Poster artwork © 20th Century Fox Studios

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Carlos Saldanha followed his love of animation to New York City where he attended the MFA program in New York’s School for Visual Arts, from which he graduated with Honors. In 2002, he co-directed Ice Age, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2003. He took the directorial reins on Ice Age: The Meltdown, which was the most profitable animated movie of the year, and now returns as the director of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

The sub-zero heroes, Manny the Woolly Mammoth, Ellie his wife (who is now expecting a baby mammoth), Sid the slough and Diego the saber-toothed tiger, are back, this time in 3-D, as they discover an underground world of dinosaurs.

These character have become so popular, what was it about the actors that made them right for these roles?

Poster artwork © 20th Century Fox Studios
Poster artwork © 20th Century Fox Studios

We love the quality of their voices. We love their comedic timing. Even though they¹re not together [when they¹re recording], they come to life beautifully together. I cannot see Manny not being [voiced] by Ray Romano, or Ellie not being Queen Latifah, Diego not being Denis Leary and Sid not being John Leguizamo. You can never separate those characters anymore.

In the three years we worked on this movie, I heard their voices every single day. But it’s awesome because you find nuances in acting that you discover in one take and then you go to the next take and you find another element. Sometimes we don¹t use a full take, we merge takes. I know I pushed the actors because I’m looking for bits of magic and gold that we can tap from each performance and put together in one solid take.

Have many people reminded you that dinosaurs weren’t around during the Ice Age?

When we did the first movie, we went to the Museum of Natural History and did research, talking with a paleontologist. He was saying everything was good with  Ice Age, except there were no dinosaurs. So when the third one came and the concept came through, discovering this world of dinosaurs, not so much that dinosaurs lived in the Ice Age, but the concept was more that they discovered this world of dinosaurs that nobody knew existed. We tapped into that.

We weren¹t going for the Discovery Channel accuracy. It was the fun of what If these two worlds lived in the same spot. How much fun can we have with that? Manny as a character was always the biggest thing on earth. And we decided to play with that.

You have the new character in the movie, a crazy one-eyed weasel named Buck, how did you cast Simon Pegg for that role?

Simon Pegg © 20th Century Fox Studios
Simon Pegg © 20th Century Fox Studios

We always liked the idea of an adventurer – a guy who has mistakenly fallen into the wrong world, but found his destiny from his obsession with the white dinosaur Rudy. This gives him a purpose, edge – and a sense of fun. Simon Pegg as Buck was a great addition to the family. Buck is a great little character. He was also dysfunctional, which was great. I loved Simon’s movies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. His comedic timing and the quality of his voice and the energy worked with this guy.

Do you use the actor’s expressions or idiosyncrasies in their character?

We will film them [in case] we need to go back and take a look at the expressions. They kept saying, ‘Oh, I don¹t have anyone to act with,’ but they are acting as they are doing the lines, they don’t see it but we’re seeing it and we captured their little nuances, the way that they move their eyes, the way that they move their mouth, those little details that the animators look into to find what is really natural to the [character].

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.