Last year, I spent a number of months working on the Fox movie “Alvin And The Chipmunks” as the assistant to the animation director. And while that often meant staying in my office and organizing and Xeroxing storyboards, I did manage to visit every set that was used. So when Fox decided not to put a commentary track on the new “Alvin” DVD, I thought I would do one. So start the movie (I bought mine on sale at Borders yesterday) and follow along…
:49 – The second unit spent a few days in the Sierra Mountains of California to get this forest footage.
1:16 – The tree the Chipmunks live in was created on a soundstage at Sunset-Gower Studios in Hollywood. All through the filming of the movie, there was debate going on between the producers, the animation staff and the studio on how the Chipmunks should look. Obviously, they eventually came to an agreement.
Every scene with the Chipmunks was storyboarded. That means artists would draw every action of each Chipmunk scene, doing two drawings on each piece of paper. The storyboards were important to show the filmmakers where the Chipmunks would be inserted and what they would be doing, as they were put in after filming by computer magic. My job was to keep the storyboards in order and make sure they were kept up to date. Every time the script changed, the storyboards had to be re-drawn to fit the new action taking place.
3:04 – This exterior is a real courtyard in Hollywood.
3:10 – There’s my boss’s name, Animation Supervisor Chris Bailey. In addition to supervising the storyboard artists, one of Chris’ jobs was to be on set whenever they were filming a scene that included the Chipmunks to make sure the scene was shot correctly to allow the later insertion of the Chips. They had Chipmunk dolls (called stuffies) attached to poles, so they would run through the scene with the stuffies so the actors and cameramen could see where the animals would eventually be , then take the stuffies away and shoot the scene.
3:16 – Our first look at the interior of Dave’s house. The entire interior and walkway in front of the house was built on a soundstage at Sunset-Gower. The director, Tim Hill, did a great job of mixing the exteriors shot at the apartment complex with the footage shot on stage.
I admit I wasn’t sure if Jason Lee would make a good David Seville when he was first cast because Jason has previously shined in movies where he’s shown a bit of laidback charm, and I knew this role would call for more energy. But he did a great job and was certainly able to yell “Alviiin!” like a pro.
3:42 – There’s the list of executive producers. Let’s give a shout-out to Michele Imperato Stabile, who hired me for the movie.
4:01 – Here’s our first look at the lovely Cameron Richardson, who you may remember from the epiosde of “House” where she played a young fashion model.
5:08 – The scenes at Jett Records were filmed at L.A.’s Gas Company Tower downtown. In fact, this was the location during the first day of filming on March 31, 2007. As it was nowhere near Christmas when the movie was shot, all the Xmas decorations you see were added by the set decorators.
5:25 – Whenever the Chipmunks make an appearance in a scene, their voices on set were provided by three vocal stand-ins, once of whom was Vanessa Bagdasarian, daughter of executive producers Ross Bagdasarian and Janice Karman. Actors Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney recorded their voices for Alvin, Simon and Theordore after the movie was finished with principal photography.
By the way, the voices of the Chipmunks are recorded by speaking very slowly into a tape recorder, then speeding up the tape. The trick is to be able to have emotion in your voice while you’re talking so slowly.
9:46 – See outside the door? That’s on the soundstage.
13:35 – You have to hand it to Jason Lee. He did all this without a Chipmunk in sight!
21:42 – Dave writes “The Chipmunk Song,” which in the original version was a number one hit in December, 1958. It sold more than 2, 500, 000 copies in three weeks and won three Grammys.
22:28 – Notice Spongebob on TV? Director Tim Hill once worked as a writer on the show.
24:15 – The movie is dedicated to Ross Bagdasarian, who created the Chipmunks and was the original David Seville. But his son, executive producer Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., also inserted a few more subtle tributes to his late father, and here’s one of them. The piano used by Jason Lee is the original one that Ross first wrote songs like “Witch Doctor” and “The Chipmunk Song” on.
By the way, Alvin, Simon and Theodore were named after executives at Bagdasarian’s record company, Liberty Records. Alvin was named for Al Bennett, president of the label, Simon for Bennett’s partner, Si Waronker and Theodore for Ted Keep, a recording engineer.
29:42 – One of the storyboard artists stayed late one night to finish the Chipmunks’ “coloring project.” I swear to you that he’s a better artist than that.
34:04 – Notice Dave’s address is 1958, the year that “Witch Doctor” and “The Chipmunk Song” first hit number one. Another tribute from Ross Bagdasarian to his father.
34:50 – In the script, the writers suggested the song should be “Let’s Get It On,” but I guess that didn’t work out.
40:06 – What a house! The mansion was located in Thousand Oaks. I heard it was up for sale at the time… if you had $ 23 million on hand! On the positive side, it did include a lot of land.
43:36 – Amoeba Music in L.A., just blocks away from the production offices at Sunset-Gower Studios.
50:50 – It says Stage 1 and it is. The set decorators and art department did a great job of making this soundstage at Sunset-Gower look impressive. Normally the soundstage is used by the TV show, “Heroes.” In fact, you can’t see it, but one side of the room past the curtains contains the balcony set where so much of the action on “Heroes” takes place.
51:05 – See that “Witch Doctor” wall hanging? Animation supervisor Chris Bailey took it home to use as a decoration. The real trick was fitting the two halves into his car!
51:39 – The Chipmunks perform “Witch Doctor.” The song was inspired by a book Ross Bagdasarian owned called “Duel With The Witch Doctor.”
1:01:27 – More scenes at the mansion. I later recognized this house used as a set for a scene in the pilot of the Fox TV show, “Drive.”
1:02:45 – Unlike the interiors of Dave’s house, all the scenes inside the mansion were actually filmed there.
1:06:07 – See the guy looking in the camera’s viewfinder. That’s a cameo appearance by executive producer Ross Bagdasarian, son of the Chipmunks’ creator.
1:06:14 – One thing has always bothered me about the movie. How could Dave afford such a nice house and yet drive such a crappy car?
1:08:24 – While the movie did film concert scenes at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles, they were only there shooting for a few days. So they built an exact replica of the theater’s stage back at Sunset-Gower for scenes like this.
1:13:14 – The roof scene was shot in front of a screen on a Sunset-Gower soundstage. They built a small bit of roof just for the scene.
1:14:16 – There’s the exterior of the Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles. You may recognize it from use during Hollywood Week on “American Idol” over the years.
1:20:26 – This scene was a real challenge for the storyboard artists, as they tried to come up with ways for the Chipmunks to cause trouble using what was already on the set.
1:28:26 – I hope you’re still watching, because otherwise you’d miss the highlight of the movie… my name in the credits!