If you’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy (and judging by those high box office numbers, it looks like many of you did), then you saw that somehow the Marvel filmmaking team managed to take a tree-creature with limited verbal abilities and turn him into one the most beloved characters to hit the big screen in years.
Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, is limited to speaking only three words — “I am Groot” — but his emotional depth knows not bounds. Though the non-human character was created through CGI (with some motion-capture performance references), he manages tug at everyone’s heartstrings, and this perhaps is in part because Groot’s on-screen appearance was inspired by someone very dear to the film’s director James Gunn — his dog, Dr. Wesley Von Spears.
Much like how Star Wars creator George Lucas based Han Solo’s Wookie sidekick Chewbacca on his dog Indiana (which is where the name Indiana Jones came from), Gunn based Groot, who was adapted from the Marvel Comics character, on Von Spears, his mutt who was a fixture on the Guardians set in England. (See the dog here below on Ronan’s perch in the Dark Aster.)
[#gotgpicoftheday #VonSpears takes his place on Ronan’s perch in the Dark Aster. Von Spears was a total set dog – he had his run of the place in England – seemingly the best time of his entire life. He got so much attention I think this is what he saw as his rightful place. Source: @JamesGunn]
The folks over at io9 got a chance to speak with Gunn and asked him about how he got audiences connect to Groot:
James Gunn: I think Groot is in some ways the easiest character to connect to in the film. He is, from the start, the only one that has some sense of others. And he has an innocence about him that is something that I don’t know if we relate to, because most of us don’t feel too innocent, but I think we love. Truthfully, a lot of Groot is based on my dog Von Spears. I think there’s a sort of puppy-like innocence to Groot. That if my dog could talk, it would probably say, “I am Groot.”
Gunn also mentioned how Groot’s eyes were based on his dog’s eyes, which he also talked about on his Instagram account (which, by the way, is filled with several adorable Von Spears photos).
[#gotgpicoftheday #VonSpears faces off against the Rocket stuffy which we used as a reference for visual effects on set. In addition to using the real life Oreo Raccoon as a reference in creating Rocket, the folks at Framestore who developed the model of Rocket scanned Von Spears’ snaggle-toothed mouth to incorporate into Rocket’s mouth. I see aspects of my pup’s in Rocket when he speaks, which is one of the many things I love about the character. For those of you who have been to the #guardiansofthegalaxy presentation at Disneyland, you can see Von Spears’ cameo in the first few minutes. Source: @JamesGunn]
A lot of what I’ve read in interviews with Gunn proves he’s an animal lover, and that Von Spears is truly living it up. Check out the photo here below of Gunn holding a framed version of the photo of Von Spears on Ronan’s seat:
[What a wonderful gift from the Disney publicity team!! Source: @JamesGunn]
Here’s Gunn with Von Spears while working on Guardians Of The Galaxy:
[#gotgpicoftheday Espousing in the War Room at Shepperton Studios. The heads of department and I (led by our amazing 1st AD @jimmyc2271) would gather here everyday during preproduction and go over (and over and over) what we were doing and where we were going. The visual development work on the walls around us started with the first environment and then wrapped around the room from right to left (I guess someone in the production staff’s initial language was Japanese or Hebrew), showing each new environment as it shows up in the movie. Nothing gave me more pleasure than brining a visitor, a cast member, or a new addition to our team into this room and walking them visually through the story and showing them the universe we had created. Oh, and of course, #VonSpears is on my lap. He had full run at our offices in Shepperton, and would always join our meetings – usually under the table, but if something was especially engrossing he’d crawl up to a better perch. #guardiansofthegalaxy #gotg Source: @JamesGunn