Ricky Church speaks with Space Jam animation director Tony Cervone about the film’s 25th anniversary…
This year marks an important milestone for the Looney Tunes. Not only do they have Space Jam: a new legacy in theaters this summer, but this year also marks the 25th anniversary of the original Space jam who saw Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the Tunes team up with NBA legend Michael Jordan in a basketball game against an amusement park mogul who wanted to enslave the Tunes for his business.
Space jam has now been released on 4K Ultra HD to coincide with its 25th anniversary and sequel. To help celebrate the milestones, we chatted with Scoob! director Tony Cervone who was Space jamanimation director of. We discussed the wild premise of the film, the legacy of Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes, and the film’s place as the very first production to be shot on a digital stage as an action / animation hybrid. live. Discover our interview below …
Ricky Church: Space Jam turns 25 this year, which is crazy! It doesn’t seem like that long. Looking back, what did you think of his initial pitch of a live action / animation hybrid starring NBA legend Michael Jordan and cartoon legend Bugs Bunny?
Tony Cervone: Well, I mean it looks pretty good to me! I was a huge fan of both and I’m from Chicago, so I was and am a huge fan of Michael Jordan. So yeah, that sounded amazing to me. I had already worked on the Looney Tunes a little before Space jam started, but the idea of doing something that was going to be such a big project was pretty exciting.
You were the animation director of the film. For those who don’t know, what can you tell us about this role?
I was the animation director with Bruce Smith and the two of us covered and sort of led the troops on all of the animation. Every step and every process, from concept to storyboard, animation, painting and camera, we’ve been involved in it all. It was our domain in the film.
Fresh. Space Jam was, as you said, such a big production. How did you feel working on a Looney Tunes feature film of this stature?
I was pretty excited to do it, but to be honest I think I was a little naive when I first started. A little innocent about it because I had never worked on anything on this scale before. I had no idea how huge it was going to be. I was a bit naive and also even when it was done and when the movie was over I didn’t expect – nobody should still talk about it 25 years later! I mean, that’s the most shocking part of Space jam. It’s still a bit relevant. He’s still around and in some ways he’s more popular now than he’s ever been.
Yes. I will say for myself that every time I flip through the channels on TV – not that young people right now know what it means to “change channels” – every time I flip through the channels and see Space Jam on, I will to listen to it just to see what part it’s in and I’ll probably watch the rest of the thing! Like no matter how much time he has left.
And it’s that kind of movie! It’s that kind of movie. And honestly, I miss that part of the chain reversal the most. Like stumbling across a movie that you have on DVD on TNT and that you’re going to end up watching with commercials instead of getting up and playing the DVD. I am certainly guilty of this.
For sure. Now Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes are iconic characters that have been around for decades. What do you think is so appealing about Bugs and their team about staying popular and having all these different shows livened up?
Well, all the characters, all the Looney Tunes are very different. They all have very distinct and different personalities, but I think there’s a nostalgia factor and a story factor going on, but these only explain part of it. The other thing is, there’s something about these types of characters that feels very iconic, then very relevant, especially to a new group of kids. Like the old cartoons are still quite funny and the new cartoons are also quite funny. They are very enduring characters who have gone through all kinds of evolutions in one way or another, but at their core they are still very charming. I think there is something elementally fun about them. Like just Bugs always standing for the little guy and always the character to face a tyrant and put him in his place. I think it’s real now and it’s relevant now like it never has been.
An interesting fact about Space Jam is that since it was made in the mid-90s, it was actually the first movie to be shot using a virtual studio at a time when this concept didn’t exist. What were the challenges that you and the team encountered on this front?
It was difficult in the fact that we didn’t even know what it was! Everything at that point was still a bit theoretical. Like, we think it’s going to happen: if we shoot on a green screen and put these tracking markers here, we could duplicate the camera info in a CG environment and we think it’s going to work, but until until we started to see it, it was all moot. When we first started to see it, it was phenomenal and really beyond what we imagined. I told people it’s the only thing I’ve ever worked on where even as the person who made the movie I was just sitting there saying “I don’t know what I’m watching. . I don’t know how we did it. I don’t know how it goes. I mean I’m doing it now, but at that point in 1996, I didn’t know it. Honestly, very, very few people have done it. These are all things that are a part of all modern cinema, all of them are part of the modern cinematic language, of the digital cinematic language. They did not exist five minutes before the realization of Space jam. It was exciting and in a very exciting historical sense to have been downstairs to something like this.
For sure. Like I said earlier you have to animate cartoon legends like Bugs, Daffy Duck and the other Looney Tunes, but you also put them alongside living legends like Michael Jordan and even Bill Murray plays a big part in it. ! Was it a little surreal to create, for lack of a better word, a cross between animated and real icons?
Yes. Roger rabbit came before us and a lot of people who worked on Roger rabbit work on Space jam. So there is common blood there. And remember, like I said before, I was naive about the magnitude of this movie. I certainly wasn’t used to meeting Michael Jordan every day, especially as a basketball fan, which isn’t something I could shake very quickly! The same with Bill Murray. I love Bill Murray, I love everything the man has done. It was really great to be around him for a while and work on something that kind of became an iconic role for Bill Murray!
Now you have a career in animation that spans over 30 years now. What do you find so special about animation?
The peculiarity of animation for me is that it creates a kind of shortcut which I think becomes very moving with the audience very quickly. What I mean by that is funny cartoons are always funny, you know. There is something in animation where the sad moments in a cartoon are sad no matter how many times you see them and the funny moments are funny no matter how many times you see them. There’s something about the animation that you let in, you let it go deeper than you let other things, and it sticks to your skin. I remember all of my favorite cartoons and what it was like to be a little kid watching them. Watching my favorite cartoon isn’t much different from being an adult watching the same things. So there is a great continuity there.
Thanks to Tony Cervone for speaking with us!
Space Jam is now available in 4K Ultra HD.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more on movies and nerd chats.