Chris Miller joined DreamWorks Animation in 1998 as a story artist on the studio’s first animated comedy Antz. He went on to work as a story artist on the Academy Award winning Shrek, and followed that by serving as head of story on the blockbuster Shrek 2, directing Shrek the Third.
Chris now helms the spin-off from the Shrek franchise, Puss in Boots, who is once again voiced by Antonio Banderas. Spotlighting his life before he met Shrek, the story follows the feline who has become an outlaw through the deception of his best friend, Humpty Dumpy (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). But with the helped of Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Salma Hayek) and Humpty, Puss attempts to clear his name and save his village.
When Puss in Boots made his first appearance in Shrek 2 did you ever imagine him having his own movie?
Puss in Boots was such an important part of the success of Shrek 2. I felt it was only a matter of time before he broke out on to his own.
He’s such an appealing character, and it was clear that this guy needed his own tale told. I just gravitated towards that cat – this little package came with such a history behind him, you knew that there were endless stories and adventures. I always wanted to know, ‘Okay, what’s your deal? Where’d you get the accent?’
More importantly, where did you get the awesome boots?
What was it like directing Antonio as Puss?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell Antonio and Puss in Boots apart. But one thing’s for sure, one could not exist without the other, because Antonio brings such passion to the role.
This tiny little creature should have, you would think, a squeaky voice – but out of his mouth comes this deep sound. There’s some real humor created in the juxtaposition of the two. Here’s this great actor with a massive voice, and he’s voicing this cute, furry animal.
How was it shooting this in 3D?
It was really clear from the beginning that this was a movie best presented in 3D, and only 3D, and so we really took advantage of some great opportunities.
There’s this sequence where they plant the magic beans, and the script calls for this great storm that comes down, this huge tornado, that sends energy down into the bean, that then shoots up into this ever-growing beanstalk, which extends beyond the solar system and up into the land of the giants.
That makes for these great, energetic scenes of incredible action, that suddenly become these quiet moments, that feature rich detail in the frame, with amazing depth and scale – these tiny characters wondering at the universe. C’mon, now that’s 3D!
What input did Guillermo del Toro as Executive Producer have on the movie?
Having Guillermo tied to the film was a real blessing. I had just been reading in the trades he wasn’t working on The Hobbit. And that really bummed me out because I wanted to see whatever dark twisted version of that film he was going to make, and then a few hours later I saw that he was coming to DreamWorks.
I had an opportunity to pitch him the story, show him some artwork, and he was definitely attracted to it. Also, it just so happened we were screening the movie for the studio the next day so we invited him and he saw it and he really gravitated toward it and fell in love with it and said, ‘Can I be a part of this movie?’
He became an executive producer and really became a creative force for us.
We’d bring him in once a month or every six weeks and show him the artwork, a sequence in editorial, character and story, and he was great. He pushed us and encouraged us to make the movie more fantastic. [He was] a real blessing and great producer too.
What is the secret to directing this type of film?
There’s no secret. It’s all filmmaking and storytelling. We start with a really bold, dynamic, colorful, romantic character, larger than life, and everything springs off of what Antonio created. It’s a reflection of his character.
One thing I love about the character of Puss in Boots is how seriously he takes himself. How melodramatic he can be at times, which I think is a great source of comedy for the character. Talking to Antonio when we started, he thought it was important to take something precious from him and give him a journey.
As funny as the film is and as beautiful as the film is I think it’s that journey, that personal dramatic story of redemption, revenge, betrayal and brotherhood, that’s what’s going to make the film special.
Can you talk about the spaghetti western influence in the movie?
The Sergio Leoni vibe the film has, it’s part of the fabric. It’s a very legendary epic movie and took cues from classic cinematic figures. Actually, it’s more Clint Eastwood than Sergio Leoni. But there’s also a bit of Indiana Jones and James Bond in there, and some Zorro and Errol Flynn.
Once again, the characters are so dynamic; the 3D lends itself to his world. For scale and depth it really helped inform the action scenes knowing we had that tool. I think 3D looks beautiful in the film. It‘s really special and the film is best seen in 3D, without a doubt. The story plays well in that format. We had some great people working on it.
I love animation. As an approach to storytelling, it feels like the possibilities are limitless – you have the ability to create an entirely different universe with zero limitations. And I like that idea. But animation, or live-action, it all comes down to how well you tell a story, and how well an audience can connect with the characters.