Regina-born director of 'Ice Age 3' baffled by franchise success
Andrea Baillie, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, October 26, 2009 2:41PM EDT
TORONTO - His latest film has grossed over $800 million worldwide, but you probably won't find Michael Thurmeier toasting his accomplishments at Hollywood parties or celebrating Christmas on a beach in Belize.
The Regina-born director says he usually spends the winter holidays visiting family in Saskatchewan or Manitoba. And as for his success, he's at a bit of a loss to explain the boffo box office of "Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," which comes out Tuesday on DVD.
"(It) did really, outlandishly well, internationally," Thurmeier said during a recent publicity stop in Toronto.
"It's sort of shocking to everybody. ... Feedback from what we hear outside the U.S. is that the family themes play really strong, particularly in Latin America, where family is hugely important.
"I think maybe that's it, and maybe because it's not strictly a North American visual kind of style ... it sort of maybe has a global feel. I'm not sure. I don't know what the magic bullet is with 'Ice Age."'
The franchise, about a motley group of prehistoric creatures, is the brainchild of Connecticut-based, Fox-owned, Blue Sky Studios and features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
Thurmeier, 34, was hired by Blue Sky right out of Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont. He toiled away as an animator on the first "Ice Age," which came out in 2002, and took on some supervising duties for "Ice Age 2: The Meltdown," released in 2006.
Thurmeier received an Oscar nomination for the 2006 short film "No Time for Nuts" and, following that, he and Carlos Saldanha -- who helmed the second "Ice Age" -- took on co-directing duties for "Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."
The experience of directing a full-length feature gave Thurmeier a new perspective.
"When you're in the trenches as an animator, it's very easy to look at how the film is going and go: 'Oh, we need to do this,' 'I would do that differently,"' he said.
"It's so daunting when all of a sudden you're part of the team that's responsible for absolutely every decision creatively and I had such a broader picture of the whole production and all the details and the difficulties that go into it.
"The flip side of it is it's incredibly satisfying and you can see your ideas really up on the screen."
Having young daughters (his girls are ages two and four) has also shaped what he puts on the screen. Thurmeier said he's careful that the tone and style of his films aren't too scary for young audiences. And he's noticed a dearth of "cool movies" for girls, something he hopes to rectify.
"All the heroes tend to be male, and in my mind I'm like: Some day I really want to make a movie that girls -- and boys -- should be able to look at, but girls should be able to see themselves as heroines," he said.
Like most recent animated films, "Ice Age 3" was theatrically released in 3D, and the director said grappling with the technology was "an insane learning curve."
But he acknowledges that the format is a way to bring audiences into theatres and give them an experience they can't get at home.
"I think what will make it or break it is doing something different with it," said Thurmeier. "I think the onus on the filmmakers is to actually give people a different experience."
As for whether there will be an "Ice Age 4," Thurmeier is coy, while suggesting that the success of the latest film (it's one of the top-grossing releases of the year) would make a sequel a no-brainer.
"I don't think it would take a rocket scientist to figure out that 'Ice Age 3' did incredibly well, so I think there's top people on 'Ice Age 4' ready to go," he said.