Shrek Forever After: A New Villain

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Rumpelstilskin, played by Walt Dohrn, is the newest villain in “Shrek Forever After,” directed by Mike Mitchell and starring Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Eddie Murphy. The film is being released in 3-D and IMAX by Dreamworks Animation on May 21, 2010.

With such established villains as Lord Farquaad, Prince Charming and Fairy Godmother, the production team had its work cut out in creating yet another antagonist intent on ruining Shrek and Fiona’s happiness. “The villains from all the Shrek films are so great,” says Walt Dohrn, head of story. “We asked, ‘What do we do to get to that level of villain? How do we create a fresh new villain suitable for the final face-off with Shrek?'”

A Storied Character

Storytelling is a timeless tradition passed on from generation to generation. In 1812 under the Tales of Children and the Home, the brothers Grimm published their first book of fairy tales. Among the most memorable of the tales was the story Rumpelstiltskin, a fairy tale that tells of a magical character that visits a miller’s daughter, locked away in a tower and forced to spin straw into gold or face execution by the king. The end result of the fairy tale tells a cautionary tale of bragging and the consequences of promises and deals. The story of Rumpelstiltskin has endured nearly two hundred years.

In the great storytelling tradition of the past, DreamWorks Animation created a modern fractured fairy tale in Shrek. It seemed almost serendipitous that the green ogre be paired up with one of literature’s most memorable villains in “Shrek Forever After.”

“We pretty much knew from the onset that Rumpelstiltskin would be our villain,” says executive producer Aron Warner. “We just didn’t know what kind of villain he’d turn out to be.” As the development process progressed, the personality of Rumpel began to take shape, resulting in one of the strongest new characters in any of the Shrek films.

A New Look for Rumpel

Having worked on previous Shrek films in the story department, director Mike Mitchell led the task of working with the story crew and animators in fleshing out the creative direction that Rumpel’s character, look and tone should take. “Mike is an excellent director and the artists and animators really respond to him,” praises producer Teresa Cheng. “As an artist himself, he is very consistent and clear in his vision and thinking.”

In developing the look and style of Rumpel, the filmmakers wanted to get as far away as possible from the previous villains. “Farquaad, Fairy Godmother and Charming are very eloquent characters,” says Dohrn. “We went to the opposite end of that spectrum and went for a character that was ratty and scummy, but charming at the same time”

“In the beginning he was modeled a little bit after one of those salesmen who’d sell you a watch on the street,” says character designer Patrick Mate. “Then our designs morphed a bit and we went towards more of a creature face, and even a rat tail.”

A Design Grounded in Humans

Eventually, the character design team settled on a design more grounded in humans. Soon after the creature face and rat-tail directions were abandoned, Mate was shown a caricature of art director Max Boas. “We’re always doing caricatures of each other,” explains Mate. “[art director] Mike Hernandez did a caricature of Max and we all ended up laughing and loving it and we said ‘Okay, uh, let’s do it.’ We picked the look of Rumpel because the caricature was just perfect for the design we were looking for.”

Allegedly, Rumpel’s hair is also partly based on art director Max Boas’ hair. “Rumpel’s kind of got that Max hair a little bit, a little he like he just woke up all the time,” jokes Dohrn.

Mitchell summarizes his thinking regarding the overall tone and character motivation by simply stating: “You know the guy that wins the $200 million mega lottery jackpot and doesn’t REALLY know how to spend the money? That’s Rumpel.”