Im­promptu De­liv­ery

Animation Magazine - - Features - By Karen Idel­son.

IThe mak­ers of Warner Bros. An­i­ma­tion’s tapped into the im­prov skills of its voice ac­tors and an­i­ma­tors to find the right tone. By Karen Idel­son

n the world of the new film Storks, the econ­omy has been tough on ev­ery­body — es­pe­cially storks in the baby de­liv­ery busi­ness. Though they once were ded­i­cated to de­liv­er­ing only ba­bies for as long as any of us can re­mem­ber, storks found they could in­crease their bot­tom line by mov­ing into the de­liv­ery of other items in an Ama­zon-style busi­ness move. But there’s just some­thing about bring­ing ba­bies to their new fam­i­lies, and when a yup­pie stork in the new film Storks ac­ci­den­tally re­ac­ti­vates the com­pany’s al­legedly de­funct baby-mak­ing ma­chine and cre­ates an ac­ci­den­tal baby girl, the fu­ture of the com­pany and all the storks spins into a chaos spi­ral.

Writ­ten by vet­eran com­edy writer-di­rec­tor Ni­cholas Stoller ( Get Him to the Greek, For­get­ting Sarah Mar­shall) and then di­rected by Stoller and an­i­ma­tion ace Doug Sweet­land, the Storks story orig­i­nated from a very per­sonal as­pect of Stoller’s life.

“Our first child was re­ally easy to have and our sec­ond child was re­ally hard to have and we had a lot of fer­til­ity strug­gles, so it made me un­der­stand the bless­ing that chil­dren are,” says Stoller. “That’s at the heart of it re­ally, even though ev­ery it­er­a­tion of the movie went far­ther from that story.”

Af­ter work­ing in live-ac­tion, R-rated comedies, Stoller had to re­mind him­self he could do any­thing at all in an­i­ma­tion be­cause of the tools and that he could do it on a much larger can­vas. But he still brought in some of the sharpest im­prov com­edy tal­ents to round out his cast. Andy Sam­berg plays Ju­nior, the lead stork in quest of com­pany ad­vance­ment, who teams up with Tulip (Katie Crown), an 18-yearold hu­man who was the last baby cre­ated by the storks and the only one they never de­liv­ered. Kee­gan-Michael Key and Jor­dan Peele play a pack of not-so-scary wolves, Ty Bur­rell is the voice of a dis­tracted fa­ther and Jen­nifer Anis­ton is the voice of his real-es­tate ob­sessed wife.

Sweet­land is quick to point out that Stoller used im­prov tech­niques more than he’s ever seen in an an­i­mated film. And this made for di­a­logue that seemed more nat­u­ral, spon­ta­neous and funny.

“Katie Crown was orig­i­nally hired as a scratch ac­tor, but she came in and there’s a scene in which she’s ba­si­cally talk­ing to her­self in mul­ti­ple ver­sions of her char­ac­ter and she showed she’s re­ally ir­re­place­able in that char­ac­ter,” says Sweet­land. “The stu­dio rec­og­nized her tal­ent and she got to keep the role, so our movie re­ally is closer in tone to an SNL skit or a Christo­pher Guest movie than any­thing else.”

Stoller would also pitch ideas to the an­i­ma­tion team — in­clud­ing one in which a team of ne­far­i­ous pen­guins at­tempts to steal the baby girl Ju­nior cre­ated. Stoller essen­tially gave the team the im­pe­tus for the scene and then let the team carry it out, says Sweet­land.

(Al­most) Raised by Wolves As our heroes at­tempt to bring the baby they ac­ci­den­tally cre­ated to her in­tended par­ents, they also run across a pack of hun­gry wolves. It turns out the wolves — once they fall hard for all the qual­i­ties of the baby — are mostly hun­gry for the love of the child and not her flesh. The en­tire pack of wolves is voiced by Key and Peele, and much of their im­prov rounded out the per­son­al­i­ties al­ready writ­ten into the script. Joshua Bev­eridge, an­i­ma­tion su­per­vi­sor, knew the wolves were some­thing spe­cial early on in the process.

“Warner Bros. was al­ways very clear with us that they wanted the wolves to be some­thing they could brag about and some­thing that was very im­pres­sive,” says Bev­eridge. “(The wolves) were al­ways in the script as a wolf pack and com­ing to­gether in the form of all the shapes that you see — the bridge, the boat, the bro­ken heart.”

Bev­eridge also thinks the sim­ple style of an­i­ma­tion in the film works in its fa­vor — mak­ing way for the au­di­ence to project it­self into the ac­tion and giv­ing that ac­tion a more wacky, com­i­cal, Looney Tunes kind of feel­ing.

“It forces ev­ery­one to re­mem­ber this is a car­toon and this some­thing fun,” says Bev­eridge. ”It needed to be silly, which means we had to art di­rect it, and we had to in­vent some new tricks and tools to pull it off, and it was on the backs of the an­i­ma­tors.”

An­i­ma­tors started by do­ing 2D an­i­ma­tion of all the wolf ac­tion at first in or­der to get a sense of what would work and what needed to be changed. Once ap­provals were in place, they moved for­ward. They also spent a lot of time putting to­gether ac­tion that would make log­i­cal sense be­cause it turned out to be the fun­ni­est way for wolf scenes to take place.

“We re­verse en­gi­neered how many wolves we would need for the bridge,” says Bev­eridge. “It turns out the fun­ni­est thing was also the most be­liev­able thing, so we got to in­vent in an­i­ma­tion the shape of the bridge that would be made by the wolves stretch­ing them­selves across the ravine.” Wolves and Ba­bies and

Storks, Oh My! But it wasn’t just the work on the wolves that proved a spe­cial kind of chal­lenge. There were also hun­dreds of ba­bies and storks to cre­ate. The ba­bies would have to have that spe­cial some­thing that makes us all re­flex­ively say, “Awww.” And the storks needed a wing that can fold and be a hand as well as many other things.

“I have a whole sketch-book filled with ideas of how we could do the wings as hands, so they would be pli­able and do so many things,” says Bev­eridge. “It is a world where birds don’t have to have feath­ers to be a bird.”

Stoller and pro­ducer Brad Lewis used cin­e­matog­ra­phy and art di­rec­tion to sculpt the look of the film so it gives the au­di­ence a sense that this is a place meant not to be taken too se­ri­ously.

This was im­por­tant to Stoller as the film was never meant to be scary, so that young chil­dren could watch and be­come im­mersed in the story. For this rea­son, they wanted a look that was more sim­ple than spe­cific and more over the top and play­ful, which is a turn away from an­i­ma­tion that is so tech­ni­cally ac­cu­rate you get a look at ev­ery lit­tle de­tail of ev­ery crea­ture in any scene.

“At one point Nick (Stoller) said our movie should have a hand­held feel, and our di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Si­mon Duns­don was all for it,” says Stoller. “So we had a whole post cam­era process that ba­si­cally added this sense that the ac­tion was be­ing fol­lowed live, which is a sub­tle thing that cues that we’re fol­low­ing some­thing that’s im­pro­vised and that re­ally re­flects Nick’s im­pro­vi­sa­tional back­ground.” [ Karen Idel­son hopes it will al­ways be storks — not drones — that de­liver ba­bies.

gan look­ing for pro­duc­ers and fi­nanc­ing to turn the idea into a fea­ture.

Build­ing the Team First to come on board was Ron Dyens, head of Sacre­bleu Pro­duc­tions, who met with Chayé at the An­necy fes­ti­val when the project was at an early stage. Dyens liked the con­cept and con­trib­uted some ideas in a back and forth that even­tu­ally led to his be­ing added as a pro­ducer in search of fi­nanc­ing.

Dyens soon sought ad­vice from his friend and some­time col­league Henri Ma­ga­lon, founder of Maybe Movies and a pro­ducer on the award-win­ning fea­ture Ernest & Ce­les­tine. “He sent me the thing and it was great in

rice. Hara shows Hoku­sai as both a pop­u­lar artist and a dif­fi­cult, of­ten ir­re­spon­si­ble man.

“I loved the way Sugiura wasn’t afraid to bring this larger-than-life char­ac­ter down to a very hu­man scale, and de­pict him as a neg­li­gent fa­ther — although this is en­tirely fic­tional,” Hara says. “His flawed humanity is re­flected in O-Ei’s con­flict­ing feel­ings to­ward him: She re­spects him as a mas­ter for his im­mense tal­ent, but de­spises him as a fa­ther for be­ing un­able to deal with the ill­ness of his youngest daugh­ter, O-Nao. I was more in­trigued by this un­con­ven­tional por­trayal of a dys­func­tional fam­ily of artists than by Hoku­sai’s art.”

At Home in Edo In many ways, Hoku­sai’s work em­bod­ies the vi­brant ur­ban cul­ture of 19th cen­tury Edo, as Tokyo was called then. Hara makes the city al­most an­other char­ac­ter in the film: Its crowds and col­ors and at­trac­tions sur­round O-Ei and her fa­ther. But Edo was a city of wood and paper that was re­peat­edly rav­aged by fire: Noth­ing sur­vives of the vast me­trop­o­lis Hoku­sai knew. Hara and his artists vis­ited her­itage

It was 50 years ago that the first school mass shoot­ing in Amer­i­can his­tory took place, when Charles Whit­man ter­ror­ized the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin for more than 90 min­utes by shoot­ing at peo­ple from the ob­ser­va­tion deck of the cam­pus’ clock tower. He killed 16 peo­ple, and one un­born child, be­fore he was killed him­self by an Austin po­lice of­fi­cer.

It’s a type of ter­ror that has oc­curred in the United States with fright­en­ing fre­quency in the years since, from the shoot­ings at Columbine to Sandy Hook, and a story di­rec­tor Keith Mait­land wanted to tell in a com­pelling fash­ion in the doc­u­men­tary film Tower, open­ing Oct. 12 in New York City, dis­trib­uted by Kino Lor­ber.

“For me, what was most com­pelling about telling this story was find­ing ways to con­nect with cur­rent au­di­ences,” says Mait­land. “To take a 50-year-old story that seemed very rel­e­vant to me to­day and make sure the au­di­ences that live un­der this kind of vi­o­lence would have the op­por­tu­nity to re­late to these sto­ries. … An­i­ma­tion just seemed like the per­fect tool to be able to tran­scend that time and space, and it hasn’t been overused in doc­u­men­taries, so there’s still an op­por­tu­nity to use it in ex­cit­ing ways.”

The doc­u­men­tary fea­tures first-hand ac­counts of the day from the peo­ple who sur- vived it. But while the au­di­ence hears those ac­counts from those peo­ple as they are to­day, what they see are the nar­rated events recre­ated with ro­to­scoped an­i­ma­tion in the style of Richard Lin­klater’s films Wak­ing Life and A Scan­ner Darkly.

Mait­land’s first doc­u­men­tary fea­ture, The Eyes of Me, in­cluded about six min­utes of an­i­ma­tion, and re­ally in­formed his de­ci­sion to use an­i­ma­tion in Tower. “I knew re­ally just how free­ing it was as a film­maker, as a doc­u­men­tary film­maker (to use an­i­ma­tion),” he says. “It was an im­me­di­ate de­ci­sion — lit­er­ally from the mo­ment I de­cided to make it.”

An­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor Craig Matthew Staggs

Milo Mur­phy’s Law is that rare show that dares to delve into a place many find fright­en­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing — the heart of op­ti­mism. Milo Mur­phy, the show’s name­sake, is the kind of guy who won’t be stopped by any­thing and won’t let his own up­beat at­ti­tude be dimmed by the go­ings-on of the world around him. Even when the show’s cre­ators take him to a place of ridicu­lous catas­tro­phe, he still keeps his head up.

Pre­mier­ing Oct. 3 on Dis­ney XD, the show is the brain­child of Dan Poven­mire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, co-cre­ators of the beloved and long-run­ning Dis­ney se­ries Phineas and Ferb. Poven­mire notes that the pair are ap­par­ently get­ting much bet­ter at sell­ing shows since it took them years to sell Phineas and Ferb to a net­work but just around three to four months to get Milo Mur­phy’s Law off the ground. And that came af­ter the duo pretty much out­lined the show in one meet­ing to­gether.

“Ba­si­cally, it feels like a com­pan­ion piece to what we’ve done on Phineas,” says Poven­mire. “Milo is re­source­ful, em­pa­thetic and doesn’t let any­thing stop him, and there’s some­thing about that which is re­ally touch­ing and con­nects with peo­ple, I think.”

Poven­mire and Marsh both come to this show af­ter work­ing on mul­ti­ple hits in an­i­ma­tion. Poven­mire is a vet­eran of The Simp­sons and Fam­ily Guy. Marsh is also an alum­nus of The Simp­sons as well as King of the Hill. Each episode of Milo Mur­phy’s Law will run two 11-minute car­toons.

A Fa­mous An­ces­tor We should also men­tion Milo Mur­phy is the descendant of a fa­mous some­one. He’s re­lated to Ed­ward A. Mur­phy Jr., none other than the Mur­phy from “Mur­phy’s Law,” which plainly pro­claims that any­thing that can go wrong will in­deed go wrong. Milo is born with Ex­treme Hered­i­tary Mur­phy’s Law, a con­di­tion that has been in­her­ited from one fam­ily mem­ber to the next for gen­er­a­tions.

Each episode will be grounded in this idea, says Poven­mire. But that means they’ll also have to be clever about just how much crazi­ness they throw at their main char­ac­ter and their au­di­ence. Too much of it in too re-

ter premise, forc­ing Zorn to check his sword in with se­cu­rity be­fore tak­ing a flight. He later must re­trieve said sword af­ter it has been bub­ble wrapped and sent down the con­veyer belt at the end of his flight. Zorn also pulls that sword on a Roomba in the first few episodes. But film­mak­ers don’t in­tend to have the story hover there.

“The dan­ger is in just hav­ing the show be about that one joke,” says showrun­ner Sally Brad­ford McKenna, who pre­vi­ously worked on The Gold­bergs. “Ide­ally, this show will be about telling fam­ily sto­ries and all the ac­tors are play­ing it very real with ev­ery­thing we give them — es­pe­cially Tim Mead­ows, who is just amaz­ing to work with as an ac­tor be­cause he’s so ta­lented.”

The mix of A-list im­prov per­form­ers and 1970s TV style an­i­ma­tion is cer­tainly some­thing that sets the show apart from the pack. Both Ap­pel and McKenna hope to see au­di­ences come for the un­usual in­te­gra­tion of this an­i­mated hero into the real world and then see them stay for sto­ry­lines that be­come more about the gen­uine strug­gles in fam­ily re­la­tion­ships.

“I think if you like this show, you will re­ally, re­ally like it,” says Ap­pel. “It will be your thing and there will be no mid­dle ground.” [

–The se­ries fi­nale is set to air • Polly and the Zhu Zhu Pets — Based on the toy fran­chise, first sea­son air­ing now. Star vs. The Forces of Evil — Cur­rently in its sec­ond sea­son, and re­newed for a third sea­son. Star Wars Rebels — Cur­rently air­ing its third sea­son. — Cur­rently air­ing its first

— Sea­son two wraps up with Hal­loween and hol­i­day-themed spe­cials Yo-Kai Watch — New episodes air­ing through fall. air­ing through fall. Cap­tain Jake and the Never Land Pi­rates — The show’s fourth sea­son con­tin­ues to roll out. Goldie & Bear — A sec­ond sea­son has been or­dered, and will be pro­duced by Tit­mouse. • The Oc­to­nauts — Based on the Amer­i­can-Cana­dian chil­dren’s books, the show’s air­ing its fourth sea­son. • Doc McStuffins — Air­ing its fourth

sea­son, with a fifth or­dered. • Sofia the First — Fol­low­ing the ad­ven­tures of a new princess and cur­rently in its third sea­son and re­newed for a fourth sea­son. Sher­iff Cal­lie’s Wild West – Western themed show is air­ing its sec­ond and fi­nal sea­son. Miles from To­mor­row­land — Fu­tur­is­tic show is wrap­ping up its sec­ond sea­son. • The Lion Guard — Based on The Lion King, the show’s first sea­son has been a hit, with a sec­ond on the way. PJ Masks — The hit su­per­hero se­ries is re­newed for a sec­ond sea­son. Bob’s Burg­ers — Sea­son seven pre­miered Sept. 25. Re­newed for an eighth sea­son. — Sea­son 14 pre­miered Sept. 25. Re­newed for a 15th sea­son. • The Simp­sons — Sea­son 28 pre­miered Sept. 25. • • Sept. 25. — Sea­son eight set for 2017. BoJack Horse­man — The adult com­edy-drama se­ries has been re­newed for a fourth sea­son to pre­miere next sum­mer. • F is for Fam­ily — This an­i­mated ‘70s sit­com has been re­newed for a sec­ond sea­son. — Fourth

sea­son out now. • Dinotrux — Sea­son three rolls out Oct. 7. • The Mr. Pe­abody & Sher­man Show — Sec­ond sea­son has wrapped; more ex­pected. sea­son is in the works. • Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles — Cur­rently in its fourth sea­son, the fifth sea­son be­gins in Jan­uary. Har­vey Beaks — Air­ing its sec­ond sea­son. •

two de­buts in Novem­ber. • The Loud House — First sea­son is air­ing now; sea­son two starts in Novem­ber. • • • Amer­i­can Dad! — The 14th sea­son pre­mieres Oct. 31, with a 15th on or­der. [

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