Chris Wedge

Animation Magazine - - Awards Preview -

Di­rec­tor, Epic Key mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion: For me, an­i­ma­tion ideas start with the world, and this one started with a show of Vic­to­rian fairy paint­ings at the Frick Col­lec­tion in New York. Th­ese were mas­ter­ful imag­in­ings, a hun­dred-plus years old, of civ­i­liza­tions and cer­e­monies hid­den from our sight; coro­na­tions, wed­dings, a fu­neral for a bird. I told my friend Bill Joyce that we should de­velop a story there.

Another key mo­ment came out of strug­gling to ex­plain why we can’t nor­mally see any Leaf­men. I was at the kitchen win­dow one morn­ing when a spar­row flew up un­der the leaves out­side—a sud­den blur of wings and feath­ers and then it was gone. I re­al­ized that if there had been any­one rid­ing that bird, I wouldn’t have seen it, it was mov­ing too fast. Maybe the Leaf­men ex­pe­ri­ence the world faster than we do, and if he’d seen me through the win­dow I was as im­mo­bile to him as a Mount Rush­more pres­i­dent. It was a “Eureka!” mo­ment that set up some of my fa­vorite se­quences in the movie. The movie’s big­gest chal­lenge: The tough­est part was get­ting a green light. The movie was out­side the realm of what the stu­dio thought they could mar­ket, so it took some very pas­sion­ate cam­paign­ing to get it started. Af­ter that, it was story. It’s al­ways story. There were plenty of tech­ni­cal chal­lenges, but once the crew got over the ini­tial shock of my pitch and our tight sched­ule, they de­liv­ered with glad hearts. Fa­vorite an­i­mated movie of all time: There is a pe­riod when we are very young when we make no dis­tinc­tion be­tween dreams and re­al­ity. We be­lieve ev­ery­thing. I’ve al­ways loved Ladis­las Stare­vich’s The Mas­cot. And I’ve al­ways loved the “Devil’s Ball” por­tion of it the most. It is real-look­ing enough to be­lieve and im­pos­si­ble enough to re­mind me of that early cre­ative con­fu­sion. It’s a place I would have as­sumed was pos­si­ble then. On the state of an­i­ma­tion in 2013: I’ve been mak­ing com­puter an­i­ma­tion for a long time. When I started, every­body was con­sid­ered a pi­o­neer be­cause ev­ery­thing we did was be­ing done for the first time. Thirty years later it’s more like ev­ery­thing has been done, so the chal­lenge is to come up with new ideas, which is prob­a­bly the way it should be. We’ve been for­tu­nate to be part of a fan­tas­tic cre­ative and tech­ni­cal ex­plo­sion, now I am look­ing for­ward to see­ing the in­dus­try break into new gen­res. We all know fea­ture an­i­ma­tion goes through phases— which at the time the broad au­di­ence as­sumes are all it’s good for. First it was fairy tales. Later came mu­si­cals. Now it’s com­edy that sells. As tech­nol­ogy brings the cost of an­i­mated fea­tures down they will be bud­geted and mar­keted more like other forms of film­mak­ing, to smaller por­tions of the au­di­ence. There will be more free­dom to take risks. There will be more per­sonal per­spec­tives on the screen. Ca­reer be­gin­nings: I grew up in the coun­try and needed to find things that I could do on my own. I learned about an­i­ma­tion and spent weeks, then years mak­ing films with a Su­per 8 cam­era. I saw King Kong pro­jected in our lo­cal movie the­ater. I saw Ja­son and the Arg­onauts on our black-and-white TV. I looked for­ward ev­ery year to the Rankin/ Bass Christ­mas spe­cials. Like most of us, I didn’t have ac­cess to the on­slaught of pro­gram­ming that can be con­jured up in­stantly on an iPhone, but I had a lot of time to re­live what I’d seen and dream up ideas of my own.

Later I got a break as an an­i­ma­tor on TRON at MAGI/Syn­thav­i­sion, one of the first com­puter an­i­ma­tion com­pa­nies ever. I an­i­mated Flynn’s tank and TRON’s light cy­cle and felt, rightly, that I was in on the ground floor of an ex­cit­ing era. Best ca­reer ad­vice: When I was start­ing out, I worked with art di­rec­tor Richard Tay­lor on TRON. He told me to al­ways lis­ten to every­body, that a great idea can come from any­where. The night watch­man might pop his head into a story meet­ing and crack the big­gest prob­lem on the movie. I’ve found that ap­ply­ing this phi­los­o­phy opens you up. It helps get your ego out of it.

As part of our process at Blue Sky, we screen reels for the crew and ask for their notes. Their ob­ser­va­tions can be painfully blunt, but they are al­most al­ways help­ful, and the ex­er­cise gives them cre­ative em­pow­er­ment through the free­dom to con­trib­ute out­side the role they might nor­mally be pi­geon­holed in.

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