Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 Co-Director Kris Pearn Shares his Insights

Drawing from lessons learned over a 20-year career working on animated feature length films and television shows in Canada, the US and England, Kris Pearn, a graduate of Sheridan’s Classical Animation program (now Bachelor of Animation), explains what it was like to co-direct a major blockbuster film that hits theatres today.

Conversation and Collaboration

Pearn credits a lot of what he learned about directing from Chris Miller and Phil Lord who co-directed the first movie and served as Executive Producers on the sequel.  Pearn worked as Head of Story on the original film and tried to model the approach that Miller and Lord took to let the story room be a writer’s room.  “We think we had 350 funny people working for us and we wanted everyone to contribute,” he said.  “We tried to open the door for animators to surprise us.  They came up with jokes that were never in script but that made their way into their animated sequences.”

“It was also fantastic to see the film go through lighting and understand how much detail and thought go into those jobs,” added Pearn.  “We got to mix the movie with Michael Semanick and Tom Johnson, who did the sound on Lord of the Rings.  They take a sound you’ve heard a thousand times before and just make it sound so much better.  I have so much respect for somebody who is good at what they do.”

Kris Pearn

Optimism and Belief

“What I also learned from this experience is that you have to stand in front of 300 people every day and be optimistic and it’s not always easy because you’re getting a lot of pressure and there’s a lot of stuff happening.  At the root of the idea, you have to love it and you have to believe in it.”

That sense of love, belief and dedication can be seen – or literally heard – in the movie as Pearn even contributes voices for some of the minor characters.   “I did the Tomato, the Shrimpanzee, Buttertoad, and the Think-wa-nots.  At the beginning of the movie there’s a guy who gets eaten by a cheeseburger and that’s me.  My co-director Cody Cameron does the voice of Barry and Dill Pickle.”

Drawing, Reading, and Paying Attention to Life

For people who want to get into animation, Pearn says, “I always tell people to draw.  Visual communication is the cornerstone of what we do.  And while the technology has gotten better and equalized the amount of work there is for animators, you still have to understand how to phrase, how to pose, how to tell your story and how to handle things in space and draw people in environments.”

“If you want to be a story artist, you also have to read a lot and watch movies.  Find material.  Life is about gathering experience.  So go and sketch and draw and listen to people talk and just pay attention to the world.  Story is about finding those moments that just make you laugh even when you shouldn’t be laughing.”

Pearn’s Personal Path

“I grew up on a goat farm just outside of London, Ontario. I was one of three brothers and I always loved to draw.  My parents were really supportive and they just let me pursue that.   I really got into comics, like Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County.  We never had cable because we lived in the middle of nowhere so we only got three stations. I remember every Saturday afternoon on Global, the Looney Tunes came on and life would just stop and I would just sit there and watch and I never thought that people actually made that, and I never thought that people in Ontario could make that.”

Pearn credits his high school guidance counselor for opening his eyes to the possibility of a career in animation. “I was planning on becoming an architect because I knew how to hold a pencil.   He told me about Sheridan and the attention it was getting.  I entered the same year that Lion King opened.  The popularity of animation went through the roof. I’ve been lucky in my career that I’ve been in front of opportunities at the right time.”

Watching the Audience

Pearn was in Canada last week to be part of the film’s debut at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. “People were laughing at jokes that I didn’t think anyone would laugh at and there was great applause at the end.  That was such an awesome moment in my career.”  Over the next few months, he’ll also travel to Russia, Italy, Argentina and France as the film opens in different markets.  “It’s a bit nerve racking.  People loved the first movie so it’s a hard thing to follow.”

As for next steps, Pearn says he hopes to direct again but that he definitely needs to take a breather and he knows he’ll be careful about the project he chooses.  “These films are three to four year commitments in your life. You really need to love and believe in what you do.  That is way more important than the title.”

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