Smurfs Production Blog

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Meet Michelle Raimo Kouyate - President of Sony Pictures Animation!
1) What is the job of the PRESIDENT OF SONY PICTURES ANIMATION on an animated feature film? I oversee the production for the studio, making sure all the creative elements of the film stay on track and reach their fullest potential. One of my most important roles is to support the director in realizing his or her vision.2) Do you have a favorite Smurf? Smurfette - I have a husband, 2 sons and a male dog so I know what it feels like to be the only girl in the village!3) If you were a Smurf, what would your name be? Mama Smurf - I love taking care of all my Smurfs both at work and at home.4) So far while working on this all new Smurfs movie, what has been a fun or favorite behind-the-scenes moment? There was this one particular sequence at the beginning of the movie where Papa is reprimanding the Smurfs for doing something they shouldn’t have been doing that was pitched by one of our talented storyboard artists — it was hilarious. We all paused, looked at you, then each other and said, we love it!! He hit on the right tone of comedy we were looking for. It was one of those great collaborative moments which I absolutely love about making animated movies.5) If you could have one magic power, what would it be? Flying for sure. I’ve always wished I could soar over a city at night like Peter Pan. - KA

Meet Michelle Raimo Kouyate - President of Sony Pictures Animation!


1) What is the job of the PRESIDENT OF SONY PICTURES ANIMATION on an animated feature film?
I oversee the production for the studio, making sure all the creative elements of the film stay on track and reach their fullest potential. One of my most important roles is to support the director in realizing his or her vision.

2) Do you have a favorite Smurf?
Smurfette - I have a husband, 2 sons and a male dog so I know what it feels like to be the only girl in the village!

3) If you were a Smurf, what would your name be?
Mama Smurf - I love taking care of all my Smurfs both at work and at home.

4) So far while working on this all new Smurfs movie, what has been a fun or favorite behind-the-scenes moment?
There was this one particular sequence at the beginning of the movie where Papa is reprimanding the Smurfs for doing something they shouldn’t have been doing that was pitched by one of our talented storyboard artists — it was hilarious. We all paused, looked at you, then each other and said, we love it!! He hit on the right tone of comedy we were looking for. It was one of those great collaborative moments which I absolutely love about making animated movies.

5) If you could have one magic power, what would it be?
Flying for sure. I’ve always wished I could soar over a city at night like Peter Pan.

- KA

Smurfing The Best Choice…
 A recent story meeting went something like this:  DIRECTOR: So in this scene our characters come upon a river too wide to cross. “Character A” suggests they use a natural bridge, which is far downstream, while “Character B” wants to try a more convenient, but dangerous way. This starts an argument, which results in the accidental loss of an “Important Object”, which they must now race to retrieve…What’s the clearest way to depict all of this?  STORY ARTIST: What is the natural bridge made of?  WRITER #1: In the script it’s a fallen tree.  WRITER #2: But it could be fallen rocks.  CONSULTANT: Are there large enough rocks in our world?  DIRECTOR: Sure. There’s no rule about that, yet.  STORY ARTIST: How deep is the river?  WRITER #1: Knee deep.  STORY ARTIST: So it’s really more like a creek.  WRITER #2: Well, it needs to be treacherous.  CONSULTANT: Like with rapids?  PRODUCER: Rapids are expensive.  DIRECTOR: Let’s go with the fallen tree.  STORY ARTIST: How far downstream is the tree?  DIRECTOR: Maybe a half mile?  WRITER #2: But it could be closer.  DIRECTOR: These characters are small, so it should “feel” like a half mile to them.  WRITER #2: It has to seem do-able, though.  STORY ARTIST: Is it a large tree?  DIRECTOR: Large in comparison to these characters.  CONSULTANT: What type of tree is it?  DIRECTOR: It just needs to be a large log fallen across the river.  CONSULTANT: How did it fall?  WRITER #2: We just assumed it fell from age.  CONSULTANT: So it’s an old tree?  DIRECTOR: Yes, let’s make it an old fallen tree.  STORY ARTIST: But you said it could be rocks.  DIRECTOR: Just make it a tree. A big, old dead tree.  CONSULTANT: Won’t a dead tree make a dark statement to the audience? (LONG MOMENT OF SILENCE)  DIRECTOR: Let’s take a break…  - KA

Smurfing The Best Choice…


A recent story meeting went something like this:

DIRECTOR: So in this scene our characters come upon a river too wide to cross. “Character A” suggests they use a natural bridge, which is far downstream, while “Character B” wants to try a more convenient, but dangerous way. This starts an argument, which results in the accidental loss of an “Important Object”, which they must now race to retrieve…What’s the clearest way to depict all of this?
STORY ARTIST: What is the natural bridge made of?
WRITER #1: In the script it’s a fallen tree.
WRITER #2: But it could be fallen rocks.
CONSULTANT: Are there large enough rocks in our world?
DIRECTOR: Sure. There’s no rule about that, yet.
STORY ARTIST: How deep is the river?
WRITER #1: Knee deep.
STORY ARTIST: So it’s really more like a creek.
WRITER #2: Well, it needs to be treacherous.
CONSULTANT: Like with rapids?
PRODUCER: Rapids are expensive.
DIRECTOR: Let’s go with the fallen tree.
STORY ARTIST: How far downstream is the tree?
DIRECTOR: Maybe a half mile?
WRITER #2: But it could be closer.
DIRECTOR: These characters are small, so it should “feel” like a half mile to them.
WRITER #2: It has to seem do-able, though.
STORY ARTIST: Is it a large tree?
DIRECTOR: Large in comparison to these characters.
CONSULTANT: What type of tree is it?
DIRECTOR: It just needs to be a large log fallen across the river.
CONSULTANT: How did it fall?
WRITER #2: We just assumed it fell from age.
CONSULTANT: So it’s an old tree?
DIRECTOR: Yes, let’s make it an old fallen tree.
STORY ARTIST: But you said it could be rocks.
DIRECTOR: Just make it a tree. A big, old dead tree.
CONSULTANT: Won’t a dead tree make a dark statement to the audience? (LONG MOMENT OF SILENCE)
DIRECTOR: Let’s take a break…

- KA

Smurfing The Temporary Voices
We call it “Scratch Dialogue” because it will only be used in the planning of the movie and will literally be “scratched” from the soundtrack, once a given character is cast with a genuine actor to perform the “Final Dialogue”.  For our own purposes, we most often ask around the studio for anyone who is interested in channeling their inner-thespian and might want to help out by lending us their voice for the Scratch Track. I call these erstwhile volunteers “Local Talent”. Some individuals turn out to actually be good actors, while others…not so much. It all depends on the needs of a scene, but whether a temporary voice works or not, scratch dialogue is an invaluable tool for the editor and the director to achieve proper timing and pacing.  In any event, recording scratch is a fun exercise, usually leading to loads of unexpected laughs. I myself have provided many scratch voices over the years, usually to only serviceable, if not dubious, results…I’ve even filled in for Papa Smurf on this movie! Trust me, I can’t wait until we cast a professional actor for that most important of all Smurf roles (and, yes, when we do, you will be among the first to know who it is!)  - KA

Smurfing The Temporary Voices

We call it “Scratch Dialogue” because it will only be used in the planning of the movie and will literally be “scratched” from the soundtrack, once a given character is cast with a genuine actor to perform the “Final Dialogue”.

For our own purposes, we most often ask around the studio for anyone who is interested in channeling their inner-thespian and might want to help out by lending us their voice for the Scratch Track. I call these erstwhile volunteers “Local Talent”. Some individuals turn out to actually be good actors, while others…not so much. It all depends on the needs of a scene, but whether a temporary voice works or not, scratch dialogue is an invaluable tool for the editor and the director to achieve proper timing and pacing.

In any event, recording scratch is a fun exercise, usually leading to loads of unexpected laughs. I myself have provided many scratch voices over the years, usually to only serviceable, if not dubious, results…I’ve even filled in for Papa Smurf on this movie! Trust me, I can’t wait until we cast a professional actor for that most important of all Smurf roles (and, yes, when we do, you will be among the first to know who it is!)

- KA

Viva La Smurf!
In France, today is Bastille Day. Once again, LAFIG, the wonderful company in charge of all things Smurf, has provided me with the image commemorating this historic time in French history.  This image is a Smurfy take on the famous painting “Liberty Leading the People" by Eugene Delacroix.  This all new Smurfs movie has more than a few French connections! Our Production Designer Noelle Triaureau and our Character Designer Patrick Mate are both French born and grew up enjoying The Smurfs by Peyo. As for me, having recently visited Annecy and Paris, I will enjoy some good baguette with cheese and a tall glass of Smurfberry Juice!  - KA

Viva La Smurf!

In France, today is Bastille Day. Once again, LAFIG, the wonderful company in charge of all things Smurf, has provided me with the image commemorating this historic time in French history.

This image is a Smurfy take on the famous painting “Liberty Leading the People" by Eugene Delacroix.

This all new Smurfs movie has more than a few French connections! Our Production Designer Noelle Triaureau and our Character Designer Patrick Mate are both French born and grew up enjoying The Smurfs by Peyo. As for me, having recently visited Annecy and Paris, I will enjoy some good baguette with cheese and a tall glass of Smurfberry Juice!

- KA

One Of The Fun Parts: The Story Pitch
Generally, making an animated movie is a fun process. It may take a long time, with lots of technicalities and complications involved along the way, but I love it still. One of the most enjoyable phases is the storyboarding process, when the script is interpreted by an artist who puts pictures to the written words. This always leads to surprises and, in the best case scenario, lots of laughs.  A room full of people gather to view a given scene, while the story artist clicks through his series of sequential storytelling drawings. All the while he describes the intended action and context of the scene, even lending sound effects and character voices as he goes. It’s a performance of sorts, with the objective of conveying how the scene might play in cinematic screen time. This pitch session is the first time I, as the director, have a chance to hear an audience react to certain gags or story elements. It’s an amazing way to find out whether a scene is working or needs more development. These pitches are a tool for the whole team…and, best of all, it’s fun!  One fun example of the surprises that can happen is like the time when the script pages only called for the SMURFS to be walking and talking as they moved through Smurf Village. The story artist, Steve Fonti, added the funny idea of a Clown Smurf to hop into the scene and make a random joke. Everyone present broke down in surprised and hysterical laughter. Steve’s new joke stuck and has been expanded upon, creating an entire new sideline character for the movie. Expect to see Clowny Smurf appear more than once in this upcoming movie…but that’s all I can divulge right now.  We get to make up stories and draw pictures for a living…Does it get any better than that?  It certainly doesn’t get any Smurfyer!  - KA

One Of The Fun Parts: The Story Pitch

Generally, making an animated movie is a fun process. It may take a long time, with lots of technicalities and complications involved along the way, but I love it still. One of the most enjoyable phases is the storyboarding process, when the script is interpreted by an artist who puts pictures to the written words. This always leads to surprises and, in the best case scenario, lots of laughs.

A room full of people gather to view a given scene, while the story artist clicks through his series of sequential storytelling drawings. All the while he describes the intended action and context of the scene, even lending sound effects and character voices as he goes. It’s a performance of sorts, with the objective of conveying how the scene might play in cinematic screen time. This pitch session is the first time I, as the director, have a chance to hear an audience react to certain gags or story elements. It’s an amazing way to find out whether a scene is working or needs more development. These pitches are a tool for the whole team…and, best of all, it’s fun!

One fun example of the surprises that can happen is like the time when the script pages only called for the SMURFS to be walking and talking as they moved through Smurf Village. The story artist, Steve Fonti, added the funny idea of a Clown Smurf to hop into the scene and make a random joke. Everyone present broke down in surprised and hysterical laughter. Steve’s new joke stuck and has been expanded upon, creating an entire new sideline character for the movie. Expect to see Clowny Smurf appear more than once in this upcoming movie…but that’s all I can divulge right now.

We get to make up stories and draw pictures for a living…Does it get any better than that?

It certainly doesn’t get any Smurfyer!

- KA

The Smurf Is In The Details
Recently, I needed to assign a Visual Development Artist the task of designing a hole in the ground. I can’t at this time disclose why I needed the hole, but suffice it to say that it plays a part in the current ever developing story of this new Smurfs movie. Problem for me was, that was all the information I had to give the artist: “I need a hole in the ground.”  Was it an abandoned well? An animal burrow? A crater? A latrine??  Honestly, I had no clear answer in the moment. Sometimes these things happen in the course of directing a movie. People need answers that aren’t always fully formed. During early development, the story, characters and locations are like shifting sands.  So what do I tell an artist who needs direction? Usually we discuss a few possibilities and he or she proceeds at “playing” with some ideas. This can actually lead to some very inventive and creative solutions; sometimes even concepts that redirect entire portions of a movie. It’s a sort of magical process, full of surprises.  Stay tuned to see just what type of hole we end up with…Hopefully it won’t be in the plot!  - KA

The Smurf Is In The Details

Recently, I needed to assign a Visual Development Artist the task of designing a hole in the ground. I can’t at this time disclose why I needed the hole, but suffice it to say that it plays a part in the current ever developing story of this new Smurfs movie. Problem for me was, that was all the information I had to give the artist: “I need a hole in the ground.”

Was it an abandoned well? An animal burrow? A crater? A latrine??

Honestly, I had no clear answer in the moment. Sometimes these things happen in the course of directing a movie. People need answers that aren’t always fully formed. During early development, the story, characters and locations are like shifting sands.

So what do I tell an artist who needs direction? Usually we discuss a few possibilities and he or she proceeds at “playing” with some ideas. This can actually lead to some very inventive and creative solutions; sometimes even concepts that redirect entire portions of a movie. It’s a sort of magical process, full of surprises.

Stay tuned to see just what type of hole we end up with…Hopefully it won’t be in the plot!

- KA

HAPPY SMOURTH OF JULY!!!
This July 4th marks The United States of America’s 238th Birthday, the day in 1776 when my country’s founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.  And to mark the occasion, this fun image was provided to us by LAFIG, the Belgian company which now so diligently carries on the Smurf tradition worldwide.  This artwork is the “Smurfication” of the famous "Spirit of ‘76" painting by Archibald Willard which I’ve also included for a fun comparison. That Willard painting, originally known as “Yankee Doodle” depicts America’s Revolutionary War victory. As a fun fact Archibald Willard’s father was the model for the drum-carrying character marching in the middle, hence Papa Smurf taking on that role in the Smurfs version.  So, in the American tradition for the day, have a hot dog, play some baseball and eat a big slice of apple pie!…or make it Smurfberry pie, if you have it!  - KA

HAPPY SMOURTH OF JULY!!!

This July 4th marks The United States of America’s 238th Birthday, the day in 1776 when my country’s founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.

And to mark the occasion, this fun image was provided to us by LAFIG, the Belgian company which now so diligently carries on the Smurf tradition worldwide.

This artwork is the “Smurfication” of the famous "Spirit of ‘76" painting by Archibald Willard which I’ve also included for a fun comparison. That Willard painting, originally known as “Yankee Doodle” depicts America’s Revolutionary War victory. As a fun fact Archibald Willard’s father was the model for the drum-carrying character marching in the middle, hence Papa Smurf taking on that role in the Smurfs version.

So, in the American tradition for the day, have a hot dog, play some baseball and eat a big slice of apple pie!…or make it Smurfberry pie, if you have it!

- KA

The Joy Is In The Journey…
Smurfing an animated feature takes time and patience, even when working at the slightly accelerated pace of this new Smurf adventure (Yes, 2016 is a relatively quick release date!), but along the way are all sorts of challenges and opportunities. It is a true journey during which the entire filmmaking team makes great discoveries. We here at Sony Pictures Animation are just getting started…but it’s going to be an exciting trip!  - KA

The Joy Is In The Journey…

Smurfing an animated feature takes time and patience, even when working at the slightly accelerated pace of this new Smurf adventure (Yes, 2016 is a relatively quick release date!), but along the way are all sorts of challenges and opportunities. It is a true journey during which the entire filmmaking team makes great discoveries. We here at Sony Pictures Animation are just getting started…but it’s going to be an exciting trip!

- KA

Smurfs Nacho Friday!!!

Our Co-Producer Mary Ellen Bauder and Production Manager Theresa Benz, with the help of Assistant Luis Mora, hosted a Smurftastic nacho bar for the movie team! Lots of chips, melted cheese, taco meat, jalapenos, guacamole, sour cream and salsa spiced up the end of another productive week. What nachos have to do with Smurfs is beside the point, because it’s the great taste and getting together that counts most!

What’s next, Smurfy Sloppy Joes?

- KA