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Angry Birds director on what it was like to beat Captain America at the box office

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Image used with permission by copyright holder
Rovio Entertainment has proven that its Angry Birds franchise still has wings nearly seven years after the its mobile gaming debut. The Finnish developer has seen its $73 million computer-generated film The Angry Birds Movie soar at the box office with over $222.5 million worldwide since its release earlier this month.

The movie, which earned a B+ average on, is the result of a collaboration between first-time directors Fergal Reilly and Clay Kaytis. Rovio creatives, including Mikko Polla and Mikael Hed, collaborated on the origin story.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“The original game was just a phenomenon, and a lot of people have tried to figure out how that happened, but I think a lot of it is that it started off where you had these little characters that you could sling shot around,” Reilly told Digital Trends. “They were characters in the loosest possible sense, and the original Angry Birds designs in this game had this graphic simplicity that for some reason people really loved the characters. Our job on the movie was to take that to the next level and actually create fully-formed comedic personalities that could stand alongside any of the current animated characters from Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Blue Sky, or Illumination, that are in the marketplace.”

Our movie was a little movie when compared to a Marvel movie like Captain America: Civil War, which I’m sure had a budget close to $200 million.

Though it faced a three weekend old Captain America: Civil War, beating a Disney/Marvel movie to top the box office is no easy feat. Reilly previously worked with director Sam Raimi to bring one of that film’s characters to life back in Spider-Man 2.

“I absolutely love the Marvel cinematic universe,” Reilly said. “As an artist, I grew up on that stuff, and I had the opportunity to bring Spider-Man to life back in 2003. Creating those action set pieces with Sam Raimi for Spider-Man 2 was one of the greatest joys I ever had, and I have a deep, deep loyalty to the original comic book art. So to go up against something like the established characters of the Marvel Universe with something new is going to be a challenge no matter what movie you’re making. Captain America and Iron Man and those characters have already made their huge imprint on the film cultural landscape of the entire world.”

Then again, Rovio’s Angry Birds games have been downloaded over 3.5 billion times and the franchise boasts over 100 million active players worldwide.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“We just wanted to make a movie that we thought was really funny and that audiences would enjoy,” Reilly said. “To have this amazing audience reaction to the movie is an amazing feeling. I’s hard to compare it going up against Marvel just because the audiences are quite different for both movies. The Marvel movies maybe skew older than our movie would, but I’m thrilled that we had such a great response from the audiences around the world. We were number one in both the U.S. and China. Our movie was a little movie — even with a $73 million budget — when compared to a Marvel movie like Captain America: Civil War, which I’m sure had a budget close to $200 million.”

While most Hollywood video game adaptations — with the exception of Sony Pictures’ Resident Evil franchise — have crashed and burned at the box office, it’s rare that a game studio is in the creative driver’s seat with these translations (Ubisoft is one exception to this rule, having established its own movie division).

“Rovio took the entire creation of the movie on themselves,” Reilly said. “The easy way to make this movie would have been to sell the rights to a big studio that was very experienced in making these animated movies. But Mikael (Hed) decided to make it ourselves and create a studio from scratch. And then the work was done by Sony Pictures ImageWorks in Vancouver, and that was even a new thing for them, to take on a property and create it entirely from scratch with Rovio being the partner in creative control. Rovio is a relatively young company, but from the very beginning, they’ve known how to market their properties in an environment that has been changing rapidly over the last 10 years.”

Rovio took the entire creation of the movie on themselves. The easy way would have been to sell the rights to a big studio.

Rovio also launched a brand new Angry Birds Action! mobile game that ties into the movie and even uses new audio technology to unlock exclusive content and an alternate ending inside the game (instead of on the big screen after the credits). Reilly said Rovio decided very early on that they wanted a game concept to match the movie and work with it. And the concept of bringing the alternate ending to the game world seemed like  a natural fit.

fergalreillyReilly said the creative team drew approximately 70,000 storyboards during the development process, but a lot of humorous scenes ended up on the cutting room floor:

“We had a scene in the cave with Chuck, Red, and Bomb where Mighty Eagle is doing an interrogation at night in his cave by a campfire and he’s asking them the weirdest questions. It turns into a therapy session where Bomb completely confesses his insecurities to Mighty Eagle, and Mighty Eagle is not even really that interested. It’s just a mind game that he’s playing with these three characters, pretending to be this all-wise guru …. He’s like the Wizard of Oz. Mighty Eagle is not what he appears to be when Red first meets him.”

Reilly said there’s plenty of material for the Blu-ray and DVD release of the movie later this year. And Wilhelm Taht, executive vice president of games at Rovio, told us that his company has some “additional tricks up its sleeve” for the home entertainment release of The Angry Birds Movie.

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John Gaudiosi
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for over 25 years, dating back to his work for The Washington Post while in…
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