After stints working on the visual effects for Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, Kiwi computer genius Andrew Adamson came up with a killer calling card in Hollywood: his directorial debut starring a certain smelly green ogre named Shrek. Since then, he's gone and created the highest earning animated film ever - not to mention the funniest feline in movie history with Puss In Boots - in Shrek 2. Now he's going head to head with countryman Peter Jackson's King Kong and bringing his $150 million adaptation of CS Lewis' The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe to the big screen.
What was it like swapping Shrek for Narnia?
It was great to be able to switch from one to the other. Someone was saying Shrek was irreverent while this was very reverent. We have ogres in both films but they look very different. Having done comedy, doing something that was more dramatic was an interesting change. It was kind of satisfying to be doing both at the same time; I could exercise both sides of the mind.
But did you miss the humour?
I didn't miss the broad humour; at the same time there are humorous characters in both films. Mr Beaver is as appealing in a different way as Puss in Boots is; it's a lot less broad, but he's still basically a comedic character. The beavers are definitely the broadest characters in the film. The book is quite sombre, and I wanted there to be moments that are more light-hearted. I think you need the relief of being able to laugh in order to enjoy the more dramatic moments - to have the contrast between light and dark.
How do you feel about being compared to Lord Of The Rings?
There's worse things to be compared to. CS Lewis and Tolkein were contemporaries, they're both epic fantasy stories. I think ultimately they're very different films, with stories that are very different. Theirs is about a dying world that's pure fantasy; this is a story about a family from our world, disempowered, pushed around by WW2, who step into a fantasy land where they're empowered - the kids become the leaders of this world so to speak. I see this as an intimate family drama taken to epic proportions, as opposed to an epic fantasy story.
How long did it take to the cast the film, especially the Pevensie children?
It was a big search; we looked for a little over a year and I looked at 2,500 children on tape. I workshopped almost 400 kids, but in nearly every case we knew right away - I saw Georgie on tape and fell in love with her straight away... For a kid of eight-years-old she was capable of making incredible acting choices, and if you could direct that and contain that she would be great.
Aslan, of course, is the emotional centre of the story. How did you start to create him?
There were two things at the inception of this that I knew had to be convincing. One was the kids - they are our window to this world and they had to be believable. And the other was Aslan: he's such a great presence in the book, I didn't want people to be going, "That's a great CG lion." I wanted them to accept him as a character, and the moment Lucy reaches out and touches his mane had to be emotional. It couldn't be a matter of someone sitting there going "How did they do that?" and looking for the trickery. So I started working with Rhythm & Hues for two and a half years, so that by the time we came round to making the film we'd have figured out how to do it. It was a long period, but by the time we'd figured out how to do Aslan he ended up one of the easiest things to do in the film.
But how did you do it? Was it entirely computer generated or did you use models?
There were a couple of animatronics. There was a riding lion where we put a CG lion underneath, and there was the animatronic we used on the stone table, and also for some of the moments when he was being dragged. It was probably 98% CG and 2% animatronic.
Did you use any real animals?
We used wolves; the wolves are a combination of real animals and CG. They're the only ones. It was difficult to get the animals into New Zealand, and they're also hard to control - we didn't want to put the children with a real lion! I wanted to see a pack of wolves running, which is a scary image that's very hard to capture using just animation. I wanted to be able to switch between CG and real wolves which in some ways made it more challenging.
What's your attitude towards the religious reading of CS Lewis' story?
It's open to the audience to interpret. The book has been interpreted in many different ways. I read it as a child and accepted it as a pure adventure story, and the movie is open to that same interpretation - it's an accurate representation of the book. I think the religious aspect is something the press is a lot more interested in than the world at large. People say it's a religious allegory and I say, did you think the same about The Matrix?
Liam Neeson replaced Brian Cox as the voice of Aslan. How did that come about?
That was a difficult thing. I'm a huge fan of Brian Cox, and I think in some ways my admiration of him made me overlook for a while that it wasn't really working, and he knew it wasn't either. When I talked to him about it he said he'd been a stalking horse - ultimately the work we've done together will help you find the character. I think he was right; whenever we put his voice to the lion it didn't seem right. But then before finding Liam I did go off and rewrite the character and make him more vulnerable, which gave Liam more to hang on to. Liam was a fantastic find; he actually chased me down, asked if he could read for me. He just has this warmth and resonance and power that was just so important for the character. And I also wanted him to have no particular ethnicity, to not be able to place the accent. By making him do a softer version of his own accent it made him seem somewhat otherworldly.
Why do you finish on the final battle?
Interestingly enough, when I read the book as an adult I wondered where the battle had gone, because I remembered it. I think it's a tribute to the way CS Lewis wrote. In the book it's a page and a half in retrospect; it's Peter telling us what happened while he was away. The effect of reading that is you imagine it, and I think over the years my imagination expanded it - your memory of the battle grows as your experience increases. I thought it was important a film does visually what the book does for your imagination. It is the climax of the film, it is the battle between good and evil, it's what the whole film is heading towards. So it had to have a big visual impact.
Are you signed on for the sequel?
I'm not sure I'll be back for a sequel; I probably will but I'm mainly looking forward to a vacation! I think Prince Caspian will be the next one; we've started playing around with the story and we hope to hang on to the kids. We need to do it before Skandar has a moustache and is in college! As it is his voice broke towards the end of this film, so we need to get to it fairly soon.
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 8th December 2005.