"Ehhh, what's up, Doc?"
Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes, led by the creative impetus of filmmaker IVAN REITMAN, blast into the future in their first feature film, "Space Jam," an animated/live-action razzle-dazzle tour de force pairing pop icon and sports megastar MICHAEL JORDAN and classic wisecracking animated hero BUGS BUNNY.
As audiences visually zoom between Earth and outer space, between basketball court, baseball field and Looney Tunes Land, from live action with some of the NBA's biggest stars to startlingly rich two- and three-dimensional animation, they'll get a laugh-loaded glimpse of the future as it's never looked before -- in the company of basketball's most watchable genius and the hip-hoppin'-est hoopster a rabbit ever hoped to become.
Ivan Reitman produces and JOE PYTKA directs "Space Jam," a fast-breaking comic fantasy. JOE MEDJUCK and DANIEL GOLDBERG also produce with Reitman, from a script by STEVE RUDNICK & LEO BENVENUTI and TIMOTHY HARRIS & HERSCHEL WEINGROD. DAVID FALK and KEN ROSS executive produce. GORDON WEBB, SHELDON KAHN and CURTIS POLK co-produce.
"Space Jam" mixes live action with eye-popping animation created by WARNER BROS. FEATURE ANIMATION under animation producer RON TIPPE, animation co-directors BRUCE SMITH and TONY CERVONE, and animation art director BILL PERKINS. Special live action/animation visual effects are created by CINESITE under the direction of ED JONES. Warner Bros. will distribute "Space Jam" worldwide under its Warner Bros. Family Entertainment banner.
About the Story...
Bugs Bunny has gotten himself and his Looney Tunes cohorts into a jam by facing off against the Nerdlucks, a grouchy gang of tiny space creatures who land on Earth. The Nerdlucks, dispatched by their boss, the ruthless, belligerent Swackhammer (voice by DANNY DeVITO), intend to kidnap and export the Looney Tunes to Moron Mountain, Swackhammer's failing theme park on the Nerdlucks' boring planet.
Bugs has challenged the small, weak aliens to a fateful basketball tournament: if the Looney Tunes win, they'll remain on Earth. But if the aliens win, Bugs and company are headed into the hands of Swackhammer. Their lives won't be worth a single cel...
The aliens quickly take up Bugs' challenge -- too quickly, it turns out. Bugs hasn't found out yet about the Nerdlucks' ability to instantly "absorb" new skills -- an ability that lets them siphon basketball talent from the likes of NBA stars CHARLES BARKLEY, PATRICK EWING, MUGGSEY BOGUES, LARRY JOHNSON and SHAWN BRADLEY, turning the Nerdlucks into the powerful, speedy, unprincipled and monstrously gifted Monstars!
When Bugs does discover what he's up against, he knows he needs some serious help. But where can he go? Basketball's best players are all having their skills "absorbed" by the aliens.
Of course, there's a baseball player he happens to know...
Basketball's most spectacular star, Michael Jordan, has retired from the sport and begun to play baseball -- with limited success. But after the Looney Tunes capture Jordan from a golf course, transport him to Looney Tunes Land and explain, in true Looney Tunes style, their predicament, he agrees to join their team. (Of course, what else can he do? They won't let him go home!)
Jordan has taken on a monumental task, however. Yosemite Sam is shooting up the place, Taz can't take ANY kind of direction, Wile E. Coyote is still after the Roadrunner, and chaos rules everything from the free-throw lane to the locker room. Jordan's nearly in despair -- until he meets the newest Looney Tune to join the Tune Squad -- the gorgeous Lola Bunny, a slam-dunkin' team asset and "the rabbit of my dreams" to the love-struck Bugs.
Can the motley crew of Michael Jordan and the Tune Squad fight off the Monstars on the court and ensure their futures on planet Earth? Could this be the true story of how Michael Jordan returned to basketball? Don't say no until you've seen "Space Jam"...from the land of comic imagination, where anything is possible!
Michael Jordan, who plays himself, is joined in the cast by WAYNE KNIGHT ("Seinfeld") as baseball publicist Stan Podolak and THERESA RANDLE ("Girl Six"), who appears as Jordan's wife, Juanita. The behind-the-scenes crew includes director of photography MICHAEL CHAPMAN, editor SHELDON KAHN and production designer GEOFFREY KIRKLAND.
About the Production...
It's probably fair to say that no group of animated characters is a more natural fit with an antic sports adventure than the legendary Looney Tunes. Arguably the most popular gang of cartoon personalities in history, the Looney Tunes have been known for more than half a century for their manic energy, eccentric individualism and inspired comedy.
David Falk, Michael Jordan's personal attorney and business manager, and Ken Ross, Falk's production partner, approached Warner Bros. with the idea of creating a feature film combining Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes characters. Warner Bros. was very receptive, since they had been searching for some time to find an appropriate full-length vehicle for their "Tunes" franchise.
With Falk and Ross on board as executive producers, the studio then sought a "creative captain" to whom they could entrust the overall project. Filmmaker Ivan Reitman, who has been responsible for some of recent history's most successful comedies, seemed the ideal choice.
Reitman knew the pairing of sports and tunes had tremendous possibilities. When Warner Bros. expressed its desire to at least temporarily bequeath its "family jewels," the Looney Tunes, to Reitman's imagination and expertise, he was pleased and intrigued by the challenge.
"The Looney Tunes, with their tradition of irreverence going back to the 1940s, have always been the cartoon characters that were created for adults," says Reitman. "Sure, kids love them, but their humor has always been wilder and hipper than anything else out there, so adults respond to them on a whole other level. I wanted to recapture that tradition with a story made for today's audiences."
Say Falk and Ross, "We believe that Michael Jordan transcends the world of sports. He is an international pop-culture icon who has the ability to become a major entertainment personality. 'Space Jam,' which builds on his previous accomplishments and makes the most of his charisma, is an excellent first film project for Michael, especially since he's allied with the Looney Tunes, which gives the entire movie a unique twist."
"The comic possibilities here are literally limitless," reflects Reitman. "Since most of the characters in the story are animated, and many of those are not even of this Earth, we can put them into any situation you can think of that's potentially funny. We aren't limited by what they can physically accomplish."
Reitman commissioned a script and began to assemble the rest of his filmmaking team, including his producing partners, Joe Medjuck and Daniel Goldberg, and Joe Pytka, an award-winning director and cinematographer known for his ground-breaking work with live action and animation. Within a year, the filmmaking team began production at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California.
The Jump Ball
Scheduling the shoot was an immediate challenge. For Michael Jordan, it required that filming be structured around the obligations of his basketball season with the Chicago Bulls. For the animators who were creating the Looney Tunes, Monstars and other animated aspects of the movie, it required time to create the animated characters to complement the already-photographed live-action actors.
Under the auspices of Warner Bros.' new Feature Animation division, animation producer Ron Tippe, animation co-directors Bruce Smith and Tony Cervone, scores of animation artists and technicians, Ed Jones and such visual-effects wizards at Cinesite as production VP Mitzi Gallagher and digital-effects supervisors Carlos Arguello and Doug Tubach, quickly got to work.
Explains Tippe, "Everyone knows the Looney Tunes, but we wanted 'Space Jam' audiences to see the Looney Tunes as they've never seen them before. There are animation effects in this movie that have never even been attempted on screen in previous movies. We're combining two- and three-dimensional animation with CGI (computer-generated imagery) in a digital setting, all of which is tech-talk for saying the look, the effects, and the blending of the real and the fanciful are truly state-of-the-art."
After the computer manipulation is completed, the image is returned to film using red, green and blue lasers, which capture the final picture with no degradation of image, giving the clearest possible look to the finished product. The fiber-optic network used by Cinesite to transmit and receive animation information between the U.S. and London is the world's fastest, exceeding the speed of those used by government agencies and defense contractors.
Confirms Bruce Smith, "This was truly a worldwide effort and a tribute to the existing technology that we could all stay in such close communication. Every single shot in the animated portion of this movie had to go through a multitude of steps to take it from the beginning to the end of the process. This includes the creation of the storyboard, where the action is drawn, much like a rough comic strip".
Their challenge was to maintain the integrity and appeal of the classic Looney Tunes in a new setting while bringing this cutting-edge technical dazzle to the film. They also had to create a whole spectrum of new characters, from the athletic, curvaceous Lola Bunny and the irascible, volatile Swackhammer, to the tiny Nerdlucks and their towering alter-egos, the Monstars. And all of these celluloid denizens had to interact seamlessly with their flesh-and-blood co-stars.
While animation was responding to that challenge, Reitman and Pytka were bringing the live-action portion of the script to life. Stage 22 at Warner Bros. was converted by Cinesite into a huge "green screen" set on which Jordan staged his basketball heroics. There, against walls marked with a graphic grid to help pinpoint future character positions, Jordan played basketball, both with his Looney Tunes teammates and against the animated alien invaders, the larger-than-life Monstars.
Two-thirds of the 60-day production schedule took place on this stage, during which time Jordan, cameo star BILL MURRAY and Wayne Knight were the only "live" actors on the set. In order to keep the ball in motion and orient the stars' eye contact and responses, the Looney Tunes' and the Monstars' positions were played by actors clothed from head to toe in green suits, rendering them invisible when the film was composited.
The presence on the set of animators and members of Cinesite's visual-effects team, working alongside the live-action crew during every second of filming afforded the filmmakers a remarkable amount of on-the-spot information. At any given time, director Joe Pytka could have a frame of film produced by a thermal printer and have an on-set animator draw in the appropriate Looney Tune or Monstar. Through this process, the filmmakers were able to see, months in advance, a rough idea of what the scene would look like -- Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny, Monstars and all.
In addition to their on-site work, the animation staff, under co-directors Bruce Smith and Tony Cervone and animation art director Bill Perkins, were fine-tuning the look of their characters, from the classic figures to the newest additions.
Says Cervone, "There are many versions of the best-known animated characters; if you look at Bugs over the years, you can see that he's evolved many times before becoming the figure we recognize today. We worked very closely with Ivan Reitman to establish the appearance of each Looney Tunes character with the look that we all felt was most appropriate for the movie."
Adds Smith, "The new characters needed to contrast with the Looney Tunes, but to reflect enough of the same style so that they seem to belong in the same movie. And of course, Lola Bunny was a special case, since she needs to fit perfectly into the Looney Tunes group while playing a very modern bunny of the '90s."
Art director Perkins also consulted closely with producer Reitman on the color schemes and palette of "Space Jam," explaining, "It's easy to set a mood with color, especially in animation. I needed to be sure that we conveyed exactly the mood that Ivan, Joe and the other filmmakers thought was right for each sequence. That means the color, the architecture, the furnishings, the props -- everything that a live-action scene uses to establish itself, we had to create from our imaginations and draw. It gave us the freedom to inject humor into many things, simply by drawing, shading and coloring them the right way."
Off-stage locations for the live-action sequences included Blair Field in Long Beach, for scenes recreating Jordan's season with the Birmingham Barons baseball team; and the beautiful Lake Arrowhead Country Club, where Jordan and his publicist, Stan, play a round of golf with friends Bill Murray and LARRY BIRD before Michael is "sucked" into Looney Tune land by his pal Bugs.
The Los Angeles Sports Arena doubles as both The Hive in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Madison Square Garden in New York. During filming at the Arena, no fewer than 20 current and past NBA stars took part in the live-action/animated basketball scenes.
A residential neighborhood in Pasadena served as the exterior of the Jordan residence. Additional interior sets were built on the Warner Bros. lot.
The completion of principal photography shifted the focus of the movie to the animation and visual-effects production. Warner Bros. Feature Animation and affiliated studios in both the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom worked for approximately 12 additional months, incorporating computer-generated imagery (CGI), traditional cel animation, digital animation techniques and special effects, to create a high-energy, high-resolution rendering of the animated world of the Looney Tunes.
Weekly meetings at Reitman's production company included screenings of in-progress film and viewing of animation and storyboards. Reitman worked tirelessly to make sure that "Space Jam" would be a visual and comedic groundbreaker.
Under his supervision, and that of Medjuck, Goldberg, Ron Tippe, Bruce Smith and Tony Cervone, Warner Bros. animators and artists in as many as 10 affiliated studios began drawing and animating the characters in each scene. This was done in the traditional manner, with pencil and paper, in both the London and California headquarters of the "Space Jam" animation crews.
Says Tippe, "Our California and London studios communicated many times a day by computer. We also quickly established close communication with our partners, including Uli Meyer Features Ltd., Stardust Pictures in London; Character Builders, Inc. in Ohio; Spaff Animation in California, Charles Gammage Animation, Inc. in Canada; and several others. The logistics of completing this project were considerable.
"Hand-drawn layouts were created, cleaned up and then turned over to background artists, who hand-painted them into background paintings. Rough animation followed the layout phase and was, in turn, followed by assistant animation, where the characters were cleaned up; and effects animation, where shadows, tones, highlights, props and other non-character elements were animated. The character and effects levels were then scanned and painted digitally."
Among the key participants in this process were co-producer ALISON ABATE, who oversaw the animation process and scheduling; visual effects producer HELEN ELSWIT, who served as the link between the "Space Jam" production team and Cinesite; and art director Bill Perkins.
Explains Perkins, "We created two color universes for the story: primary colors for the Looney Tunes, which are their traditional settings, and secondary colors for the Monstars and the Moron Mountain amusement park. All in all, we created between 300 and 400 backgrounds for this movie."
After the animation was complete, the footage was sent via high-speed telecommunications systems to Cinesite, a post-production and special-effects subsidiary of Eastman Kodak, for digitally compositing the animation and live-action components and the creation of the computer-generated three-dimensional visual "environments."
The animated sequences were digitally scanned and loaded into the Cineon compositing system at Cinesite. There, the images could be composited with live footage previously loaded, to create seamless integration of animated and human characters.
Explains Ed Jones,preisdent and founder of Cinesite, "Since all of the footage was transformed into digital information, there was no loss of clarity when several "layers" of animation were added to a live scene or combined with visual effects. This is a giant step forward in making sophisticated animation possible."
Jones adds, "Warner Bros. gave us characters with plenty of visual comic potential, and the filmmakers' live-action story was played broadly enough to inspire lots of visual humor. It was our job to use the latest in digital technology to make the most of the opportunities we were given."
The Nerdlucks' space ship, for example, was created in 3-D, based on a painting created by Warner Bros. Feature Animation and built on a computer using CGI (computer-generated imagery), then dropped into an existing frame of "real-life' scenery. Next, the "atmospheric effects," such as shading, dust swirls, texture and other visual fine tuning were created using 2-D and 3-D digital computer effects.
A scene in which hapless publicist Stan is inflated by the Looney Tunes began with computer cyberscanning of Wayne Knight's face. The scanner translates analog information into digital information that the computer can read, allowing artists to build a 3-D model from the results. A 3-D computer-generated body was added, then 2-D atmosphere was applied. Then the 3-D computer face, head and body were modified on the screen to inflate, and the result was dropped into a scene combining digitally created background and a 2-D animated setting.
"We're using so many new techniques here that the final technology on this movie makes the stuff we did at the start of the production obsolete," comments Jones.
The crowd at the basketball tournament was a combination of traditionall animated characters, 3-D animated characters and a crowd of actual people wearing masks. It was computer scanned and then tone and lighting were manipulated to create a "semi-animated" look that bridged the two worlds of live action and animation. The court scene consists of a CGI floor; 2-dimensional chairs; digitalized computer shading and "environment," including smoke, haze and light; a live-action crowd; and a real ball and net, all combined into a single image on the screen.
Reitman and his filmmaking team met with the Feature Animation and Cinesite crews weekly for review of the completed footage. "It wasn't enough for the scenes to be technically perfect," asserts Reitman. "They had to further the action without distracting people from the story and, most important, they had to be entertaining, funny and true to the characters."
Even before animation began, voice artists were busily recording their dialogue. rather than exclusively employing traditional voice-over actors, Reitman sought a wide range of talented performers. In particular, actors with comedic and improvisational skills were cast to create energetic, funny characterizations that lived up to the standards set by the legendary Mel Blanc.
BILLY WEST provided the voice of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, and DEE BRADLEY BAKER voiced Daffy Duck, the Tazmanian Devil and Bull. BOB BERGEN created the voices of Bertie, Hubie, Marvin the Martian, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzales and Tweety. Sylvester, Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn were voiced by BILL FARMER, and KATH SOUCIE provided the voice of the newly created LOLA BUNNY.
Actor Danny DeVito, who usually performs in front of the camera as an actor, or steps behind it as a producer-director, added another title to his repertoire when he took on the role of the bombastic, sadistic Swackhammer. He recorded his role early in the filming process and was soon followed by numerous voiceover specialists who appeared to supply the voices of the remaining characters.
"We've really enjoyed blending the classic humor of the Looney Tunes with Michael Jordan's boundless charm and energy, and the latest advances in technological achievement," concludes Ivan Reitman. "This movie has been a mix of the old and new that I think is going to add to the ageless appeal of animation as entertainment."
Warner Bros. Presents an Ivan Reitman//David Falk/Ken Ross Production: Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny in "Space Jam," starring Wayne Knight, Theresa Randle and the voice of Danny DeVito. The msuic is by James Newton Howard; the film is edited by Sheldon Kahn, A.C.E.; and the production is designed by Geoffrey Kirkland. The director of photography is Michael Chapman. The co-producers are Gordon Webb, Sheldon Kahn and Curtis Polk. The producers are Joe Medjuck and Daniel Goldberg and the executive producers are David Falk and Ken Ross. "Space Jam" is written by Leo Benvenuti & Steve Rudnick and Timothy Harris & Herschel Weingrod. The film is produced by Ivan Reitman and directed by Joe Pytka. It is distributed by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment, a division of Warner Bros., A Time Warner Entertainment Company.