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Behind the Production of Tom and Jerry

Cute, clever and cunning as ever, Jerry Mouse—as his tiny business card boldly states—is on a mission to find the perfect little house for himself in the biggest city of them all, New York. Along the way, he stumbles upon piano cat grifter Tom as he’s entertaining passersby for a few bucks in Central Park. Naturally, calamity ensues, leaving Tom without a job, a keyboard, or the pile of cash he had amassed. 

(L-r) JERRY and TOM in Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,”
(L-r) JERRY and TOM in Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

After giving the angry feline the slip, Jerry sets himself up in the swankiest hotel in town, the Royal Gate, helping himself to its finest amenities—right under the noses of the staff, including newly hired events planner Kayla. Having fibbed about her credentials, she hopes to hang onto the gig by hiring the perfect mouse hunter: Tom. Revenge suddenly within his paws, Tom’s only got mere days to take Jerry down and out before the hotel hosts the wedding deemed the social event of the season…preferably rodent-free! 

To create all the creatures great and small, the Animation Department—comprised of 29 people, 19 in the UK, 10 in Los Angeles—was divided into three sections: Production, consisting of the animation producer and animation coordinator, both overseeing and managing the department; Editorial, made up of an editor and two assistants, cutting the animation together and locking down timings and outputs; and the Animators, making up the bulk of the department. 

Undoubtedly influenced by the original Tom and Jerry animations, the department had more than 100 episodes on their collective server as reference material—although they artists had all watched the original cartoons as children and into adulthood, learning from the comic timing the original animators had perfected. In fact, story artist Dino Athanassiou had met William Hanna in the early 1980s, and storyboard artist Phil Vallentin knew both Hanna and Joseph Barbera personally. Other members of the team had worked on hybrids before, including “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and the original “Space Jam.” 

Altogether, a huge number of drawings were created throughout the process, with approximately 15,000 in the pre-shoot phase, and 900 weekly in the post-shoot phase over 26 weeks, amounting to an additional 25,000.

Location and Design

Filming for “Tom and Jerry” took place primarily at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, and in two key locations: Battersea Park, London, which doubled nicely for the busier parts of New York’s famed Central Park, including where Tom sets up his keyboard; and about 20 miles outside the city at Fulmer Wood in Slough, which stood in for its woodier, less-traversed areas. For authenticity, an extensive 2nd unit had been mounted in the real New York City, and the design team then matched the locations, ultimately building 47 sets utilizing three stages on the Leavesden backlot. Every environment had to consider both the live-action and animated characters that would be featured within. 

Production designer James Hambidge’s team chose a simple color palette, making sure that leads Tom and Jerry’s pantones were not replicated anywhere they would be featured. They also paid careful attention to such things as the height of furniture, taking Jerry’s small stature under consideration. This they did hand-in-hand with director of photography Alan Stewart, in order to determine elevated camera positions necessary given their “stars” perspectives, or how much more the floor, for example, would be visible.

(L-r) Producer CHRIS DeFARIA and Director TIM STORY on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,”
(L-r) Producer CHRIS DeFARIA and Director TIM STORY on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,” (Photo: Kerry Brown/Warner Bros. Pictures)

The Royal Gate Hotel, meant to be on par with such real establishments as the Plaza or the Waldorf Astoria, is where most of the action takes place in the movie and therefore required numerous sets, including an opulent lobby, a bar, the bride and groom’s penthouse suite, Kayla’s corner suite, DuBros’ office, a hallway, the kitchen and the grand hall. Influences and inspirations from Art Deco, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louise Kahn and Louise Sullivan can be seen throughout; the lobby’s elegant floral arrangements were inspired by the George V in Paris. 

To create the hotel’s main entrance, the design team had just eight weeks to turn the backlot’s 1920s Paris of the second “Fantastic Beasts” film into contemporary New York City. One thing remained, however: the practical steam machine system devised for the previous movie was re-installed under the road to feed steam through the manhole covers, giving Tom and Jerry’s Manhattan a genuine feel. 

For the Jamaican Street market featured in the film, 12 real vendors arrived with their stalls to lend authenticity to the scene. The production also devised their own food trucks, such as Mel’s Meatpackers and Cornelius Hot Ribs, hiring airstreams from TLO, an action vehicle company, and added a few other stalls selling vinyl records, flowers, fabrics and coconuts.  

For Ben and Preeta’s extravagant wedding at the hotel, Hambidge’s set decorator, Niamh Coulter, and her team conducted an enormous amount of research into Indian weddings, seeking to strike a balance between Ben going completely over the top, as the script dictated, and a very high-end, classy affair as befitting the locale. Coulter and her assistant traveled to India to source the Mandap—where the ceremony takes place—and also purchased the thrones and a host of other furnishings. 

One of the most charming pieces of furniture, however, was created by the props department, who crafted tiny director’s chairs for Tom and Jerry. 

But it was Story’s special and visual effects teams who would create the “real” Tom—along with several other reference animals—in the form of various three-dimensional puppets for Tom, Jerry, Toots, a Spike head, a Bengal tiger head and a life-size, maneuverable, collapsible elephant. Using both modern and traditional scaling techniques, each one was initially 3D-printed on a smaller scale before being up-scaled in Plastazote, a polyethylene foam. Tom puppets were made of polyurethane foam with an aluminum armature, creating a full-size puppeteer model to provide instant “reactions” to the cast during shooting, as well as furry maquettes for both leads, manufactured to aid lighting reference on set and volume on camera. Six puppeteers were on hand to operate the faux menagerie. 

“Normally, when you do a movie like this, you act with a tennis ball,” Peña states, “so it was really nice to work with actual puppeteers. It really livened up the interactions in a scene and made you feel like you were communicating to whichever animal, which was much easier to do.” 

Moretz, who of all the cast had perhaps the most scenes with Tom and Jerry, agrees. “First and foremost it was a great experience to act opposite the puppeteers!” It also required a little getting used to, and made for comedic moments off-screen, she admits. “It was interesting, to say the least—and never a dull moment!” 

(L-r) PALLAVI SHARDA as Preeta and COLIN JOST as Ben atop MALCOLM and CECIL in Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,”
(L-r) PALLAVI SHARDA as Preeta and COLIN JOST as Ben atop MALCOLM and CECIL in Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

The SFX team also designed and constructed two bespoke elephant rigs to simulate Cecil and Malcolm walking. This was achieved by syncing motors and air-bellows to create the lumbering giants. The motion was especially programmed to the visual effects’ walk cycle. 

While some of the cast was, of course, animated, the majority was human. Costume designer Alison McCosh and her team were responsible for creating looks them all—some 80 principal cast costumes and 1,750 crowd costumes were made or purchased. 

KEN JEONG as Chef Jackie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,”
KEN JEONG as Chef Jackie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,” (Photo: Daniel Smith/Warner Bros. Pictures)

For Moretz’s Kayla, McCosh’s influence was New York, so she created a laid back, understated, urban street personal style for the character, using black and gray, a dash of floral and cinnamon, but overall muted tones. 

Both Michael Peña and Rob Delaney’s characters, Terence and Mr. Dubros, are all business, so McCosh put them in suits—gray and pinstripe for the former, navy for the latter. 

Her inspiration for Ben was New York’s Upper Westside—pulled together but understated in suede, cashmere, lightweight cotton, and wools. For his bride-to-be, Preeta, McCosh pulled in a hint of Indian culture with feminine brocade fabrics and prints in silk, lace, cotton and linen. And her Hindu wedding dress was sourced from an Indian designer.

The Production

Director Tim Story was eager to take on the classic dueling duo for a modern movie audience. “When it comes to humor, Tom and Jerry—with their slapstick, over-the-top physical comedy—transcend time,” he states. “What we’ve done with this film is to take this historical pair as you would normally see them in, say, a house, but put them on a much bigger canvas. Now, they’re inside a huge hotel and in the presence of actual humans. Not necessarily talking with them, of course, but definitely interacting with them.” 

(L-r Foreground, Left) MICHAEL PEÑA and Director TIM STORY on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,”
(L-r Foreground, Left) MICHAEL PEÑA and Director TIM STORY on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,” (Photo: Kerry Brown/Warner Bros. Pictures)

And causing all kinds of mayhem. “We stayed true to the original characters,” Story assures, “so basically they are running around, beating each other up…all the things you’re used to seeing Tom and Jerry do. The action is all in keeping with these characters as we’ve always known them.” 

As fans have known them but, as producer Chris DeFaria notes, “Audiences will see Tom and Jerry in a way I don’t think anybody’s ever seen before: a hybrid film with the classic animation that allows us to bring all the crazy stunts and gags people associate with the original cartoons into a live-action, real-world environment.” 

(L-r) Director TIM STORY, MICHAEL PEÑA and ROB DELANEY on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,”
(L-r) Director TIM STORY, MICHAEL PEÑA and ROB DELANEY on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,” (Photo: Daniel Smith/Warner Bros. Pictures)

In that real world, Chloë Grace Moretz plays Kayla who, like both Tom and Jerry, is a bit of a con artist herself. The actress has been a fan of the frenemies as far back as she can remember. “Since I was a little girl, probably before I could really comprehend cartoons, I started watching Tom and Jerry. There’s just something hilarious about them, they’re kind of like the Three Stooges: going head to head and pummeling each other, but at the end of the day they’re probably best friends,” she says. “I’m a big fan of Hanna-Barbera in general. As a little girl growing up with four older brothers, we had those cartoons on all the time.” 

(L-r) CHLOË GRACE MORETZ and Director TIM STORY on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,”
(L-r) CHLOË GRACE MORETZ and Director TIM STORY on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ animated/live-action adventure “TOM AND JERRY,” (Photo: Daniel Smith/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Screenwriter Kevin Costello who felt responsible to live up to the legends, says, “Working on ‘Tom and Jerry’ was a hugely exciting and intimidating experience. There’s a reason these characters are still so popular, 81 years later, all over the world, and I wanted to be extremely careful to honor that. Tom and Jerry had to be themselves—look like themselves, not talk like themselves and, obviously, engage in absurd, gleeful, over-the-top cartoon violence. I had so much fun going through the old shorts, trying to break everything down on a character level, and finding ways to recontextualize classic elements in a way that felt nostalgic but new.” 

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