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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 10/22/2010

Casting 'PEARLS BEFORE SWINE': Stephan Pastis & RingTales take aim at screens big and small

By Michael Cavna

A talking Larry the Croc has just come to computer screens -- and hopes are heightened that the grammatically challenged carnivore might also hit the big screen.

"Pearls Before Swine" has just "soft-launched" 29 short animations on -- and creator Stephan Pastis says Hollywood is showing interest in a script based on his strip.

The "Pearls" animations are created by RingTales, the studio of "Over the Hedge" co-creator Michael Fry and producer/screenwriter Jim Cox ("Beauty and the Beast"). RingTales -- which a year ago signed a two-year deal with the Web entertainment company Babelgum -- has also created animations for such strips as "Lio," "Cul de Sac" and "Dilbert," as well as of New Yorker cartoons.

"RingTales is doing all the animation ... but I'm pretty heavily involved," Pastis tells Comic Riffs. "I helped pick voice [actors] and they showed me roughs. I'm real particular -- if a moment goes on a half-second too long, or if [an action] is not funny, I ask for voice retakes."

"Stephan has a lot of great insight," Fry tells Comic Riffs of their creative process. "He really understands his characters and what makes them work -- and he's passionate about getting it right."

Pastis says the act of seeing his strip animated allows him to view "Pearls" in a whole new light. "It forces you to relearn your own strip -- to study what exactly is going on there," says the Northern California-based cartoonist, who notes that his script for a "Pearls" feature film has recently attracted "preliminary" interest from 20th Century Fox.


One of the foremost animation challenges has been voicing the "Pearls" characters. "From 'Garfield' to Charlie Brown, the voices are never what you thought in your head," says Pastis [right]. "But this is exactly how the crocs sound to me when I write" their dialogue.

Pastis notes that of all his "Pearls" characters, the crocs are the most fertile for translating to animation. "That's the truth -- they're definitely the most 'animate-able,' if that's a word," he says. "They work the easiest. I think the strip is too word-based and subtle sometimes with Rat, who [gives voice to] my little meanderings -- so animating him is a bit of a tall order. But the crocs are more physical and they have a goofy voice -- that's why they work."

"It's a very tricky thing, because his strip is very deadpan -- you sort of read it from a distance," Fry says. "Stephan does it the right way: He lets the reader come to the joke ... So you want to maintain that deadpan, but if you stick too closely, it can really be a killer. ... Animation doesn't have the subtlety of facial expressions that live-action does -- to communicate visually -- so it's a challege to find that line and not be too reserved."

Fry agrees with Pastis that the croc characters are the ripest for transferring to animation. "The crocs are fantastic," Fry says. "What was challenging was to try to come up with a voice that was stupid enough [for them] and, at the same time, was an indistinguishable foreign accent that you couldn't identify as one type ... which would make somebody angry.

"People seem to like what we came up with."


Fry [right] speaks from a wealth of experience: When DreamWorks Animation adapted his "Over the Hedge" for the big screen in 2006, the filmmakers cast such big-name voice actors as Bruce Willis, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes and Garry Shandling. The film opened to generally positive reviews and grossed $336-million worldwide, according to boxofficemojo.

"We can't afford to have those sorts of names" with our Babelgum-hosted animations, says Fry (who co-created "Over the Hedge" with T Lewis,), "but we put a lot of time and effort into getting the voices just right."

Pastis has also been working on getting a "Pearls" feature-film script just right. He began that Croc-centric project about two years ago. Now, Pastis and Fry say, Fox has expressed strong but preliminary interest in the project -- though that's as far as things have progressed. "It's really baby steps at this point, but Stephan has a great script and there's some definite interest," Fry says.

Fry also mentions that in a matter of weeks, RingTales will begin to feature behind-the-scenes interviews with such cartoonists as Pastis, Richard Thompson ("Cul de Sac"), Mark Tatulli ("Lio") and Paul Gilligan ("Pooch Cafe"), as well as such New Yorker cartoonists as comics editor Bob Mankoff. and Isaac Littlejohn Eddy.

"We went to the New Yorker offices on a Tuesday, when the cartoons were coming in, and did a long interview with [Mankoff]," Fry says. "That was really cool."

By Michael Cavna  | October 22, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Animation, The Comic Strip  | Tags:  Babelgum, Michael Fry, Over the Hedge, Pearls Before Swine, RingTales, Stephan Pastis  
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Can I submit an application to be the voice of Lio? Easy money.

Posted by: seismic-2 | October 22, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I think this is GREAT! Not sure about the match of the voices, though.

Posted by: linroy62 | October 27, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

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