Happy Feet

June 9, 2008

While Elijah Wood provides the voice for Mumble—the emperor penguin who stars in Warner Bros.’ animated feature Happy Feet, debuting November 17—Savion Glover is behind his moves. Born without the ability to sing well, like the rest of his species, Mumble instead has an innate talent for tap dancing.

Director George Miller approached Glover more than two years ago in Seattle after seeing Glover perform in his touring show Improvography. “I thought [the project] was the coolest thing I had ever heard of,” says Glover. “I’m into anything about tap dancing, especially on this level where it’s animation and a new generation of kids can be aware of tap.”

Shortly after accepting Miller’s offer, Glover went to Australia to start working with the film’s production team. First, he attended penguin school: “I had to study the penguin from birth to adult,” Glover says. “I got to see their walks and try to incorporate that in my dance.”

To create the 3-D Mumble, Glover danced on set while covered with motion sensors and surrounded by hundreds of infrared cameras that mapped his every move. The data collected by the sensors created an outline of the penguin, and the crew used digital animation to fill it in. Mumble’s predetermined path was also drawn on the studio floor for Glover to follow. “It was challenging to remember, ‘I’m going down a hill now,’ or ‘I’m jumping off an edge now,’” Glover explains. “It was [also] a challenge to . . . maintain my penguin-ness. Your body has to be in a form; you have to walk in a style all day. I saw [actors] walking off the set and they were still walking like penguins.”

The film, says Glover, not only takes tap dancing into new territory, but also champions the importance of dance through its storyline. “[Happy Feet] is about a penguin who is simple: He knows nothing except tap dancing,” Glover says. “He’s an outcast because of his ability. No one else can do what he does, and at first, like with all things, people are not understanding. By the end, they realize that this dance is life, it’s self-expression.”