INTERVIEW: Stars and art director of Ron’s Gone Wrong

We speak to actors Zach Galifianakis and Jack Dylan Grazer, as well as Canadian film artist Karen deJong, about making the silly (and smart) new animated comedy
Ron's Gone Wrong Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Ron (Zack Galifianakis) are learning as they go how to be best friends. (© 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved)

Do you love tech? Is there a gadget that you and your friends really, really wish you had? A gaming system? A tablet? A phone? Even … a robot?

In the brand new animated film Ron’s Gone Wrong, we get to see a not-so-distant picture of a future world where a giant tech company called Bubble has created the ultimate kid companion. The B*bot!

B*bot mania!

Is there anything a B*bot can't do?? (© 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved)

It takes photos and videos. Livestreams. Helps you explore science and the galaxy. Acts as a scooter and dance partner. Connects you to other kids who love the same things as you. And, above all, it is your new. best. friend.

That sounds like great news to Barney Pudowski, a smart, but shy middle-schooler who lives with his dad and his grandma. Barney doesn’t really have many friends. But with his birthday coming, he’s sure that he’s going to get the only thing he needs: his own B*bot.

Ron is ... different. (© 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved)

And what do you know, his wish comes true! Except … something is wrong with Ron, his B*bot. Yes, something is very, very wrong with Ron. Or maybe he’s actually … perfect?

Talking about Ron

Ron and Barney get into a lot of trouble. But they also become great buddies! (© 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved)

We loved this movie, which opens this Friday. If you like comedy and silliness, it’s got both! But it’s also really smart, looking at friendship, technology, and what it means to be a kid today. We’re really excited to say that we got to interview a few people from the film!

First up are Zach Galifianakis, who voices Ron, and Jack Dylan Grazer, who voices Barney. (Jack also did the voice of Alberto in the summer film Luca, which we totally super loved, too!) What is it like trying to act like a funny little, malfunctioning smart bot? Let’s find out!

OWLconnected: Zach, you play a robot—and a very animated animated robot at that! How much did you know about how Ron would move and look on screen when you did your dialogue?

Zach Galifianakis: You’re quite limited in the beginning [of filming]. There will be a rendering [picture] of what the robot is going to be—they’ve figured that part out. But you don’t see it move or any of that stuff until later on. A year or so into it, you started seeing some crude black and white images of the movement of the character, but it’s quite vague in the beginning.

I’m always amazed by the animators. The physicalness, if that’s the right word, of how the animators take just our voice and draw an expression. There’s a camera on the actors a lot of the time and maybe the animator use that [as a reference] to animate the robot?

OC: Jack, this is the second big animated film of yours to come out this year. Congrats! What were the big differences between playing Alberto and Barney? Did you work on them at the same time?

Jack Dylan Grazer: Well, I think that Alberto and Barney are polar opposites. Alberto is a big, boisterous risk taker, whereas Barney is naive and modest and wary. I started working on Ron’s Gone Wrong four years ago and Luca at the start of quarantine. I had a blast working on this film. I learned so much about animation and recording and myself.

The kids at Nonsuch Middle School are all learning how to stay friends as they get older. Will the B*bots help or get in the way? (© 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved)

OC: When the movie starts off, it seems like it will be mostly about the dangers of social media and screens and tech. But it ends up showing how tech and friendship can still work. Do you both like social media?

ZG: I think that the movie is honest that technology is here to stay. So what do we do to make it a more navigable world, especially for young people online? And I haven’t seen movies [asking questions] like that. My own attitude about social media and technology is set in stone—it was before the movie. I don’t even like to text. I want to hear somebody’s voice if I’m going to communicate with them.

OC: How about you, Jack?

JDG: Wellll… I think texting is alright, sure. (Everyone laughs)

OC: This film is full of lots of quick back and forth between your two characters. Is it hard to build up that connection as actors?

ZG: Well, Jack, back me up on this, but we were only together [in the studio] once! So what you’re hearing is good directing, and good editing [the people who instruct actors how to perform and those who then choose the best versions of those performances in the film]. Because if we’re not together, I don’t know what Jack has just said and how he’s said it—he hasn’t even done his side of the audio yet! You just have to trust in the directors.

You say your lines, and you’re in isolation in a black booth. So your imagination is the thing, much like how a kid imagines things, it’s what helps me navigate. ‘My imagination is my navigation.’ (shouts to an imaginary assistant) Write that down someone!

OC: This is being recorded!

ZG: Oh, even better! (laughs, shouts again) Hey, stop writing it down!

OC: What do you think about that, Jack?

JDG: Yeah, well, it was the same with Luca. I didn’t meet Jacob [Tremblay, voice of Luca Paguro] until we started doing press together for the film! [Zach and my chemistry] has a lot to do with the directing. The directors [on Ron’s Gone Wrong] were phenomenal people. Good job!

Interview number two!

Even a blade of grass is something that Karen needed to get just right as the film's art director. (© 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved)

On an animated film, there are all kinds of directors. Some direct the actors, others direct the art! Karen deJong is a Canadian who has worked on dozens of big films, including The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Gnomeo and Juliet, and Dinosaur. On Ron’s Gone Wrong, she was the art director. What was her job, exactly? Don’t worry, we asked!

OC: Karen, can you please tell us what art direction is all about?

Karen deJong: Art directing is exactly what it sounds like. You’re looking at the designs of props, characters, locations, clouds, trees, everything! And you work with your creative team and make what we call ‘art packets’—they’re basically a how-to guide. What does this feature look like? What is the colour? And it really includes everything. What does the grass look like? Everything!

You’re basically going to the grocery store and picking what you want to make for dinner! You’re shopping for ideas, you’re shopping for how you want to promote the story—first you get your ingredients, and then you cook it and make this beautiful spread on the table!

OC: So you’re kind of making the recipes for animators so they can recreate the world again and again, scene to scene?

KdJ: Exactly. Yeah. We’re privileged to have such a long timeline (animation movies often take five to seven years to complete) to come up with ideas, really focus on the characters, get the look and feel and the geography of the world to tell the story.

You get to work with a lot of super talented people and see it all the way through, which is really fun.

OC: How did you design Ron? He’s so fun and he almost seems like he could be real!

KDJ: Well, I wasn’t there when the first design of Ron (and all of the B*bots) was done, around seven years ago! But when we were designing him, we even had focus groups with kids to see what height he should be. What is tall enough to be a friend, and not so small that it feels like a toy? We spent weeks and weeks just sorting that out!

And there’s a lot of work done on his arms and thumbs, what would be transparent and what should be rubber, how his wheels could move. We spent a lot of time making sure that it could be animated and it could be appealing.

Then the animation on his face and the shape of his eyes, that was also something we spent a lot of time working on exactly how that would look. To make sure you could relate to it as a character, because he is very simple. But I think he just oozes personality!

So do we! See for yourself by watching the trailer for Ron’s Gone Wrong below!

Ron’s Gone Wrong opens in theatres Friday, October 22

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