So what exactly do studio executives do? In the case of the new regime that took over Paramount Pictures last year, one of its first challenges was deciding exactly what Charlotte, the word-playing spider who is the title character in “Charlotte’s Web,” should look like.
Gary Winick, who was directing the live-action version of the classic E.B. White tale, already was wrestling with the issue. “Our No. 1 mandate was to keep it as real as possible,” he says of his approach to the fable about a group of barnyard animals who strike up unexpected friendships. “The animators showed me the different degrees we could go to with expressions on the animals’ faces. And ultimately, we limited (the animation) to the eyes and the talking.”
But there were two exceptions to that rule: Charlotte (voiced by a warmly embracing Julia Roberts) and Templeton the rat (whose vocal chops come courtesy of Steve Buscemi). Since they would be CG-created characters, there was more freedom to invent. Charlotte was modeled after a combination of a barn spider (or orb weaver) and a wolf spider, but the question of what exactly her face should look like bedeviled the filmmakers, since spiders, by design, aren’t cuddly, Disney-esque creatures.
“We went through a lot of research — and two regimes at Paramount,” Winick recalls. “While we wanted to make it real, we obviously didn’t want to scare the kids. The first Paramount team wanted to make it cuter than I wanted. When I saw some of the animation designed for that, and then the new Paramount came in, we decided to go back (and) make a couple of adjustments, with the eyes and textures and stuff, to make it more real.”