Oscar Nominee Chris Sanders Tackles Live Action Mixed with Animation in The Call of the Wild

If you’re not sure of his name, you definitely know his work. Every movie Chris Sanders has directed, has been nominated for an Academy Award… for Lilo & Stitch (2002), How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and The Croods (2013)… now for the first time in his career he’s directing live action, with some animation. Risen talked with Sanders about The Call of the Wild and how his wife drove to Kansas to find the perfect Buck.

Interviewed for Risen Magazine in Beverly Hills, California

Risen Magazine: Buck, the dog, has a very interesting story of how we see him on-screen, will you share the process?

(l to r) Jessica Steele-Sanders, Buckley and Director Chris Sanders
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Chris Sanders: Buck isvery specific mix of two breeds as described by Jack London in the book. We were trying to build him from scratch and we were struggling with it. We were also trying to make him look a little bit like a Bernese Mountain Dog. It was October, I was on set and it was beginning to look like that dog was just not ever going to work, so I was like, “We’ll figure it out later.” Then, my wife was on Petfinder and she said, “Oh my gosh. I just found a dog that is the exact mix of the two breeds that is described in the book. He’s in a shelter in Kansas.” He was found as a stray, wandering the streets, and they named him Buckley! So she said, “I’m going to drive out.” She drove two days to Kansas, met him, and she bought him for twenty-five dollars.

She walked onto set with him and everybody took a look at him and said, “If that’s the same dog from the story, let’s just make him that dog.” So we took him down to Gentle Giant and we scanned him and that’s him. I live with him now.

RM: What is it about this story that resonates so much, what do you want audiences to walk away learning?

CS: I think it gives people something that they can really be inspired by, and to also talk about. Of course in my own life there have been surprises and things that are unexpected and you have to navigate them, you’re compelled to. I think finding ways to pick yourself back up after you fall down is something that nobody really talks to you much about. I think when you’re a kid you see a lot of stories about people who believe in themselves and find something that they want or accomplish something. And I think one of the things you don’t realize is that believing in yourself means picking yourself back up after things go terribly wrong. And that’s the thing that I think is in this story that’s great.

RM: Your background is animation and so you’ve talked about the storyboarding and this is your first kind of delve into the live action side of it. Getting to still have an animated piece to, it must’ve been kind of nice, like a little baby step. But then, what were your thoughts on live action? Is that something you would like to do?

CS: I would love to do it again. I’d love to do another hybrid. I think that the combination of it was fairly magical. With animation it takes a long time, so you have ample opportunity to fix things. My great fear about doing live action, and I stayed up nights thinking about it, was that what if we do a scene and like a week later I go, “Oh no, I forgot part of it!” My producers assured me that won’t happen.

RM: With all the computer animated set extensions and computer animated characters, it very much feels like it comes from an annotated approach. Did you at any time feel like you were using modern technology to recreate something like out of the Inkwell Alice Comedies, or Jolly Holiday from Mary Poppins?

CS: Absolutely. Buck and his dogs, and the wolves, they’re animated characters and I think that they have that kind of charm and ability to reach an audience and endure. I think that was one of the most exciting things about this fictional story. Jack London did meet Buck. There’s a photograph in our Fox archives that is supposedly Buck sitting in front of the cabin and so Jack London knew this dog, but otherwise it’s a complete fiction. So it’s a bit of a fable that we’re bringing to life, which is one of the reasons I thought it was exciting that they did it in this way.

The Call of the Wild is in theatres February 21

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