ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive fundraiser shines spotlight on how modern animated features are made
Shelly Smith reports in on Monday night's event at Woodbury University. Where Don Hahn, James Baxter, Mike Belzer and Nik Ranieri shared stories about what life is like in today's animation industry
Are you confused about where animation is going these days?
If so, join the club. What with the rise of performance capture, the revival of hand-drawn animation over at Disney, not to mention CG going 3D, animation students aren't sure what they should be doing these days in order to properly prepare for a career in the industry. These kids are desperate for some sort of sage advice.
Which is why several hundred of them made their way to Woodbury University this past Monday night. So that they could then attend a fundraiser that the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive was holding at Fletcher Jones Foundation Auditorium and listen in on a panel discussion that Don Hahn was holding with master animators James Baxter, Mike Belzer and Nik Ranieri.
To be honest, it was an evening full of great stories. Take -- for example -- Mike Belzer looking back on the production of Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
Master animator Mike Belzer.
Photo by Shelly Smith
"It was really guerilla film-making. We had all of these sets crammed together in a tiny little room. If the fire marshall had ever come by, he'd have shut down production immediately. But even then I knew I working on something special."
James Baxter and Nik Ranieri had similiar memories of working on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Where the entire animation team worked in one big room. And the only people who actually had walls & a door were Don and his secretary. Everybody else drew together in this single room that was full of desks where they then attempted the impossible.
Baxter looked back fondly on that time in his life. Which is why -- when James Baxter Animation landed the "Enchanted" assignment, handling all of the hand-drawn animation of that Kevin Lima film, he did everything he could to replicate the look & feel of Camden Town's "Roger Rabbit" studio.
Master animator James Baxter.
Photo by Shelly Smith
James had 35 guys crammed into a loft in Pasadena. That way, if he had to suddenly make a change, everyone in that room could hear the sound of his voice. So the "Enchanted" crew could move quickly if they had to. Which is how Baxter & his team were able to handle all of these sequences in LA for as little money as they were given without having to ship any of this animation overseas.
Everyone on the panel Monday night agreed that these are extremely challenging times for the industry. Where you often have to fight for what you believe in. Nik recalled how he battled with his supervisors on "Chicken Little" about how poorly some of that film's characters were designed. Which then made them extremely difficult to animate.
"I tried to explain how -- when a character doesn't have any shoulders -- it then makes it difficult to do things like throw them up against the wall. They eventually said, 'Look, we're not Pixar.' And I said 'Well, you should be.' "
Master animator Nik Ranieri.
Photo by Shelly Smith
As for the future of animation, particularly the large number of 3D CG films that are now in the pipeline, Hahn and his panelists were concerned with the way that this film-making process can sometimes overwhelm the storytelling. Especially since 3D CG presents animators with this whole new set of challenges. Given that you can no longer just concentrate on getting the best possible performance out of your character. You also have to keep in mind the space that your character occupies. Which means that you're now animating a space rather than just an image.
Which is why Monday night's panelists suggested -- before leaping in and trying to master CG -- it might be best if modern animation students first tried their hand at stop motion and hand-drawn animation. Which Don & his fellow panelists felt allowed animators to have more connectivity to the artform.
Veteran Disney producer Don Hahn.
Photo by Shelly Smith
And those animation students in Fletcher Jones Foundation Auditorium? They hung on every word. Frantically scribbling down notes ("Prepare at the highest level. Practice at the highest level. Play at the highest level") as well as "Oohing" & "Aahing" at some of the footage that Hahn brought along (i.e. the late great Joe Ranft pitching the two Santa Claus scenes that he wrote for "Nightmare Before Christmas," concept art from that "Snow Queen" film that Walt Disney Animation Studios was developing). And after this talk was over, they then all lined up in the lobby to have the panelists sign copies of Don's new book, "The Alchemy of Animation: Making a Animated Film in the Modern Age."
Monday night's panelists chat with members of the audience and then autograph copies of "The Alchemy of Animation: Making an Animated Feature in the Modern Age"
Photo by Shelly Smith
Best of all, thanks to all the money that was raised at Monday night's fundraiser, the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive will now be able to purchase two 1.5 terabyte hard drives. Which will help greatly with the scanning & cataloging of animation history that the Archives regularly does.
Speaking of which ... If you'd like to make a donation to the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, you can do so by clicking on this link.
Besson ramps up French comics to film
Variety reports that EuropaCorp, the production house headed up by Luc Besson, is getting into the comics-to-film business. The company has struck a pact with French comics publisher Editions Glenat to produce and distribute films based on their comics and concepts forming a new production shingle called Europa-Glenat.
EuropaCorp and Glenat share TV and film adaptation rights to Glenat's property in a 50/50 split. Eleanore de Prunele, acquisitions topper at EuropaCorp, will head the Paris-based shingle.
The article references animated features, stating that they have become a prime entertainment export of France. However, live-action comics adaptations like the 'Asterix' films have done big box office as well.
Besson has dipped his toe in the comics-to-film water previously with the production of 'Michel Vaillant'.
A perusal of the Glenat website reveals a vast catalog with titles in a variety of storytellling genres to draw from. The Variety artilce does not identify which titles would be on the fast track for development.
Seth Green Bringing ‘The Freshmen’ Movie To The Big Screen
Seth Green knows that the best way to get your comic book onscreen is to simply direct it yourself. Moviehole caught up with the “Sex Drive” star, who revealed his plans to direct “The Freshmen,” based on the Top Cow comic series he created with his friend, Hugh Sterbakov. According to Green, they are in the process of writing it, and will direct it when it’s ready. MTV spoke with Green several months ago about his plans for “The Freshmen” film. Now, he’s hammering out the boring details.
“You know, it’ll probably need a studio for release. My estimation is to make this movie the way we want to make it, we’ll need independent financing. But the nice thing about independent financing is, you know, a small-budget film is $35 million these days. And that’s about what we’d need to make it.”
Green describes the series as “Revenge of the Nerds” meets “X-Men.” It’s centered on a group of freshmen who, due to a lack of dorm space, are housed in the science building. An awkward group of students, they find themselves mocked and humiliated at a frat party, and facing a miserable four years of higher education. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, they become the victims of a science explosion which grants them the most useless superpowers ever — such as The Flying Squirrel, who can glide, but also compulsively hoards nuts, or “Post-It,” who’s entire body becomes sticky. Talked into becoming a group of crime-fighting superheroes, they have a variety of adventures and battles, almost all ending disastrously.
Green’s directorial experience has been confined to “Robot Chicken,” but since “The Freshmen” won’t require a scale of, say, “The Dark Knight,” I think he can handle it. And it might be nice to have a comic book movie that is aiming to be completely ridiculous instead of dark and gritty, don’t you think?
Video: Shatner Blasts Takei
William Shatner, apparently finished chiding Star Trek director J.J. Abrams over a perceived snub, has turned his video camera against former Trek co-star George Takei for not inviting him to Takei's recent wedding to his longtime partner.
For his part, Takei insists to TV Guide that he did in fact invite Shatner to his big day, but never got a reply. "It is unfortunate that Bill was unable to join us for our wedding as he indeed was invited to attend," he said in a statement. "It is our hope that at this point he joins us in voting NO on Proposition 8, which seeks to eliminate the fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry in California."
DRAGONBALL casting for some re-shoots
IGN reports that a casting notice has appeared online indicating additional filming is happening for the movie version of 'Dragonball'.
A posting on Actors Access as casting search website, calls for SAG actors to work on upcoming filming for the manga adaptation to begin on Oct. 30. Casting directors are said to be "looking for Tibetan and Nepalese actors."
This will undoubtedly be seen by some as a sign that the movie is in trouble. However, post-production pickup shots are fairly common in modern movies.
'Dragonball', starring Justin Chatwin and Chow Yun Fat and directed by James Wong is due in theaters next April.
INCREDIBLE HULK DVD Exclusives
'The Incredible Hulk' is out on DVD now. Depending on where you purchase your copy you could score some cool exclusive packaging.
The Marvel Gateway site has rounded up photos and data on which edition is available where.
Bonus CD-Rom Card
Exclusive packaging and additional featurettes on the second disc (details below)
Trans World (FYE and Suncoast)
Poster (Pre-Order Only)
Bonus Digital Comic DVD only available with single disc
Commentary with director Louis Leterrier and the cast
Bruce Banner visits the arctic but has an unexpected transformation
Bruce in Brazil
Searching For the Flower
Building the Lab
After the Bottling Factory / General Greller
Ross and Blonsky Conspire (extended)
Bruce Delivers Pizza
Bruce and Stanley
Bruce Meets Leonard
Bruce and Betty Talk
Dinner with Bruce
Betty and Leonard
Bruce and Leonard / Leonard's House the Next Morning
Hotel Room Conversation
Ross and Geller
On the Hulk Hunt
Ross and Sparr
Leonard Calls Betty
Making of Incredible
30-minute feature about the incredible behind-the-scenes process that created the Incredible Hulk
Becoming the Hulk
10-minute feature which looks at the mix of acting and technology that turned Edward Norton into the Green Goliath.
Becoming the Abomination
10-minute feature which looks at the mix of acting and technology that turned Tim Roth into the Abomination
Anatomy of a Hulk-Out
27-minute look at what it takes to film the explosive, Hulk-filled action scenes:
Hulking out in the bottling plant
Hulking out on campus
Hulking out in Harlem
From Comic Book to Screen
Comic book inspiration behind one of the most touching scenes of the movie
An Incredible Evolution (12:43)
Hulk Who Wasn't There (6:07)
Creating Hulk Comic Books (7:00)
Screening in Austin, Texas (6:15)
Being Green (2:43)
Digital copy of the film, which allows fans to watch the movie on a computer (Apple or Windows) or an iPod.
The power of Blu-Ray lets you experience a bevy of special features without ever leaving the movie. "U Control" allows viewers to look behind the scenes while still watching the movie, "Thunderbolt Files" lets you take a glimpse into the forces chasing the Hulk, and "Scene Explorer" lets you add or take away the different layers of special effects in scenes throughout the film.
Once you leave the film, the Blu-Ray edition of the Incredible Hulk has even more: The "Comic Book Gallery" allows viewers to take a look at the comic book art that inspired certain scenes in the movie.
BD-Live is the Blu-Ray service that allows owners with an Internet connection to interact with other fans of the film. "My Chat" allows fans to have screening parties with their friends whether they live down the street or on the other side of the world. "My Scenes Sharing" lets fans take favorite clips from the film and share them with friends and family.
The Incredible Hulk single-disc DVD is presented in widescreen enhanced for 16:9 televisions with Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround, French 5.1 Surround and Spanish 5.1 Surround with English, French and Spanish subtitles. Bonus features include the deleted and extended scenes.
Call to Action...
I'm not even going to explain this... Just watch and enjoy....
2008 Election Animation Round-up
Four years ago, the boys at JibJab knocked out one of the most viral videos of all time - This Land. This Flash-animated parody blasted both Bush and Kerry, and then went on to set online records with over 80 million views. A few months later YouTube hit the scene, and now in this 2008 election season, we’re overrun by animated election parodies. The difference this year is almost all of them are one-sided, and in particular left-leaning (aside from JibJab’s nonpartisan Time For Some Campaignin’). As you watch the various Flash-animated samples below, question if JibJab’s nonpartisan approach is the key to millions of views.
John McCain & Straight Talk Express: Palin vs Lieberman is from the gang behind Lil’ Bush. Click here to for a behind the scenes video.
Oh, McCain by Charlie Fink. Directed by Tony Grillo.
Oliver Stone’s P. Trailer by Yehudi Mercado
Oh, we’re not done yet….
Another one directed by Tony Grillo - The Two McCains Episode 3: My Foreign Fallacy.
Palin’s Qualifications by Mike Keefe, Editorial Cartoonist for the Denver Post.
Obama on the Run by Howard Tiersky
Mark Fiore’s McCain Iraq 2008
Halin’ Palin by Shaun Reimers
And I didn’t even get into the games! Here’s one Flash-based game: 270: White House Defense.
McLeods Mentor in Midlands Masterclass
Hi8us Midlands, a UK-based media and arts charity that helps produce innovative media, teamed up with The Brothers McLeod to mentor six budding animators. Over 7 nights, the McLeods helped the artists bring their one-minute visions to life - each of whom utilized Flash in their production. The effort is in conjunction with the Hello Digital Festival, which starts today in Birmingham, England. Visit the Digitoons Masterclass YouTube page to see them all, and below are a few samples:
Stinks by Qianqian “Lil” Liu
Flip by Nusha Amini
Fear(s) of the Dark and Delgo are coming!
There’s suddenly a flurry of last minute 2008 theatrical releases of animated features. Check out these two I’ve just added to the checklist:
Fear(s) of the Dark, which we mentioned here back in February ‘06 and October ‘07 is finally receiving an art house release through IFC Films. It’ll play for one week at the Nuart Theatre in West L.A. beginning October 31st.
Freestyle Releasing has announced a Dec. 12 release date for its computer-animated fantasy movie Delgo. We first mentioned this film back in December ‘07. A new trailer has been posted online.
Could we possibly hit the magic number needed (15) in order to nominate five animated films for Academy Award consideration?
(Thanks cartoon brew)
Wash. governor dressing up as Dora for Halloween
Washington state governor Chris Gregoire will don the duds of bilingual adventurer Dora the Explorer on Halloween.
She'll be joined by "first gentleman" (husband) Mike as Boots the monkey, the TV cartoon character's sidekick. Trooper, the family dog, will be attired as thieving fox Swiper.
It's bcome a tradition to wear costumes to greet trick-or-treaters at the Governor's Mansion near the state Capitol in Olympia.
Previous Halloweens have looked back to children's stories for inspiration. Former Washington governor Gary Locke, who had three children while in office, started the tradition by dressing as hipster Shaggy from Scooby Doo and Captain Hook from Peter Pan. Gregoire was once the talkative spider of Charlotte's Web.
Over 1,600 people have visited the mansion each Halloween to see the governor's family in full costume, The Olympian reported.
As she first did with her Willy Wonka theme three years ago, Gregoire will include five golden tickets in the treats handed out. These entitle finders to an early look at the mansion's holiday decorations December 5.
Gregoire also will give books to children, including Anne of Green Gables. Like the governor's mansion, the book is 100 years old this year.
Seth Rogen: ‘Green Hornet’ Will Tell Origin Because ‘No One Knows Anything About The Green Hornet’
FROM MTV.COM: Speaking with MTV News last November, writer/star Seth Rogen promised he was buffing up for the role of Britt Reid in “The Green Hornet,” he was looking very strongly at Stephen Chow for the role of Kato, and the movie wouldn’t follow an origin story.
Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Looking more svelte and in-shape than ever, Rogen now insists that his action-hero comedy — which he likened in tone to “True Lies” — will follow a more traditional “beginnings” arc.
Despite the vociferous complaining from fans who initially objected to Rogen’s command of the project, the funnyman says an origin story is necessary because, according to him, there aren’t really that many fans.
To read more of Seth Rogen’s thoughts on “Green Hornet,” head over to MTV.com.
Autodesk Acquires Softimage
Autodesk eliminated a major source of competition by acquiring Alias Systems in 2006, and now it has bought out another provider of 3D animation solutions. The company has signed an agreement to acquire Softimage from Avid Technology Inc. Paying approximately $35 million, Autodesk will gain control of substantially all assets of Avid's Softimage business unit.
Founded in 1986 by Daniel Langlois, Montreal-based Softimage develops 3D technology for the film, television and games markets. The comapany’s flagship product is SOFTIMAGE|XSI, a full 3D animation software solution used by a number of leading media and entertainment companies, including Digital Domain, Ubisoft, SEGA Corp., CAPCOM, Animal Logic and The Mill. Autodesk
“Softimage has been developing state-of-the-art 3D technology for more than 20 years, and its products are recognized as best-of-breed in the entertainment industry,” says Marc Petit, senior VP of Autodesk Media & Entertainment. “Upon the completion of this acquisition we will be adding Softimage technology and products to our portfolio, and welcoming one of the most talented teams in the industry to Autodesk Media & Entertainment. Both will help us accelerate the work of our Games Technology Group, as we build the next generation of real-time, interactive 3D authoring tools for games, film and television.”
Upon completion of the acquisition, Autodesk intends to continue developing and selling Softimage's core product line, including SOFTIMAGE|XSI (Including XSI Essentials, XSI Advanced, XSI Academic, XSI Mod Tool and the XSI software development kit), SOFTIMAGE|Face Robot, SOFTIMAGE|Cat and SOFTIMAGE|Crosswalk. Autodesk also plans to integrate certain Softimage technology into future versions of its own solutions and products. For further information go to www.autodesk.com/softimage.
Animated Shorts: Ben 10: Alien Force with Dwayne McDuffie
The new season of Ben 10: Alien Force is greatly expanding the mythology surrounding young Ben Tennyson and his particular...talents.
For those who don’t remember, B10:AF is the sequel to the Cartoon Network smash hit Ben 10. Set five years after the original series, Ben Tennyson must again don the Omnitrix to protect the Earth from a new alien threat, the High Breed. These extraterrestrials are using mankind for their personal breeding ground, turning human beings into what Ben now calls DNAliens. As to why, only Glen Murakami and Dwayne McDuffie know for sure, and that’s because they are the executive producers of this sequel.
Being that Animated Shorts loves to drive Murakami crazy with questions, we thought we’d cut him a break and focus on McDuffie. It’s been a long time since Dwayne first broke into the comic book business with comic books such as Damage Control and the Milestone line. On the animation front he also has earned mad props for his writing/producing on such series as Static Shock, JL(U) and Teen Titans (on a side – Static - note, McDuffie will soon be shepherding the return of the Milestone Universe into the DC Universe). As it stands, B10:AF is part of Cartoon Network’s new action adventure block on Fridays, helping break network ratings records with Secret Saturdays, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and, soon, Batman: The Brave & The Bold.
This is what McDuffie said about the new season of Ben 10: Alien Force:
Newsarama: Dwayne, how did you get involved with Ben 10 in the first place?
Dwayne Mcduffie: Glen and I were working on something else, a totally new show, which we were developing for Cartoon Network. Then they asked Glen if he would do a revamp of Ben 10. Meanwhile, we were talking every day and I guess Glen thought if we were doing that, they should have me on.
NRAMA: Was the idea of Ben and crew being five years older already set?
DM: Yes. They had a lot of creative ideas and we went through them. I know they wanted to age Ben up. There were also certain other elements, [such as] Kevin being part of the team. That wasn’t set but we both liked the idea. We sort of mixed and matched between what they thought up and what we wanted to do. It was basically which things they wanted to do which we wanted to also do.
NRAMA: Was the DNAliens your idea? What are they anyway? Do they see Earth as a tremendous breeding ground for themselves?
DM: That was me and Glen. Now the DNAliens are humans that were transformed into genetic slaves of the High Breed.
NRAMA: I’m sorry, I meant the High Breed.
DM: That’s all right. We only started telling what’s really going on in the last two episodes. We’ve been slowly developing things. It’s been a journey of discovery and viewers are only starting to discover what the real plot is.
NRAMA: So is the High Breed the real plot or is there something even darker pulling the strings?
DM: The High Breed are the real plot. What they really are up to has not really been revealed as of yet.
NRAMA: Sounds like you’re building a monstrous story arc here.
DM: It’s a huge story arc. The first 26 episodes are one giant story. Episodes that look like they are one-offs aren’t. Either thematically or as far as works in progress every single episode builds towards the two-parter ending, which is probably in a way the most complex story I’ve done in animation.
NRAMA: So how long are we really talking about. Three season? Five season?
DM: Two seasons. 26 episodes. Then last 13 are just starting. By the time we get to the end of this run, it’s a complete story.
NRAMA: Are you hoping to do more or move on?
DM: Gee. I don’t know. There’s a PR person listening in and nothing has been officially announced. So I can’t really say.
NRAMA: So, overall, what has it been like working with Mr. Murakami?
DM: It’s a lot of fun. We worked a tiny bit on Justice League. We work in the same building. We have always been friends. When we started working together we pretty quickly noticed that we had all the same references. Also, when we talked about story, his strengths countered my weaknesses and I like to think vice versa. It works out really well.
NRAMA: Moving back to plot. What has happened to Max Tennyson? Is he gone or will he be back?
DM: Max pretty much got finalized in episode 7. It’s sad, but it’s the only real way Ben could learn to become a leader in his own right. The only way for Ben to grow up and start becoming a man is to not have Max there to fall back on.
NRAMA: What about all those future lines in the original series? They had Max in them.
DM: What you have to also realize is all those time travel episodes was to a possible future. So, just because you saw a future on a past episode, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Not to forget we now have a character, Paradox the time traveler, who we will meet again. He will clarify some of those issues.
NRAMA: I was going to bring up Paradox. What is it like working with David McCallum?
DM: He’s just a joy. I mean I was always a big fan of his from shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Sapphire & Steel. It was a real pleasure to have him in. Further, he’s just so charming.
NRAMA: Is Paradox inspired by Doctor Who?
DM: Absolutely! Glen and I both love those old shows and we thought it would be fun to wink at them a little bit.
NRAMA: So would you say your work on Ben 10 is done for the moment?
DM: I’m not sure how to answer that. Oh! You’re re-asking the question I couldn’t answer before! (laughs).
NRAMA: Well, just doing my job.
DM: Let’s just say if there is more Ben 10, I’d be happy to work on it.
NRAMA: Any projects we should be aware of now?
DM: I’m working on Justice League the comic right now. We’re also hard at work at reintroducing the characters I helped create, the Milestone characters. We’re starting a big storyline about them and a character who did get animated, Static Shock. They will be joining the DCU.
NRAMA: Nice. I miss reading about the Blood Syndicate, personally.
DM: Very soon.
EXCLUSIVE: Mark Goerner Talks James Cameron's "Battle Angel"!!!
Hi everyone, Michael here with a very special interview-- Designer and Artist Mark Goerner has been most generous to share with us his experiences working on James Cameron’s 3-D “Battle Angel!” Mark is an incredible talent at the absolute top of his profession. Some of his work not related to the Cameron project is interspersed throughout this article (along with pictures from Yukito Kishiro's Battle Angel manga). To learn more about Mark and his work you can visit his website, http://www.grnr.com.
For over a year and a half, Mark focused his artistic skills, perceptiveness, and creative passion towards the creation of the Battle Angel world. The following interview is a special glimpse into the huge amount of work that has already gone into the project.
For those readers out there who have not yet read Yukito Kishiro’s 9 volume Battle Angel Alita manga series, I urge you to pick it up right away. The Battle Angel books combine a fantastic sci-fi artistic aesthetic with a story that delves into the timeless themes of love, loss, family, free will, and finding one’s path and place in the world. They are packed with hilarious and touching moments, and have some of the most amazingly cool action sequences in the medium of graphic storytelling.
Thanks Mark, for your kindness, and I hope you enjoyed the interview!
MarketSaw: The thing I love the most about Kishiro's Battle Angel graphic novels is how he creates such an incredibly immersive, detailed, cohesive, and unique world. Were you a fan of the Battle Angel graphics novels (the original 9) before starting work on Cameron's project? If not, are you a fan now? If so, what do you like most about them?
Mark Goerner: The funny thing about working in the film business is that intense fans of the creative property are not always the best ones to be designing and developing the adaptive content. It's like having a crush on someone for 8 years and then finally getting your chance...preconceived notions prevent growing into the reality at hand. After reading the series and absorbing the content in the first week of work, I couldn't help but look for the influences that lead to Kishiro's story and world he wove together. I loved most of it, and the few things that didn't resonate gave it character that further set it apart from other post-apocalyptic works from the last 20 years of fiction. It is also important to think how young he was when starting to author this epic. His ability to create a layered fable of a poisonous caste system with the despair of fatherhood lost, and a cyber-youth in moral conflict, struck many chords with me.
MarketSaw: When, and for how long did you work on Battle Angel?
Mark Goerner: It was 12, 4, 23 years? It was a long haul that had a couple stops and re-starts, but basically ran over a year and half for me, which was the longest amount for an artist aside from the production designer, Martin Laing.
MarketSaw: Kishiro's art is amazing, and I think your work is marvelous, too. What can you tell me about the challenge of turning Kishiro's artwork into something that would work in a photorealistic film? How was it "adapting" another artists' creation?
Mark Goerner: 400 million dollar question. This is one of the biggest considerations in the early phases of a themed project that is driven from a popular graphic novel. Potent fandom has to be set aside or at least suspended while tackling the content. I'm sure Marvel deals with this one intensely every time they ponder releasing one of their properties. Cameron had already been armed with a solid understanding of how this would need to be articulated when we entered the studio. What is always exciting in these early stages, is the dialog that occurs when the conceptual art and technology employed informs the director/producer/designer, and causes adjustments in the master plan. The reality is that those that know of the graphic novel are a minute percentage of box office; and those that are obsessed, even less. That is why there are such strong discrepancies in adaptation. Essentially, the movie has to hold its own, in that format, in that era, and with those pan-directional needs to appeal to a wide audience. Look at Akira. The 6 books were turned into 1 anime. Much is lost, and much is distorted to suit the time constraint, format, budget and so-on. That considered, it is still one of my favorite movies. With Battle Angel, there was an underlying consensus from our small crew that Alita needed to retain her inherent style and subtle personality as well as that of most of the secondary characters. Key sets and technology represented in the architecture and robotics were also seen as essential.
MarketSaw: What was your creative working relationship with James Cameron? What was it like working with him?
Mark Goerner: Oh lord, can I skip this one? Honestly, he is one of the smartest and most resourceful people I've met. Had a few great, creative meetings, and Lightstorm Entertainment had some warm people that evolved into my dysfunctional daytime family on the west side.
MarketSaw: Which other artists worked with you in the Battle Angel art department? I believe James Clyne and Feng Zhu worked on Battle Angel as well. How did you all divide the enormous task of adapting Kishiro's visuals for the screen--did each of you have a particular focus (i.e. one of you focused on characters, another on environments, another on props, etc)?
Mark Goerner: It turned out to be a bit of an art buffet with tasks being kicked around. James started a week before I did, jumping immediately into Alita's form and outfits. I initially worked on some of the grand scheme city designs, and then as a few months went by, dove into everything under that world's dreary sun. Seeing as James is my best pal, and one of my biggest heroes, I hope you get a chance to hit him up for further details. Feng was on shortly, and in my opinion was not utilized correctly; but that happens in certain studios and offices on a regular basis. As the last one on, I got to see the whole effort and did my most favorite piece in that last week...wish you could see it.
MarketSaw: What's the most exciting thing about Battle Angel that you can tell us?
Mark Goerner: NDA's [non-disclosure agreements] are powerful things, so what I can say without issue, is that when they stopped funding that phase of the production, what was left on the walls and in the digital archives was a massive library of what most fan's and newcomers would see as truly powerful. Near the end of the cycle, we began to hit a consistent tone with regard to atmospheres and characterizations that followed or even amplified on Kishiro's vision.
MarketSaw: What can you tell us about what you are currently working on (and what you have been working on since completing your work on Battle Angel)?
Mark Goerner: I have worked on a few different films including Avatar since then, but have moved out of LA, and have returned to working on theme parks, gaming, and other consulting as I did before I swung into the film side of life. I am also in the process of building prototypes and starting to develop a company to manufacture high design architectural surfacing. I still do film art and love the conceptual buzz I get from it, but feel the real world application of design is something I would be remised if not involved in. I am also in the early stages of designing and building a house that is off the grid and will hopefully be a truly unique statement in not only aesthetics but in it's ecological aspects of long term impact.
MarketSaw: What was your working environment like? I heard that the ceiling of the art department was made up to look like the hanging sky city (Tiphares / Zalem)...is this true?
Mark Goerner: It was a great neighborhood a few blocks from the central shopping district of Santa Monica, California, housed in a soft-modern building from the mid-eighties that had a dental office where we set up the art department. Our old acoustic ceilinged floor with glass partitions defined our quarters which had a great view of a parking lot where automotive rendezvous of sexual fervor would play out, homeless rants were belted out, and where a bird lady and a 30 pound bag of seed was dumped out. Some mornings I swore I could smell Geltrate and hear the faint squeal of a hand drill. As for Zalem, yes, one of my paintings was turned into a couple hundred dollar foam core donut mounted on the ceiling as a device to get the impact across on one of the occasions when we presented our work. It ended up being a good reservoir for trash and things that needed to be hidden in short order.
MarketSaw: When working on Battle Angel, did you mainly focus on producing photorealistic, detailed, finished paintings, or did you also do a lot of rough conceptual sketches?
Mark Goerner: For that phase of B.A., the focus was in creating exciting large scale visuals that where intended to excite JC when he was in town and available to check out the work and progress. In the process of developing those images, there were the usual rough sketches, but largely we used large printouts to create the biggest impact to push the drama.
MarketSaw: What artistic tools (physical or digital) did you work with on this project?
Mark Goerner: We still did pencil and pen sketches for some of the rough sketches, and some of the half/quarter sections detail orthographic views of Alita and city elements, but the majority was in the fine world of Photoshop with the usual clustering and layering of on-line reference, photos from our own archives, and naturally, painting.
MarketSaw: From your knowledge, has the Alita character design been finalized? Have you seen the digital model?
Mark Goerner: I believe it was considered final, but then again...even 1 week of time in a production can be enough to provide pause for reflection towards a new design direction. I would gauge that after all of the work on Avatar, and changes in perception, themes in her makeup and suits will evolve further.
A Huge Thanks to Mark for his insight into the creative process on Battle Angel!
I for one really hope that Cameron pushes forward with Battle Angel after Avatar--well, as long as I see it in theaters by the time New Horizons reaches Pluto. I know there are a ton of people out there (both online and people I've spoken to in "real life") who can't wait for a Cameron Battle Angel...and after they read Mark's words I'm sure they will be frothing at the mouth for it even more.
For a great in-depth bio/profile of Mark, check out this article over at CGSociety.
TiVo Gets Disney Pics
TiVo, best known as a television recording service, wants to be known as a content aggregator as well. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the company is making a number of Disney films available to broadband subscribers. The yet unnamed titles will be brought to TiVo users through relationships with CinemaNow and Jaman. TiVo has been offering studio flicks through Unbox, Amazon.com’s video-on-demand channel, for months now.
By providing users with more entertainment options, TiVo hopes to lure customers away from other, less expensive DVR services offered by cable and satellite providers. DVRs have reportedly penetrated more than 36 million U.S. homes, while only 3.6 million homes use TiVo.
CinemaNow currently distributes such Disney titles as Dumbo, The Fox and the Hound and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. TiVo users will be able to select movies on their television sets, mobile devices or computers and download them to their TiVo hard drives through the CinemaNow and Jaman services.
Digital Domain Names Plumer CEO
Visual effects shop Digital Domain has hired Cliff Plumer as CEO, and has promoted Kevin Weston to chief financial officer. Former CEO Mark Miller will remain with the company as president. Digital Domain says the appointments reflect a focus on its core business—visual effects for feature films and commercial productions—and strategic development of its efforts in games and animation.
Plumer will be responsible for Digital Domain’s overall strategy and all aspects of its business. He joined the company in 2006 as chief technology officer following a ten-year tenure with ILM and Lucasfilm Ltd. He has more than twenty years of experience in digital entertainment and media technology..
Now charged with overseeing finance and accounting, Weston joined Digital Domain in 2008 as general manager of the games division. The former LucasArts VP has also served as CFO and senior VP at Eidos Interactive Inc., U.S., held senior roles in KPMG’s London Entertainment practice, and has consulted for leading games and entertainment companies. In addition to handling his CFO dutioes, Weston will work with Plumer to develop the company’s long-term expansion into the games market.
As President, Miller is driving the company’s feature film visual effects business. Ed Ulbrich, president of the commercials division and exec VP of production, continues to oversee Digital Domain’s advertising business and exec produce key feature film projects.
Blockbuster director Michael Bay, co-chair of Digital Domain’s board of directors, comments, “Digital Domain has always delivered impressive work, but with Cliff and Mark at the helm, our company is certain to grow as a frontrunner among the best in the visual effects industry. Our goal is not only to produce cutting-edge effects, but to create an atmosphere where the best and the brightest come to develop their talents, design innovative techniques and craft ground-breaking effects for every one of our entertainment and advertising projects.”
Academy Award-winning Digital Domain was founded in 1993 and has worked on more than 60 feature films, including such high-profile productions as Titanic, The Day After Tomorrow and director David Fincher’s upcoming Brad Pitt vehicle, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In addition to Fincher and Bay, the studio has also worked with such leading filmmakers as Clint Eastwood, Rob Cohen, Joseph Kosinski, Mark Romanek and the Wachowski brothers. More information on the Venice, Calif.-based company can be found at www.digitaldomain.com.
New York Has Fear(s) of the Dark
If you live in New York, make a point to see the new French animated feature Fear(s) of the Dark (Peur(s) du noir). Distributed by IFC Ent., the critically acclaimed festival favorite begins its U.S. theatrical run today (Oct. 24) at the IFC Theatre in New York City. The pic will debut in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Washington D.C. and other cities on Oct. 31, rolling out wider from there.
Produced predominantly in black-and-white, Fear(s) examines childhood terrors as recalled by a diverse group of artists made up of The New Yorker contributors Richard McGuire and Lorenzo Mattotti, Strasbourg-born Blutch (Christian Hinker), American illustrator Charles Burns, and France’s Marie Caillou and Pierre Di Sciullo. Canal Plus art director Etienne Robial served as artistic director on the project.
Fear(s) of the Dark is produced by Valerie Schermann and Christophe Jankovic’s Prima Linea Prods. (U, Alice in the City). Celluloid Dreams is handling sales. Diaphana Distribution put the pic out in France in February. The complete U.S. release schedule follows:
Shattuck Cinemas, Landmark
Los Angeles, CA
Nuart Theatre, Landmark
San Francisco, CA
Embarcadero Center Cinema, Landmark
Santa Rosa, CA
Lakeside Rialto, ESP
San Diego, CA
Ken Cinema, Landmark
Santa Cruz, CA
Mayan Theatre, Landmark
E Street Cinema, Landmark
Midtown Art Cinema, Landmark
Century Centre Cinema, Landmark
Keystone Art Cinema, Landmark
Des Moines, IA
Kendall Square, Landmark
Maple Art Theatre, Landmark
Lagoon Cinema, Landmark
Kansas City, MO
Tivoli Manor Square, PFR
St. Louis, MO
Tivoli Theatre, Landmark
New York, NY
IFC Center, independent
Cedar Lee Theatre, PFR
Gateway Theater, Landmark
Ritz at the Bourse, Landmark
The Magnolia, Landmark
Dobie Theatre, Landmark
Egyptian Theatre, Landmark
Bolt, Buzz Lightyear Join Macy’s Parade
Walt Disney Studios will be well-represented at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The studio is sending characters from the Toy Story franchise and the upcoming CG-animated feature Bolt to New York City to participate in the annual event. Bolt voice cast member Miley Cyrus is slated to sing the soundtrack song “I Thought I Lost You” aboard a float starring characters from the movie, which opens in Disney Digital 3-D on Nov. 21. Meanwhile, Disney/Pixar’s Buzz Lightyear will make his Parade debut as a giant helium balloon. His appearance celebrates the return of the Toy Story franchise to the big screen. Stereoscopic 3-D versions of the first film will hit theaters on Oct. 2, 2009, followed by Toy Story 2 on Feb. 12, 2010. Toy Story 3 will be in theaters in 3-D on June 18, 2010.
“The Macy’s Parade has been the launching pad for many new beautifully animated characters just waiting to leap into the hearts of fans everywhere, and this year is no exception,” says Amy Kule, producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “The addition of Bolt and Buzz Lightyear to an already stellar line-up is sure to be a highlight of the annual procession and make Bolt and Buzz Lightyear instant Parade classics.”
More than 50 million viewers across the country are expected to tune in to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will line the streets of New York City with more than 3.5 million spectators. The parade will march down a 2.5-mile route with more than 10,000 participants in tow, including Macy’s employees, celebrities, athletes, clowns, dance groups and America’s best marching bands.
Toon Zone Interviews Don Hahn on "The Alchemy of Animation"
He may still be the only producer of an animated film nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, but Don Hahn is more than ready to get some company. To help speed the process, the veteran producer for the Walt Disney Company and two-time Oscar nominee (the second time for "The Little Matchgirl" short in 2006) has written The Alchemy of Animation, a book that summarizes the fundamentals of making an animated movie in CGI, hand-drawn animation, and stop-motion animation. In addition to its educational value, the book is also lavishly illustrated with artwork drawn from the vast archives of art from Walt Disney Feature Animation and Pixar Animation Studios.
Hahn was able to take some time out of his schedule to chat with Toon Zone News by phone about the new book and about the art, craft, and business of animated filmmaking.
TOON ZONE NEWS: When and why did you start writing The Alchemy of Animation?
DON HAHN: We started about 2 years ago. I had done a book almost 10 years ago called Animation Magic that was really for kids, for people who were interested in getting their kids started in animation, or fans of animation. I always wanted to do an aged-up book that was a little more detail-oriented and can still service the fanbase of people that are interested in Disney and Pixar films, but also expand beyond just hand-drawn and 3-D movies into stop-motion movies, and also about music and even a little bit of marketing thrown in. So it was a chance to put all the elements of making a movie together under one cover. It's great if you're in high school or college to be able to figure out what you want to do for a living, or it's great if you're just a fan and want to learn more about animation.
TZN: I think it's really neat how the book explains what all those people do in the credits. "What's a gaffer?" and all that.
HAHN: Exactly, I think that's what the fun of it is, because you see these credits go by, and you go, "What's a rigger?" Who are these people and what do they do? It's just a chance to get a behind-the-scenes peek at everybody.
TZN: And you were aiming for a slightly older audience than the last book?
HAHN: Yeah, and kind of a broader audience, too. I think in the last book, we touched on 3-D animation, but this one goes into it much deeper. We also talk about stop-motion and motion-capture, which is becoming an interesting new technique. It tries to cover the industry as much as possible just to give a modern snapshot of what animation is doing now.
TZN: Would you say that those are the things that have changed the most between the time when you wrote Animation Magic and when you wrote this book?
HAHN: Yeah. I mean, certainly, hand-drawn animation has fewer hand-drawn productions out there. Hayao Miyazaki is still doing amazing work and thankfully, Disney is doing amazing hand-drawn work again, but 3-D films are everywhere. There were 16 features last year that the Academy considered for Best (Animated) Picture. Then, stop-motion is always in the wings and a great technique. It's probably the oldest technique out there, and so it's great to talk about it and talk about the kinds of movies that are being made in stop-motion.
TZN: I noticed that you used the word "Alchemy" in the title, and I think that's interesting because alchemy is about the blend of magic and science. Was that a deliberate choice?
HAHN: Yes, for the exact same reasons that you just said. It's a blending of that kind of art and science that's hard to define. It's hard to define what talent is, or what a good idea is. On the other side of it is science, which tends to be more definable and more quantifiable. The combination is exactly what animation is. It's this mixture of art and technology that makes the movies great. I tried to strike that balance in the book, so you could see some amazing paintings and drawings and things that are truly fine-art, mixed with things that are highly technical. It's about that the art and craft of filmmaking under one cover.
TZN: Did you find it hard to strike the balance between the two? Did you ever find that you swung a bit too much talking about soft, fuzzy arty things or getting too technical?
HAHN: I think I probably did swing towards talking about the art a little bit more because the technical is hard to explain to a lay audience sometimes, but then I tried not to shy away from the technical side in the book. One of the most important things to me was to actually be able to talk about some of the technical aspects of a movie in a way that a complete novice can understand it, so you understand that basically a CG character is like a marionette, and someone goes in and rigs it like a puppeteer might rig a marionette with strings. I wanted to try to put it into vernacular where people who are reading the book can understand it.
TZN: The book looks beautiful, with all the art from the Disney archives. I'm assuming you had carte blanche to sort of run through the Disney archives to pick and choose what you wanted to include in the book?
HAHN: Yeah, that was part of the fun of the book, and it took the longest time, in a funny way. It took two years to put the book together, but we were the beneficiaries of having great access to the Animation Research Library at Disney and the library up at Pixar, too, and try and pull as many images as we could that told the story that I wanted to tell. The book is really a tribute to all the artists and technicians that make these movies, and it's a great thing to be able to pull artwork that showcases their work. As an author, I don't do any of this myself. I just was really happy to be able to plow through artwork and say, "Here's the best example of this kind of character design or visual effect," or "Here's a technical example of something that's interesting and that maybe you've never seen before in a book."
TZN: With all that material available, how did you limit yourself?
HAHN: (Laughs) We pulled probably about five times as many images as we used in the book. We could have done another hundred pages, I'm sure, but we had a great team of artists and designers that put the book together and we debated it. For virtually every piece in the book, we would ask, "Is this the best example of this? The best story we can tell with this piece of artwork?" So, I think in the end, that's why people are generally really happy with the way the book looks, because even if you don't read the text, you're getting these prime examples of character design or storytelling or modeling or whatever that tells the story of how these movies are made.
TZN: It's also nice because so many people have the pre-conception that, "Oh, the computer does everything." There's not as much realization of how much work really goes into making an animated film.
HAHN: And if you asked Brad Bird or Andrew Stanton or anybody, they would say that the computer really doesn't do anything. It's the artist that drives it and the people behind it that make it all work, and it's really true.
TZN: You said that you had started this book about two years ago. I guess the only one of the Nine Old Men who was still with us at that point was Ollie Johnston.
HAHN: Yeah, and we have a great picture of Ollie Johnston with Andreas Deja in the back of the book. It's kind of a tip of the hat to Ollie and certainly all his colleagues. I didn't talk to Ollie about the making of the book, but in a big way, Ollie, and Frank [Thomas] were an inspiration to me to do this book because they were able to articulate the art of animation in their book back in the 70's when they did The Illusion of Life. This is certainly not as comprehensive as their book is, but it's definitely inspired by their willingness to share information and inspire a new generation of people, and that's what I hope to do. I hope be able to sit in the motion picture home someday and watch other people's animation and know that there's a whole new generation coming up that maybe had a chance to access this artwork because of my book.
TZN: I also really liked the anecdote in the middle of the book when Ollie Johnston went to visit Pixar to see how they made CGI animation, and he kept asking the animators there, "Yes, but what happens first?" until the animators said "we think about what the character is thinking," and that's what Ollie wanted to hear.
HAHN: That was a great story because it came directly from one of the animators at Pixar. I asked several animators and people to read the text, and he read the text and said, "Oh, you have to put this story in." It was so good that I did, because it says it all. It says it all. It's all about the character.
TZN: You've been in the business for a pretty long time. Did you learn anything new while you were writing the book?
HAHN: Yeah, absolutely. I've never really worked closely with stop-motion animators. We're starting to do it now on a new film I'm working on, but it was really interesting to look at the pictures and talk with some of the stop-motion guys who put those movies together, and whether it's Henry Selick or Mike Belzer or whoever just to talk about their passion for stop-motion, because people who work in stop-motion are nuts about it. I really wanted that section of the book to be comprehensive and give their point of view of what it means to them to be able to work on a stop-motion movie like Nightmare Before Christmas.
TZN: I think that's one of the things that makes this book different from a lot of other animation books. Most books talk about 2-D or 3-D animation or both, but stop-motion usually gets overlooked.
HAHN: It does, and it's some of my favorite work. I love Nightmare, I love Corpse Bride, some of the Wallace & Gromit movies...they're some of my favorite work. Sometimes it gets glossed over because of the sex appeal or the commercial value of CG movies, but I think it's a terrific art form going back to Ray Harryhausen and King Kong and up to now, so it was an important thing to include in the book.
TZN: You also have a big emphasis on a very iterative creative process, where you talk about constantly refining and redoing a movie.
HAHN: Very much.
TZN: I find that interesting because there was an article that Ed Catmull wrote in the Harvard Business Review recently about the creative process at Pixar, and he says a lot of the same things.
HAHN: Well, Pixar and Disney are the same company. They come from the same roots, and that's why. Ed is brilliant at articulating that. It's really the truth. It's the secret weapon that animation has, and if you're smart, you use that. Live-action films don't have that weapon, and that's that you can iterate and redo things again and again and again until they get better. So you can really go back into things and say, "This sequence isn't working," or "this character isn't working," "this design isn't working," and if you have the resources, you can redo it all the way up until opening day. I think when you look at films, even Snow White and Bambi and Dumbo, or modern miracles like WALL-E, they're all beneficiaries of that iterative process, and it's something that Walt certainly brought to the party. He wouldn't settle and he wouldn't give up, and so you find these movies being done and done again. The vaults are full of discarded sequences and story notes about discared sequences, and that's what makes these movies particularly special.
TZN: You know, I'd never even really considered that, but you're right. It's not like you have to build a set again or anything for a re-take.
HAHN: Right! Live-action movies are always made based on calendars. If you have a director available for three months and an actor available for three months, they get one week rehearsals, they shoot, and go away. To get everybody back together to re-shoot is virtually impossible. But in animation, you can start out with a script and storyboards and your actors are always there. Your actors are always in the trailer ready to go, the sets are always built, and you can go back in. We've had movies like Lion King where we've added entire sequences six months before the movie came out. That's a secret weapon that animation has over other media.
TZN: There's a flip side to that, too, isn't there? That temptation to always be tinkering...
HAHN: Yes, you're absolutely right. It's the good and the bad of it. You can work a movie to death, also (laughs). There's probably some good examples of that, even from our films, where you need to know when to stop -- when it is good enough, or when you're just beating an idea into the ground. But overall, it's a huge benefit and it's a huge part of the creative process to be able to check your ego at the door and collaborate with a group of people. It's a real team sport, and it's a real chance to make something that's better than any single person could have made.
TZN: Between this new book and Ed Catmull's article, why are all you guys giving away all of your secrets?
HAHN: (Laughs) Well, we're not. I think it may appear that we're giving away all our secrets, but there's really nothing in the book that isn't common knowledge to someone who works in the animation trade at DreamWorks or Sony or any place else. I think it's all contingent also on the people that you have, and our biggest secret is that we have amazingly talented people at the studio and at Pixar. Any studio can go out and buy a bunch of chairs and software licenses and any studio can go out and buy a bunch of computers, but that doesn't make a Studio. A Studio is 100% about the people that you have, and that's one thing that we don't share (laughs). We have great people, we try to have great projects that entice those people to stay with the studio and be challenged by those projects, and I think that's why I'm really willing to talk about our processes, because the one thing that other studios may or may not have is the level of talent and expertise, on the technical side and on the artistic side, that we have in our studio.
TZN: What was the hardest thing for you to do in writing the book?
HAHN: A lot of the technical stuff on the CG side. I'm a producer, so I don't do that every day. And it was the most intimidating because I wanted to make sure it was right, and yet it was put in a way that was understandable, so I went through the most sweat in that section. Because of that, I had about 4 or 5 top, really great technical people at Disney and at Pixar read that section again and again and help be my backstop and correct me and put things in understandable language. I can talk pretty fluidly and well about hand-drawn animation because that's where I made my career in large part, but for the CG stuff, I just wanted to make sure that it was represented well in the book if you're really into it and want to learn the basic truths of how a CG movie is put together. So there I struggled the most and really had the most help from some of the experts at Disney and Pixar.
TZN: In some of your earlier interviews about Nightmare Before Christmas and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you mentioned that when both of those movies were made, they were kind of under the radar. In contrast, there are a LOT of people paying a LOT of attention to The Princess and the Frog. To a large extent, any Disney movie or any Pixar movie is going to get a lot of attention from the outside world. How do you manage that weight of expectations that people have?
HAHN: It is daunting, and it's about stress management more than anything else (laughs). There are examples of movies flying under the radar and getting done and being spectacular like Nightmare. Even Toy Story could be in that category. But then there's the flip side of Toy Story 2 or Princess and the Frog or Beauty and the Beast or even Lion King. They were all terrifying at a certain point because everybody was looking. Like, after Mermaid and Beauty and Aladdin, what's the next big thing from Disney? After WALL-E, what's the next big thing from Pixar? So whether it's self-imposed or imposed from the outside, there is that pressure to do something great, and I think that pressure has two sides to it. There's a positive pressure, and a stress to do better work that forces you to show up and put your best ideas forward and slay your not-so-good ideas. Then you just have to manage the negative pressure, which is just trying to guide these movies on-budget and on-schedule with the expectations that they have.
It goes back to a team effort, though, because there's no one person who has to bear the brunt of all that. It's a real team. There's great brain-trusts at Disney -- the directors and the great story people at Disney who can look at ideas and share their thoughts and, as a team, come up with what's working and what's not working. So, in that way, the stress and the successes and failures get shared by the team. I think that was true in Walt's day. Even though Walt's name was on the film, his biggest and his best talent was understanding people's talents and assembling great teams. Walt didn't draw on the job much, and he was a great actor and a great rallier of people, but he was able to put together great teams -- the Nine Old Men and the Mary Blairs of the world -- and put them together and cast them properly in those teams and make those successes. It's very much the same in the 80's and 90's, and it's very much the same today. There's great teams of people at the studio, and they can share the successes and failures.
But it's a really good question, because the stress is very real and the pressure to outdo and outperform is there. The one thing I've always said, though, is the best thing you can do is try to keep reaching out in new directions. I think WALL-E is a good example. It's a film with no dialogue for a half-hour. Up is a film that that stars a man in his 70's. They're very unexpected. In its day, I think Lion King was probably unexpected. It was, you know, the Joseph story meets Hamlet in Africa with music by Elton John. It was a nutty concept in its time, but those risks, I think, are the kinds of movies that end up paying the biggest dividends.
TZN: How much does that pressure or that kind of stress affect the kinds of projects that you decide to pick?
HAHN: I think it probably doesn't early on. Early on, I don't know that you're thinking about that down the line. You want a project with great potential. The other thing that Ed Catmull says, and I really agree, is that great people make a project great. Ratatouille is a perfect example. If I were to tell you we're doing a movie about rats in a kitchen, you would say, "You're out of your mind. That's the most unappealing, uncommercial idea you could possibly come up with." But you put a guy like Brad Bird on it, who's one of the best damn animation directors working today, and he comes up with something that's clever and fun and interesting and was a huge hit. So, yes, it's partially the idea, but you can take a great idea and give it to a lesser director or a lesser team of people and they can kill it pretty easily (laughs), or you can take a strong idea, a good idea, even a fair idea and give it to a great crew and they will make something out of it.
TZN: What kinds of things do you look for when you're trying to put together that team?
HAHN: It's all a casting problem. There's a lot of sports metaphors I could use, but it's very much about putting together different strengths. Some people you want in for a couple of months to give you great pieces of artwork to inspire, and then they go away. You want other people who are marathon racers who can stay with you for three or four years and execute that vision. So it's a cross-section of people who are sprinters and marathon racers. Collaboration is important. That's not to mean it has to be fun and fuzzy every day. I think there's a lot of controversy and butting of heads in any creative environment, but it's a group of people who are at least willing to put their ego aside long enough to evaluate other people's ideas and make the best idea rise to the top, whether it's their idea or not. You're looking for that kind of team and that kind of chemistry between the team.
TZN: There are some things you touch on in the book that I wanted to talk with you a bit more about. You mention international markets briefly in the book when you talk about dubbing and international marketing, and when we spoke about 2 years ago, you mentioned that Nightmare Before Christmas is really huge in Japan. How much do the international markets affect the creative process in making a movie?
HAHN: Well, I can only give you my opinion, which is that they don't and they shouldn't really affect it all that much. In the end, you make movies for yourself, and the group of people making the movie is making it for themselves. We're certainly aware that the movies have a much bigger international component than they ever have, but you don't necessarily say, "Let's put in a guy from Brazil and a guy from Spain," just to appeal to the international audience. We haven't had to do that. I think a lot of the themes and the emotions of a great movie are universal. The Jungle Book was the most popular film in Germany for years and years and years. It beat out Star Wars, even, and I don't know why. It's Rudyard Kipling, who was an Englishman, and it's got Louis Prima and Phil Harris...(laughs) but they have a great appreciation for the story and the emotion of the story. It's always interesting to me why movies excel in some markets, like why Hunchback of Notre Dame was absolutely huge in France. It's a French story, but we were surprised because we thought they would hate it because we were messing with a French story, and it set these huge records. Or why is Nightmare so huge in Japan. Cars has become a really huge international movie. It was successful here, but internationally, it just ran and ran and ran. So, I don't think you think about that when you're making the movie. I think you'd go crazy if you did (laughs). It's hard enough to talk about characters and story and plot and emotion than it is to talk about what's going to play in Brazil.
TZN: Another aspect about internationalization and globalization is about animation outsourcing. It seems like a lot of the material in the book talks about animators that are close to each other, so how does outsourcing change the way you make a movie in your opinion?
HAHN: There's levels of outsourcing. Almost every movie that we've made has been outsourced on some level. We've always had a studio in Florida or Paris or Australia. Even going back to movies like Little Mermaid and Black Cauldron, we did effects work in Japan. There's always been some level of that, so a lot of it depends on what's happening. On Tarzan, for example, Glen Keane did all of his work on Tarzan in Paris, but we had video teleconferencing and telephones and very few language problems because everybody spoke English or we could speak our own version of French. The translations in the movie didn't suffer, and actually benefitted because we were able to pull in some people from the European market that were fantastic animators. The same thing with Hunchback of Notre Dame: we did a lot of it in Paris, and because of that the movie benefitted from it.
So, from my point of view it's about casting. You can't just say, "Here's a sequence of the movie, let's send it away to X studio somewhere on the planet" and hope that it comes back. You have to treat those people as though they're sitting next to you. You have to talk to them every day, you have to send them drawings, you have to communicate, and the global economy and communications allow us to do that now. You can sit down at a screen, you can sit down at Skype, you can make drawings for people and communicate as though they were sitting next to you., The first and ideal choice is to have everybody under one roof. My opinion is the best movies get made that way, and if you have to send something out, try to send something out down the line to some of the more technical places, maybe where the artistic process isn't affected that much, or make sure you have spectacular communications back and forth with your crew. That was the case with Tarzan. We had Glen over there and he was leading. He could talk to the directors every day, and that made the difference.
TZN: My last globalization question has to do with the co-productions Disney is doing with foreign animation studios. The Secret of the Magic Gourd was made for the Chinese market, and Roadside Romeo from India is beginning to get some attention among the animation press. How are those going, and are you planning to bring those projects to America?
HAHN: I don't know specifically at how those projects are doing, but I think it's a great thing because there's a lot of talent in other markets that we never get a chance to see here, and to be able to do a film in India for India makes a lot of sense. It makes sense financially, it makes sense culturally to have local talent create a movie for that market, because otherwise you're always hoping that a group of guys and gals in Los Angeles can serve all the entertainment needs of the entire planet, and I think that's just not realistic today. I think that it's completely appropriate to say we can go to South America or to India or to China and have local artists and filmmakers make movies for those markets that may never travel beyond those markets. You'll have the exceptions, like Hayao Miyazaki, whose movies we release on video. We will always love that relationship and be able to bring those movies to the States and dub them and make them available for audiences here, and I think every once in a while that may happen with one of these international films as well.
TZN: But that's not something you plan ahead of time.
HAHN: I don't think so, no. I think they're really made for local markets, with local cultural sensibilities and local storytelling. The Magic Gourd is a very well known local story in China, and to do it in Hong Kong for the Chinese market in that part of the world makes a lot of sense. It may or may not translate into something that will play here, and that's OK. I think that they're really made and budgeted and projected to be terrific entertainment to the level of Disney entertainment, but for that market.
TZN: I think Magic Gourd is coming to the US on DVD, though, so you're not ruling it out, of course.
HAHN: Yeah, sometimes they will come over. If the movie's good enough and it hits a nerve, it can come here, if not theatrically then as a DVD release. It makes it an interesting time. There's no rules, and I think it is a real global economy and, assuming there is an economy tomorrow (laughs), that the stock market doesn't keep falling, I think it's a really, really great time to be working in animation.
TZN: To wrap it up, what's are you working on next? I know you're working on Frankenweenie, and I believe there's another book you're working on as well.
HAHN: Yeah, I'm doing a book called Drawn to Life on Walt Stanchfield, who was one of the great trainers at Disney during the 80's and 90's. He left behind 10 years worth of notes, and it's kind of a master-class in animation. I'm publishing those with Focal Press next year in April. I'm also executive producing a movie called Earth that's actually a nature movie that's coming out on Earth Day next year through the Disney Nature label, and then working with Tim Burton on Frankenweenie, which we're writing and building puppets for right now.
Toon Zone News would like to thank Don Hahn for speaking with us, and Fumi Kitahara for making the arrangements for us. The Alchemy of Animation is on sale now at bookstores everywhere. All film stills are © Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Cool Figure News
BATMAN COSBABY MINI-FIGURES
From DC/HOT TOYS
Under special arrangement with Hong Kong toymaker Hot Toys, DC Direct is delighted to offer the Batman line of CosBaby mini figures!
Inspired by CosPlay (from the contraction of words “costume play”) — a type of performance art and role play in which the cosplayers meticulously outfit themselves in character costumes from sources such as manga, anime, comics, movies and video games to become the characters they emulate, reenacting scenes from the original sources — these Batman CosBaby mini-figures are the cutest little tykes around!
Featuring eight Batman CosBaby designs: Batman Modern (Black Costume), Batman Classic (Blue Costume), The Joker, Robin, Batgirl, Catwoman, Two-Face and a special Mystery Figure, these mini-figures are the perfect size to collect and display!
Packaged on a 4-color blister card, each fully assembled CosBaby stands approximately 3” tall.
Advance-solicited; on sale June 24, 2009
PVC mini figures * PI * US
UNI-FORMZ: BATMAN DESIGNED & SCULPTED BY MONSTER 5
Batman is the first in a new line of stylized vinyl UNI-FORMZ, inspired by the red-hot designer toy phenomenon!
DC Direct has joined forces with popular contemporary toy designer Monster 5 to create this unique version of Batman. This bold new take on the Caped Crusader is a must-have for collectors of contemporary toy design, as well as traditional fans of Batman!
Debuting this month are three styles of Batman: the “modern” Batman in his black costume, a variant version in the “classic” blue and gray costume, and an ultra-stylized variant “armored” version.
These designer toys are limited! Once they are sold out, DC Direct will not produce these styles again!
In keeping with the tradition of designer toys, rarity of certain incarnations are the norm. The Batman variants (“classic” and “armored”) will be produced in far lower quantities.
The line of UNI-FORMZ continues in the months ahead with original designs for Superman, Green Lantern, and other favorite DC Universe characters.
This limited-edition vinyl UNI-FORMZ Batman figure features 12 points of articulation, stands approximately 8” tall and is packaged in a deluxe 4-color window box.
Advance-resolicited; on sale June 3, 2009 * Vinyl * PI
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