What began with a lost tooth and a challenging question from William Joyce’s daughter (“Does Santa know the Tooth Fairy?”) has since evolved into an epic multimedia project. An elated Joyce spoke with PW about the upcoming film, Rise of the Guardians, a DreamWorks Animation 3D production based on his Guardians of Childhood series of picture and chapter books. The film, which premieres on November 21, is directed by Peter Ramsey and features voice work by Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, and Hugh Jackman, among others, with Joyce and Guillermo del Toro executive producing.

When Joyce responded to his daughter’s question some 16 years ago (“why, yes, Santa does know the Tooth Fairy”), it got him thinking about these legendary childhood figures. Despite how intimately we think we may know them, Joyce realized that “there wasn’t much mythology to pass on” to his children beyond the basics. The idea to write a series about the origins of Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and other childhood icons began to germinate, but it would be many bedtime stories and more than a decade before the books really took shape.

In the process of planning the books, Joyce recalls, he drew inspiration from Tarzan, Greek mythology, constellations, folktales, Washington Irving, Hindu epics, and Harvey the rabbit, to name a few sources. “Every bit of mythology that I’d read seemed to spill together in my head.” Eventually, “the beast,” as Joyce calls it, needed taming.

That “taming” happened around eight years ago, when the author made the initial decision to divide the series into both picture books and chapter books. The picture books would introduce each character in an accessible, highly visual way. The chapter books would expand upon each character’s story, while forging a larger concept of the world that they inhabit together. As he was shaping the storyline for each Guardian, Joyce felt like he was “reporting in facts,” as though filling in material that simply wasn’t common knowledge yet. He says he knew he was on the right track when the writing “felt logical even as it seemed insane.... It felt absurdly right.” After allowing his ideas to incubate for several more years, Joyce signed a deal with Simon & Schuster in January 2011.

The series currently includes the two picture books The Man in the Moon and The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie. The novels are Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King, E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core!, and Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies, all published by S&S/Atheneum. The series will eventually total 13 books – seven chapter books and six picture books.

You could say that Joyce’s creative process has been a bit unconventional: he’s been writing the books concurrently with the film’s development, a marriage of two worlds that he finds not only profoundly rewarding but deeply amicable. “Both feed into each other; they go hand-in-hand,” he says of his experience creating books and movies.

Of course, Joyce has a history of straddling different forms of digital and print media. Beyond his work on Toy Story, among other films, he teamed with Brandon Oldeburg to develop the animation company Moonbot Studios, producing the 2011 Academy Award-winning short film (and app) The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. The film, in fact, was based on Joyce’s picture book of the same name, which was not published until this year.

It was fundamentally important to Joyce that a Guardians film honor and complement the books, rather than eclipse them (he told PW, “The reason I was put on Earth was to do these books”). Early on in his development of the series, Joyce was approached by several movie studios, but because they were unwilling to support his commitment to the books, he turned them down. Finally, DreamWorks approached Joyce, promising to honor his vision for a series of 13 titles and a film that takes place 200 years after the storylines in the books – effectively enabling the books and film to work in tandem, while being able to stand independently of one another.

Calling picture books and film “the two loves of my life,” Joyce outlines similarities and differences between them. In a visual sense, “picture books and films have a lot in common,” he says, with picture book illustrations acting almost like a collection of stills. On the other hand, he says he has always felt that picture books invite more imaginative engagement from readers than do films. A good picture book, he believes, should “give readers enough to make them think beyond what you put down on paper.”

The Tooth Fairy Prepares for Her Close-Up

The film unites the Guardians against their mutual enemy – the quintessential Boogie Man and King of Nightmares, Pitch, who threatens to take over the world by replacing the joy that the Guardians bring to children with fear.

The characters were developed from Joyce’s original images with some adjustments made to accommodate the big screen. The film’s Sandman, for one, strongly resembles the impish, gold-toned character in Joyce’s picture book. Rise of the Guardians production designer Patrick Hanenberger has described the film’s Sandman as “a very different kind of character. He is short. He is round. His body looks like it is made out of marzipan, and his hair looks like cotton candy. He is not someone who looks like he is as powerful as he is in our story, but he is the most magical of all the Guardians – and he does not speak.”

An important central character in the film is one that readers have not yet met in the books: Jack Frost. Joyce describes the challenge of creating Jack, “one guy I never could crack.” It was only when a member of the animation team proposed, “What if he’s a teenager?” that his character began to fall into place. “He’s a little James Dean-like,” Joyce says. While Jack is debuting in the theater and with a tie-in title, Joyce also intends to add a complete origin story to the series.

What other Guardians might join the group of cherished icons? Joyce gave PW a sneak peek at the characters readers will meet in subsequent books, including Night Light (a “childlike creature from a golden age”), Father Time, Mother Nature, and Mother Goose.

An Auspicious Beginning

According to one recent article, DreamWorks has reason to hope for big box office numbers. Anthony Wible of Janney Capital Markets said that the interest in the film “has spiked on the release of new trailers and reached a higher than expected level of awareness.” He estimates that the film will hit $225 million domestically and $338 million abroad.

More in good news for the pre-Thanksgiving film: Deadline Hollywood reports that Rise of the Guardians will be presented with the Vanity Fair award for Cinematic Excellence at the Rome Film Festival, which runs from November 9-16. The honor is given each year to a film “that best expresses the innovative, artistic, and strategic contribution made by production and distribution companies that have distinguished themselves in the world of contemporary cinema.”

An Expanding Constellation

The Guardians are becoming ever more storied with an extensive movie tie-in program at S&S. Five Rise of the Guardians tie-in titles are currently available from Simon Spotlight: a Rise of the Guardians junior novelization; Guide to the Guardians, a keepsake book with perforated cards and stickers; Made in the North Pole, a paperback sticker book; The Story of Jack Frost in paperback; and an early reader book, Jamie to the Rescue. Also from Simon & Schuster is The Guardians Boxed Set, containing the first three novels in the series with their original covers.

Additional titles from Reader’s Digest include Rise of the Guardians Deluxe Pop-Up book; Rise of the Guardians Mix & Match with interactive panels that enable readers to create new storylines; and Rise of the Guardians Worlds of Wonder: Deluxe Playset, which includes a character guide, press-out figures, and set scenes.

The film, boxed set, and tie-in titles will likely draw more readers to an already popular series. According to S&S, there are currently more than one million copies of the books in print, and The Man in the Moon has been Simon & Schuster’s bestselling new picture book for the last year.

A little help from the stars doesn’t hurt either. Hugh Jackman, who is the voice behind Bunnymund (an Easter Bunny who has a bit of a chocolate problem), lends his enthusiasm for the books and the American Library Association by appearing on a new “Read” poster holding a copy of Joyce’s The Man in the Moon.

Another creative endeavor for William Joyce: a Moonbot imprint of Simon & Schuster. The imprint launched this July with the publication of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, though Joyce admits with a laugh that “we forgot” a small detail: to actually add the Moonbot Studios logo onto the book. With games, apps, and three books planned for the imprint each year, the Moonbot logo should have plenty of opportunity to make its landing.