He­roes by Night

Animation Magazine - - Tv -

IThe noc­tur­nal ad­ven­tures of the su­per­hero team

f you spend any time around preschool­ers, you’ve likely heard all about the PJ Masks: Cat­boy! Owlette! Gekko! They trans­form at night from nor­mal kids into su­per­heroes and head out into a Paris-like city to solve prob­lems, stop vil­lains and learn some lessons along the way.

De­but­ing in Septem­ber on Dis­ney Chan­nel and Dis­ney Ju­nior in the U.S., PJ Masks was a sur­prise run­away hit that peeved more than few par­ents upon learn­ing that the show is still too new to have the shelves of mer­chan­dise their kids were wish­ing for. That sit­u­a­tion is go­ing to change in a big way next year, as the show rolls out in ter­ri­to­ries across the world.

“It’s been quite sur­pris­ing to see how quickly the show has caught on,” says Chris­tian De Vita, di­rec­tor and sto­ry­board artist on the se­ries, which is an­i­mated at TeamTO in France.

Based on au­thor Ro­muald Ra­cioppo’s Les Py­ja­masques se­ries of chil­dren’s books — a hit in France with 15 ti­tles re­leased since 2008 — the TV rights were scooped up by En­ter­tain­ment One and Frog Box, which pitched it to Dis­ney and brought in TeamTO to pro­duce the an­i­ma­tion.

“We de­vel­oped the show with the idea of making like a cool su­per­hero show for preschool­ers,” says De Vita. “It seems like there is a place for it

sur­prise with high-qual­ity an­i­ma­tion and run­away suc­cess. By Tom McLean.

on TV. I was al­ready work­ing at the stu­dio at the time and was asked to restart it at the time based from the books into some­thing that was more akin to con­tem­po­rary su­per­hero cul­ture.”

A long­time fan of DC and Marvel comic-book su­per­heroes, De Vita says TeamTO tried to re­tain the best el­e­ments of the book se­ries, but had to make some ad­just­ments for the jump from a painted, 2D illustration ap­proach to CG an­i­ma­tion.

“We tried to use (the books’ art style) as a spring­board into color schemes and the noc­tur­nal set­tings of the show,” says De Vita. “The books are very preschool in the look so we tried to age it up and make the su­per­hero char­ac­ters fit in with the sort of comic book genre that the PJ Masks fall into.”

TeamTO splits work be­tween its stu­dios in Paris and Va­lence, France. Paris han­dles de­sign­ing and build­ing 3D as­sets, sto­ry­board­ing, com­posit­ing, ren­der­ing and fi­nal ed­its, while lay­outs and an­i­ma­tion are done in Va­lence, where TeamTO re­cently opened a new fa­cil­ity to house its 200-plus artists.

Mix­ing Di­men­sions De Vita says he suc­cess­fully pitched us­ing 2D ef­fects on the show. “I felt that the vis­ual combi- na­tion of 3D with hand-drawn ef­fects would marry quite well,” he says. “I wanted to have a slightly dif­fer­ent look to the ef­fects. I’d like it to be more comic book-y in a way, so we set up a small 2D ef­fects team specif­i­cally to work on PJ Masks here in Paris.”

The writ­ing staff is split be­tween France and Canada for pro­duc­tion rea­sons, with the head writer be­ing Lon­don-based Marc Seal, whose cred­its in­clude Mike the Knight.

While su­per­heroes have be­come ex­tremely pop­u­lar in movies and tele­vi­sion, De Vita says PJ Masks stands out as one of the few shows in the genre aimed at younger view­ers. “So what we do with PJ Masks is when­ever the char­ac­ters have a con­fronta­tion with the bad guys is to re­solve it in a comedic way or a heart warm­ing way which at least gives a pos­i­tive mes­sage to have within the show,” he says.

With the first sea­son of 52 11-minute episodes al­most com­plete, De Vita says he’s found work­ing on the se­ries sat­is­fy­ing and fun. “Be­ing able to de­sign some­thing that’s so close to my likes in terms of a di­rec­tor and an artist, and propos­ing to a new au­di­ence a whole new world of su­per­heroes — but with a nice heart-warm­ing cen­ter to the sto­ries and the char­ac­ters — that’s a nice, fresh as­pect that’s in­ter­est­ing.” [

Jymn Magon, your Emmy-win­ning writ­ing ca­reer started with a gig in col­lege ra­dio. Seems like a bit of a me­an­der­ing path.

Jymn Magon ( Duck­Tales, Win­nie The Pooh): Yeah, but it did the trick. As a kid, I made 8mm movies, did stage plays, wrote skits and pro­duced col­lege ra­dio shows. Just any­thing cre­ative I could fig­ure how to do. I didn’t know it, but all that self-train­ing made me ready for when the door opened at long last.

It went like this: From col­lege ra­dio, I got a gig record­ing vinyl records for Dis­ney, in­clud­ing Mickey Mouse Disco, which caught the eye of Dis­ney pres­i­dent Michael Eis­ner. At the time, he was think­ing of start­ing a TV an­i­ma­tion di­vi­sion. So he in­vited me and a hand­ful of mis­cel­la­neous cre­ative types to his house one Sun­day to talk about it.

With no ex­pe­ri­ence in TV, I found my­self de­vel­op­ing a show for him based on the pop­u­lar Gummi Bear can­dies. When NBC bought the se­ries, they asked, “Who’s go­ing to story edit?” My boss pointed to me. It was the old joke; “Two weeks ago, I couldn’t spell ‘story ed­i­tor,’ and now I are one.” But if it wasn’t for making a lot of en­ter­tain­ment stuff as a kid, I can’t imag­ine I could have pulled it off.

So there’s a pinch of “right place, right time,” but some hard work be­fore­hand made you ready, sounds like. Dave Ben­joya, what was your ap­proach to get­ting in the game?

Dave Ben­joya ( Rocket Mon­keys, An­gry Birds Toons): I al­ways write what I’m in­ter­ested in first. And I find col­lab­o­ra­tion has been a huge help in many ways. This is use­ful for let­ting you think out loud and hav­ing an­other set of ears, of course, but I also like to col­lab­o­rate be­cause it’s like jok­ing around with my friends — what could be bet­ter?

Just as im­por­tant, if any of those writ­ing bud­dies gets work or sells an idea, then we all stand to ben­e­fit. Be­cause, as it’s hap­pened on Rocket Mon­keys and An­gry Birds, those writ­ers want to work with their fa­vorite other writ­ers, the ones that they’ve had the most fun to­gether with, that they’ve got­ten good re­sults with. So you might get your­self in the door that way. And if not, hey, you had a great time com­ing up with some car­toons to­gether.

So build your re­la­tion­ships, and keep making stuff. Joe Vi­tale, you had a prob­lem that’s fa­mil­iar to many — be­ing in one part of the in­dus­try but want­ing to move to an­other. How did you make that side­ways leap?

Joe Vi­tale ( An­gry Birds Toons, Felix the Cat): I’d been work­ing in fea­ture an­i­ma­tion at DreamWorks but on the pro­duc­tion side. What I really wanted to do was write — but dump trucks full of Hol­ly­wood writ­ing con­tracts were in short sup­ply. So I de­cided to just make my own an­i­mated show for my­self that would make me laugh. Prob­lem was, I had no idea how.

What fol­lowed were a few years of self­taught stop-mo­tion an­i­ma­tion, ex­per­i­ment­ing, writ­ing, record­ing and, fi­nally, cre­at­ing a web se­ries. It got me a few an­i­mat­ing gigs on com­mer­cials. Then, fi­nally, when a story ed­i­tor I knew saw my web stuff, I was hired to try some punch-up writ­ing. And then more writ­ing … and more … and I’ve been do­ing it ever since! So that’s my ad­vice, kids: Make some­thing.

So there you go, read­ers, three pearls of wis­dom to help dress you for suc­cess:

1) You never know where one job will take you.

2) Keep your friends close and your col­lab­o­ra­tors closer.

3) And if you still can’t find a job, just go make your own damn car­toon!

Hey, it worked for th­ese guys. See ya next is­sue! Ba­boon An­i­ma­tion is a U.S.-based col­lec­tive of Os­car-nom­i­nated, multi-Emmy win­ning an­i­ma­tion writ­ers with cred­its on dozens of the most iconic an­i­mated shows world­wide.

Film­mak­ers de­tail the making of the 10 films cho­sen by the Acad­emy to con­tend for one of the five Os­car

nom­i­na­tions for Best An­i­mated Short. By Karen Idel­son.

Widely praised at dozens of film and an­i­ma­tion fes­ti­vals, this bit­ter­sweet CGI short ex­plores the story of a melan­choly bear telling his sad tale through a me­chan­i­cal tin dio­rama. As we watch, we see that this

As the song “Que Sera, Sera” lilts over var­i­ous scenes of cars bounc­ing, singing, hav­ing sex and ul­ti­mately be­ing de­stroyed, we’re left to ru­mi­nate on our own sense­less use of the Earth’s nat­u­ral re­sources as we prover­bially fiddle while we burn oil. This clever, dark take on the sub­ject took the film­maker more than three years to make, since he was the only an­i­ma­tor on the project, which was pro­duced by Canada’s Na­tional Film Board.

“I was try­ing to say there’s some­thing wrong with the way we live, the way we treat the en­vi­ron­ment, that we’re not tak­ing care of it and we’re caus­ing cli­mate prob­lems,” says Claude Cloutier. “The song says we’re not car­ing the way we should, we’re just let­ting things hap­pen.”

Cloutier man­aged to keep with the project – which was con­ven­tion­ally done with about 4,000 draw­ings done by hand later col­orized by com­puter — for so many years be­cause he was com­mit­ted to the ideas be­hind the film. old bear was once cap­tured and made to join a cir­cus and per­form tricks for au­di­ences. We also learn how he came to be the free bear that is now able to tell oth­ers about his tragic past.

Di­rec­tor Gabriel Oso­rio spent about a month work­ing on the tex­ture of the hair of the bear be­cause he was look­ing for some­thing dis­tinc­tive – a type of hair that was not so re­al­is­tic and more suit­able for a bear in a type of fairy tale.

“The soft­ware had a de­fault to hair that was more typ­i­cal of a real bear,” says Oso­rio. “But it wasn’t what I wanted, so I spent a lot of time work­ing on it to get it to look like I imag­ined it should look.”

Oso­rio, who made this film with a tiny crew of about eight an­i­ma­tors, de­cided on the bear as a way to tell part of his history. Oso­rio’s own grand­fa­ther was taken from his fam­ily in Chile and forced to work for years with­out any con­tact from the out­side world. It was a pe­riod of tremen­dous sad­ness that only lifted when Oso­rio’s grand­fa­ther was fi­nally able to re­turn home.

“When you take some­one away from their fam­ily, it’s the worst thing you can do,” says Oso­rio. “I wanted to talk about this, to say some­thing pos­i­tive, that you can sur­vive this, that you can come back to your home as my grand­fa­ther did.”

An in­sight­ful story about the space pro­gram, here we fol­low two cos­mo­nauts as they take part in mis­sion train­ing and try to make their com­mon dreams come true. The award-win­ning film was more of an ob­ses­sion than an in­spi­ra­tion for its maker.

“It’s some­thing like self-ther­apy,” wrote Kon­stantin Bronzit in an email to An­i­ma­tion Mag­a­zine. “Ev­ery time in my head there is some thought or feel­ing, which starts dis­turb­ing me. Some­times it turns into tor­ture. And then there is only one way out – to do the film.”

Bronzit spent four and a half years making the film and is un­cer­tain he’ll con­tinue film­mak­ing be­cause it’s such an ar­du­ous and com­pli­cated process, but he’s still thank­ful for be­ing short­listed for the Os­car, which he calls a sur­prise though he ac­knowl­edges he worked very hard on this film.

“I felt like sev­enth grade was kind of a di­vid­ing line,” says Cordell Baker, ex­plain­ing why he chose to set his film in the dicey world of ju­nior high school. “You’re not quite a kid any­more but you’re not really grown up; but you’re really try­ing to be grown up, so it’s a con­fus­ing time.”

Baker, a Cana­dian film­maker and two-time Os­car nominee, also stages some hi­lar­i­ous and charm­ing mo­ments when the mind of his main char­ac­ter wan­ders while dis­sect­ing a frog in bi­ol­ogy class. As the boy imag­ines he has god­like pow­ers and that he can cre­ate one fan­tas­tic day for his girl­friend, Lily, we see that he’s ul­ti­mately dis­tracted by the pos­si­bil­i­ties those pow­ers con­tain to the point of for­get­ting about Lily al­to­gether.

“I don’t think he does any­thing out of the or­di­nary,” says Baker. “He does what we’d all do, he makes things the way he wants them, he wants to use them to im­press a girl and pun­ish the ones who bother him.”

Though many of us have been through the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of dat­ing, it’s fair to say very few of the women have passed through the gaunt­let at a height of 6 feet 4 inches. Melissa John­son, who hit that height be­fore she en­tered high school, quickly be­came a pow­er­ful bas­ket­ball star and the source of some gen­uinely hi­lar­i­ous ro­man­tic anec­dotes. This short hand­ily ex­presses the em­bar­rass­ment and awk­ward­ness of be­ing dif­fer­ent while touch­ing on what makes us all the same in our quest for love and ro­mance.

“I thought her sto­ries were so funny and re­lat­able be­cause ev­ery­one has been through this in one way or an­other,” says co-di­rec­tor Robertino Zam­brano, who was in­tro­duced to John­son through col­leagues. “Her sto­ries about try­ing to find love and dat­ing shorter men im­me­di­ately in­ter­ested me and it’s pretty fun be­cause I’m so short – only about 5 feet 8 inches – that when we’re to­gether it looks pretty funny.”

As a CalArts stu­dent, Seth Boy­den was ex­pected to make sev­eral short films, and Ob­ject At Rest was ini­tially in­spired by some con­ver­sa­tions with his fa­ther and de­signed to fill that re­quire­ment.

“We were walk­ing along and we started talk­ing about time and how it must be ex­pe­ri­enced dif­fer­ently for some­thing like a rock as com­pared to a per­son be­cause as peo­ple our lives are so much shorter and the rock is go­ing to be changed by th­ese ma­jor kinds of events over a much longer pe­riod of time than we could ever live,” says Boy­den, who now works at Blue Sky Stu­dios.

Boy­den de­signed the story strictly as a kind of ex­plo­ration from the point of view of a rock pass­ing through time, be­com­ing dif­fer­ent things, be­ing ground down and en­coun­ter­ing other crea­tures, and didn’t in­tend for it to be any­thing other that that, though he un­der­stands how some would read more into it.

“I really just wanted to get into ex­pe­ri­ence of the rock and how it would see time in com­par­i­son to us,” says Boy­den, who is pur­su­ing other project ideas with fel­low CalArts grads at Blue Sky. “That’s where the fun was for me.”

Told from the per­spec­tive of a six-year-old boy, this short at­tempts to touch on the strange but poignant re­la­tion­ships that come to­gether in blended fam­i­lies. In this case the boy is ex­am­in­ing a step­fa­ther, who is shown as a man with a bird’s head.

“I found this in­ter­est­ing to talk about how peo­ple who didn’t chose to live in the same home man­age to re­com­pose a fam­ily, de­spite their dif­fer­ent na­tures and dif­fi­culty to com­mu­ni­cate,” says Phuong Mai Nguyen, a Viet­namese film­maker liv­ing in France, in an email to An­i­ma­tion Mag­a­zine. “I didn’t want to make a ‘bad’ step­fa­ther but an awk­ward one.”

Nguyen wrote from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences and de­lib­er­ately kept the end­ing vague be­cause the film­maker wanted the au­di­ence to have its own ex­pe­ri­ences and find its own an­swers.

Cre­ated by leg­endary an­i­ma­tor Richard Wil­liams, this short has been de­scribed as push­ing the bound­aries of what was pre­vi­ously thought pos­si­ble for hand-drawn an­i­ma­tion. The film tells the story of two Spar­tans and two Athe­ni­ans who fight to the death while ob­served by a small girl. The girl is hor­ri­fied as she watches the fight­ers’ bloody bat­tle, which seems un­avoid­able and re­lent­less. This tale of war emerged from Wil­liams’ own ex­pe­ri­ences.

“I’ve been think­ing about this since I was 15 years old,” writes Wil­liams in an email to An­i­ma­tion Mag­a­zine. “I grew up un­der the shadow of world war and af­ter Hiroshima ev­ery­body thought that was fin­ished. We still live in a world where man end­lessly fights man.”

Wil­liams started draw­ing at age two, like many chil­dren. But un­like most of us, he be­came one of the most ad­mired an­i­ma­tors of all time af­ter study­ing with greats such as Ken Har­ris, Art Bab­bitt, Grim Natwick, Frank Thomas and Milt Kahl. He later went on to work on films like Who Framed Roger Rab­bit? and The Thief and the Cob­bler.

At work now on a fea­ture an­i­ma­tion project with his wife, film­maker Imo­gen Sut­ton, who was the pro­ducer on this short film, Wil­liams also counts an­other leg­end as a pow­er­ful in­spi­ra­tion.

“I saw Snow White when I was 5 years old and it changed me for­ever,” wrote Wil­liams.

Af­ter years of pur­su­ing his cul­tural history through the books he wrote while work­ing at Pixar, San­jay Pa­tel thought he could avoid di­rect­ing a film if he just kept ig­nor­ing the stu­dio’s re­quests to de­velop some­thing.

“I thought that if I kind of kept push­ing it away they’d leave me alone,” says Pa­tel. “But John Las­seter saw my art­work at an em­ployee art show and said I had to make a movie and then they started com­ing to me and ask­ing me to put some­thing to­gether.”

When Pa­tel was asked by Pixar why he hadn’t started de­vel­op­ing some­thing, he said he wanted to tell the kinds of sto­ries he’d been ex­plor­ing – tales of his cul­ture and its deities – and that he didn’t think Pixar would want to make that kind of movie, based on what it had done in the past.

To the stu­dio’s credit, it pushed Pa­tel to move for­ward with a short film based on Pa­tel’s own child­hood, in which a young In­dian boy drifts into a day­dream about Hindu gods and finds a way to con­nect with his fa­ther when he wakes up.

“It was amaz­ing to be sup­ported by such a tal­ented group of artists in making this film, which was so per­sonal for me,” says Pa­tel. “Be­ing able to pursue some­thing like this really was a dream come true.”

Lauded as one of the finest short films ever made, Don Hertzfelt scooped up the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val for his sci-fi short that fol­lows a lit­tle girl named Emily and her gen­uinely odd trip into the fu­ture.

The voice of the lit­tle girl in the film be­longs to Hertzfeldt’s niece, Wi­nona, who was only four years old when she was recorded for the movie. The film­maker ad­mits he was naïve enough to think he could direct a four-year-old at the be­gin­ning of the project.

“I quickly learned that you just sort of have to let the four-year old hap­pen,” wrote Hertzfeldt to An­i­ma­tion Mag­a­zine via Twit­ter. “So I threw out the lines I thought I might get her to say and in­stead recorded her nat­u­rally be­ing her­self, as we drew pic­tures and played and talked about the world.”

Af­ter­wards, the di­rec­tor rewrote much of the film to fit with what he’d recorded while talk­ing with his niece. Hertzfeldt’s niece lives in Scot­land and he only sees her once a year so, he had to work with those record­ings, as it would have been even more dif­fi­cult to try to cull con­ver­sa­tions over so long a dis­tance.

“It sounds maybe like a dif­fi­cult way to make a film, but it ac­tu­ally took a lot of pres­sure off me as a writer,” says Hertzfeldt. “In the end, it was a lot like work­ing with an im­pro­vi­sa­tional ac­tress, who is maybe half in­sane, and then dis­ap­peared.” [

• Chex Party Mix: “Hol­i­day

Magic,” Stoopid Buddy Stood­ios • Man and Dog, Psyop • Miche­lin To­tal Per­for­mance: “All

the Per­for­mances In Ev­ery Tire,”

• We Are All Farm­ers, An­i­mated Ef­fects in a Live-Ac­tion Pro­duc­tion “Sokovia De­struc­tion.” Marvel Stu­dios. Michael Ba­log, Jim Van Allen, Florent An­dorra, Ge­orge Kal­tenbrun­ner.

“An­i­mated Ef­fects.” Univer­sal Stu­dios and Leg­endary Pic­tures. Raul Es­sig, Ro­man Schmidt, Mark Chat­away, Ryan Hop­kins. • Maze Run­ner: The Scorch Tri­als, The Gotham Group and 20th Cen­tury Fox. Ron­nie Me­na­hem, Pa­vani Rao Bod­da­p­ati, Fran­cois Sugny, Les­lie Chan, Ni­co­las Pe­tit.



In­side Out

• The Good Di­nosaur

• Min­ions • Ano­ma­l­isa • The Peanuts Movie • Shaun the Sheep Movie • Avengers: Age of Ul­tron • The Hob­bit: The Bat­tle of the Five Armies • Home • Ho­tel Tran­syl­va­nia 2 • Boy and the World • Ex­tra­or­di­nary Tales • Juras­sic World • Kahlil Gi­bran’s The Prophet • The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Wa­ter • When Marnie Was There • He Named Me Malala • Maze Run­ner: The Scorch Tri­als • The Revenant

Elf: Buddy’s Mu­si­cal Christ­mas • Dragons: Race to the Edge • Pig Goat Ba­nana Cricket • Dis­ney’s Mickey Mouse • Grav­ity Falls • Wan­der Over Yon­der • Ad­ven­ture Time • The Ad­ven­tures of Puss in Boots • Bob’s Burg­ers • Bread­win­ners • Dawn of the Croods • The Mr. Pe­abody and Sher­man Show • Pickle and Peanut • Puf­fin Rock • Star vs. The Forces of Evil • Steven Uni­verse • All Hail King Julien • Archer • Ar­mikrog • Bat­man Un­lim­ited: Mon­ster May­hem • Evolve • Fresh Beat Band of Spies • Har­vey Beaks • Invisible, Inc. • Lost Trea­sure Hunt • Niko and the Sword of Light • Peter Rab­bit • Phineas and Ferb • San­jay & Craig • Sher­iff Cal­lie’s Wild West • The Simp­sons • Turbo FAST • Un­cle Grandpa • The Ven­ture Bros.: All This And Gar­gan­tua-2 • We Bare Bears •

Like most of the globe’s an­i­ma­tion in­dus­tries, news­pa­per car­toons and po­lit­i­cal strips heav­ily in­flu­enced Greek an­i­ma­tion. But the po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic sit­u­a­tions Greece has ex­pe­ri­enced have added unique lay­ers to an­i­ma­tion projects pro­duced in the coun­try’s 70 years of an­i­ma­tion history.

Greece’s first an­i­mated film, Duce Nar­rates, by Stama­tis Pole­nakis, an anti-fas­cist film about the Ital­ian oc­cu­pa­tion of Greece, was pro­duced in 1945. In ret­ro­spect, this short can be seen as a base for the way Greek an­i­ma­tors have of­ten used their projects for po­lit­i­cal state­ments and satire in short films.

Greece does not have a tra­di­tion for pro­duc­ing fea­ture films — only a few an­i­mated fea­tures have been made there. The first one was the 1979 release Cor­pus, by Thanassis Rentzis. The Dogs, pro­duced in 2010 by Di­nos Theo­dosiou, is the most re­cent one.

Im­por­tant ex­am­ples of Greece’s an­i­mated po­lit­i­cal state­ments — both of which are about the pe­riod be­tween 1967 and 1974 when the junta oc­cu­pied Greece — are the 1971 an­i­mated short Sssst, by Thodoros Mara­gos, and 12.410 and One Roses, pro­duced in 2010 by Jor­dan Ana­niadis. The lat­ter is about the night of Nov. 17, 1973, when stu­dents rose up against the dic­ta­tor­ship of the colonels.

“The junta at­tempted to pro­hibit Sssst from screen­ing at fes­ti­vals, but they did not suc­ceed,” says Mara­gos. “I felt that my an­i­ma­tion work­man­ship had just been jus­ti­fied.”

Ana­niadis has pro­duced al­most a dozen satir­i­cal shorts, with the most fa­mous be­ing his 1971 de­but Za­chos the Masochist (1979), The Cir­cle (1981), The Hole (1983) and We

12.410 and One Roses

Din­ner for Few Greeks from 1996. He says he re­spects Mara­gos’ work. “Thodoros was tip touch­ing a line,” he says.

Ana­niadis him­self was heav­ily crit­i­cized for us­ing a cat as the main char­ac­ter in 12.410 and One Roses. “The sit­u­a­tion with the junta was very sad, peo­ple were up­set I used a funny an­i­mal like a cat,” he says.

An­i­mated shorts still are pro­duced to­day to crit­i­cize the gov­ern­ment and make fun of the coun­try’s eco­nomic trou­bles, with the 2014 se­ries VK­toons — avail­able on YouTube — a prime ex­am­ple.

Toon Moon­light­ing Due to the weak econ­omy in Greece, many an­i­ma­tors have day jobs and do their projects on the side. This is noth­ing new — even pi­o­neers of Greek an­i­ma­tion had to work on TV com­mer­cials to fund their own an­i­mated

A Let­ter - A Story shorts.

Ana­niadis, Mara­gos and Stratos Stasi­nos, who died in 2009, are con­sid­ered the top three icons of Greek an­i­ma­tion and they all worked solo. “De­spite the peo­ple did not take an­i­ma­tion se­ri­ously, we con­tinue to make shorts,” says Ana­niadis. “We were stub­born — making shorts felt like a duty.”

“Greek an­i­ma­tors are also self-taught, be­cause there are no an­i­ma­tion schools in Greece,” says Mara­gos.

To es­cape the dif­fi­cult an­i­ma­tion cli­mate in Greece, many an­i­ma­tors moved to the United States or United King­dom. Nas­sos Vakalis is con­sid­ered the most suc­cess­ful Greek an­i­ma­tor abroad. He has worked on an­i­mated fea­tures at Warner Bros., Para­mount, DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion, Il­lu­mi­na­tion En­ter­tain­ment and Rovio. In 2006, Vakalis be­came the first Greek an­i­ma­tor to win an Emmy — for his sto-

The Lit­tle Mouse That Wanted to Touch a Star ry­board work on Off Mikes, an an­i­mated adap­tion of the pop­u­lar ESPN ra­dio show.

In 2001, Vakalis re­turned to Greece to try to de­velop a new an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try. “But in­stead I found large bu­reau­cracy and no in­ter­est at all in an­i­ma­tion,” he says. “I re­gret I came back.”

De­spite his dis­ap­point­ment, Vakalis did pro­duce, along with Pana­gi­o­tis Rap­pas, Greece’s most suc­cess­ful an­i­mated pro­duc­tion: a Christ­mas spe­cial ti­tled The Lit­tle Mouse That Wanted to Touch a Star, which has racked up

Char­ac­ters by Jor­dan Ana­niadis

The Hole more than 1.4 mil­lion YouTube views.

“By ex­cep­tion, ERT fi­nanced it with a $250,000 ( 300,000 euro) bud­get, but af­ter a change of man­age­ment there was no con­tin­u­a­tion on an­i­ma­tion,” says Vakalis. In Septem­ber 2014, Vakalis made an­other short about his home­land, Din­ner for Few, a crit­i­cal view on the cri­sis, democ­racy and politi­cians. “A sad re­minder of the sit­u­a­tion in Greece,” he says. With more than 40 in­ter­na­tional an­i­ma­tion awards it be­came one of the most ac­claimed Greek an­i­ma­tion projects ever. “A broad­cast on ERT would be a recog­ni­tion,” he says. Lit­tle Gov­ern­ment

Sup­port All Greek an­i­ma­tors in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle share a crit­i­cal opin­ion of the Greek gov­ern­ment and pub­lic broad­caster ERT. “The state never has shown any in­ter­est, or un­der­stand­ing for an­i­ma­tion,” says Vakalis.

Nikos Pilavios, for­mer head of the chil­dren’s depart­ment at ERT and pro­ducer of the Sesame Street- style ed­u­ca­tional se­ries Froutopia and The Sto­ry­teller, says: “An­i­ma­tion was not taken se­ri­ously. Money given by the gov­ern­ment was not spent on an­i­ma­tion or chil­dren’s pro­gram­ming.”


An­i­ma­tor Aristar­chos Pa­padaniel, who grew up with Pilavios’ work, says there was lit­tle in­ter­est in the medium. “The pub­lic thought an­i­ma­tion was a joke and child­ish.”

As such, Greek chil­dren have mostly grown up watch­ing only for­eign an­i­ma­tion on TV.

In­quiries to ERT re­veal the broad­caster has no one re­spon­si­ble for chil­dren´s and an­i­ma­tion pro­gram­ming.

An ex­cep­tion to the dom­i­nance of for­eign con­tent is the 48-episode 2D an­i­mated se­ries A Let­ter – A Story, made by Pa­padaniel and chil­dren’s book au­thor Sophia Madou­valou in 2009. Funded by the Greek min­istry of ed­u­ca­tion, it was broad­cast via ERT World with English sub­ti­tles for Greeks liv­ing abroad. To­day, the se­ries is suc­cess­fully used in class­rooms.

In June 2015, Pa­padaniel pro­duced his short The Rains of Cas­tamere, which is in­spired by the hit HBO se­ries Game of Thrones and its theme song, “Ice on Fire.” “I have used iconic scenes from eight episodes of the se­ries,” he says. The short earned Pa­padaniel world­wide ac­claim, in­clud­ing video of the week at Awardeo.

“For a long time it was a se­cret it was made by a Greek an­i­ma­tor. Many peo­ple thought it was made by the Games of Thrones pro­duc­tion team,” he says.

Pa­padaniel says he strongly be­lieves the Greek an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try has a bright fu­ture. “De­spite the cur­rent prob­lems, young an­i­ma­tors have a cre­ative flow,” he says.

A Brighter Fu­ture An­i­ma­tor and pro­ducer An­ge­los Rou­vas agrees: “2016 will be a new be­gin­ning. In Oc­to­ber 2015 we or­ga­nized busi­ness work­shops in Athens with Euro­pean an­i­ma­tion pro­fes­sion­als from France and the United King­dom, seek­ing co-pro­duc­tion and fi­nance op­por­tu­ni­ties within the Euro­pean Me­dia Pro­gram. We also want to hook up more with Car­toon, work on a Greek an­i­ma­tors clus­ters with ASIFA-Greece and seek more co-op­er­a­tion with Canada, France, Switzer­land and Bel­gium. De­spite the cri­sis, an­i­ma­tion in Greece is still alive. We need to work on co-pro­duc­tions – within and out­side Greece.”

Rou­vas was in­volved in many Greek an­i­ma­tion projects, co-de­signed Pan­dora & Plato and co-pro­duced The Lit­tle Mouse That Wanted To Touch The Star. He is the driv­ing force

We Greeks be­hind GreekAn­i­ma­tion.com, which de­scribes 70 years of Greek an­i­ma­tion history in text and videos. “It took me six months to col­lect more than 1,000 movies, mainly be­cause there are no se­ri­ous an­i­ma­tion ar­chives in Greece,” he says.

Since 2009, Greek an­i­ma­tors also have used the In­ter­net to pro­mote their shorts. On top of this list, with more than 2.4 mil­lion views on YouTube, is Mariza, pro­duced by Con­stan­tine Krys­tallis, about a stub­born Zorba-danc­ing don­key and his owner, a fish­er­man. Un­like his men­tors’ work, Krys­tallis’ short is not a satire on Greece. “It is a funny trib­ute to the is­lands and the Greek peo­ple — with­out any so­cial com­ments,” he says. “I wanted to make some­thing Greek peo­ple could smile about.”

In this dif­fi­cult cli­mate, an­i­ma­tors are still making suc­cess­ful projects us­ing such un­ortho­dox tech­niques as keep­ing se­cret a pro­duc- tion’s Greek ori­gins. The first Greek an­i­mated se­ries ever did just that and be­came a huge suc­cess: Pan­dora & Plato. Pro­duced by Athens-based stu­dio Ar­toon, it achieved rat­ings of

The Rains of Cas­tamere 49 per­cent on the pub­lic chan­nel ANT1 and later on com­mer­cial TV sta­tion STAR Chan­nel, has more than 250 mer­chan­dise items and has sold 140,000 books in four months.

Nikos Ver­git­sis and Ge­orge Nikolou­lias, founders of Ar­toon and cre­ators of Pan­dora & Plato, say: “We have al­ways sought a con­nec­tion with Euro­pean an­i­ma­tion. With 20 per­cent Euro­pean fund­ing, Pan­dora & Plato was made partly out­side Greece, but never broad­cast out­side the coun­try.”

And the stu­dio is look­ing to build on that. “We are op­ti­mists,” say Ver­git­sis and Nikolou­lias. Af­ter find­ing some Greek in­vestors, and get­ting the Greek Film Cen­tre on­board as co pro­duc­ers, Ar­toon will release in Fe­bru­ary Magic Tears, the new fea­ture film of Pan­dora & Plato. And that’s just a start.

“We have al­most signed over 50 coun­tries to dis­trib­ute the film, and are also work­ing on a new Pan­dora & Plato TV se­ries,” say Ver­git­sis and Nikolou­lias. [

The be­gin­ning of the year is laden with amaz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. Use the new year as an ex­cuse to make an­nounce­ments to your clients, of­fer in­cen­tives, give re­wards, fol­low up with old leads and set sys­tems in mo­tion to guar­an­tee

ex­po­nen­tial growth all year.

Show Grat­i­tude Say thank you! An­nounce how great the year has been and how much growth has been ex­pe­ri­enced be­cause of your amaz­ing clients. As a small way of say­ing thank you, of­fer a dis­count on their first project of the new year in the form of a coupon or voucher. This re­wards your clients fi­nan­cially while si­mul­ta­ne­ously en­cour­ag­ing new busi­ness for you. An­nounce Your New

Rates Why not ring in the new year with a raise? Af­ter all, you de­serve it. The thought of in­creas­ing rates is of­ten met with vary­ing de­grees of in­ter­nal trep­i­da­tion, but keep in mind many qual­ity clients are will­ing to pay more than many ser­vice providers think, es­pe­cially if the ser­vice provider has been do­ing a con­sis­tently great job over a pe­riod of time and is well-niched. Offering a tea­spoon of sugar along with the medicine can help, as well. Ex­plain the ad­di­tional qual­ity, ben­e­fits and ser­vice your client will be get­ting along with your new rates. Feel free to sub­stan­ti­ate your new rates based on cost of liv­ing in­creases, in­fla­tion or even com­par­isons with other com­pa­nies that of­fer sim­i­lar ser­vices, but be cau­tious of over-ex­plain­ing or over-jus­ti­fy­ing this in­crease as it will more than likely open up a can of worms you wish stayed closed. An­nounce New Ser­vices Have you been wait­ing for the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to of­fer your clients a new prod­uct or ser­vice? The open­ing of the year is just the right time to let your clients know that the same great team who has been tak­ing care of them for the past X num­ber of months or years is very ex­cited to pro­vide even more value in the form of new ser­vices. Give a brief over­view of the need for your new ser­vices and how your clients will ben­e­fit from this ad­di­tion to your al­ready ex­em­plary menu of so­lu­tions. com­pelling rea­son, so lev­er­ag­ing the open­ing of the new year may be just the tool you need. Rekin­dle Old Re­la­tion­ships The new year is also a great ex­cuse to reach out to clients who have gone dor­mant. Send them a per­sonal let­ter (hand signed by you, not an email), call them, and sim­ply wish them a happy New Year. Based on their re­sponse you can get a good sense of where they stand as a client. Use this as an op­por­tu­nity to fol­low-up and ask how things are go­ing with their busi­ness and ex­plain how ex­cited you are to start work­ing with them again.

What Not to Do By all means, avoid the generic and prac­ti­cally mean­ing­less “Happy Hol­i­days From ... ” email. There are few things less per­sonal or more con­tra­dic­tory than a mes­sage that is sup­posed to be grate­ful and sin­cere which Martin Gre­bing is an award-win­ning an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor and pro­ducer who has fo­cused his ca­reer on smaller stu­dios and al­ter­na­tive mar­kets. He pro­vides pri­vate con­sult­ing and is the pres­i­dent of Fun­ny­bone An­i­ma­tion, a bou­tique stu­dio that pro­duces an­i­ma­tion for a wide range of clients and in­dus­tries. He can be reached via www. fun­ny­bonean­i­ma­tion.com.

In­dus­trial Light & Magic was in­stru­men­tal in help­ing pull off The Revenant’s har­row­ing bear at­tack, a se­quence that earned it an An­nie Award nom­i­na­tion for an­i­mat­ing “Judy” the bear.

It was a close col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween all of the de­part­ments, par­tic­u­larly di­rec­tor Ale­jan­dro González Iñár­ritu, cin­e­matog­ra­pher Em­manuel Lubezki and ac­tor Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays 19th cen­tury trap­per Hugh Glass.

“What was in­ter­est­ing think­ing back to the early dis­cus­sions with Ale­jan­dro was really all about move­ment and plan­ning and chore­og­ra­phy, but al­ways com­ing back to re­al­ity of mo­tion and how an ac­tual bear at­tack would un­fold,” says ILM’s Richard McBride, the pro­duc­tion VFX su­per­vi­sor. “And the other thing was get­ting into the mind­set that this was not a mon­ster: it’s in its nat­u­ral habi­tat and just be­hav­ing as a nor­mal an­i­mal would.

“Ale­jan­dro wanted the at­tack to be sud­den and they wanted us to feel close to the ac­tion and im­mersed in ev­ery de­tail,” says McBride, who was joined by an­i­ma­tion su­per­vi­sor Matt Shumway.

They met with Mark of the Griz­zly au­thor Scott McMil­lion and the bear team learned about all of the po­ten­tial sce­nar­ios that can hap­pen in the woods. It was all based on chance en­coun­ters, such as a bear pro­tect­ing its cubs, which was the ba­sis of at­tack in The Revenant.

It was also in­valu­able look­ing at on­line footage of an ac­tual bear at­tack in a Ger­man zoo, in which some­one drunk­enly stum­bled into the cage. What was most re­mark­able was the ran­dom­ness of the at­tack, ac­cord­ing to McBride. This formed the ba­sis of the chore­og­ra­phy.

“Ini­tially, a stunt team worked out the chore­og­ra­phy of how they were go­ing to tug and pull the ac­tor dur­ing the maul­ing,” says McBride. They shot the scene on lo­ca­tion in Calgary, Canada, in freez­ing cold and rain, and staged the beats of the at­tack.

“For us, the VFX team, we wanted to keep Leo vis­i­ble and also keep it kind of messy, so once we had the cam­era work there, we po­si­tioned our stunt­man in a way that he was grab­bing and pulling in all the right places where we thought the bites were go­ing to be,” McBride says. “And keep­ing him at a dis­tance where there would be a lit­tle less paint work in get­ting him in and out of the scene and hav­ing our bear on top of him. Ul­ti­mately, the paint work was ex­ten­sive be­cause of how close we were to the ac­tion.”

Deadly Pause The most in­ter­est­ing part of the at­tack was the quiet or still­ness that occurred in be­tween the vi­cious mo­ments. The an­tic­i­pa­tion of what was go­ing to hap­pen next made it scarier, McBride says.

“When Leo got in­volved, he added a whole other beat where you’re get­ting more sym­pa­thy for the bear,” McBride says. “There’s a mo­ment where the gun­shot has al­ready hap­pened and they’re both dam­aged: the bear is bleed­ing and Leo’s torn up. And the cam­era goes back to the bear and she’s torn: the cubs are on one side and this threat is on the other and she’s strug­gling to stand. She could walk away but goes for one last lunge in her dy­ing mo­ment to pro­tect her cubs.”

In terms of the an­i­ma­tion, ILM took ad­van­tage of its re­cent fur work on the up­com­ing War­craft, but needed to up its game con­sid­er­ably. “One of the unique as­pects was there wasn’t the cus­tom­ary sep­a­ra­tion be­tween groom­ing and sim­u­la­tion,” McBride says. “This project pushed the pipe­line so that it ad­hered to the ini­tial look that you built into it. So there was the sim­u­la­tion of flesh over the bones and then a layer of skin that got an­other (round) of sim­u­la­tion and then the fur got sim­u­lated on top of that. This pro­vided com­plex­ity to the mo­tion. But we had to dial it back be­cause if you looked at the ref­er­ence, some­times the shim­mer on the fur looked too com­puter-gen­er­ated the way it was blink­ing on and off.”

They used Zeno for sim­u­la­tion, Maya for an­i­ma­tion and ren­dered with Ren­derMan. The mod­el­ing team built shapes and con­trols that pro­vided a very nat­u­ral­is­tic per­for­mance.

Other con­sid­er­a­tions in­cluded how wet the fur was go­ing to be, how was it go­ing to re­act to the light and how the au­di­ence was go­ing to see the wound and the red­ness of the blood.

“Th­ese nu­anced ticks and ges­tures and ar­tic­u­la­tion in ar­eas of the face, eyes, snout and mouth avoided the look of men­ace,” McBride says. Bill De­sowitz is owner of Im­mersed in Movies (www.billdes­owitz.com), au­thor of James Bond Un­masked (www.james­bon­dun­masked.com) and a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Thomp­son on Hol­ly­wood and An­i­ma­tion Scoop at Indiewire.

FTrack This is why I love in­no­va­tion and com­pe­ti­tion. As much as I adore Shot­gun, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for other ap­pli­ca­tions. And it doesn’t mean that Shot­gun is the only way. In a world where pro­duc­tion and as­set track­ing was be­com­ing a must for pro­duc­tions of any size, the de­vel­op­ers at FTrack saw a hole and de­cided it needed to be filled.

What I like most about FTrack is its feel. The UI de­sign feels like you should touch and in­ter­act with it. I’d com­pare it most closely with Base­camp.

But ob­vi­ously UI isn’t the most im­por­tant thing about a prod­uct (even though it is im­por­tant). Func­tion­al­ity is king. And Ftrack has that in bucket-loads. Pro­duc­ers are able to sched­ule projects in var­i­ous meth­ods, in­clud­ing my some­what nerdy fa­vorite, Gantt chart. But it also prints up re­ports of progress in­clud­ing pro­jected costs and actuals, and a quick daily over­view of the whole thing.

Artists work in an al­most Kan­ban-Ag­ile type of way, where they can drag flex­i­ble task cards to and from dif­fer­ent states: wait­ing to start, in progress, com­plete. And pro­duc­ers and co­or­di­na­tors can drag artists onto task for as­sign­ments. So it’s not ex­actly Ag­ile, where there is a cache of tasks and de­vel­op­ers pick up the ones they want to work on and then move that task into “in progress.” I haven’t come up with a vi­able par­al­lel in an artist-based in­dus­try. But this is a step in the right di­rec­tion.

I am also a fan of how FTrack in­te­grates soft­ware to cre­ate an as­set-man­age­ment sys­tem to sup­ple­ment the pro­duc­tion man­age­ment sys­tem. Cer­tainly, Shot­gun has the func­tion­al­ity, but FTrack is more straight­for­ward in its in­te­gra­tion, es­pe­cially for prod­ucts from The Foundry: Nuke, Heiro, etc. Just like Shot­gun is in bed with Au­todesk, The Foundry seems to have an in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with FTrack. So while Shot­gun acts friendly with Nuke, FTrack has a more nat­u­ral re­la­tion­ship.

Re­cently, FTrack matched Shot­gun’s Re­view soft­ware on the iPhone with its own mo­bile in­ter­face. Where Re­view leans a lit­tle more on the su­per­vi­sor side to re­view shots in progress, FTrack Go is more about man­age­ment. You can as­sign tasks or change task sta­tus. And as an artist, you can log task time and sub­mit timesheets di­rectly from the phone.

FTrack is filled with great tools to keep ev­ery­thing on track — and like Shot­gun, it has an API so ev­ery­thing is cus­tom­iz­a­ble to how you want to work. It’s definitely strong com­pe­ti­tion for Shot­gun and Aut­doesk, and it’s priced at $10 a month per user lower than Shot­gun. But this is good — they pro­vide a mo­ti­va­tor so that Shot­gun doesn’t get all lazy in the arms of its cor­po­rate par­ent.

iClone Char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment is not an easy thing. Just ask any­one who does it. Places like Bungie and Ac­tivi­sion and Elec­tronic Arts have fleets of artists just do­ing that. So what is one to do when one has an idea for a game and doesn’t have a fleet of char­ac­ter model­ers?

Well, Real­lu­sion (known for its tools for de­moc­ra­tiz­ing mo­tion and mod­el­ing data, and which has been de­vel­op­ing low-cost tools for cap­tur­ing your own mo­tion cap­ture from read­ily ac­ces­si­ble de­vices like a Ki­netic or a Per­cep­tion Neu­tron ... well, not as read­ily ac­ces­si­ble, but you know what I mean) has de­vel­oped a new sys­tem for cre­at­ing cus­tom char­ac­ters that they have named the iClone Game Char­ac­ter De­sign Plat­form. I would have liked some­thing that could have been a clever acro­nym, but at least it’s clear.

The idea is that you don’t want to have to worry about the tech­ni­cal­i­ties of cre­at­ing new char­ac­ters. Real­lu­sion uses a model with a base topol­ogy that has been tai­lored to work with mo­tion-cap­ture data and game en­gines like Unity, Un­real and St­ingray. So you take that, and through a se­ries of mod­ules and slider sys­tems, you cus­tom­ize the char­ac­ter, mor­ph­ing it into a brand-new per­son. Since the topol­ogy is not chang­ing, you can be con­fi­dent that it will port over to your game en­gine with min­i­mal fuss. And if you are a su­per­star, you can ex­port the model to ZBrush or Mud­box for ad­di­tional cus­tom sculpt­ing, or for de­tail map gen­er­a­tion for nor­mals and such. And then bring it back into the sys­tem. The low-level mesh still has the same topol­ogy (as long as you didn’t add or delete any­thing in the process), so it still works in the work­flow.

The new char­ac­ters can be as­signed with canned mo­tions from the Real­lu­sion on­line cache of data, or you can cre­ate your own mo­tion cap­ture or an­i­ma­tion. And there is sup­port for lip-sync

Since Masahi Kishi­moto in­tro­duced him in the mag­a­zine Weekly Sho­nen Jump in 1997, Naruto Uzu­maki has be­come one of the most pop­u­lar an­i­mated char­ac­ters in the world, sell­ing tens of mil­lions of discs, video games, toys and char­ac­ter mer­chan­dise — plus more than 220 mil­lion vol­umes of the manga, (ap­prox­i­mately half as many copies as the Harry Pot­ter nov­els). The first TV se­ries, Naruto (2002), ran for 220 episodes; the se­quel, Naruto Ship­pu­den (2007) ran twice as long.

The two new­est fea­tures The Last: Naruto the Movie (2014) and Boruto: Naruto: The Movie (2015) sug­gest how a story can end, yet con­tinue.

Years be­fore the story opened, the Hid­den Leaf Vil­lage of nin­jas was al­most de­stroyed by a mon­strous nine-tailed fox-de­mon. The Hok­age (chief) of the vil­lage died seal­ing the de­mon within the body of his new­born son, Naruto. Be­cause he was linked to the de­mon, Naruto grew up shunned and lonely. He got back at the vil­lagers by caus­ing trou­ble and play­ing hooky from the Ninja Acad­emy.

As the se­ries pro­gressed, Naruto grew up a bit. A clas­sic come-from-be­hind kid, he mas­tered the most dif­fi­cult jutsu (mag­i­cal tech­niques) — and learned to use the chakra (spirit-en­ergy) of the de­mon im­pris­oned in­side his body. He re­mains a grin­ning goof-off at heart, but is also kind-hearted, brave and fe­ro­ciously loyal to his friends.

In an in­ter­view, Kishi­moto told me: “Per­fect he­roes are cool, but no one can really em­pathize or iden­tify with them. Naruto of­ten makes blun­ders, and he has weak­nesses. Al­though he doesn’t think about it too much, he knows he hates to lose and we all know what that feels like. I think read­ers see them­selves in Naruto: They can em­pathize with him and his weak­nesses.”

Ship­pu­den’s End The Last: Naruto the Movie (2014) serves as a fi­nale to the Naruto Ship­pu­den se­ries. Naruto (voice by Maile Flanagan) has reached his early 20s. The prob­lem child ev- ery­one re­jected now teaches classes to ad­mir­ing stu­dents at the Acad­emy where he used to be­devil the sen­sei (pro­fes­sors).

Even Naruto’s for­mi­da­ble skills are sorely tested by the ghostly Toneri (Rob­bie Day­mond), who re­gards the Earth as a caul­dron of cor­rup­tion. He plans to de­stroy the planet by crash­ing the moon into it. Toneri al­ters the or­bit of the moon, pro­duc­ing a rain of me­te­ors that dev­as­tates the ninja vil­lages.

But the com­ple­tion of his scheme re­quires the use of a mag­i­cal power hid­den in the eyes of mem­bers of the Hyuga clan in Naruto’s vil­lage.

Toneri kid­naps Hanabi Hyuga (Colleen O’Shaugh­nessey). Naruto and Hin­abi’s older sis­ter Hi­nata (Stephanie Sheh) travel to the moon to res­cue her with three war­rior-friends: Sakura (Kate Hig­gins), a med­i­cal ninja; Sai (Ben Diskin), whose mag­i­cal draw­ings be­come liv­ing crea­tures; and level-headed Shika­maru (Tom Gibis), who fights with en­chanted shad­ows.

By com­bin­ing their pow­ers, Naruto and Hi­nata de­stroy Toneri’s weapons and schemes. Al­though the over-the-top bat­tles are ex­cit­ing, they’re really just a back­drop for the mal­adroit courtship be­tween Naruto and Hi­nata. Hi­nata is too shy to ex­press her feel­ings and Naruto is too dense to rec­og­nize his.

As scenes at the end of the cred­its re­veal, they marry, a turn of events as sur­pris­ing (and dis­pleas­ing) to some fans as Harry Pot­ter wed­ding Ginny in­stead of Hermione.

10 Years Later ... The Last con­cludes the orig­i­nal Naruto con­ti­nu­ity; Boruto (2015), which had a brief the­atri­cal release in the U.S. and will be out on disc next year, sug­gests a new di­rec­tion for the char­ac­ters. The film is set more than 10 years af­ter The Last — and af­ter the broad­cast se­ries ended. De­spite ev­ery­one’s prior skep­ti­cism, Naruto has be­come Hok­age of the Hid­den Leaf Vil­lage, just as he al­ways boasted he would. But his du­ties keep him so busy, he ne­glects his fam­ily: He sends a mag­i­cal clone of him­self to his daugh­ter’s birth­day party. This ne­glect in­fu­ri­ates his hot­headed, tal­ented teen-age son, Boruto.

Des­per­ate to at­tract his fa­ther’s at­ten­tion, Boruto cheats on his ninja ex­ams with a me­chan­i­cal de­vice that de­ploys com­plex su­per­nat­u­ral tech­niques. But the ex­ams are in­ter­rupted by the ar­rival of the icy Mo­moshiki and his hench­man Kin­shiki, who have come to seize the ter­ri­ble power of the Fox De­mon.

The cli­mac­tic bat­tle, which takes up most of the last quar­ter of the film, is the most spec­tac­u­lar in any Naruto ad­ven­ture. Di­rec­tor Hiroyuki Ya­mashita de­ploys a flam­boy­ant mix­ture of drawn and CG an­i­ma­tion to great ef­fect. Not sur­pris­ingly, Naruto and Boruto have to join forces to crush the vil­lain.

At a time when many Amer­i­can an­i­mated fran­chises feel like they’ve over­stayed their wel­come, Boruto shows how to pre­serve a con­ti­nu­ity’s win­ning qual­i­ties while mov­ing it into new ter­ri­tory. [

tv*gie (Miller) set out on an epic quest to res­cue him. With the help of the rav­ish­ing half-hu­man, half-de­mon Deema (Ku­nis), the bud­dies must brave runins with an emas­cu­lated Devil (Odenkirk), a smart mouthed an­gel (Susan Saran­don) and the myth­i­cal Or­pheus (McBride), among oth­ers.

[Release date: Jan. 5]

Jymn Magon

Dave Ben­joya

Joe Vi­tale

Leonardo DiCaprio takes on a dig­i­tal bear as 19th cen­tury trap­per Hugh Glass in The Revenant.

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