The directors who went from animation to live action

We take a look at 11 directors who made the jump from animated to live action features, and how their attempts fared…

You hear quite a few live action directors, Guillermo del Toro, for starters, talking about a desire to make animated films. To control every aspect of the frame, and what goes in it.

Yet, the journey the other way around is increasingly common. It’s hard not to see the appeal, too. For directing an animated film is a two year job at the very least, and three years more likely. Live action is generally a quicker way to get a film on the screen.

Also, given how CG dependent many movies are becoming, there’s a general assumption that an animation director will have a better handle on computer effects.

However, great films from animation directors aren’t that common. Here are eleven directors who took the chance, and how they got on…

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ANDREW STANTON

One of the latest directors to make the jump is Pixar animation veteran Andrew Stanton. Stanton cut his teeth on short films, before co-directing Pixar’s second effort, A Bug’s Life. We’ve talked a fair bit about A Bug’s Life in the last week or two here, with it being a charming movie that offered some tangible further building blocks for Pixar post-Toy Story.

And, as it turned out, it did for Stanton too. He went on to helm what was then Pixar’s biggest hit, Finding Nemo, before moving on to the stunning-at-times Wall-E.

Now, though? He’s done the live action jump, having finished production on John Carter Of Mars. His animation background is set to prove useful, though, as the film demands a hefty post-production schedule to deliver the Martian world as originally imagined by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

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How well he can knit an alien world together is clearly yet to be seen, but after the first 40 minutes or so of Wall-E, few are going to doubt him.

John Carter Of Mars arrives in 2012.

BRAD BIRD

It’s not just Andrew Stanton amongst Pixar’s finest who’s trying live action. Brad Bird, he of Ratatouille and The Incredibles fame (as well as the stunning The Iron Giant) was actually earmarked for a film based on the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Entitled 1906, and based on the novel by James Dalessandro, Bird has been working on the film since prior to Ratatouille, and yet it’s not the film, as it turns out, that he’s cutting his live action teeth on.

Instead, he’s been snapped up by Paramount to helm Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, starring Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner. He’s a bold choice for the film, and it’ll be interesting to see how much vision Bird gets to input into it. You’d hope that, having hired him, Paramount will give him the necessary space he needs. The signs are promising.

The film itself arrives in December 2011, and Bird is thus likely to spend most of next year in a post-production suite.

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ROB MINKOFF

Rob Minkoff now has a more extensive career in live action than animation, yet it’s in the former where he scored his big hit. After helming a couple of Roger Rabbit shorts, he was co-director of The Lion King for Disney, which, to this date, is the biggest hand-drawn animated film of all time at the box office.

From there, Minkoff mixed live action with some animated work in the first two Stuart Little movies. (The second of which is really quite good. Certainly stronger than the tepid original).

Effects played a big part in his next project, but the quality disappeared, as he brought The Haunted Mansion to the screen, with Eddie Murphy starring.

It’s when he broke away from family movie roots that Minkoff made arguably his most satisfying live action feature (although we repeat, Stuart Little 2 is really quite good), The Forbidden Kingdom. Starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan, it might not have done massive business, but it’s a solid movie.

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Minkoff currently has in production a comedy crime caper, Flypaper, due out at some point next year.

ANDREW ADAMSON

Studios do seem to know the drill when they need lots of special effects without breaking the bank. Hence, when Disney was putting its first two Narnia films together, it called on Shrek co-director Andrew Adamson to wield the megaphone.

Adamson had two Shrek movies under his belt when he made the live action jump, although it’s fair to say that they were both better than the pair of Narnia films he subsequently helmed. The latter, in particular, Prince Caspian, was as dry a blockbuster as we can remember, lacking the spark and energy that made even the weakest of Shrek films workable.

Which makes Adamson’s next choice of project quite intriguing. He’s doing a 3D Cirque du Soleil movie next, with James Cameron producing, and that’s being shot at the moment for release later this year.

We wonder if it’ll move Adamson, too, away from the family market just a little, and result in a more interesting movie? Here’s hoping, because, as the first Shrek proved, he’s quite a talent.

VICKY JENSON

Adamson’s co-director on Shrek, Vicky Jenson, took a lower key project when she made the leap to live action. Jenson co-helmed a pair of DreamWorks animated projects, with the second being Shark Tale, arguably the studio’s worst (with Shrek right up there with the best).

From there, though, she moved on to a romantic comedy by the name of Post Grad. It actually came out around a year ago, although it didn’t do too much business. And we can’t say we caught it, either, and thus can’t tell how much of the visual eye needed to make an animated film made it to the live action effort.

It’s interesting, though, as most animated directors appear to have been tempted to the other side by a big budget project, whereas this one was decidedly more modest.

TIM BURTON

The most successful director on this list, and one who still returns to animated films on a regular basis (he’s currently working on Frankenweenie).

Burton started working at Disney as an animator, contributing to films such as The Fox And The Hound and The Black Cauldron. But it was his pair of short films, Vincent and Frankenweenie (the original live action version!), that got him noticed. From there, Warner Bros hired him to direct Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and from there came a career that took in the likes of Ed Wood, two Batman films and, most recently, Alice In Wonderland.

In terms of animation, his most famed work since was providing the inspiration for Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and he was involved in James And The Giant Peach, too. He then directed The Corpse Bride.

KEVIN LIMA

Kevin Lima might just have been the right director at Disney at the wrong time. Having helmed A Goofy Movie for the studio, he then co-directed the terrific Tarzan which, had it been released a decade earlier, surely would have drummed up much more business. At is was, it did well, but the computer animation revolution was taking hold.

Lima, however, stayed close to Disney, directing the decent enough 102 Dalmatians live action sequel for the studio. Yet, he blended the traditions of Disney with a live action movie arguably better than anyone else to date with the terrific Enchanted. This was the film that arguably brought 2D animation back to the House of Mouse, and remains a firm family favourite.

Lima was attached to a fresh attempt to revive The Snow Queen in traditional animation, but we understand that that project has quietly died a death now. Enchanted 2 instead, perhaps?

PHIL LORD & CHRIS MILLER

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs took a small-ish story and managed to spread it, just about, across a 90 minute running time. It did it by running riot with its imagine, steered by Chris Miller and Phil Lord. The duo also had a title card at the start of the film, you might remember, noting that the film was one made by a lot of people. A nice touch.

The pair are staying together, too, for their big live action movie debut. The project? The big screen remake of 21 Jump Street, which is currently in pre-production ahead of a 2012 release.

Lord and Miller had, before Cloudy, worked together on the TV series Clone High. 21 Jump Street will be their third project together as directors. They’re are now also linked with Bob The Musical, for Disney.

KAREY KIRKPATRICK

Kirkpatrick had a background working on a collection of animated movies, having written the screenplays for Chicken Run, James And The Giant Peach and The Rescuers Down Under, amongst others. He was also on scripting duties for The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

He made his directorial debut on a DreamWorks animated project, Over The Hedge, which proved successful, and boasted William Shatner’s pipes on fine form.

From there, though, he failed to heed the lesson of Rob Minkoff and took a trip to Eddie Murphy’s front door. And in Kirkpatrick’s defence, Imagine That is a fairly decent movie. It just got trampled in the box office poison that is Murphy’s current commercial pulling power. It’s also, again, an unusual movie to choose after working in animation.

He has several further projects in development, and you do feel that he’s got a really, really strong film in him in the future.

JIMMY HAYWARD

Sadly, a tale of going from proverbial hero to zero, at least in terms of performance of his respective films. With Horton Hears A Who!, Hayward brought to the screen an utterly delightful telling of the Dr Seuss story. It’s a genuinely warm, funny and engaging movie, and one that clearly built on his work on films such as Toy Story 2 and Robots.

Sadly, for his live action debut, Hayward opted for Jonah Hex, and the rest isn’t particularly pleasant history.

At some point, you can’t help but feel that the full story of what went on behind the scenes with Jonah Hex will emerge. What we know now is that we’re left with a sub-80 minute film, and a shitty one at that.

Hayward’s next move, meanwhile, is unclear. Here’s hoping he’s back on his feet soon…

Honourable Mention

TREY PARKER & MATT STONE

They didn’t technically switch to live action, but we suspect they wish they had done when they opted for the puppets of Team America: World Police instead.

Keeping the tone of South Park, but in puppet form, was no small feat, mind, and some of the musical numbers are utterly astounding…

A Bug’s Life is available on Blu-ray now.

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