Cal Brunker

Grad gets squirrelly on Nut Job 2

Cal Brunker

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, opening Aug. 11, takes moviegoers on an adventure with Surly the squirrel and his furry friends as they try to stop their parkland home from being bulldozed and turned into an amusement park. The team that worked on the film at Toronto-based ToonBox Entertainment includes almost 40 Sheridan alumni – including director Cal Brunker who also co-wrote the film. Ovation asked Brunker about his time at Sheridan, the challenges of making a sequel, and how his two-year-old daughter became one of the first to review it.

Q: Why did you want to study animation at Sheridan?

A: “I had always been excited about doing a job in the arts. I wanted to come to Sheridan because it was far and away the best animation program. When I was in high school and (toured) Sheridan, just looking at the artwork on the walls blew me away. I fell in love with the idea of going there.”

Q: What did you learn at Sheridan that helped you early on in your career?

A: “The work ethic. Before you go to school for art, you might draw a couple of hours a day, but at Sheridan I remember drawing from day to night. That shift in thinking of how many dedicated hours need to be put into (art) was certainly a big thing. And then the other thing I really got out of Sheridan – I found a lot of the learning happened between students…just being in that kind of environment and taking on ownership for your own learning, that was  big for me.”

Cal Brunker

Q: You spent time at Blue Sky studios in New York City working on films like Horton Hears a Who and Ice Age 3 before returning to Toronto and directing Escape From Planet Earth in 2013. Why did you want to be a director?

A: “I was always pretty good at a lot of things, but I wasn’t the best at anything – not the best designer, not the best musician, not the best actor. I found that having strong skills in a bunch of different areas put me in a perfect position to communicate with people in different fields. (Directing) ended up being a perfect fit.”

Q: You weren’t involved in the first Nut Job film, so was it hard to jump in and make a sequel?

A:  “You feel like you’re in somebody else’s sandbox trying to figure out how to build your own thing. Pretty early on I came to the realization that what I should do is keep the characters intact, but other than that I could make it my own movie, not  try and guess what somebody else would have done.”

Q: What was most challenging about making this film?

A: “We didn’t have the same level of budget as a Disney movie, but the audience that goes to the theatre – they have to pay the same ticket price so you’ve got to give them something worth going to (see). For me, a huge part of this, besides telling a fun and emotional story, was trying to make sure it looked big enough and that there was enough of a spectacle on screen, and I think we really pulled that off. That was certainly the challenge in terms of trying to be as smart as I could be with every dollar to make the movie as big as possible.”

Q: You tweeted this was first time your daughter saw a film in a theatre. What was her reaction?

A: “She’s just over two. My wife hadn’t seen the movie yet, and we had our crew screening and we couldn’t find a sitter, so we thought we would bring her and see if she stayed 10 minutes. She stuck with it for the whole time. We had a lot of ages in the audience, and everybody seemed to connect with it.”

Q: How about you? What do you think of the film?

A: “I love the movie. We’re very excited to show this to the world. It’s been almost three years that we’ve been working on it. Normally I’d be sick of something at this point, but our crew all worked really hard to make it great. It was great to watch it (at the crew screening). They’d all been working on their piece of the puzzle, but when they saw how it all came together, people really seemed to get into it. Hopefully the audience will get into it too.”

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Photos: Courtesy ToonBox Entertainment