and I talked to him, but you’re right I know Matt [Damon] said ‘I didn’t even read the screenplay, my kids just said Do the film!’ But you know Babe started with my daughter, reading stories… and the first movies you go to are the kids movies when you have kids.
Did you ever think of becoming a doctor?
I did, I have a twin brother who is a doctor and I went to medical school and practised in hospitals for about four years and then when I started making films there was no opportunity to be a filmmaker but we started making, in the Seventies, little short films and I got very curious about the process and then somewhere in the mid-Seventies I was working as a doctor on the weekends and making short films during the week. We won a couple of awards and I said ‘Let’s make a feature’ so I learned how to write and Mad Max was the first film I made. And I then I always tended to go back, I was registered as a doctor and in Australia when you’re doing stunts on set you need to have a registered doctor on hand…
You mentioned you were interested in technology, would you be interested in doing a movie with motion capture performances?
Well, Happy Feet is partly done with motion capture. When Mumble was danced by Savion Glover, who is the greatest living tap-dancer and one of the big triggers on Happy Feet 1 was not only seeing documentaries about the lives of penguins which was very striking to me – the way they survive by community and that they were very anthropomorphic – and Andrew Lesnie who shot the first Babe movie and the first Lord of the Rings showed me the first motion capture for Gollum and I thought – Ah! we can make the penguins dance! So, that was a very big moment for Happy Feet 1. But though you have the motion capture you don’t have the facial capture right so all the faces are animated and the Krill, because they have five legs, and the seals are all animated. But the dancing bipedal characters are all motion capture.
When you were writing the second film was there anything you wrote that wasn’t possible at the time, but in the three years since was made possible?
Yes, I never thought we could get the crystals of ice, but it’s all ones and zeroes, and the cameras are real world cameras, though I like the virtual cameras and you can go up high, I like the camera low, and shooting on the Z-Axis and go in out out of the screen, which is great for 3D. Things like the transparency of the Krill and the bioluminescence we didn’t think we could do. So, a lot of it pushed the boundaries as we were going along.
Happy Feet Two is also a musical, how do find getting the rights to the songs ?
Getting the rights is difficult depending on who you are working with, the more people there are the harder it is…
There were quite a few Queen songs…
Yeah, the good thing about the Queen songs is that they are very operatic and they have a great structure, particularly Under Pressure, and I didn’t have that song initially but when we were recording the voices Hank Azaria asked me if I’d heard it and it was as i they’d written it for us. The hardest thing we had was when we tried to get a Phil Spector song just as he was charged with murder, so it was a little difficult to get access to him… I love the Puccini aria, I love its volcanic aspect and how emotions are expressed. Then we needed a song in the middle when the mother who couldn’t be with her son has to be soothed and Pink wrote that song.