MARS NEEDS MOMS: A Fun, Family, Sci-Fi Film Adventure!

MARS NEEDS MOMS, the newest 3-D IMAX animated feature, from WALT DISNEY PICTURES, Robert Zemeckis and ImageMovers Digital, brings to life an incredible, out-of-this world, action adventure of discovery, friendship, life and love on the Red Planet.

MARS NEEDS MOMS opens in theaters everywhere March 11, 2011.

MARS NEEDS MOMS, produced by Zemeckis, Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey and Steven Boyd, crafts through astonishing animation, a creative vision of MARS  and Martian society in 3-D technology so sharp and crisp it bounces from the screen encapsulating the audience.

Robert Zemeckis and Simon Wells. *

Directed by Simon Wells who co-wrote the screenplay with his longtime writing partner and wife, Wendy Wells, MARS NEEDS MOMS is adapted from the children’s book written by, Bloom County cartoonist, Berkeley Breathed.

Seth Green and Simon Wells. *

MARS NEEDS MOMS gathered an all star cast including Joan Cusack, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling, Dan Folger, Elizabeth Harnois and Kevin Cahoon to create, through motion capture technology, the chartacers in this remarkable story that centers on Milo, a spirited nine-year old, and his race against time to rescue his Mom from the clutches of the evil alien leadership.

Joan Cusack and Mindy Sterling. *

MARS NEEDS MOMS creative team, led by Special Effects Supervisor, Kevin Ballie, Animation Supervisor, Huck Wirtz, Production Designer, Doug Chiang, Stereo Supervisor, Anthony Shafer and Director of Photography, Robert Presley, rendered an animated MARS unlike anything that has been seen.

Production Designer, Doug Chiang, Special Effects Supervisor, Kevin Ballie, Director of Photography, Robert Presley, Stereo Supervisor, Anthony Shafer and Animation Supervisor, Huck Wirtz. *

With the surface of MARS known, the animators took the rendering from images supplied through  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and captured by the MARS Rover and created a surface to likeness and with that began to build around the notion of life on MARS and what elements would be necessary to survive for both Martian and man.

The cast of MARS NEEDS MOMS in their performance capture suits along with Director/screenwriter's Simon and Wendy Wells and Producer Jack Rapke.

The premise of MARS NEEDS MOMS focuses on an unknown interplanetary need that arises every twenty-five years and calls for the abduction of an earthly mother who is discovered through an extensive and highly technological global search by the Martins.

Mindy Sterling as the Supervisor (L) and Elizabeth Harnois as Ki, a free spirited graffiti artist searching for the perfect Mom.

After a series of three potentials Moms, all of whom could not control their offspring, the Martins zero in on a Mom ( Joan Cusack) who is able to control her son, Milo ( Seth Green/ Seth Dusky), a willful and independent nine year-old who, as all nine year-olds, plays tug-of-war with every directive issued.

Mom and Milo in MARS NEEDS MOMS.

After Milo breaks a promise to his Mom to eat the dreaded green vegetable broccoli and worse, covers it up by feeding it to the cat, who vomits it up on the living room floor, which sets off a series of angry words and bad behavior culminating with Milo telling his Mom that he wished she weren’t his Mom any more.

Dan Folger as Gribble, a human living in the MARS underground.

Milo wakes in the middle of night to apologize and sees his Mom being abducted by Martins. His protective nature propels him to give chase. He, by accident, is draw into the ship and whisked away to face an unknown Martian Military and rescue his Mom.   This begins an exciting journey that leads to the discovery of life on MARS, new friendships, extraordinary challenges  and the discovery in Milo that he would fight to the death to save her.

Gribble and Milo race against time in Disney's MARS NEEDS MOMS.

As the story unfolds, with moments of heightened suspense, life lessons are vividly played out without struggle including its okay to be friends with people who are different; you won’t always be liked; people can bring color to your life and its okay to challenge authority. And, most importantly, take out the garbage and eat your vegetables!

Ki, the free-spirit, flower child creating a psychedelic world on the Red Planet.

The two day press junket for MARS NEEDS MOMS, hosted by WALT DISNEY FILMS at the historic and luxurious Beverly Hills Hilton, included the pre-release screening of the action adventure, a press conference attended by famed director/producer Robert Zemeckis, MARS NEEDS MOMS director and co-screenwriter, Simon Wells and Seth Green, the talent behind the animated character, Milo. It also included a series of roundtables interviews with the talent, Producers, and Creative Design team.

Below are highlights of the Roundtables. The complete roundtables along with the one:one interviews will follow separately. Everyone from Producers Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke and Steven Starkey to the creative design team and all associated with the project seemed genuine and genuinely pleased with MARS NEEDS MOMS.  

Robert Zemeckis and Simon Wells. *

Robert Zemeckis, an academy award winning director and visionary responsible for timeless films including the BACK TO THE FUTURE Trilogy, FORREST GUMP and CAST AWAY, commented on MARS NEEDS MOMS and the advanced Motion Capture technology, “In my opinion,” he said, “ Simon, made the best 3-D movie since AVATAR.” He added, “The computing technology is way more advanced then I had when I made CHRISTMAS CAROL and even more advanced than the stuff that Jim [ Cameron] had on AVATAR.”

Milo on his way to MARS.

When asked on the creating a digital 3-D library for every film from GONE WITH THE WIND to CITIZEN KANE, he added “I’m not a proponent of that. I believe movies should live in their time. I don’t believe in going back and re-tweaking them and changing them because they are made for that moment in time with the tools we have. They’re historical documents for the moment in time they are made.”

Talking with MARS FOR MOMS producer Jack Rapke and Steven Starkey, both of whom are partners with Robert Zemeckis in ImageMovers Digital, we spoke on their participation as producers for MARS NEEDS MOMS. The following is an excerpt of our interview.

Producers Steven Starkey and Jack Rapke. *

Janet Walker: Describe the Green Light Process. What brought the two of you to MARS NEEDS MOMS?
Jack Rapke: What brought us to the MARS NEEDS MOMS material? We were big fans of Berkeley Breathed. We heard he had a new book. We looked at the book, very thin, had a great set-up, and then it had a great epiphany moment which you can’t buy. You can’t invent that. And we bought the book and there was a lot of invention required. Okay, we’re talking a thirty-two page illustrated children’s book, you’re talking a ninety minute movie where a lot of things had to be created, and a lot of things were invented.

Dan Folger as Gribble.

I gave the book to my partners and I said ‘I think can be something for our studio, for performance capture here’s why I think it can be. What do you guys think?’ We all agreed.  And then it was about writing a script. Who would do that? We felt, that we should get a writer/director and in that meeting Simon Wells’ name came up. Both Steve and Bob had a great and long history with him. We all agreed that would be a really great choice. Called Simon Wells coming out of that meeting; he said, ‘Of course, I’m signing on’ and then for the next year and a half there was writing the screenplay; probably thirty different drafts supervised by Bob [ Zemeckis] and given to Steve and I as the drafts came in for our notes and progress.

Preparing to overtake the alien spacecraft.

Steve Starkey: Also, we would pre-visualize the look of the characters and the environments of the movie. And Simon, as an artist, got very involved with writing the screenplay and visualizing the film so the presentation for the Green Light process was not only the handing in of a script, attaching a budget, it was also allowing him to clearly see what the characters and the look of the film would be. And so it made it incredibly easy for executives to see, because often, we read scripts, and we have a lot of questions like what’s this going to look like, how are you going to do that. We had that done and so it was actually quick meeting with then Dick Cook and Jack and Bob and I with Bob pitching the story and they saying, ‘Hey go.’

From the Producers Roundtable . .  .

Janet Walker: Did you use reference performers to capture the large crowd scene for MARS NEEDS MOMS or how was the animation process captured in the large crowd scenes?
Steven Starkey: Well, I’ve done a lot of what I call second unit directing for performance capture films and usually I’ll try to actually get a performance for most of the back ground players. You do it in groups, when you go back to the technique that we first started on FORREST GUMP which was I had to full a football stadium of full of reacting fans or when you’re at the reflecting pool with Jenny and you had to fill the entire Mall with extra’s.

The great escape!

You do portions and then everyone would quickly change their clothes and then stand in that section and then you go section by section until you eventually fill the entire area with unique performances. And you do the same thing with performance capture where you would actually try to do clusters of performances and then sprinkle them throughout an entire area to fill the frame. It could be that in the deep background you can say well this performance was cool and if you put him way back here and he’s only that tiny why don’t we just take that performance and use it again to fill the scene up which is kind of how you make a hundred performers into a thousand, if you will.  For the most part we used unique performances to fill the frame unless it was so bland that you would add an animated duplicated performance.

Milo at the gate.

With Director and Screenwriter Simon Wells.

Janet Walker:  What is your screenwriting process?
Simon Wells: We do a lot of talking. Wendy and I, we talk our way through stuff. We write stuff on index cards and pin on a board and do a lot of penning and ripping and thinking stuff through before we actually sit down and write. Writing for us is the dessert. You have to go through your meat and veggies first before you’re allowed to have that.  But then when we are actually writing, I mean on the keyboard, we write scenes we literally, by the time we get to writing we both know what’s going to be in every scene more or less and we write the scene and we’ll pass it to each other and generally a scene will go back and forth three or four times before it ends up in that draft. We’ll write the draft up and give it to sometimes friends to get notes before we present it the studio. With Bob, actually, we were giving him a draft and he’d read it that night and literally get it back to us with notes the following day. He’s like the ultimate development executive. I’ve never met anyone as responsive and clear headed about it all as Bob is.

Joan Cusack's animated charter created through performance capture technology.

From the Design Team/Visual and Special Effects Animators Roundtable. .

Janet Walker: You had to create MARS? Did you go to the JPL or how did you gather the data for that?
Doug Chaing: In terms of design? Actually it was a lot of fun. You kind of knew what the rules were from MARS. Obviously, we looked at CG Images and from there Simon and I sat down and started coming up with ideas of what it would be. MARS actually came out in the story. In terms of, logically, what we wanted to do with the story and present it in a way that helped support the story.  And of course the first thing is ‘Why can’t you see the Martian civilization?’ Because they live underground. 

Seth Green as Milo and Dan Folger.

Fairly early on Simon and Wendy came up with a great character Gribble and then we had to figure out where Gribble lived in this society and eventually Mars became a four layer society.  We had to create this clear structure and once we had a clear structure, a template, then we had to come up, artistically, with lighting and effects that would really differentiate that and by doing that we created a very unique palate for each layer.  

Kevin Cahoon as Wingnut in the ancient MARS underground.

MARS NEEDS MOMS is a fun, family Sci-Fi film adventure!  MARS NEEDS MOMS opens in theaters everywhere Friday, March 11, 2011.

Milo braves a sure death to save his Mom.

For more information on MARS NEEDS MOMS: http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/marsneedsmoms/

All images, except where noted, courtesy of WALT DISNEY PICTURES.

Pictures were noted (*) by Janet Walker courtesy of Pulse Point Productions, Inc. www.pulsepointproductionsinc.com

Special Thanks to Warren Betts Communications/Zoomwerks.

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