Writer/director Jorge R. Gutierrez saw his dream project become a reality in Hollywood, although it took 14 years from the time he released his CalArts animated student film on The Day of the Dead to the time the feature film starring Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana and Diego Luna hit theaters. With Guillermo del Toro on board as producer — his daughters were fans of Gutierrez’s Nickelodeon animated TV series El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera — the film made $100 million at the box office and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. Gutierrez talks about The Book of Life VR experience and how Street Fighter influenced him in this exclusive interview.
What would The Book of Life video game be if you were able to make it?
I would have loved to have been able to made one. The way the gaming industry is right now it was just too big of a risk financially to make a game without the studio knowing how well the movie would do. When we did the El Tigre video game I got to write the story and I helped design it. I created new villains for it, so I was all over that. So I was really excited about a Book of Life game where you could play Guitar Hero-stuff for the music and you could do the fighting stuff. There was God of War stuff and fantasy adventure type gameplay as well, but unfortunately it never happened.
Will there be a sequel?
We still don’t know if we’re going to get to make a part 2 or a part 3, because I always envisioned them as a trilogy. I had always imagined the first movie to be about Manolo, the second to be about Joaquín and the third one to be about Maria. I’m already working on my new film, which is a Mexican kung fu movie, so you’re definitely going to see a lot more video game influences in that.
What opportunities are digital and mobile games opening up for Hollywood?
I’m hoping with the success of The Book of Life I can entice gaming people to take that leap into video games because this thing is perfect for that. I definitely think gaming is changing with social media and cell phones. It’s a whole new world out there, so I’m hoping we get to do something really cool.
How did the Street Fighter video game franchise influence you as a director?
Street Fighter was one of those things where for me the idea was it’s not about fighting, it’s about what you’re fighting for. I implied all this moral virtue to the honorable Street Fighter. I took that really seriously. It kind of guided me as I grew up.
Were you one of those gamers who got suckered into buying every new version of the same game like Super Street Fighter II Turbo Edition?
I’m the guy who buys every version all the time. When the new version gets announced, I just throw my wallet at the computer screen.
And Capcom just announced Street Fighter V.
Oh, I know. Believe me, I was like, “Oh my god, this is going to be amazing.”
Capcom did make a couple Street Fighter movies. Do you see potential there for you to direct a video game movie?
There’s never been a good video game movie, so I’m really hoping someone makes that transition too. But it just seems like games are about the user experience and movies are a narrative, and so somehow those two things don’t seem to connect.
What aspirations do you have outside of directing to get more involved in video games?
For me it’s all transmedia, so I would love to get my hands in there and work with a gaming studio. This is one of my passions, so I definitely would love to be a part of that world.
Guillermo Del Toro had a Pacific Rim virtual reality demo at Comic Con last year on Oculus Rift. What do you think VR is opening up for filmmakers?
Actually, Pacific Rim was done here in Texas as Reel FX and they did a VR experience for The Book of Life and it’s freaking amazing. I was shocked. Literally, you go into the Land of the Remembered as Manola, you look at your hands and they’re skeleton hands, you get on a horse . . . it freaked me out by how amazing it looked. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but I definitely think this immersive world is coming for video games and it’s going to be amazing.
Did you get to work on the VR demo?
Oh, absolutely. They’re literally 40 feet away from me right now, so I got to see all that stuff and I got to help those guys out. I’m telling you this thing is amazing. Video games are going to change for the better and it’s going to be so immersive. My only fear is that it’s so immersive people are not going to want to be in the real world anymore.
Where will people be able to experience The Book of Life VR?
They had it for the Consumer Electronics Show and Dell World. I’m not sure if they’re going to be doing that at Comic Con this year, but I know they’re doing a lot more VR for a lot more movies and a lot more brands. It’s exploding right now.
VR was everywhere at Sundance and SXSW this year.
It’s a way to literally take the audience into the world of the movie. I keep waiting for one of the big directors going to jump in and do something spectacular with it. It’s going to be amazing, and it’s coming.
Guillermo said that he wants to do a full VR game with the next Pacific Rim movie.
The Pacific Rim VR thing they did here was just again tip of the iceberg with all the potential. It’s just going to be pretty insane. Reel FX has an Oculus department that’s spearheading a lot of the stuff that they did for Pacific Rim and for The Book of Life, so I’ve been a fan boy going over there and asking those guys to show me stuff. There’s a lot of secret properties that they’re working on, but just getting a glimpse of all that stuff has been really exciting.
Pacific Rim: Jaeger Pilot ran on Unreal Engine 4, so they’re probably using a game engine for those projects.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what that is, but it’s crazy to walk around that area and everybody’s wearing the headsets and sitting there moving their hands. It looks like the future.