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LIPMAN, DAVID – SHREK 2

OGRE IMPROVEMENTS
In Shrek 2, the ogre has grown an Adam’s apple, among a myriad subtle changes and improvements to the CGI characters, as Australian producer David Lipman tells Andrew L. Urban, after the film’s record busting opening in America.


Producer David Lipman is gobsmacked, not quite able to take it all in. He’s sitting in a Sydney hotel suite talking about the making of Shrek 2, just four weeks after finishing work on the film, and just days after working on the DVD. On the other side of the world, Shrek 2 has just exploded at the box office, taking over US$108 million on its first weekend, and then breaking another record with a ‘normal Monday’ take of US$11 million – the biggest ever. “It’s nutty,” is the best Lipman can manage.

A bit numb from it all – the three years of hard slog to make it and the instant gratification these sorts of box office figures provide – Lipman answers questions about how it feels with a glazed look. “I’m still numb at the success of the movie and I’m still entrenched in the making of it and then working on the DVD round the clock while we still have the crew … it’s hard to step back and bask in what’s going on. Once I’ve calmed down I’ll step back and probably ask myself, gee, how do you follow this up?”

Well, probably with Shrek 3, which is in active development. “There is very serious discussion about it, they’re looking at a bunch of story ideas, but they’ll only greenlight it if it’s worthy. We don’t want to bastardise this product that we all love...” says Lipman, his Australian pronunciation of ‘bastardise’ is the first word that belies his Sydney upbringing. (He continues to call himself Australian, if anyone asks.)

"the sheer scale of production was staggering"

Born in South Africa, Lipman was just 2 when his family moved to Sydney and he spent his formative next 17 years here. When his parents retired to Hawaii, he went further: to Los Angeles, where his dreams of making films started to come true. “I just loved films,” he says. “I used to stay up late and watch the black and white movies on television as a kid. I was totally sucked in… my parents would find me in front of the telly at all hours.” Films like The 5000 Fingers of Dr T, (the 1953 film from Dr Seuss) which stayed in his childhood memory for many years.

With Shrek 2, Lipman was one of only four producers (on Shrek he was one of 10), and the sheer scale of production was staggering. Lipman was involved in just about every aspect. “As a producer, you touch everything to do with the film. I deal with the studio in terms of budget and schedule, wrangling all the talent, day to day physical production with a crew of 450 people. How do you get them to think alike and act alike and get the performances to be coherent. There could be 40 different animators working on the characters, so you have to maintain a global vision.”

So if you ask him what does he actually DO, as a producer, he’ll tell you he’s “a friend, an artist, a manager, a psychiatrist, a businessman, a filmmaker…”

Although many of the changes are subtle in Shrek 2, they often required enormous creative effort. “We wanted to push the performances of the characters,” he says, “and he’s not talking about the actors who provide the voices, but the CGI created animated characters. Apart from creating the new cast of king and queen, Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming, the characters who were introduced in Shrek – the ‘legacy’ characters – also received extra attention. 

The legacy characters have many more controls in their faces (controls being ‘tools’ like computer programs that often had to be invented or written from scratch) than they did before. “For example, Shrek now has an Adam’s apple… . and he now has lots more neck muscles. We wanted to get the level of acting up... which allows more emotion, more depth, more humour. We also worked a lot on lighting tools and if you look at Shrek 2, there is a helluva lot more detail. And if you look at their skin, you’ll see translucency…bounce light….colours reflecting off a surface onto a character’s skin….lots of work with shadows, all that sort of thing.”

"We had to find things that kept us amused"

The three years of work has certainly paid off. And most of the work was driven by the team’s need to maintain their own interest, so one of the biggest drivers for story inputs was the amusement factor. “We had to find things that kept us amused.” This, not some shopping list of elements that would ensure commercial success, was the real motivator for the story elements. “Everybody has input…it’s a real team effort.”

The four producers (Lipman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Aron Warner and John H. Williams) are joined by three directors (Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon) and a team of writers (William Steig, J. David Stem, Joe Stillman and David N. Weiss). Even the music is provided by a large team, with Harry Gregson-Williams responsible for the original score, but Stephen Barton and James McKee Smith wrote some additional music, Adam Duritz wrote a song, and non-original songs come from a dozen sources, ranging from David Bowie to Nick Cave and even Tom Waits.

Back from their honeymoon, Shrek (Voice of Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are summoned to meet her parents, the King (John Cleese) and Queen (Julie Andrews) of Far Far Away. Shrek is against the idea, fearing his in-laws will react badly to having an ogre for son in law. Not to mention the now unprepossessing Princess herself. And he’s right. On arrival, things go very badly with the older Royals, the King takes out a contract on Shrek with the infamous assassin Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas). And he also enlists the scheming Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) who sets about putting things wrong with a plot that will have Fiona fall in love with Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) – her son.

It was this huge team effort that created a new world for Shrek 2, including Far Far Away, where Princess Fiona’s parents, the King and Queen live. As Lipman says, the casting of English actors was a deliberate one, to make them quite different. “This was a simple way to make the distinction between Shrek’s world and the world of Far Far Away.”

"a spoof of Hollywood itself"

The irony, of course, is that Far Far Away is a spoof of Hollywood itself, with the main drag a distant cousin to Rodeo Drive, and the occasional sight of stretch coach. “Yeah,” says Lipman with a grin, “we wanted to create a place where Shrek would feel most uncomfortable…” 

Published June 17, 2004

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SHREK 2







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