Sims: To make an animated film.
Hooper: Yes, and obviously at some point he’d thought that wasn’t quite right. So is the reason it’s never been made because we’ve never figured out what [the cats] should look like? And has visual-effects technology opened up a kind of portal into a way of doing it that might solve that problem? I still explored the prosthetics route and spent six months on it, but it had so many problems attached. With full-face prosthetics you lost too much performance, and your ears still don’t move so you have to go full CGI for the ears. What’s fascinating is, three years ago, the best visual-effects guys in the business were like, “What you want to do cannot be done.”
Sims: Because fur is the biggest challenge.
Hooper: Yes, and blending it onto the actual face. In their world, it’s easy to just replace the face, rebuild it in a computer, and then animate the face. But why on Earth would I ever want to replace Ian McKellen’s face and try and animate a proxy face? That’d be insane. So three years ago they were like, “What you’re doing is too hard; the ability to track it in that detail is just not there.” Two years ago, they were like, “You can do it, but it’s crazily expensive.” And then a year and a bit ago, they were like, “You can do it, and it’s just about affordable.” It’s dizzying, the speed of that [change].
Sims: [The process] was described to me as essentially taking the actor’s skin off and then putting fur over that.
Hooper: It is literally layering [the fur] on but being able to feather it with a level of finesse you couldn’t do with physical makeup.
Sims: I know with Les Mis you had all of your actors singing live on set. Did you do that here?
Hooper: [Slams table] Absolutely! Start to finish, everything is live! A couple of naysayers were like, “But they’re dancing; how could they sing live?” And it’s like, “Have you been to Broadway?”
Sims: That is the show, singing and dancing.
Hooper: The dancers are without a doubt, athletically speaking, the most fit people on the planet. They can certainly sing and dance. I also felt, given there was a visual-effects aspect to the shooting, that I wanted to keep it very grounded in the present moment. The thing I’m most proud of is that you feel grounded watching it; it’s not that fantastical.
Sims: Watching it, still, there’s a decision your brain has to make, like, I understand that these are tall, furry, naked people.
Hooper: Naked is your word. [Laughs]
Sims: Yes, naked is my word, but they largely don’t have clothes on. Once that switch flips, then there’s a weird sort of hyper-reality to it.
Hooper: And that was the fun of it, trying to pull off that hyper-reality. I genuinely feel like it’s a great film to see in the cinema, because you’re being transported to a hyper-real world. The decision to be in that room, turn your phone off, commit—that’s the best way to see it.