July 18, 2008

Chimps Writer Sees Similarites in Filmmaking, Exploring Space: Lengthy Process Was a Mission of Discovery

By Lana Berkowitz, Houston Chronicle

Jul. 18--The Houston premiere of Space Chimps for NASA families Thursday evening put filmmaker Rob Moreland in orbit.

You may be familiar with Moreland's work. He wrote for Happily N'Ever After, Thunder Pig, Ground Control and Space Marines. Or you may know his very early work, which premiered at Kinkaid School.

When he was about 8, the Houston native commandeered his father's home movie camera to make sci-fi comedies. He remembers his first film was called Vanishing Cream.

"It was very high-tech," said Moreland, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two kids.

The budding filmmaker got support from family, friends and even teachers. With some classmates at Kinkaid, he launched a production company.

"We moved into horror comedy, and we had screenings at school," said Moreland, class of '83.

After college he took an internship with a film/TV producer in New York although he had been nominated for a Fulbright Scholarship to study Latin American literature in South America.

During those days, Moreland met several of his colleagues at Vanguard Animation, including John H. Williams, producer for the Shrek films and Space Chimps.

Space Chimps follows the adventures of chimps who are sent through a wormhole in space to see if it's safe for humans.

It's a goofy romp featuring Ham III, the grandson of Ham, the name of the real first astrochimp launched in 1961. Andy Samberg provides the voice of Ham III.

His co-pilots are voiced by Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Patrick Warburton (omnipresent actor who will always be known as Seinfeld's Puddy).

"To be able to work on an animated movie touching on some of those themes of heroism and space exploration is really exciting for me," said the writer who admits he owned a Major Matt Mason doll when he was a kid.

Moreland compares making independently produced animated movies to going on a space mission.

"It's not as noble and not as historical, but it does take many years to get there, and sometimes you get to a place where you are discovering as much as you are creating," he said.

Space Chimps was in production for two years.

He also can compare Space Chimps' $37 million budget with the cost of WALL-E, $180 million, and Kung-Fu Panda, $130 million.

Space Chimps uses animation in a different way, Moreland said.

"Our movie really has more to do with Men in Black or Galaxy Quest or Bill Murray in Meatballs. It is a comedy in its bones."

Moreland's next project is Somewhere, an action adventure based on The Wizard of Oz with some Lord of the Rings influences.

"It's kind of an epic, really visually cool movie. The concept art is being done by Keith Graves, an Austin-based artist and book author, and the director will be Mike Johnson, who made The Corpse Bride. That is going to be a very scary, fun adventure story."

Although there are more animation projects in his future, he also likes live-action work.

"It's all just storytelling. I think when I was growing up in Houston and I had my dad's 8 mm camera, I was using the tools at hand to make up stories and tell them. Now we have these great tools that we are able to use in animation."

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