At nine feet tall and 643 pounds, Ralph towers above all the residents in the videogame wonderland of Niceland. For 30 years, so the story goes, he’s been doing his job as “The Bad Guy” in the arcade game Fix-It Felix Jr. Tired of playing the role of a bad guy, Ralph takes matters into his own massive hands and sets off on a journey across the arcade, through multiple generations of videogames, to prove he’s got what it takes to be a hero.
The Wreck-It Ralph script called for a heavy-handed lead to be a big bad guy in the videogame. Walt Disney Animation Studios artists had several renditions of Ralph that portrayed him as a little more monstrous than he turned out in the end. And some of them are downright scary! As the film breaks into theaters, D23 takes a look at the early concept art for Ralph and talks to his creators about what went into making him the beloved bad guy he turned out to be.
“When we were talking about making the main character a ‘bad guy,’” director Rich Moore says, “we knew we needed someone the audience could get behind—support and love—even though he’s kind of rough around the edges.” John C. Reilly was called on to provide the voice of Ralph. “John inhabits the characters he plays, and he connects to the humanity,” Rich says. “He brought a lot of himself to Ralph, too, which is amazing. Ralph is rough on the outside, but he has a sweet nature to him.”
John spent time with the production team, learning about the animation process, physically acting out certain scenes to provide reference to animators and contributing his own thoughts on the level of emotion a certain moment might demand. “After we talked with John, I think everybody felt a much deeper connection with the project,” says Renato dos Anjos, animation supervisor. “He really believed in the character, and he probably knows Ralph better than anyone.”
According to art director Mike Gabriel, Ralph went through more than a few wardrobe changes. While Felix and the Nicelanders represented civilized society, Ralph needed to be distinct. “At one point he just had a red shirt and shorts on,” Mike explains. “But he’s the bad guy, right? That’s where the plaid shirt came in—we wanted to make him a mountain man. Then someone suggested the henley and I put that on him.”
The team decided an accent color was in order and gave Ralph a blue-green undershirt, roughing up the whole look with a five-o’clock shadow. Mike Gabriel was sold. “I said, ‘That works. Now, he’s definitely a mountain man!’”
A mountain man with really big hands. Renato dos Anjos and his team had to figure out how to navigate Ralph’s hands around other characters and the surrounding set: “They’re so massive, they were a huge challenge for us to animate because any time he moved, they’d crash into everything that was around him—which is typical Ralph, right?”
“He’s a man-child,” adds head-of-story Jim Reardon. “He wants to put his bad-guy days behind him, but it’s not until he starts thinking about somebody other than himself that he gets what he really needs, which is love… appreciation. A lot of kids’ movies are about becoming whatever you want to be just because you really want it, with no strings attached. Ralph’s story is a little more realistic.”
In a film that features so many distinct worlds, it falls on Ralph’s shoulders—as the protagonist—to tie it all together. “Ralph is Ralph no matter what world he goes to,” says screenwriter Phil Johnston. Director of look and lighting Adolph Lusinsky and his team helped drive that message to audiences. “Ralph is the one thing that’s constant, and the way he reacts to light is the same in each of the worlds.” The exception, Adolph says, is when Ralph is with Felix. “When they’re together, Felix is well-lit with a nice rim light on him, while Ralph is usually up-lit with what we call monster lighting. For example, when Ralph is in the penthouse suite, he’s up-lit from the bounce of the cake. When he’s in the mud, he’s got this up lighting from the side of the building. Even when he goes to Sugar Rush and finally hooks up with Felix there, he’s up-lit while Felix is nicely lit by the back of the window.”
“Ralph is an amazing character,” says John C. Reilly. “He has a huge heart, but he’s misguided. He has all the foibles of a real person even though he’s an arcade-game character. He means well in the beginning but just goes about it in all the wrong ways. But in the end, he realizes what a hero really is.”
By D23′s Billy Stanek