Working on Rango was a dream come true. Gore had mentioned wanting to do an animated feature while we were shooting “Pirates” and suddenly we had the chance to do it. A few months after “Pirates III” opened, he pitched me a fantastic stew of ideas involving a Don Knotts-like lizard to be played by Johnny D. It was insane. Neither of us had ever made an animated movie. The sheer audacity was offensive. I cancelled everything else and settled in to our secret lair.
The days were spent writing songs for the Mariachi Owls on guitars, acting out scenes, cracking the story, designing characters, and recording voices. Gore and I did all the voices for the story reel, a full-length, black-and-white illustrated version of the movie complete with music and sound effects. The story reel was made of thousands of drawn storyboards, edited by Wyatt Jones. Screenwriter John Logan and production designer Crash McCreery added some voices at one point, as did Alex Manugian, who did such a good job, we cast him for the real movie.
My initial sketch of Rango served as the starting point for our leading lizard, who was then “Crashified” by the hand of Crash McCreery, a master of illustration and creature design. A year later, we traveled to ILM to work with their amazing artists tweaking Rango’s geometry. After many expert hands brought the chameleon to life, I got to do another round of personality design for him, creating a series of faces that showed the range of his expressions.
After three and a half years, we had a movie. Gore and I both ended up doing some voices on the final film, and ILM created a triumph as they turned our story reel into a fully-rendered movie. Gore’s vision came true and we all got to be part of something so unusual, I doubt it could ever be repeated.
Paramount made a nice book, “The Ballad of Rango,” featuring a ton of Crash’s amazing work, many of my sketches, illustrations by Jim Carson and other top notch artists from ILM. click here for the book