Kyle Balda interview: Minions, Day Of The Tentacle

Minions co-director Kyle Balda chats to us about Gru, Peter Sellers, and Day Of The Tentacle...

Off the back of the hugely successful The Lorax, Kyle Balda moved on to co-direct the first, standalone Minions movie. The film arrives in cinemas this Friday, and Kyle took some time out to chat about the film, and how to make a Minions movie without Gru at the heart of it…

I understand that it was a love of drawing that got you into animation in the first place. But when you’re in the midst of a major animated movie like this, do you still get to be that hands on? do you still keep in touch with your first love?

I do, but in a different way. I do a lot of storyboarding work, and it’s one of the principal ways to communicate with the animators. My drawing now is a lot cruder than it used to be, but it’s mainly communication.

It’s more about planning of a shot, or staging of a particular gag.

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What are your animation influences? There’s a lovely sense of Hanna Barbera underneath parts of the film, I thought.

I grew up loving the Disney stuff obviously, and I fell in love with a lot of the Japanese Miyazaki movies. But I think that’s actually inspiring a lot of the minions stuff, for my part, is not so much animation, but the work of Charlie Chaplin and Peter Sellers.

That’s interesting.

Especially because the minions aren’t using language that’s discernible, Charlie Chaplin is instantly in mind. Peter Sellers, although he spoke in his movies, most of his comedy was visual. He had so many of the same ideas that Chaplin did, but could be a little more subtle. Chaplin, it’s almost always a full shot, you see the entire body. With Peter Sellers, you could go into close ups, and you could do much more with his eye for instance, and not really rely on dialogue.

With a lot of the Peter Sellers movies, there are many moments where he seems to have the option to talk, but conveys it through physicality.

Yes, yes!

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When The Lorax came around, your previous film, he was involved in that very early on, and seemed a close collaborator with you. Did you have similarly close working relationships with the likes of Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm?

Definitely with Sandra Bullock, because when we started developing the Scarlet Overkill character, we wanted her to be really impressive and intimidating as a villain. What did the minions get themselves into by working for this woman? It was feeling a little bit too one note, and so a lot of what Sandra did was bring in the sweet side of her, that seduces the minions into letting their guard down. And then when she does freak out, it’s a little bit more contrasting. A lot of that was coming from Sandra.

You seemed to have an awful lot of fun with the Villain Con sequence. I saw Dr Nefario in there, and there was all sorts in the background. Was there a lot of stuff there that didn’t make it in?

Oh there was a lot! We tried so many ideas, and a lot of it comes down to what you have time for. We had little kiosks and booths with different gags. Ultimately, it came down to what’s the most entertainment, while staying on scene.

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How soon did you get involved with this one after The Lorax? The Lorax was a huge surprise hit – but did you jump straight onto Minions, or was there talk of following up with The Lorax character?

I went directly onto Minions. I had a little break, but Minions started about six weeks or so after The Lorax was released. I knew about the project a few months before The Lorax was finished, and then Chris [Meladandri] approached me about it. I was thrilled to have a chance to work with these guys. I had such a great time working on the shorts, and just the idea of trying to develop these characters into a feature length project. At the beginning we weren’t quite sure how we were going to approach it.

That was always the huge risk here. Gru was always the heart of the Despicable Me films, and by taking him out, you have this massive danger of having nothing at the centre of it all. So what was your eureka moment? When did you crack it?

We started to approach it by having the minions working with a human character, but not Scarlet. She was always going to be there, but somebody else, their custodian in a way. But whenever we were playing with it, it always became about the human character and not the minions. Once we took that character out, then we released that Kevin, Stuart and Bob needed to be more distinctive characters. The minions in the Despicable Me movies were played as a group. By pulling out the big brother personality for Kevin, Stuart being babbling and Bob being the innocent guy, becoming the heart of the film, then we started to get to know these characters, and things really started opening up. The key scene that helped with that was the hitchhiking scene, and the scene where Kevin recruits them. Because that’s where we get to know who these guys are.

I read that you worked on Day Of The Tentacle for LucasArts earlier in your career. I once interviewed David Soren, who directed Turbo for DreamWorks, and it turned out he’d worked on Toonstruck. What kind of lessons do you pick up from working on a classic adventure game like that, and how can you apply that to film? It was always writing at the core, I thought.

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Day Of The Tentacle was such a narrative game, such a story-driven game. So I think the thing is, because I had been learning that at school, when I got to work on Day Of The Tentacle, I think I got lucky. To work on a game that was so driven by story and characters.

Kyle Balda, thank you very much!

Minions is out in UK cinemas on Friday