Col­or­ing Out­side the Lines

Seeks a mar­ket for an­i­mated movies with a niche ap­peal. By Tom McLean.

Animation Magazine - - Features -

CG an­i­mated fea­tures have come to be the movie in­dus­try’s last re­li­able crowd pleaser — able to ap­peal to au­di­ences of all ages from small child to adult. But ap­peal­ing to a big au­di­ence re­quires a big re­lease — and a big movie with a big bud­get to match — leav­ing the an­i­mated ver­sion of in­die film out in the cold.

But as tech­nol­ogy costs de­cline and the abil­ity to tar­get dis­tri­bu­tion in­creases, there is po­ten­tial for in­de­pen­dent an­i­mated fea­tures with a niche ap­peal to find an au­di­ence.

That’s the think­ing be­hind The Hero of Color City, a new an­i­mated fea­ture pro­duced by Ex­o­dus Film Group and Toonz En­ter­tain­ment aimed di­rectly at ages 2 to 8 and get­ting a limited the­atri­cal re­lease from Mag­no­lia in the top 25 U.S. mar­kets start­ing Oct. 3, the same day it will be re­leased on VOD via On­De­mand, with a home video re­lease fol­low­ing Dec. 2.

“Live ac­tion films are made for dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the pop­u­la­tion – ages, gen­der — and it’s rec­og­nized and per­fectly ac­cept­able,” says pro­ducer Max Howard. “We haven’t had enough of that in an­i­ma­tion.”

John Erak­lis of Ex­o­dus says the project came to him about a decade ago through an old col­lege friend and he was im­me­di­ately taken with the idea of a story about crayons com­ing to life. Howard, who had worked with Er­lakis on the an­i­mated fea­ture Igor, came aboard the project be­cause the idea was com­pellingly new. “It was such a great idea, hav­ing the idea of a first film that a child might ever see is about crayons and the mark in the world most kids make first is with a crayon,” says Howard.

Star­ring the voices of Christina Ricci, Rosie Perez, Craig Fer­gu­son and Wayne Brady, the story fol­lows a group of crayons who jump each night into their crayon box after their owner, a boy named Ben, falls asleep and head to their home in Color City. When Yel­low is left be­hind in Ben’s room, she awak­ens two un­fin­ished draw­ings who follow her to Color City and try to con­trol the wa­ter­fall that gives the city its col­ors to be­come com­plete.

The deal with Mag­no­lia proved key, for the way their strat­egy meshed with the pro­duc­ers’ idea of a niche an­i­mated movie. “Mag­no­lia had ex­per­i­mented with a fairly con­tro­ver­sial dis­tri­bu­tion model called day and date, and they were do­ing it with art house pic­tures and doc­u­men­taries,” says Erak­lis. “And be­cause this film is geared to 2 to 8 year olds, it felt like the young kids prob­a­bly won’t sit through the thing in the the­aters, and if they do — if they’re any­thing like my kids — once they see some­thing and they like it they want to see it over and over again.”

The strat­egy seemed es­pe­cially ap­peal­ing for a movie aimed at young chil­dren, al­low­ing par­ents to not just find the film on the plat­form that worked best for them, but also mak­ing the movie avail­able for the re­peat view­ings young chil­dren en­gage in when they find some­thing they like.

Pro­duc­tion on the movie was achieved with a lot of re­mote work. While the main cre­ative jobs were done mostly in the United States, it was Toonz En­ter­tain­ment in In­dia that came aboard as a part­ner to ex­e­cute the an­i­ma­tion work. Frank Glad­stone, a veteran an­i­ma­tor who di­rected sev­eral fea­tures for DreamWorks and Dis­ney, was a key hire for work­ing with Toonz, which also con­trols in­ter­na­tional dis­tri­bu­tion rights.

“Know­ing we would do this at an over­seas an­i­ma­tion stu­dio and it would be their first fea­ture, it was im­por­tant that we had a di­rec­tor that knew how to es­sen­tially train and el­e­vate an an­i­ma­tion team,” says Erak­lis.

To help pro­mote the film, the pro­duc­ers part­nered with Bum­ble Bee Tuna, plac­ing its mas­cot, Ho­ra­tio the bee, in the movie in ex­change for Bum­ble Bee get­ting Hero of Color City col­or­ing books in some 20,000 stores, Howard says.

The film also has part­nered with Cray­onCol­lec­tion. org, a non­profit that col­lects par­tially used crayons from restau­rant chains like Is­lands and Cal­i­for­nia Pizza Kitchen and do­nates them to in­ner-city schools. An an­i­mated PSA for the org has been made and will run over the end cred­its of the movie, fea­tur­ing the voices of sup­port­ers Jessica Cap­shaw and Owen Wilson.

Erak­lis says he hopes the movie will find enough of an au­di­ence to make more Color City ad­ven­tures. “I like to think of this as a fran­chise op­por­tu­nity,” he says. “I’m not ex­pect­ing any more than the launch of the fran­chise.”

After some 15 years of fo­cus­ing all its sto­ry­telling ma­chin­ery on the pre­quel era, the Star Wars saga gets back to its roots with Star Wars Rebels, a new Dis­ney XD an­i­mated se­ries that seeks to re­vive the look and feel of the movie that started it all.

“Hav­ing just fin­ished (as su­per­vis­ing di­rec­tor on a fea­ture and six sea­sons of) Star Wars: The Clone Wars — and it was such a jug­ger­naut of many, many, many dif­fer­ent sto­ries — we wanted to com­pletely jump out of that and do some­thing that was a lit­tle more fa­mil­iar to the older set of fans: the more ef­fer­ves­cent, in­spi­ra­tional Star Wars that a bunch of us had grown up with,” says Dave Filoni, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer along with Greg Weis­man and Si­mon Kin­berg on Rebels, the first an­i­mated Star Wars se­ries launch since Dis­ney ac­quired Lu­cas­film in 2012. “A lot of that made the clas­sic era almost like a brand-new era again since we hadn’t seen TIE Fight­ers and Star De­stroy­ers or those type of things in a very long time.”

Set four years be­fore the events of Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, Star Wars Rebels fol­lows a crew of nascent rebels aboard the star­ship Ghost: a rene­gade sur­viv­ing Jedi named Kanan Jar­rus (voiced by Fred­die Prinze Jr.); Ghost’s ace pi­lot, the Twi’lek Hera Syn­dulla (Vanessa Mar­shall); tough guy alien Zeb Or­re­lios (Steve Blum); young Man­dalo­rian war­rior and graf­fiti artist Sabine Wren (Tiya Sir­car); cranky as­tromech droid Chopper; and the new­est re­cruit, a Force-adept teenage boy, Ezra Bridger (Tay­lor Gray). The oddball crew at­tempts to throw a wrench into the Em­pire’s plans for to­tal dom­i­na­tion, bring­ing them up against Agent Kal­lus (David Oyelowo) and the Jedi hunter known as the In­quisi­tor (Ja­son Isaacs).

Star Wars Rebels is set to air its one-hour premiere episode Oct. 3 on Dis­ney XD, with the se­ries air­ing Mon­days also on Dis­ney XD start­ing Oct. 13.

Set­ting the film be­fore the orig­i­nal tril­ogy al­lows the show to move to­ward the first film’s tone, which is sim­pler and more character-fo­cused than the po­lit­i­cal ma­chin­ery that dom­i­nated the pre­quel se­ries.

“The pre­quels were re­ally about see­ing the big po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions, which were just as im­por­tant — if not more im­por­tant — than the per­sonal sto­ries go­ing on, be­cause you were see­ing this big galac­tic col­lapse of an en­tire form of gov­ern­ment and way of life and the Jedi Or­der,” says Filoni. “We wanted Rebels to live more in the Han, Luke and Leia idea of you’re just go­ing to fo­cus on the crew of the Ghost, you’re just with th­ese peo­ple, and you’re see­ing ev­ery­thing from their point of view.”

New Show, Clas­sic Look

The look of the se­ries also takes in­spi­ra­tion from Star Wars’ ori­gins, with Ralph McQuar­rie’s clas­sic pro­duc­tion paint­ings made to de­fine the vi­su­als — and sell the very con­cept — of Star Wars, serv­ing as the pri­mary ref­er­ence ma­te­rial. For ex­am­ple, the de­sign for Zeb is a vari­a­tion on one of McQuar­rie’s de­signs for Chew­bacca, while Chopper looks a lot like early ver­sions of R2-D2.

“I think th­ese character de­signs look more like what peo­ple ex­pected the first time around from an an­i­mated Star Wars uni­verse,” says Filoni. “Th­ese char­ac­ters are a bit more rounded in shape; they have more ex­ag­ger­ated ex­pres­sions than any­thing we did on Clone Wars, which was very life­like and re­al­is­tic. I wanted to cap­i­tal­ize on some of the big­ger ex­pres­sive­ness that you can do in an­i­ma­tion.”

The fo­cus on character was par­tic­u­larly ap­peal­ing to the voice cast. Prinze Jr. says Kanan’s his­tory be­comes an im­por­tant el­e­ment early on. “We go back to it very early on and you get to see a lot of the in­se­cu­rity with Kanan and you get an in­cred­i­ble mo­ment that steels his re­solve and re­moves his doubt and that mo­ment en­ables him to go for­ward and do what he needs to do,” he says.

This is the first an­i­ma­tion project for Kin­berg, whose writ­ing and pro­duc­ing cred­its in­clude Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Sher­lock Holmes and the X-Men movie se­ries. Kin­berg orig­i­nally came onto Star Wars to work on the new fea-

ture films, but found the an­i­mated se­ries and its idea of go­ing back to ba­sics ap­peal­ing, too. “I had a very clear sense in my mind what that meant tonally and character-wise, and Dave had a very clear sense of what that meant vis­ually,” says Kin­berg. “And the sec­ond he started talk­ing about Ralph’s art and show­ing some of it and we all felt like this is ex­actly the right look for the show and almost a state­ment to make, almost a mis­sion state­ment about declar­ing the show is like the orig­i­nal.”

The work done by Lu­cas­film’s new col­leagues at Dis­ney on the 2010 film Tan­gled was another in­flu­ence, Filoni says. “It was some­thing where I thought some­one had taken what they did in 2D and just matched it bril­liantly in CG.”

Filoni says the an­i­ma­tion pipe­line is gen­er­ally the same as it was on Clone Wars, with ser­vice work again han­dled by CGCG in Tai­wan. But there was an at­tempt to get back to ba­sics, and Filoni says they switched to Toon Boom soft­ware, which has al­lowed hand­drawn sto­ry­boards back into the process.

“I felt that tra­di­tional sto­ry­board­ing was go­ing to be more suc­cess­ful in that re­gard and we wanted the character an­i­ma­tion to be more I guess clas­sic as far as an­i­ma­tion style goes,” says Filoni.

McQuar­rie’s look was in­cor­po­rated into the tools used to cre­ate the show. “We were able to cre­ate some dig­i­tal brushes that mimic the way he would paint and the way that he would ren­der lines, and we had all the de­sign­ers us­ing those same brushes,” says Filoni. “We’re al­ways com­par­ing our fi­nal frames to his paint­ings and I think that alone makes us keep it very or­ganic. And hav­ing the rolling fields of grass and stuff def­i­nitely puts us in an ex­tremely or­ganic en­vi­ron­ment, one that Ralph had de­signed for the orig­i­nal tril­ogy. That and I think the brushes are what’s lend­ing a kind of more hand-drawn feel to things in Rebels.”

The sto­ry­telling also takes a page from the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, fo­cus­ing on the story of one crew and leav­ing room for the hu­mor, character and cin­e­matic style that helped make Star Wars a hit in the first place. “I wanted cam­eras to be a bit more limited in this se­ries and feel a bit more like in the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, which doesn’t have as many fly­ing cam­eras or long shots as you saw in the pre­quel era,” says Filoni.

Filoni says he has an over­all story for the se­ries as well as an end­ing in mind, though it’s not set com­pletely in stone be­cause you never know how long a show like this will run or where its char­ac­ters will take it. “We know roughly how our story goes and where it goes in relation to A New Hope, at least,” he says.

Fans shouldn’t ex­pect to see much of ap­pear­ances by es­tab­lished movie se­ries char- ac­ters that are ac­tive in this time frame, such as Darth Vader or Chew­bacca. “It’s very pos­si­ble for us to bring clas­sic char­ac­ters, pre­quel char­ac­ters into Star Wars Rebels; we just have to have a good rea­son to do it,” says Filoni. “We don’t want ‘small uni­verse syn­drome,’ where it seems like every­body knows every­body else.”

In the end, Filoni is a huge fan of Star Wars and that was one of — if not the ma­jor — rea­son he re-upped for another tour of duty in the galaxy far, far away.

“I wanted to make sure that we could main­tain the legacy that had been cre­ated here and that I was so for­tu­nate to have been a part of in the last eight years,” says Filoni. “But mostly it was just that I just love Star Wars and I wanted to main­tain George (Lu­cas’s) legacy, which is some­thing I felt very strongly about and still do.”

Where do you see an­i­ma­tion in

Our ro­bot over­lords will have to

Any ad­vice for as­pir­ing car­toon

Ricky (far left, voiced by Owen Wilson) con­fronts the col­or­ful crayons crew out to save Color City.

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