• Industry

Animation: Genndy Tartakovsky Leaves His Mark

The HFPA’s Ali Sar talks to Genndy Tartakovsky the director behind the Hotel Transylvania franchise and one of the most distinctive voices in animation today

There is a child in every animator, and Genndy Tartakovsky is no exception. The challenge is how to make the best use of this talent. The Moscow-born animator’s first feature film, Hotel Transylvania, threw the doors of opportunity open for him when the worldwide blockbuster grossed in excess of $375 million. Now Tartakovsky is back at the helm of his sequel monster adventure Hotel Transylvania 2. It, too, is busting box office figures as it has already racked up about $270 million.

For Tartakovsky it has been a long and rewarding journey in the world of animation, dating back to his childhood in Moscow during the era of Soviet rule. As a youngster he would draw for hours on end, envisioning a world where the creations he had in his head would come to life on paper. “I remember Super Friends on television was my favorite show in Russia. I was captivated,” Tartakovsky recalled.

“I was drawing pretty much right away when I came here (America). So I’ve been drawing since I was probably about 8.” “I think what affected me most was television. You know, in Russia we had, back in the 70s, very few animated programs. When I came to America there were a slew of TV shows that influenced me.”

“Something happened to me where I just fell in love with it (cartooning) and never outgrew it,” he added. “What started in Moscow never stopped.”

As a youngster, Tartakovsky recalls drawing a lot of cartoon characters. “I liked comic books. So I tried to copy from comic books and the funny thing was I have an older brother and he was always better than me. But today I’m better.” (His brother is a computer programmer.)

It was not until the Tartakovsky family (his father was a dentist for the Soviet Union’s national ice hockey team) landed in America that Genndy realized that he could make a living doing what he liked best – cartooning. “When we came here, my father bought a television,” he remembers. The TV became his school. “Every Saturday I would be up at 6:30 a.m. to catch the Hanna-Barbera cartoons.” (By his early 20s he was working as an art director for this prestigious animation studio.)

Soon the budding artist enrolled in the animation program at the California Institute of Arts. “I took a shoe box full of my drawings with my application and that did it. I was accepted,” he recalled. It was here that a student project became the basis of Dexter’s Laboratory, a comic science fiction animated television series on Cartoon Network that launched Tartakovsky’s career. That show, along with the subsequent Powerpuff Girls, helped establish the fledgling network and Tartakovksy as the standard bearer for a new generation of animators. His distinctive visual style and story sensibility were in full display with his next Carton Network series Samurai Jack which garnered a cult following.

He soon caught the attention of George Lucas, who signed him to spearhead Star Wars: Clone Wars, an instant hit on the Cartoon Network, followed by another science fiction series, Sym-Bionic Titan, in 2010.

The artist is renowned for his focus on storytelling. “What’s important is the character, the humor, the animation. The computer is just a pencil,” he explains. Hotel Transylvania 2 follows his vision of animated storytelling. The plot of this 3D Sony picture is more pointed than other computer-generated movies. The story picks up as Dracula’s rigid monster-only hotel policy has finally relaxed, opening up its doors to human guests.

But Drac, voiced by Adam Sandler, is worried that his half-human, half-vampire grandson isn’t showing signs of being a vampire. Dracula enlists his friends to help him make the grandson a vampire. However, an unexpected visit from Dracula’s very old-school human-hating dad Vlad soon turns things upside-down at a family gathering at the hotel.

“I thought it was appropriate to give the grandfather Dracula a Russian name since the part (voice) is played by Mel Brooks, who has Russian roots on his mother’s side,” he explains, adding, “He tried a number of accents, from Romanian to Russian, finally settling on a funny mixture. “I have high hopes for this film in Russia. My last movie was very well received there, people liked the characters.” (The film opened in Russia on Oct. 22).

Reflecting on his childhood, the Russian native said, “It was an amazing experience to visit (the old country). I found the things so different there after many years of absence. I was surprised how cosmopolitan it has become.” He was awed by outdoor advertising and foreign cars. “When I was a child taking the train to school, we would see no such things.”

Ali Sar