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Interview: Kevin Munroe and James Arnold Taylor Talk Ratchet & Clank (Exclusive)

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Interview: Kevin Munroe and James Arnold Taylor Talk Ratchet & Clank (Exclusive)

Children can often times find inspiration from the most surprising and unexpected sources, especially those places that are usually believed to cause them the most intellectual harm. But some modern technology, which is often regarded to be one of the most harmful influences on kids, is surprisingly leaving a powerful and positive message on its users this week. The new CG-animated movie, ‘Ratchet & Clank,’ which is based on the iconic 2002 PlayStation video game of the same name, is a gripping reminder of the importance of accepting yourself in a society that largely emphasizes the most superficial aspects of life.

The new inspiring animated film was directed and produced by Kevin Munroe, who also co-wrote the script with T.J. Fixman and Gerry Swallow. The theatrical release of the action adventure movie, which was co-directed by Jericca Cleland, coincides with this month’s distribution of ‘Ratchet & Clank (PS4).’

The video game release marks the PlayStation4 debut of PlayStation’s greatest intergalactic heroes as they battle to save the Solana Galaxy from the evil Chairman Drek. ‘Ratchet & Clank (PS4)’ is based on elements from the franchise’s original game, which debuted on PS2 in 2002. The latest game features more than an hour of new cinematics, locations, weapons, bosses and more. The updated journey also takes a deeper look at the characters’ origin stories, modernizes the original gameplay and includes new planets, boss fights and flight sequences.

The ‘Ratchet & Clank’ film follows the two title characters (James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye), who after meeting, become unlikely heroes as they struggle to stop a vile alien, Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti), from destroying every planet in the Solana Galaxy. Ratchet is the last of his kind, a foolhardy lombax who has grown up alone on a backwater planet with no family of his own. The only person he has a true connection with is Grimroth (John Goodman), his boss and father figure at the auto repair shop where he works.

But Ratchet’s luck seemingly begins to change when Clank, a pint-sized robot with more brains than brawn, takes refugee from the chairman on the lomax’s planet. When the two new friends find a dangerous weapon that’s capable of destroying entire planets, they must join forces with a team of colorful heroes called The Galactic Rangers, which includes Ratchet’s hero, Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), and Cora (Bella Thorne). As the new comrades try to save the galaxy, they learn the true meaning of heroism and friendship, and the importance of discovering their true identity.

Munroe and Taylor generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Ratchet & Clank’ during individual exclusive phone interviews. Among other things, the co-writer-director-producer and voice actor discussed how they both support the decision to make the animated action adventure film adaptation a retelling of the title characters’ origin story that coincides with the franchise’s newly launched PS4 video game. That way, fans of the franchise’s previous video games, as well as new audiences of the series, can all appreciate and understand the title characters’ heroic journey, and the film can set up the potential for future film installments. The filmmaker and performer also noted how they enjoyed professionally reuniting on ‘Ratchet & Clank,’ after collaborating with on the 2007 animated action adventure film, ‘TMNT,’ as they both have a great energy and understanding of animation and video games.

Munroe began his conversation by mentioning why he was interested in collaborating on the script for the new 3D computer-animated film. “When I originally signed on to work on the movie, I was just basically an executive producer. There was already a fantastic first draft by T.J. Fixman. They then saw the trailer for ‘Sly Cooper,’ which is another film that I’m directing, and asked if I wanted to become more involved in the making of ‘Ratchet.’ I think that’s when we first started working on the script for this movie,” the filmmaker explained.

“The great thing about T.J’s script is that it was so true to the (video game) franchise. There was also so much information in there that there was enough material to make three movies,” Munroe also divulged about the animated film’s initial screenplay. “So a lot of the work I was involved in on that aspect of the film focused on distilling all of that material down into the solid movie we have now.”

The helmer also noted that “We also brought in our friend, Gerry Swallow, and we worked on a couple of scenes together, including the ‘Initiate Phase 1’ scene that’s on the internet right now. So it was an ongoing, collaborative process. The production was already starting when I joined, so we really had to hit the ground running, and build up the scenes fast.”

Munroe then divulged the process of also becoming the director on ‘Ratchet & Clank,’ saying “I was asked by (two of the film’s production companies,) Rainmaker Entertainment and Blockade Entertainment, to step in and direct it. It was fantastic, because I had spent about three or four years at Lucasfilm before that, and this was a hard project to get going. But seeing ‘Ratchet & Clank’ finally have such a strong script, I automatically jumped at it,” the filmmaker revealed. “I also love making animation stories, and figuring out the edit. Since the ‘Ratchet & Clank’ look is also already so well defined, I loved that we can mainly focus on the story and characters,” Munroe added.

Taylor, who has provided the voice of Ratchet for the video game series over the past 14 years, revealed that he was always interested in reprising his role of the title character in the film adaptation. “After voicing Ratchet in 16 games, it was a natural transition, and I was very grateful that they allowed me to keep my role in the film,” the performer revealed.

“The movie’s a great transition for people who play the games. But it’s also a great adaptation for people who don’t know the games, as they’ll learn about the characters,” Taylor explained. “Hopefully, they’ll enjoy the ride, as it’s a fun adventure.”

With the action adventure movie showing how the two title characters meet and join the Galactic Rangers together, the director added that having the movie serve as an origin story “was bigger than just me. It was definitely something that was part of the production as a whole. I know Insomniac Games (which served as one of the action adventure film’s production companies, and is a developer of the video game series) told the origin story in their first game. But as the characters and story evolved, I think they always wanted to go back and do their version of what the origin story would be in a film.”

Munroe also pointed out that the animated film’s retelling of the title characters’ origin story on the big screen coincides with the video game launching on PS4 for the first time. “So the whole thing felt like a great relaunch for the whole property in the marketplace, with everything up-to-date and in tone with the entire series,” the filmmaker added.

Having voiced Ratchet in many of the franchise’s video games, Taylor also explained why he feels that it’s important to start the ‘Ratchet & Clank’ film series with an origin story. “It is important to give an origin for these characters, because for fans of the video games, it’s fun for them to relive moments that they’ve had in the past through this new animation,” the actor noted.

The origin story that’s featured in the animated movie “also allows people who haven’t experienced the video games to learn about the characters and their story. Hopefully, there will be more of these films, if enough people go out and support this movie. Going back to the beginning also offers us so many more places to go” in the future, if sequels are made in the film series.

When the filmmaker signed on to write and direct the comedy, he was “familiar with the games, but I didn’t veraciously collect them.” Munroe added that “My first job in California when I came here to work in animation wasn’t actually in animation; it was in video games. It was at the time when ‘Tomb Raider’ had just come out, and we were starting to use 3D graphics. So from the outset, I was working in games, and that was around the time that ‘Ratchet & Clank’ also came out. So I became aware of it when I started playing it professionally, and I became a fan after that.”

The writer-director then discussed the process of casting the actors in their respective voice roles for the film adaptation of the popular video game. “What’s so great about this as a video game adaptation is that there isn’t a live-action interpretation of Ratchet. So it was really important to us that we stay true to the voice aspect that was included in the video games. It was also important to bring in the new characters and fresh voices into the fold, like Bella, Sly and John,” Munroe added.

The filmmaker also explained that to him, “casting is all about character. To me, it’s all about whether I believe in the actors as the characters. You can look at the warmth that John brings to the father-type role that he has.” Munroe then noted that “Sly could have been a straight, tough-as-nails bad guy” in his role of Victor Von Ion. “But ultimately, he made it more interesting, because he has played so many tough guys in the past. So I think he knew how to turn the character on his head, and make him unique, while also maintaining his menacing personality. That’s perfect for his character.” The director added that he thinks there wasn’t a miscast role in the animated film, which he appreciated.

“It was great working with Kevin again,” Taylor revealed when he began discussing his experience of reuniting with Munroe, who he previously collaborated with on the 2007 animated action adventure film, ‘TMNT.’ “I got to voice Leonardo, and I love doing this type of work. I enjoy working with Kevin, as he has a great energy and understanding of animation.” The actor also noted that the director “has a great understanding and sensibility of video games, and everything that’s involved in making this transition. More than anything, it was fun working with him in the studio again.”

Since Taylor’s primarily known for his work as a voice artist in feature and television live action and animated films, as well as in video games, he also chronicled the process of creating the voices for his roles in the studio. “With Ratchet, I get to play me. I have been working as a voice actor for so long, and have voiced all of these wonderful characters. But Ratchet is so near and dear to me, because he’s just my regular speaking voice,” which the actor has described as being one of the coolest parts of taking part in the ‘Ratchet and Clank’ franchise.

“So I can really relate to Ratchet, in terms of what he really hopes for in his life. He dreams of wanting to be a hero, and doing the right thing. That’s always been my thing; I’ve always wanted to be a super hero,” the actor revealed. “So being a voice actor has been a dream job for me; it’s so much fun.”

While filming animated movies, Taylor’s voice has to convey all of his characters’ emotions, as the viewers aren’t able to see his physical movements and expressions. So the actor noted the experience of only being able express his characters’ journeys through his voice. “I’ve always been a voice actor, and I love it. So I’m used to it, and have never looked at it as a challenge. I’ve instead always looked at it as a fun part of the job,” the performer divulged.

“But I still always make goofy faces, and jump around in the studio. I hope all of that is conveyed in my voice and acting. I think that’s the beauty of the art of voice acting. But I don’t think that many people see the artistry of voice acting, and everything that it’s able to convey,” Taylor revealed.

In addition to speaking about working with the voice actors, Munroe also discussed the process of collaborating with the animation, art and visual effects departments, in order to create the overall look of the movie that he wanted to achieve. “The look of the picture was something that I wanted to quickly get off of the table. CreatureBox, which is the design company that provides a lot of the creature designs for the ‘Ratchet & Clank’ video games, already has a library that’s filled with enough designs for 10 movies. Since the look and style was already there, we became more focused on telling the movie’s story.”

The director added that “There was a lot of fun ways to push the models. I think people see a lot more detail when they’re playing the video game. When you look at ‘Ratchet’ from 2004, he doesn’t look as nearly as sophisticated as he does now in the movie. But as a fan, you think, that’s the way he’s always looked. He’s always been able to smile that wide.” So the filmmaker has felt it has been fun to take what fans of the franchise have known about it and further develop those ideas. “I think it’s about translating the mental image that fans have had of the characters onto the screen as best you can,” Munroe also explained.

In this type of CG-infused movie, the score can be just as important in telling the story as the visual components. So Munroe also spoke about the process of working with the sound department to create the music for the computer animated film. “The music was really important, because it was one of those elements that tied everything together. Whenever you mix tones, like action, comedy, sci-fi and adventure, it’s always an interesting thing, because it’s always about finding a balance. You also have to somehow tie it all together,” the director explained.

“‘Ratchet & Clank’ is very broad in where it can go, in terms of the humor and action. So the music, to me, is that blending tool that makes everything work together,” Munroe added. “So (the film’s composer) Evan (Wise) created this incredible score. This was the first movie that he ever fully scored. He combined action with this ‘Looney Tunes’ type of humor to it that would highlight these silly moments.”

Taylor didn’t hear the music that was feature in the final cut of the animated film while he recorded his lines in the studio. “But I was thrilled with all of the music, and how the film looks. The production of interweaving aspects of the video games into the movie was seamless,” the actor noted. “I have worked as a producer for years, and have produced movies and music and sounds for films,” Taylor also mentioned. “But with this one, I left the music production to the professionals. They did a wonderful job, and left a great impact with the music.

Also speaking of producing the project, Munroe lastly discussed his experience of serving as an executive producer on ‘Ratchet & Clank,’ in addition to co-writing and directing the film adaptation. “I got involved in doing all of these duties on the film through Blockade Entertainment,” he revealed. He added that “I think that directing has informed the way that I produce, and vice versa. Knowing what you need from a production point-of-view, and all of the decisions that you have to make,” as both a helmer and producer influenced the way he approached both jobs. “Even though I went to Lucasfilm as a director, working with George (Lucas) ultimately made me a better producer, on some levels.”

Taylor ended his conversation by discussing the experience of attending WonderCon 2016 last month at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where ‘Ratchet & Clank’s distributor, Gramercy Pictures, presented a first look at the animated film. “The experience was great. As a voice actor, you do countless movies, TV shows, video games and projects, but usually, there’s very little press that’s done on them. So my IMDb page may list hundreds of projects, there are very few times that we get to do this much press. I have a lot of fun with it, and love doing it,” the voice actor revealed.

“I love showing people the art of voice-over, and who we all are and what we do. That’s a whole new thing that first opened up at WonderCon. People have said at the press events, ‘I had no idea that voice actors do all of that,'” Taylor added. “So it’s been fun to show everyone, and educate them on what a wonderful job being a voice actor is. So this experience has been great.”

Watch the official film trailer for ‘Ratchet & Clank’ below.

Interview: Kevin Munroe and James Arnold Taylor Talk Ratchet & Clank (Exclusive)

Ratchet and Clank PS4

Written by: Karen Benardello

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As a life-long fan of entertainment, particularly films, television and music, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic. While still attending college, Karen began writing for Shockya during the summer of 2007, when she began writing horror movie reviews. Since she began writing for Shockya, Karen has been promoted to the position of Senior Movies & Television Editor. Some of her duties in the position include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, producing posts on celebrity news and contributing reviews on albums and concerts. Some of her highlights include attending such festivals and conventions as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, SXSW, Toronto After Dark, the Boston Film Festival and New York Comic-Con.

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