Lost Password

Interview with the Directors of ‘Tangled’

A while back I had the opportunity to join a virtual roundtable with the director’s of Tangled, Nathan Greno, Byron Howard. Below is the transcript from that interview.


Congratulations on the film’s success. Have you given any thought to making a sequel?

Nathan Greno: We’d only do a sequel if there was a great story to tell. The movie buttons up really nicely… but we do love those characters… I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Again, we’d have to have a great story already in mind if we wanted to do a sequel…

Are you pleased with the film’s title change from “Rapunzel” to “Tangled”?

Byron Howard: When Nathan and I figured out that this film was really about two characters, Flynn and Rapunzel, we knew that changing the title would be a good idea. We like that TANGLED as a title sounds smart and intriguing, while also relating to the tangle of plot, characters and emotion in the film.

Having worked in both mediums, what do you prefer about computer animation and what do you miss about traditional 2D animation?

Nathan Greno: I really love both 2D and 3D animation. 2D is really graphic and classic. 3D has amazing textures and cameras to play with. It all comes down to your story… some tales work best in 2D, some in 3D!

I loved the characters of Pascal and Maximus. Was there ever any discussion about giving them voices? (I’m glad you didn.t.)

Byron Howard: Nathan and I are huge, HUGE fans of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, and we thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have someone like that as a character in TANGLED?” Time and time again, people who have seen the film have said that they liked the fact that we kept them silent. Pantomime acting is a great challenge for our animators.

How early in the production process was it decided to make this a musical instead of a romantic comedy-adventure?

Byron Howard: We knew it could be both. Music can be more effective than the most brilliant dialogue at conveying emotion, so we were very excited to have someone as skilled as Alan Menken writing our songs and score. And just because it had songs didn’t mean that the film couldn’t be an action filled roller coaster ride. We like that.

BOTH: You have both worked on several films prior to Tangled. please explain the process of transitioning into the role of Director.

Nathan Greno: I came from the story department. I was drawing story boards for over a decade before I started directing. I was always at the start of the process, but now I get to follow the ideas all the way through to the finish frame. It’s an incredible process. I feel like I’ve become a much better artist. And I still get to storyboard… so I’m happy.

BOTH: How long did you need to prep for the roles of Thug #1 and #2 and Guard #1 and #2

Byron Howard: I feel like I’ve been preparing for the role of Thug #2 for my entire professional life. It’s really the role of a lifetime.

Where did you folks find Donna Murphy? She stole the show.

Nathan Greno: New York City. She lives there.

How do you feel about Tangled being the last of the Disney Princess films (for awhile anyway)?

Nathan Greno: I’ve heard that rumor. Not true! If we wanted to do a Princess movie as our next project, John Lasseter would be ok with that. There is a lot in development at Disney Animation… I wouldn’t rule out the idea of seeing another Princess movie!

How has the animation processed changed through the years you have been working on Disney films?

Byron Howard: When I first started at Disney animation, CG animation was really just a tiny blip on the radar. Lion King had just come out to huge success, and Disney had a long slate of traditionally animated films in production. I actually remember seeing some of the first scenes from Toy Story, when the Army Men leave Andy’s room to spy on the birthday party, and I was like “Wow. This is going to change things from now on.” Now CG is the expected route for animated films, and the scope of the stories get bigger and bigger with each release.

In both of your last two projects, you’ve had to take over for another director. Was that challenging for you?

Byron Howard: It’s very challenging to step in on a project after another director has put his stamp on it. We’ve learned that the best thing to do is to tear the existing film down to the foundation and start with as much of a clean slate as possible. In doing that you can find the core ideas that made the films appealing in the first place.

What was it like to become a director after having run the storyboards?

Nathan Greno: In the past I would pitch my storyboards and ideas and sometimes they would change by the time they hit the big screen. I didn’t always understand why. Now I can follow ideas through start to finish. They still change… but at least I now understand why they are changing!

What was it like working with Alan Menken?

Byron Howard: Alan Menken, and our lyricist Glenn Slater are two genuinely brilliant guys. In a few minutes on the piano, Alan can create a tune that you will remember for the rest of your life, and Glenn’s diverse talent shows from the hilarious pub song to the heartfelt ballad in the gondolas. We’re very honored to have worked with them both.

Did you always have Zach and Mandy in mind for the roles?

Nathan Greno: In the very beginning, we try to create very appealing characters. We have friends around the studio do the temp voices for our early screenings. At some point (before animation begins) we begin the casting process. We saw hundreds of people for the role of Flynn and Rapunzel. Hundreds! It was crazy. It seemed that all of Hollywood wanted these parts. There were a lot of amazing auditions, but in the end Mandy and Zac totally nailed it. They were incredible. People are always surprsied to hear they didn’t record together because their characters are so charming on screen. Mandy and Zac were the perfect fit.

Did you have any real life locations in mind when designing the Kingdom and its surrounding environments?

Byron Howard: Yes. We take our research very seriously. Knowing that we wanted Rapunzel’s story to take place in central Europe (Austria/Hungary) we did exhaustive research into local architecture, artwork, even flora and fauna. Every tree you see in TANGLED’s forest actually grows in those regions of central Europe.

What prompted you to inlude Pascal, Rapunzel’s chameleon side kick, in the cast?

Byron Howard: Pascal came from the need to have someone for Rapunzel to talk to in that tower. We knew we needed that character, but we didn’t want to do the typical squirrel, chipmunk or bird that you see so often in these tales. We thought a lizard sounded like a quirky pet for a quirky young woman.

Can you talk a bit about the genesis and evolution of Tangled?

Nathan Greno: The idea of a Rapunzel story has been around the Disney Animation Studios since the 1930’s… it was on one of Walt’s early lists. It took a long time to bring this film to the screen. The problem is the original tale is a very small story. It takes place in a tower. A girl is waiting around to be rescued. It’s all very passive and small. We needed to blow up the scale of the film… turn it into a big event. We really tried to keep what worked in the original. The original icons of the classic story are all there… it’s just been updated for a modern audience.

How do you feel about Tangled being the last of the Disney Princess films (for awhile anyway)?

Byron Howard: Honestly, I’m very happy that Disney Animation’s upcoming slate includes vastly diverse projects. That keeps the studio healthy. And, believe it or not, that slate does still include some great fairy tales.

Is it me or did some of the animals seem smarter than Flynn?

Nathan Greno: Max and Pascal would agree with that.

At what point during the film making process did you know you had a hit?

Byron Howard: I don’t think you know anything about how a film’s going to do until it does it. It’s always our hope that these films will do well; we pour our hearts and souls into every frame, tear the story apart reaching for more emotion and more comedy, but ultimately, it’s up to the audience whether they fall in love with a film or not. We’re delighted that TANGLED has become so popular, it’s a great reward for all that work.

How did you two divide your directing tasks?

Nathan Greno: We mostly didn’t! We tried to stick together as much as we could. We are both better in different areas… but we like to be there in the same room to challege each other. We want to make all of our decisions the best they can be. We work best as a team. It brings us the best results on screen.

Her “mother” was also a very interest, and rather scary, character. Did you draw on past witches and femme fatales from Disney movies for inspiration?

Nathan Greno: Disney does villians better than anyone and we needed to live up to the classic villians of our past films. We think Gothel is mostly scary because she isn’t a witch. She doesn’t have “powers”, but she has a very evil mind. Evil minds actually exisit in the real world — I think that’s why she freaks people out!

I’ve noticed that you bear a slight resemblance to Flynn Rider. Is this simply coincidence or directorial influence perhaps…? In all seriousness though, having been a huge part of films like Tangled and Bolt means that your influence in these films will carry on to future generations of viewers. Does this knowledge play a part in the choices you make during the production of these films?

Byron Howard: We like to say that Flynn has my hair and Nathan’s strong chin and goatee. Flynn’s a handsome guy, so if anyone think we look like him, we’ll take it. The fact that these films can endure for generations is one of the reasons we work at DIsney. Last Halloween, a little girl showed up on Nathan’s doorstep dressed as Snow White. That film is over seventy years old, can you think of any other films that have that kind of longevity? It’s amazing. We really hope this version of the Rapunzel story becomes the definitive version for generations of movie fans.

What are you most proud of with Tangled?

Nathan Greno: The whole thing! Really. We worked hard to make sure it was all worth watching. The movie had to look great, the story had to be strong, the characters had to be fun and appealing. There’s so much action and emotion in the film… it’s really everything I wanted it to be. I’m most proud of the whole thing!

How important was for you to make sure that the lead in this movie were a strong woman, which goes a little bit against the stereotype of a fairy tale princess…

Byron Howard: We knew Rapunzel had to have a lot of girl power. She and Flynn are the engine that drives this story, and making her too prissy or passive would have been cheating our audience. We love that Rapunzel’s not perfect, she’s quirky, funny and real. She has a very bohemian quality about her, painting her walls and running around the forest with bare feet through the mud. Above all, she’s much more like a real person, strong, smart interesting and flawed.

How did each of you get your start in the entertainment industry? Was animation always you passion?

Nathan Greno: I wanted to work for Disney ever since I was a kid. I was always into creating my own comic strips and comic books. I loved to create my own worlds and characters. I loved storytelling. My mom started taking me to see the Disney films when I was a kid and I fell in love with them. Disney created better stories and better characters than anyone. I wanted to go there and learn. I was in first grade when I told my parents I wanted to work for Disney. I guess things do work out in life if you want something bad enough.

BOTH: You have both worked on several films prior to Tangled. please explain the process of transitioning into the role of Director.

Byron Howard: Being an animation director is an amazing job. We are surrounded by the most skilled artists, composers and craftsmen in the film business. Nathan and I start at the very beginning of a film when there’s only an idea and thousands of blank storyboards, through to the end when the film premieres in theaters all over the world. In working with so many brilliant people along the way, we both become better filmmakers ourselves. I love my job.

Will you be working together on another Disney animation project, in the future?

Nathan Greno: Yep. We couldn’t be happier with the results of Tangled… we felt like we had no choice but to do this again! We pitched a few ideas to John Lasseter and we are currently developing another film… stay tuned!

Which Disney princess is your favorite?

Nathan Greno: Rapunzel, baby!

What are you most proud of with Tangled?

Byron Howard: I think we’re most proud of our crew. Nathan and I asked the world of them during our hectic production schedule and they delivered the most beautiful film anyone could imagine. It’s a great reward for all six hundred crew members to see people around the world falling in love with their work.

Did you have the cast of actors and actresses for this movie already planned out – or did you go into this project with an open mind for talent?

Byron Howard: Our audition process for TANGLED was unbelieveably huge. Nathan and I saw over three hundred actresses for the Rapunzel role alone. The benefit to doing that thorough of a search is that when you finally find the right actress, as we did in Mandy Moore, you really know that she’s the one.

What artists did you consult for the look of the film? It looks pre-Raphaelite to me.

Nathan Greno: We actually looked at the classic Disney films of the 1940’s and 50’s! We wanted Tangled to sit on the shelf next to Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo, Peter Pan — all of those great movies, but we wanted it to be fresh and different and modern as well. By going after a classic Disney look/style… and creating that look in the computer… we thought we could find that balance.

How important is music to an animated film?

Byron Howard: I think music is integral to all film. Every animated film shouldn’t be a musical, but songs, music or score can do so much to move an audience emotionally, and that’s a power we don’t take lightly. There are parts of TANGLED’s score that still make me tear up.

What were three main challenges you faced making Tangled?

Nathan Greno: The schedule was terrible. Usually you have 4 to 5 years to make one of these films. We only had 2. It was crazy. Lucky for us, we were working with a very devoted, hard working, talented crew. We all worked around the clock. We worked through weekends and holidays. We all believed in this film. We basically did the impossible. The film looks like it took 5 years to make… and it only took 2!

2010 was really, according to many, a great year for animated movies… Were you a little bit disappointed when that movie wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Especially this year, where many claimed that there should have been five nominees.

Byron Howard: Yes, we were initially very disappointed when TANGLED didn’t recieve an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. However, the day before the Oscar announcements we had shown the film at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, and the reaction from those kids and their parents is worth more to us than one million Oscars.

Seven years of research went into the creation of Rapunzel’s hair. Were you satisfied with the final result?

Nathan Greno: Without a doubt, YES! The hair looks amazing. You’ve never seen anything like it in any animated film. It’s just incredible. I have no idea how our tech crew made that hair work. I know it was a nightmare to figure out. I couldn’t be more proud of the results and of our team. They did a great job.

How was working on Tangled different to working on Bolt?

Nathan Greno: For Bolt I oversaw the story department. I worked with a team of artists – we came up with story and character ideas and sent them on to the next department. On Tangled, I am one of the directors. I now get to follow those story ideas through the creative process. I love my job. I still get to storyboard from time to time… I’d never want to give that up.

Family plays a very strong role in this film. What prompted you to explore the mother/daughter dynamic through the character of Rapunzel?

Byron Howard: Nathan and I were fascinated by this bizarre relationship that Gothel had created between herself and this kidnapped girl. To try to find out more about mother/daughter relationships, we asked a bunch of women from our studio to stay after one evening to have a chat about their relationships with their mothers. It turned into a therapy session! We were amazed at how brutal some of the things that their mothers would say to these women, but it was always coming from a place of “I know what’s best for you” or “I’m trying to keep you safe”. This push/pull that happens between parents and children is a rich, rich area to explore with classic tales like this.

Do you think that home viewers will miss out on some of the delights of seeing “Tangled” on the big screen with all the bells and whistles?

Byron Howard: The Blu-Ray looks extraordinary, so beauty-wise, I think the experience will echo the theater experience nicely. I do think there will always be something about viewing a film in an audience, hearing people all around you laugh, cry, and react to the story playing out in front of you. It’s a social, human thing that I don’t think will ever go away completely.

Why do you think it’s easier for some to look at stylized characters like the ones in “Tangled” instead of the motion capture ones like in “Polar Express?”

Nathan Greno: I personally enjoy the more stylized design because it’s not reality… if done well, it’s better than reality. You have more control over the appeal of the characters. I see the real world everyday, it’s fun to watch a movie and be taken on a journey that feels believable… but isn’t real. It’s all a matter of taste, but I really like stylized characters better. It’s just more fun.

How did you arrive at 70 feet of hair for Rapunzel? Is that length something that you guys settled on after some visual tests? Or is that how long someone’s hair would get if they didn’t actually cut it for 18 years?

Byron Howard: Actually, seventy feet is how long the hair had to be to reach the bottom of the tower. It was that simple. That said, there are times in the film where we add or subtract a little length depending on the needs of the scene.

Are there any hidden nods to other films included in Tangled that you can tell us to look out for?

Byron Howard: Look for Pinocchio hidden in the pub and in Rapunzel’s tower, each newell post on her staircase is painted with the symbol of Disney’s previous five princesses.

What advice do you have for kids who dream on one day directing?

Nathan Greno: Go for it! I grew up in a small, factory town in Wisconsin. It took a long time to get where I am, but I worked very hard and my dream came true. It’s possible to do whatever you want in life if you work hard enough.

At what age did you decide you’d like to work with Disney?

Nathan Greno: I was in 1st grade! That was a looong time ago…

The scene in the gondolas is a show-stopper. Where did the idea of the lanterns come from?

Byron Howard: The idea for the lantern scene came from John Ripa, one of our story artists. We needed something that Rapunzel could see from miles away, locked up in her tower, that would draw her out to the kingdom. We thought “Fireworks?” But that didn’t seem quite right. Then John mentioned this lantern ceremony that they do in Indonesia. We brought it up on YouTube and that was it, we knew that had to be in the movie. It’s perfect for CG as well, because we can actually create thirty to forty thousand of these beautiful things for the audience to marvel at.

How were you, as a storyboard director, considered as another director for Tangled?

Nathan Greno: John Lasseter asked me to direct the BOLT DVD short film. Byron helped me on that short — there were departments I never worked in before and Byron showed me the ropes. Lasseter really liked the job I did on the short and asked if I would like to direct a Rapunzel film for the studio. Yes! Of course! He asked if I would like to direct with anyone or by myself. I asked for Byron. Byron said yes… and today we have Tangled!

How was directing this feature with another director beside you? Were there any difficulties or is it a normal occurrence?

Byron Howard: I really prefer directing as part of a team. Nathan and I have very good chemistry together and we are constantly pushing each other to make sure the film is as good as it can be. The thing that saves us from any huge disagreements is our shared philosophy that whatever is best for the story, wins.

Why do you think you were able to get boys interested in a “Disney Princess” film?

Nathan Greno: Mostly because I don’t feel we made a “princess film”. Honestly, I feel we made a movie that has princess elements in it — but I wouldn’t call it a princess film. Tangled has a ton of action, a ton of humor, a ton of heart and emotion. It’s a film for everyone. Yes, we have a princess… but she doesn’t know she’s a princess. It was easy to get boys interested in the movie because we made a movie for everyone to enjoy.

Other than Tangled, what is your favorite Disney movie?

Nathan Greno: I love Dumbo! Best. Film. Ever.

What were three main challenges you faced making Tangled?

Byron Howard: 1. The schedule 2. The schedule 3. The schedule. Honestly, the film was challenging in a hundred ways, but the fact that we had to make this film in half the time of other features was the real bear. Happily, the film looks more amazing than we could’ve ever hoped for, but our poor crew really took a beating trying to hit those deadlines with Nathan and myself being so slavish to quality. We love our crew, and the fact that their work has made such a splash in the world really justifies all their hard work and sacrifice.

Did you get much sleep throughout the making of Tangled?

Nathan Greno: Zzzzzzz… what? Sorry. I missed the question…

Was there a character that was initially in the story, but was removed because they no longer fit within the story?

Byron Howard: We had a fortune-telling monkey that was very popular, but eventually we found that he wasn’t part of where the story needed to go. You can see a hint of him in the end credits.

Do you think you and Byron will become a directing duo from now on?

Nathan Greno: We already pitched new ideas to our boss, John Lasseter and we are currently working as a team developing one of those ideas into a feature film. So… YES!

Who thought up Flynn’s “smoulder” face? Was it based on anyone in particular?

Byron Howard: The smoulder is based on my directing buddy, Nathan. He has a way with the ladies.

Nine versions of Rapunzel were created before you settled on the final version. What were some of the other versions like?

Nathan Greno: Really? Nine? The idea of a Rapunzel movie has been around the Disney Animation Studio since the 1930’s… I bet there has been more than nine.

Who came up with the idea of the Rapunzel emotional whipsaw scene, where she’s jubilant to be out of her tower one moment and in tears because she’s betraying her mother’s trust the next. As any parent of a daughter will tell you, that moment in the movie such Rapunzel such a real. relateable character. So who came up with that story concept?

Byron Howard: That scene was storyboarded by story artist Marc Smith. That was one of the earliest scene we boarded in the film and it held fast as one of the key moments for the audience to connect with this young woman. Many people have commented on how true-to life that scene is.

What is your favorite song in Tangled?

Nathan Greno: I really love them all. I guess if I had to pick one… I would go with the pub song “I’ve Got a Dream”. It’s just silly and fun and crazy. It’s always wild to watch.

There’s some concept art in “The Art of Tangled” that shows Rapunzel’s love interest as more of a muscular commoner / farm boy, rather than a handsome rogue like Flynn Rider. Was this story idea seriously explored? Or just something that was considered?

Byron Howard: The burlier leading man was from a previous version of the movie. Nathan and I knew we wanted a dashing thief from the get-go, so Flynn, as you see him in the movie, evolved from that idea. And also from the “Hot Man Meeting” where we asked dozens of women at the studio to bring in pictures of their favorite hunky men to help us design Flynn. Being a guy in that meeting was brutal. Those ladies have high standards!

What was your favorite animated film growing up, has it inspired you up and until today?

Byron Howard: The animated film that made me want to be an animator was THE LITTLE MERMAID. Ariel was the first Disney heroine I had ever seen where there seemed to be a real soul behind those eyes. As soon as I saw that film, I knew I wanted to be a part of Disney Animation. Little did I know that I’d wind up working on TANGLED with Ariel’s creator, legendary animator Glen Keane. Life’s good.

How was the did the idea for “hot man” meetings come up?

Nathan Greno: We had a great design for Rapunzel. She was super cute and incredibly appealing. We needed Flynn to be up to that level, so we had this crazy idea to bring all of the women of the studio into a room and ask them what they thought made up a “hot man”. It was a crazy meeting. Crazy. Photos of all the hottest men in Hollywood being thrown around a room. Photos being torn in half and pasted back together. Eyes were ripped from one picture and put on another. Heads were torn from photos. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m happy to be alive.

In what way was Rapunzel inspired by Ariel in The Little Mermaid?

Byron Howard: I think Rapunzel is like Ariel in that they come across as very real young women. That was very important to us for Rapunzel, because the more you can relate and identify with these characters, the greater your emotional response will be to the journey that they take on screen.

How do you think Rapunzel stacks up against the long line of Disney princesses? And what do you think she’s brought to the table which is fresh or new?

Nathan Greno: Rapunzel is the most modern of all the Disney Princesses. She is full of GIRL POWER. We love that about her. She doesn’t wait around to be rescued. She takes matters into her own hands. She’s a fun, funny and silly girl. She’s very talented and smart. We wanted to make a role model for modern kids. We were really happy with the way she turned out.

Was Tangled always going to be Disney’s 50th animation film? Or, did it just come about like that?

Byron Howard: It was a big surprise to us that we were Disney Animation’s fiftieth animated feature. It added more pressure for sure, but we love that our film holds that important place in Disney history.

Was Flynn’s facial hair based off your own?

Nathan Greno: It was in my contract… one of the Tangled characters had to have my facial hair.

Had you two ever worked together on a film before? You two seem to work very well together.

Nathan Greno: We fight all the time when the cameras are off. Nah. We get along really well. It’s hard to find someone you can work with everyday. I guess we got lucky.

How do you think Tangled has changed the future of Disney films?

Byron Howard: I think that TANGLED proves that this studio can make smart, contemporary films that still retain everything that the audience loves about traditional Disney filmmaking. The slate of upcoming projects coming up from our studio excites me because they’re not what you would expect. It’s a great time to be a part of this studio.

What is your favorite song in Tangled?

Byron Howard: Mine personally, is “I See the Light”. The moment we heard Alan Menken’s demo we knew that one would be a classic.

Were there any traits in Rapunzel that were directly from Mandy Moore such as her being barefoot constantly, or the short brown hair at the end of the film?

Byron Howard: Mandy and Rapunzel definitely have similarities. They’re both incredibly smart, funny, artistic young women, and unbeknownst to us, Mandy jumps out of airplanes! Just like Rapunzel leaps off cliffs and swings from the rafters. Adventurous young women as well.

How involved is John Lasseter during the whole process?

Nathan Greno: John has to approve everything we do and that guy only wants the best. It’s amazing working with him. I’ve learned a lot from John. He lets you get your vision of the film up on the screen… and he brings out the best in you and your work. What could be better?

What advice would you give to people who want to break into the entertainment industry?

Byron Howard: Do what you love and do it with passion. Passionate people really push every industry ahead, including animation.

Did you get much sleep throughout the making of Tangled?

Byron Howard: Nope.

BOTH: How long did you need to prep for the roles of Thug #1 and #2 and Guard #1 and #2

Nathan Greno: It takes YEARS of practice to pull off roles like “Thug #1” and “Guard #1”. Kids, please don’t try that at home.

Do you know how many layers of animation were involved to create Rapunzel’s hair?

Byron Howard: Rapunzel’s amazing head of hair has over 100,000 strands.

Spread the love

Related Posts


    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Thanks for submitting your comment!