Last month, Disney invited a select group of journalists to Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, CA, where they previewed Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph. This is one of the first major theatrical animated sequels Disney will be releasing. Set in a new world outside of the Mr. Litwak’s arcade, Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) embark on a quest to find a replacement part for Vanellope’s game Sugar Rush on the Internet. On their journey, they will see that the Internet is much larger than anything they’ve ever imagined.
We were able to share with you some of the things we learned about the upcoming sequel. Now I sit down for a one on three interview with Josie Trinidad (head of story), Jason Hand (story artist) and Natalie Nourigat (story artist) to talk about developing a story like Ralph Breaks the Internet, making sure their voices are heard during discussions, what stays on and what gets thrown out, saving the character Knowsmore, and more. Check out our interview with the story team below.
Geeks of Doom: During the presentation the three of you talked about a pitching process that can only be described from an outsider as controlled chaos, how do you make sure your voice is heard?
Jason Hand: I think you have to be part of the conversation and tracking what is going on in the room as far as the conversation that is happening. There is timing involved as far as if you have this note and you are talking about that part when you give that note. Sometimes it’s hard to throw a note in when we were talking about something ten minutes ago. I think being really present in the room helps.
Josie Trinidad: I think as a woman and a minority it has been a struggle to sit in with a lot of louder voices and to be able to insert yourself. The great thing about this is once I feel very comfortable, I don’t mind just jumping in when there is the opportunity, so that I make sure that I got an opinion on something I feel about very strongly, then I make sure the directors know. Then what I’ll do is if I notice other quiet folks, I’ll open up the room for them.
Natalie Nourigat: Josie is an awesome advocate. Having her as head of story is amazing. This is my first movie, so I was especially shy at the beginning but I have to say the Ralph story room is quite boisterous. So it is very much controlled chaos which can be, for someone who is starting off very new, overwhelming. And you are like, “I don’t know how to participate.”
Trinidad: And that’s where we open up the conversation so that other voices can speak or people who are extremely shy, say, “Okay, you can e-mail your notes, afterwards to the directors.” You always have this kind of open door policy that’s like, “I always want to invite your notes, but I acknowledge that everyone is an individual and has their own way of speaking up and being heard.”
Geeks of Doom: Josie, (director) Rich Moore has praised you for being a great leader, especially on your work with the first Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia. This isn’t so much of a question of learning something new but what have you discovered about your working relationship.
Trinidad: For me, I found that Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, Jim Reardon, and Jen Lee, and Clark Spencer, I have kindred spirits. I feel very comfortable with them. And I am really myself, which I am horrible, but I can be all kind of range of emotions and characteristics that I am, and I don’t have to put on a mask of, “Oh, I have to be a professional, and smart, and intelligent all the time.” I can say dumb things or I’ll say things off the top of my head. They just create a room that is accepting, and open, and comfortable, so that people feel free to be themselves.
Nourigat: That’s a good point. It makes a huge difference when you say something that doesn’t get accepted or something that is just stupid that is off the top of your head, you are not smacked down for it. It is a very safe space and you are way more likely to speak up again.
Trinidad: I think I am also kindred spirits with Rich. We laugh at the same kind of weird terrible things. I feel fortunate to have found him at the studio.
Geeks of Doom: And Natalie, you coming from a comic book art background, does that bring in a new element to the storyboarding process because some people might not have the same artistic background?
Nourigat: What’s really cool about our studio is that not everybody comes from the same path. There are lots of people like me who didn’t come from art school and maybe we bring – I came in kind of late. I was 28 when I started.
Trinidad: Can I just say, she studied Japanese? Isn’t that amazing? She’s a great artist too!
Nourigat: Thank you. People have lives before they come here, and that makes our story room better if people aren’t approaching the problems from the exact same point of view.
Geeks of Doom: How much truth is there to the idea that you guys can be inspired by the smallest things in daily life and it could end up being one of the best bits or gags in the film?
Hand: There’s constantly times where we are bringing in personal anecdotes from our personal lives that are like, you know, can be gut-wrenching or personal, but that is what our safe space is for. Because we are trying to infuse these things with life. This is the real stuff, like, “this is the relationships we’ve had about friendships.” I had a very similar situation where one of my friends have moved to a different place, so I was aware that friendships can change and evolve in a different way. Having that kind of stuff to draw from makes the film better, and I know Rich and Phil are constantly doing that about ideas from their own personal lives. I think it just makes our animated films feel more real and grounded in emotional realism.
But whether it is in the story room or working on our own sequences, if you have an idea for something that is based on something, we are always putting it in there. It may not stay, and like what we were saying before most of it doesn’t stay, but it is just part of the chemistry.
Geeks of Doom: Was there a particular part of the story that didn’t work out in the beginning that you found yourselves bringing back or does it just stay in the garbage bin?
Nourigat: Stuff has come back from the garbage bin. It’s never totally out until the end.
Hand: Knowsmore was kind of gone for a while, actually. He was a major character for a while, like, he was one of three major characters, and he went away. I was always like “I always loved Knowsmore, because he was fun.” And then he found his way back in because we all loved him, we just couldn’t figure out at that point what was the right time to bring him back in or if it was appropriate for the story. It finally did find its way in, which I am so happy. It was a different iteration though. I don’t know if I mentioned this in your guys’ presentation, but there used to be this idea that Knowsmore got every fourth answer right. So like Ralph would be trying to ask him a question, and he would have to ask him three random questions to get to the fourth one or he would mess up which number it was. It was all funny, it was never not funny.
Geeks of Doom: I know this film has a scene with all of the Disney princesses, but is there going to be a scene with all of Alan Tudyk’s – since he is considered the Disney Animation good luck charm – characters he’s ever voiced within the Disney pantheon, including Star Wars?
Hand: I love pretty much all of his characters. That guy is amazing. I love watching just his records, like actually seeing him do the bits, it’s like, “Wow, that’s coming out of that guy.”
Nourigat: Did he riff Knowsmore? Were those lines improved?
Hand: Yeah. I think Rich and Phil came in with the Truman Capote and Droopy [Dog] voice. But they had been doing the voice themselves. They are definitely amazing in character creation. They are like geniuses when they are doing it like that. Just like really specific weird characters. I’m sorry, I don’t even remember what your question was.
Geeks of Doom: I wanted to know if you guys have an all Alan Tudyk character scene.
Hand: [Laughs] We really should.
Trinidad: That would be so fun. That’s actually a great idea.
Nourigat: King Candy hanging out.
Trinidad: Oh my gosh that’s a great idea. Michael Lee from GeeksOfDoom.com. That’s a funny idea.
Ralph Breaks the Internet opens in theaters on November 21, 2018. Click right here for more on the movie, including trailers.