Thursday, November 8, 2012


Way back in the summer of 2008 I came back to Dreamworks specifically to work on Guardians.  Total fantasy project for me and a genius concept.  It was super early days, no director, just lots of amazing development work being done.  It's when I met and became friends with Shannon Tindle, Andy Schuhler, Emil Mitev, etc...a wildly talented group. One of my favorite assignments was to explore the North Pole; what was it like, how is it different from versions we've seen.  I was informed that the Yeti's make the toys, not the elves so when I asked about the elves the response was; "Elves are stupid and for babies.  There will be no elves in this movie."  Pretty emphatic stuff.  I pointed out that if we go to the North Pole and don't address the elf issue, which is a HUGE part of the Santa mythology, we might end up with every kid seeing the movie asking where the elves are instead of watching the movie. With concepts like Santa there are certain expectations and even if you want to mix it up and show some crazy new take on the character you should kind of use the existing elements to your advantage, unless its that holiday classic Silent Night, Deadly Night, then all bets are off.  So, I took it upon myself to reinvent the elves not as toy makers, but as house attendants. They would be about 2 feet tall, not speak, look like living Santa hats and tend to your every need while you were at the North Pole. They would burst out secret panels in the walls, turn down your bed, light your fireplace, dish out cookies and milk on your nightstand, make sure all the presents were positioned under the requisite Christmas Tree in your room and after tucking you in for the night they would disappear back into the walls like they'd never been there.  The concept and design seems to have stuck even when the show leadership didn't.  I hope they end up as fun in the film as they were to create.

This was the very first sketch i made of the elves, standing by in Santa's study while he looks over his list.  The Globe of Good Children, as it was called, a kind of map for marking good and bad kids stands off in the background.

Elf escort.
 I designed the elf quarters to be like a giant bird house, the bells on their hats would stick out of bird house like entrances to their barracks.  When awoken, they'd slide down candy cane style firehouse poles...

The letters to Santa arrived..."magically"...through a giant nutcracker in Santa's image. It's up to the elves to then catch and file the letters accordingly.  They are not that bright, so when you don't get everything on your list, it's probably an elf's fault.

The elves also tend to the flying reindeer, which of course have a multi-level stable since they can fly, though I wouldn't want to have my pen on the ground floor.  


And of course, if you were lucky enough to stay at the North Pole for a night, your fantastical room would be tended to by the elves.  They really do like decorating for Christmas.
 Easter Bunny's room of course comes with bunny slippers...Santa's little joke.

 The last stop in the North Pole was the Globe Room, where Santa tracks the good/bad status of children.  The globe is Bill Joyce's concept.  I had the idea to put it in the center of a circular library of mezzanines that houses the "old school" book volumes of Santa's list.

Santa in lower right corner standing on the catwalk around the globe.
Jack Frost reading from one of the thousands of volumes of Santa's list...


  1. This is great insight into the creation of a story.
    Thank you for adding in the elves. Santa's world just wouldn't be the same w/o them.
    My kids have searched for you IMBD. You are now on a list of people they admire.
    Please continue to share

  2. These are amazing, Darren. I LOVE that last drawing, the colors and staging, so GOOD! Ngh!

  3. The elves are hilarious. A friend asked me what the names are of the two main elves. I couldn't find them. RWS