The View From the Top: 2013 Edi­tion

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How does it feel to have been re­spon­si­ble for some of the best an­i­mated movies of the year? Some of 2013’s big-shot di­rec­tors give us their in­spir­ing re­sponses.

Writer/di­rec­tor, Free Birds Key mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion: I think the real mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion, out­side of hav­ing such a strong premise to work with, was un­lock­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Reg­gie and Jake. Re­ally fig­ur­ing out the rules to the re­la­tion­ship that would drive the com­edy and, most im­por­tantly, drive the emo­tional res­o­nance be­hind their friend­ship, was key for us. Tough­est chal­lenge of the movie: I think the tough­est part of mak­ing this movie was to try and tell a vast story with all th­ese dif­fer­ent land­scapes and lo­ca­tions and char­ac­ters and do it with as great a scope as pos­si­ble with less money. Not hav­ing a $100 mil­lion to spend meant we had to re­ally choose where we spent our money. I wanted bat­tle scenes, I wanted great scope, I wanted all those things, while telling a story in mod­ern times, in 1621 and in the depths of the space/time con­tin­uum. I had all th­ese dif­fer­ent land­scapes that I needed to get across and I think it was just re­ally a mat­ter of man­ag­ing our money to tell the great­est story we pos­si­bly could. Fave an­i­mated movie or char­ac­ter of all time: That’s two movies. I think my first an­i­mated and fa­vorite movie of all time is prob­a­bly The Jun­gle Book. Watch­ing this movie as a child, I was im­pressed by the ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble per­for­mances and the lengths the an­i­ma­tors could go with the char­ac­ters in terms of act­ing. I think Shere Khan and Kaa are two of my fa­vorite char­ac­ters of all time. They rep­re­sent such in­ven­tive ways in which the an­i­ma­tors uti­lized the char­ac­ters’ phys­i­cal traits to ex­press their per­son­al­i­ties and take act­ing to such amaz­ing heights.

My other fa­vorite an­i­mated movie is Toy Story, not only be­cause it was the first one I ever worked on, but be­cause I got to work with John Las­seter and Pete Doc­ter and all those amaz­ing guys at Pixar. I got a chance to touch some of th­ese in­cred­i­ble char­ac­ters that I had no idea at the time would be­come so in­deli­ble. And, as a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, that was the most in­cred­i­ble an­i­mated movie to be a part of be­cause I got to be around all of th­ese in­cred­i­ble peo­ple as a young fella and learn from them, not to men­tion see­ing a new medium and how we could take act­ing to new lev­els. So… in­spi­ra­tionally: The Jun­gle Book; but from a learn­ing stand­point: Toy Story. On the state of an­i­mated fea­tures: In terms of the state of the an­ima- tion busi­ness right now and go­ing for­ward, I think on one hand it’s a bum­mer be­cause there’s less money to make fewer films, but on the other hand, I think that tech­nol­ogy’s be­come ac­ces­si­ble to a vast num­ber of new artist’s so that there’s a great va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent types of movies be­ing made. I think the fu­ture is re­ally ex­cit­ing be­cause, ob­vi­ously, the old busi­ness model is chang­ing and it’s go­ing to be ex­cit­ing to see who gets to make what films in the fu­ture. Ca­reer be­gin­nings: I got into an­i­ma­tion at a very young age and I was very in­spired by Warner Bros. car­toons and Star Wars and all that stuff. But it was when I be­gan ex- per­i­ment­ing on my own with clay­ma­tion and hand-drawn an­i­ma­tion and then later the very early stages of com­puter an­i­ma­tion, that I re­ally re­al­ized, per­son­ally, the story telling po­ten­tial of the medium and fell in love with it and sub­se­quently spent the next 20 years of my life both study­ing it and do­ing it. As an am­a­teur and later as a pro­fes­sional and get­ting to an­i­mate at Pixar and then get­ting to make films at Blue Sky and now Reel FX. I’ve been into it for a very long time and I find it an amaz­ing and very in­spir­ing medium. Best ad­vice: As far as the film­mak­ing ad­vice, I think there are two things we could say there. First of all, as Bette Davis once said, “If you’re in L.A., al­ways take Foun­tain.” But, I think Joe Ranft teach­ing us when pitch­ing: “Minu­tiae, minu­tiae, minu­tiae, get to the point. Get to what re­ally mat­ters. That’s what the au­di­ence cares about.” I think that was great. I think the other piece of ad­vice I heard once was, “Be care­ful of some­one forc­ing you to make per­ma­nent de­ci­sions that’s sit­ting in a tem­po­rary chair.” I think that’s a great one, too!

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