To Be Seen in 2017
Strap in to our time-traveling animation DeLorean for a lightspeed look at the theatrical offerings that will really rev your engine next year.
Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimension [4K Media | Screenvision Media] Director: Satoshi Kuwabara | Yugi Muto, Seto Kaiba, Joey, Tristan, Tea and Bakura return in an allnew original adventure from series creator Kazuki Takahashi. Dan Green and Eric Stuart reprise their roles as Yugi and Seto for the English version. Jan. 20 (limited). Trailer: https://youtu.be/ L5hx5rvLUN8 The Red Turtle [Studio Ghibli, Wild Bunch, Why Not Prod., Belvision, Arte France, CN4, Prima Linea | Sony Pictures Classics] Director: Michael Dudok de Wit | When a stranded man attempts to escape his deserted island, he is thwarted by a red sea turtle. But the mysterious creature holds the key to the man’s loneliness. Written by de Wit and Pascale Ferran. Jan. 20 (limited). Trailer: https://youtu.be/4lwrzNqEUOM
The LEGO Batman Movie [Animal Logic, DC Ent., WAG | Warner Bros.]
Director: Chris McKay | In order to save Gotham from takeover by The Joker, the vainglorious vigilante minifigure must learn to work and play well with others. Will Arnett reprises his role as Batman, with Zach Galifianakis as The Joker, Jenny Slate, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Cera, Mariah Carey. Feb. 10.
Rock Dog [Mandoo, Huayi Bros., Reel FX | Lionsgate] Director: Ash Brannon | When a radio falls from the sky into the hands of a young Tibetan Mastiff, he discovers a love for music and leaves his rural home to pursue his rock star dreams. Based on the graphic novel by Zheng Jun. Stars Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, Matt Dillon, Sam Elliott. Feb. 24.
www.rockdogmovie.com The Boss Baby [DreamWorks Animation | 20th Century Fox] Director: Tom McGrath | A business-savvy infant dons suit and briefcase, teaming up with his 7-year-old brother to stop the scheming CEO of Puppy Co. Alec Baldwin stars as Baby, with Lisa Kudrow, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel and Miles Bakshi; narrated by Patton Oswalt. March 31.
Smurfs: The Lost Village [Sony Pictures Animation | Columbia] Director: Kelly Asbury | A mysterious map sends Smurfette, Brainy, Clumsy and Hefty on a thrilling race through the magical Forbidden Forest to find an undiscovered village before the evil wizard Gargamel gets to it. Stars Demi Lovato, Danny Pudi, Jack McBrayer, Joe Manganiello and Rainn Wilson as Gargamel, with Bill Hader, Mandy Patinkin, Keegan-Michael Key. April 7.
The Nut Job 2 [ToonBox Ent., Redrover | Open Road Films]
Director: Cal Brunker | When Surly Squirrel and his pals discover the Mayor of Oakton is planning a shady deal to redevelop their city park home, they unite with other urban wildlife to stop him, his daughter and a crazy animal control officer. Stars Will Arnett, Gabriel Iglesias, Jeff Dunham, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph and Jackie Chan. May 19. Captain Underpants [DreamWorks Animation, Scholastic Ent. | 20th Century Fox] Director: David Soren (unconfirmed) | Based on the book by Dav Pilkey about two kids who play a hypnotism prank on their mean principal, turning him into their much more likeable comic-book hero, Captain Underpants. Stars Ed Helms as the Cap’n, Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll and Jordan Peele. June 2. Cars 3 [Pixar | Disney] Director: Brian Fee | Now a veteran racer, Lightning McQueen participates in races at historical tracks across America with his new friend, Cruz Ramirez, new nemesis, Jackson Storm, and his old automo-pals. Stars Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt and Cheech Marin. June 16.
Despicable Me 3 [Illumination Ent. | Universal Pictures] Directors: Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda, co-director Eric Guillon | Gru experiences some sibling rivalry when his long lost twin — a luxuriant blonde who favors white duds over black — steps back into his life, and has to face a fearsome new villain: a former ’80s child star named Balthazar Bratt. Stars Steve Carrell as Gru and Dru, Trey Parker as Balthazar, Miranda Cosgrove and Kristen Wiig. June 30. Blazing Samurai [Mass Animation, Cinemation, Jam Filled Toronto | Open Road Films] Directors: Chris Bailey, Mark Koetsier | Loosely inspired by Blazing Saddles, the story follows a young dog named Hank who dreams of becoming a samurai and saving the town of Kakamucho from the feline warlord, Ika Chu. Stars Michael Cera as Hank, Ricky Gervais as Ika Chu, Samuel L. Jackson, Michelle Yeoh, Mel Brooks and George Takei. Aug. 4. www.blazingsamurai.com Emojimovie: Express Yourself [Sony Pictures Animation | Columbia] Director: Anthony Leondis | Gene lives in the city of Textopolis with the rest of the phone’s emojis, but unlike them he can’t help but express more than one emotion. Determined to become “normal,” he sets out on a quest with his best friend Hi-5 and code whiz Jailbreak, until a greater danger threatens their digital world. Stars T.J. Miller, James Corden and Ilana Glazer. Aug. 11. The LEGO Ninjago Movie [Animal Logic, LEGO, Lin Pics., Vertigo Ent.,
WAG | Warner Bros.] Director: Charlie Bean | Six teenage ninjas tasked with defending their island home face their greatest foe yet. Under the crotchety guidance of Sensei Wu, the crack squad of warrior Master Builders set out to defeat Lord Garmadon, the Worst Guy Ever! Also, Green Ninja Lloyd’s dad! Stars Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Zach Woods and Jackie Chan. Sept. 22. [Allspark Pics., DHX Media, Hasbro Studios
| Lionsgate] Director: Jayson Thiessen | When a dark force threatens Ponyville, the Mane 6 embark on an unforgettable journey beyond Equestria, meet new friends and use the magic of friendship and save their home. Stars Tara Strong, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain, Cathy Weseluck, Emily Blunt, Liev Schreiber, Kristin Chenoweth, Michael Peña, Uzo Aduba, Taye Diggs and Sia. Oct. 6.
The Star [Sony Pictures Animation, The Jim Henson Co. | Sony Pictures] Director: Timothy Reckart | This faith-based CG adventure follows a brave little donkey and his animal friends who become the unsung heroes of the first Christmas. Exec produced by DeVon Franklin, Lisa Henson and Brian Henson, coproduced by Jenni Magee Cook; written by Carlos Kotkin and Simon Moore. Nov. 10.
Coco [Pixar | Disney] Director: Lee Unkrich | Inspired by the Día de los Muertos holiday, the film unwraps the celebration of a lifetime, when a generations-old mystery leads to an extraordinary family reunion. Written by Adrian Molina. Benjamin Bratt voices a TBA character. Nov. 22. Ferdinand [Blue Sky Studios | 20th Century Fox] Director: Carlos Saldanha | Based on the children’s book by Munro Leaf, the story of a young bull who would rather smell flowers than participate in bullfights who mistakenly ends up facing off with a popular matador. Dec. [
With so many features defining a diverse year for the industry, directors of some of the top films of 2016 weigh in on the process and the state of animation. By Karen Idelson.
With 2016’s chapter in the history books nearing its close, it has proven one of the most robust years ever for animated features, with a diversity of projects hitting screens that the industry could only have dreamed of a quarter-century ago. Key moment of inspiration: There were a lot, and it’s thanks to this that the project didn’t lose impetus over time but gained it, was improved by it. First there was Tim Burton, Ji í Trnka, Catherine Buffat and JeanLuc Greco, François Truffaut, George Schwizgebel, Peter Lord, the Dardenne brothers, Ken Loach, Wes Anderson, Isao Takahata and some others, who nurtured my imagination and gave me t h e desire to make animated films. Then there was the meeting with Cédric Louis, with whom I made five short films about the torments of childhood. He got me to read Gilles Paris’ Autobiography of a Zucchini, the novel which inspired the film. The brothers Frédéric and Samuel Guillaume, as well as Grégory Beaussart, who initiated me to stopmotion animation. And then things continued with the screenwriter Céline Sciamma, who my producers Max Karli and Pauline Gygax had the good sense to introduce to me. She gave a lot of simplicity and beauty to the story, a clear line for each character. When we did the voice recording with Marie-Eve Hildbrand, who directed the actors, I really felt that the film was taking shape. The film crew took inspiration from these voices when they created the visual aspect of the film. David Toutevoix did a great job with the cinematography and Kim Keukeleire found the right animation style, combining realism and minimalism for the animation. When we filmed the first shot, we all felt a lot of emotion, something outside of us took over at that time. Then, a year later, when the sound was added, we took another inspiring step and, thanks to the talents of Denis Séchaud, I was able to rediscover my film, three years after the beginning of the project.
Toughest challenge in making this movie: Finding producers to finance the film. The development took several years, interspersed with other projects, short films and commissions. The main problem was to convince the producers, distributors and television channels that this film, which directly addresses the topic of child abuse and is very realistic, could interest a wide audience. In this we were fortunate that we had the public support of an initial visionary producer, Robert Bonner, and we were able to make a short three-minute pilot which featured the case for the protagonist. This pilot provided a condensed version of the project: sequence-shots, taking on difficult topics, humor and emotion. With this film and Céline’s magnificent script on board, everything suddenly changed during Cartoon Movie 2012 in Lyon. What followed was, of course, epic, as any feature-length stop-motion animation has to be, but the worst was over, the film was now going to happen.
On the state of the animation industry: Not very different to the current state of the film industry as a whole. There are many, many movies in a very competitive market. The U.S. dominates the entertainment market and Europe is supposed to offer a cultural alternative made possible through state aid. It is a war in which you have to position yourself and have very clear ideas, finding the right partners at the right time to hope to have a chance of making a film that the public will hear about and have the urge to go see. Over 50 animated films are released in France every year. If a movie does not fill theaters in the first week, it disappears very quickly and another one replaces it. The large studios invest hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising for each film they place on the market. In comparison, when you have a production budget and promotional budget that is 30 times smaller, you can’t offer the same thing. You absolutely must have more soul, something that is extremely original, if you want a chance of bringing your film to screen. This is becoming increasingly rare.
Favorite animated movie or character of all time: Princess Mononoke! I am completely intrigued and fascinated by this girl. Her revolt makes me want to rebel, her savagery makes me want to become wild and soothe her rage, to live happily with her in the forest. But she remains inaccessible and that both saddens me and fuels my fascination.
Career beginnings: By making contact with people. I studied illustration and then Cédric Louis and Georges Schwizgebel gave me the desire and helped me to make my first short film. Everything else followed on, each step with another beautiful encounter: Gregory Beaussart, Fred and Samuel Guillaume, Robert Bonner, Max Karli and Pauline Gygax of Rita Productions, Gilles Paris, Céline Sciamma, Sophie Hunger ... . A chain of extraordinary meetings and discussions is what brings movies into this world. Cinema is a collective art and this is especially true with stop-motion animation.
Key moment of inspiration: In 2005, the original scriptwriters, Patricia Valeix and Claire Paoletti, told me about their idea for a movie. Lots of elements were already there, and all of them were inspiring for me: the phantom ship, the North Pole, the city of Saint Petersburg and, above all, the theme of transmission, the idea that a part of us is structured through stories told by ancients.
Toughest challenge in making this movie: The toughest challenge was to build a story from beginning to end with enough tension and complex characters. It took us a failure. After 10 months of hard work, the animatic (edited storyboard with provisory sounds and music) didn’t work. We had to go back to script with a new scriptwriter, Fabrice De Costil.
On the state of the animation industry: I’m not sure (that I’m) in the best position to analyze that. From where I’m looking at it, the animation industry seems to cover so many different realities. From Sebastien Laudenbach’s feature La jeune fille sans mains, or Gabriel Harel’s short film Yùl et le serpent, from TV serials to big American feature films. For the features, it seems that 2D animation is at risk in the fight with the huge CGI budgets and in a way with a sort a normalization of the graphic aspect of this CGI. 2D, hand-drawn animation — even digital hand-drawn animation — works with smaller budgets, less investors and (therefore) more liberties. But it is hard to fight against such aggressive promotion. Pivotal scene: I really enjoy the moment when Sacha starts to work in Olga’s inn. At that point the story takes its pace. Fabrice de Costil, the scriptwriter of the final version, had a lot of good solutions to re-build the movie in the right way. This sequence is one of his good ideas. Career beginnings: After art school, I started to work as an illustrator. But I didn’t really like it. A friend gave me the advice to show my portfolio in a animation studio in Angoulême (France). That’s how I discovered the life in animation studios. I’ve been trained by elders in the numerous different animation crafts. Best advice: For me, the best advice has been given to me by Jean-Christophe Villard, an animation director, a great artist, and a friend. He said: Stop working on the films of others; make yours.
Key moment of inspiration: As is often the case, the protagonist becomes something of a proxy for the director. The deeper we got into it, the more of myself I saw in Kubo. He’s an artist. He’s a storyteller. He’s a musician. He’s an animator, really, when you think about it. And at some point, I had a revelation. “Oh my god, he’s me!” This unlocked everything for me. Once I realized that Kubo’s journey mirrored my own, I was able to tap into a lifetime of memories, observations, and life experiences, interweaving my life with my art. It defined the film’s emotional core for me. I saw the film as a heightened, fantastical version of my own childhood, of my relationship with my family, and of my experiences as a father. Paradoxically, the more intimate and personal the story is, the more universal it becomes. There’s more of me in this movie than anything I’ve ever done. That can be a slightly terrifying prospect: revealing a part of yourself that you typically keep shrouded and protected. To lay yourself bare to the world is to await the world’s unsparing judgment on your work, and, as subtext, on your value as a human. But there’s no getting around it. What we make reflects who we are and what we believe. And that’s the price for admission if you intend to tell stories that have meaning and resonance and real heart.
Toughest challenge in making this movie: The most challenging locations to create were those above and below the water on the Long Lake during a raging storm that serve as the center point of the film. Stop-motion and water simply don’t play well together. It’s a nightmare. Bringing these locations to the screen was a cross-departmental effort involving the art, rigging, and visual effects departments. After the beautiful designs emerged from our concept artists, our rigging department, led by Ollie Jones, carried out a series of in-camera tests of practical water. This involved everything from panes of rippled shower glass to torn bits of paper to sheets of cloth, shower curtains, and garbage bags fixed to a grid of metal rods. After an exhaustive succession of explorations, we came up with a basic look and behavior for the water. One with stylized scoop patterning, angular geometric shapes, and textures inspired by 20th century graphic artist Kiyoshi Saito’s woodblock prints. We shot tests and captured a lot of this stuff on the stages. But it wasn’t practical to shoot it all in-camera. There was no way we could do that and have it look believable, given the action and the interactivity of the water with the boat.
So we brought in our visual-effects team to recreate the feel of the practical tests combined with the greater flexibility, precision, and nuance of CG simulations. Leading the charge was our brilliant lead effects artist David Horsley, working with our visual effects supervisor, Steve Emerson. David had previously done some extraordinarily beautiful water work on Life of Pi, but this film’s style created a different kind of challenge. We weren’t trying to replicate reality. We were trying to create a new reality. That’s something the computer doesn’t always appreciate or go along with. David had to bend the machine to his will. The development for the water system took eight months. The astonishing results onscreen are a testament to David’s skills and elbow grease, along with an army of exceptional digital and practical effects artists. The sequence is gorgeous and terrifying and ultimately moving. A real triumph of the marriage of stop-motion and digital animation in the service of cinematic spectacle.
On the state of the animation industry: The animation industry is healthy. There has never been a time in our history where animation has enjoyed such widespread success. Virtually every major film studio has now set up an animation arm. It’s big business. There are more animated films, more animation studios, and more animation jobs and opportunities than ever before. That’s a wonderful thing. But, of course, every silver lining has a dark cloud. The problems plaguing animation are the same problems plaguing the film industry as a whole. Namely, we’ve entered a time where the primacy on franchises and brands and immediately recognizable intellectual property has overwhelmed the artistic drive to tell new and original stories. The cinema used to be the place we’d go to see stories about who we are. As a kid, I relished the opportunity to be in a darkened room filled with strangers, a motley community captivated by the flickering image onscreen that would transport us to new worlds and offer insight and perspective on what it means to be human. In their finest form, the movies would give us something new, a meaningful experience, something we could remember and carry with us in our lives. That kind of experience is increasingly becoming a rarity.
Pivotal scene: Ultimately I believe the single most critical scene in the film comes, fittingly, at the film’s end. We set up, and I believe the audience expects, a violent, cathartic faceoff between Kubo and his nemesis. Our hero is filled with rage, looking to exact vengeance on the monster who has taken so much from him. And rightfully so. At one point during the final battle, it looks as if Kubo will get the revenge he seeks. But then we shift gears. That’s not what this movie is about. Rather, it’s a meditation on love and loss and forgiveness and empathy. Those are the examples of Kubo’s parents. Those are the lessons and experiences he will carry with him. The moment when Kubo and then the audience realize the true meaning of the film’s title is a distillation of everything at the beating heart of the film. And it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
Career beginnings: I’ve been working in animation production for two decades. In that time I’ve done many different things in many different roles. I started as a production assistant on a television show. I did scheduling and coordinating, worked as a stop-motion and CG animator in TV, commercials, and short films, and became a lead animator setting the style for our films. I’ve worked in development. I’ve been a producer, guiding a film from conception to completion. I’ve been a CEO, overseeing all aspects of a company’s creative and business operations. I’ve been both in the trenches painstakingly sweating the details and in the board room methodically planning a company’s future.
With Kubo, I finally felt that through all of those years slogging through the mire, I’d acquired a degree of perspective. Wisdom, even. Maybe it was all bluster. But in the end, directing Kubo required and took advantage of every single one of those earlier experiences. I don’t think I could have done it without having endured them all. Directing Kubo was the most meaningful and creatively satisfying experience of my career. I’m grateful for it.
Best advice: The best advice I’ve ever received, and thus the best advice I could ever hope to bestow on anyone else, comes from my father. He told me not to settle. He told me not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Instead, seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. Find that thing you were put on this Earth to do and go for it as hard as you can. If you’re lucky enough to find it, it makes the hardship easier to bear, it turns the failures into fuel, and it makes the highs like nothing you’ve ever felt.
Key moment of inspiration: I guess you could say the key moment for me was when I was gifted a copy of The Little Prince more than 26 years ago by my wife, Kim, back when we were just dating in college. The book affected me deeply and became such a significant bond between us, and stayed with me for the decades that followed. When I was asked to consider making a movie out of the book, the book meant so much to me that I initially said no. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how much the book had affected my life, and how much it had affected so many people’s lives, and I started to see an incredible opportunity to not only cinematically adapt the book, but to create a story around the story of the book about the power that the book can have in someone’s life. I felt that this was our responsibility, to both honor the story and celebrate the magic of what the book has become in our world at the same time. So, the importance of the book in my life was initially why I said no, but it was also ultimately the reason why I said yes.
Toughest challenge in making this movie: The toughest challenge was finding just the right larger story to tell around the book that would be both inspired by the book and born out of the elements of the book. My writers, Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti, and I wanted very much to stay as close to the tone and themes of the original story as possible, while weaving in a universal story of what can potentially happen to a person when the book enters their life. We wanted the larger story to both echo the original, and also shed new light on the powerful themes and ideas that the books presents so beautifully. This was very challenging, especially since the book lives in the imagination of the reader, and everyone creates their own version in their minds. So we chose not to attempt to portray everybody’s different interpretation (which would be impossible) but instead a very specific character’s personal interpretation of the story, that comes alive in her imagination. This allowed us to mirror the audience’s experience with the story, which is always a very singu- lar and personal experience.
On the state of the animation industry: Sometimes I worry that the larger productions are all starting to look and sound the same. It is always exciting for me to continue to see the broad spectrum of expression in animated feature films. I am an indie filmmaker at heart, so I’m always rooting for the little guy, and to see films being made in animation as diversely different as Anomalisa, The Red Turtle, The LEGO Movie, Long Way North, The Book of Life, Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings and Sausage Party, I get incredibly excited about what can possibly come next. Personally, I want to help push the boundaries of what an animated feature film can be, and I am hoping for bolder choices by the powers that be to diversify the kinds of stories that can be told.
Pivotal scene: The make or break scene for me in The Little Prince is the moment that the Little Girl hears the end of the story, where the Little Prince gets bitten by the snake. Her reaction to that part of the story is such a huge moment for her as a character, it brings up her darkest fears about having to say goodbye to her dear friend, the Aviator, but it also causes her to shut down emotionally in a very dramatic way. This was intended to both mirror the way children can react to loss when it happens to them, something that they can’t quite make sense of or put words to, and the journey of understanding that the Little Girl embarks on to eventually try to understand that part of the book is very much intended to mirror the Aviator’s own initial and very personal reaction to losing the Little Prince in the original story. This scene had to work as both an exploration of the deeper aspects of the book, the themes of love and loss, but it was also intended to give us new insight into the very clear strat-
Key moment of inspiration: After watching Finding Nemo again, many years after its initial release, I realized that Dory’s character wasn’t finished yet. She deserved to be whole. It was completely inspired by her character.
Toughest challenge in making this movie: Making a movie where the main character has short-term memory loss. If your subject can’t self-reflect, then you can’t track their growth throughout the story.
Pivotal scene: For me, it’s Dory’s lowest point, where everything she’s gained over two movies has been stripped away from her, including her memory, and she has to learn, completely on her own, how to dig herself out of that hole.
Favorite animated movie or character of all time: (movie), Shere Kahn (character).
Career beginnings: I went to CalArts in the ’80s for character animation. I then worked (or didn’t work) freelance for about three years after school. Then, one day, I met a guy named John Lasseter, a fellow independent filmmaker, at a festival for animation, and well ... the rest is animation history.
Toughest challenge in making this movie: Getting it sold. We pitched this idea for close to three years. We were in this weird animation purgatory of live-action studios not wanting to make animation because they didn’t know it or in some cases had no interest in it, and animation studios that had a children’s brand they didn’t want to tarnish with an R-rated movie under their banner. So everyone we pitched would laugh hysterically at the idea and, through the chuckles, tell us no. That is until Megan Ellison and Annapurna Pictures came along. They loved the script and Megan loves animation and saw this as a way to do something different. Which is what we set out to do with this film.
On the state of the animation industry: I hope the success of this film has opened up opportunities for a new kind of animated film. What worries me is the myopic view the industry has of animation. It is considered a genre by many, which automatically puts it into a very limited category and severely stifles what you are allowed to do with the art form in the mainstream. In consequence, we have an overabundance of animated films for one audience. The marketplace is becoming oversaturated with “four-quadrant, family animated films” and of these only a couple out of the dozen or more each year will be able to make enough money to survive over time. This eventually will cause a crash in the industry and could result in the idea that animation isn’t a viable business anymore, except for maybe one or two studios. It’s happened before. This is one of the main reasons I’ve wanted to make a film like Sausage Party for so long: To prove that there is a market and an audience for this type of animation. Hopefully we’ve kicked down a large door and opened up the industry to more animated films of this type.
Pivotal scene: I’d have to say the fight between Brenda and Frank and the Meatloaf montage. That scene with an audience is so fun to watch because you can tell people are surprised by the fact there are actual emotional stakes the characters are experiencing and it’s not just a string of dirty food jokes. There’s a real story going on, and they’re digging it. Then the audience is hit by an actual meatloaf singing a power ballad and they lose it. We really wanted to play that scene real. Let it breathe and not worry about whether or not it had a laugh in every line, but let the characters be real. I think it really caught people off guard because of the tone of that scene, and then caught them off guard again when we got silly a moment later. Career beginnings: I was stuck in college at Long Beach State looking at a career in graphic arts that I did not enjoy. One day I was fed up with the system, seeing as it was going to be six years before I earned a degree in something I did not want to do for a living, so I literally called up the front desk at Disney studios and asked how does one become an animator? The receptionist said that a lot of the people there went to a school called CalArts in Valencia. Whoever that receptionist was changed my life. I enrolled, was accepted by the skin of my teeth and spent a year working my ass off with like-minded people for the first time in my life. That summer I randomly went in to a studio that was hiring for a new animated film in the vein of Roger Rabbit. I applied and got my first job, and the movie was Cool World. Best advice: Learn the craft, respect it and love doing it. Learn all aspects of the process. From what a P.A. does all the way to what a producer does and how studios work. I always thought I’d be an animator sitting at a desk animating, but my second job after Cool World was storyboarding. That was where I found my niche. I could write and draw and then get up and act it out. I never would have found out how much I loved that if I had only applied for or taken animating jobs. Also, find a way to put yourself and who you are into everything you work on. Throughout my career I have always tried to push the envelope of what was being done. I strived to change the industry and what people were seeing. A lot of derivative stuff can crop up after an animated show or movie hits. It’s likely you’ll find yourself working on something like that. Constantly ask yourself “How can I make this better? How can I twist this in a way that’s new and entertaining?” Ultimately, it will make even the most mundane job enjoyable.
Key moment of inspiration: We got asked a lot by fans when we’d get to meet Po’s panda father. What would it mean for Po’s relationship with his doting adoptive goose father, Mr. Ping, and how would it affect Po’s identity? We always wanted to address this in a real and respectful manner. In many ways, we wanted this to be a tribute to fathers of all makes and models.
Toughest challenge in making this movie: People know these characters and have clear opinions about what is in or out of character. The same is true for the crew, many of whom have been working on these characters in this world for 12 years. There is an expectation for continuity. But you can’t just make the same movie over and over. Creating something new and surprising out of something so familiar is a somersault.
On the state of the animation industry: There are so many feature animated films being made, it’s kinda crazy. I heard recently that this year there are 40 eligible films for Oscar consideration. Last year, there were 16. It’s great so many are being made, because that means a lot of people are working.
Pivotal scene: It’s always the emotional moments that are the most important to me. If you don’t feel something, it’s just not going to stay with you. The moment Po’s panda dad helps Po and says, “a father.” That gets me. And one guy who worked on it who was a new father told me he cried at that spot. Favorite animated movie or character of all time: Without a doubt, Totoro! Career beginnings: I was in my last semester in college wondering what I was going to do with my life. My sister was working at a small animation studio and needed a P.A., so I’d book over after class to make copies. It was super cool to see how a production runs, how people work with each other, even the most mundane stuff, like the long commute, was great training. I learned how to drive really well.
Best advice: Don’t just copy what you see being made right now. It reflects the taste of people who graduated 20 years ago. What the studios need, what the industry needs, are new ideas. If it’s exciting to you, it will be exciting to others. Plus, find a mentor. Hopefully someone who thinks you’re not too crazy. [
Over the past two decades, Montreal-based artist Diane Obomsawin has enjoyed a double-track career as a graphic novelist and an independent 2D animator. The talented artist’s latest animated short I Like Girls (J’aime les filles) won the coveted Grand Prize for Best Independent Short at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in September. The beautifully drawn traditionally animated project offers a series of short, sweet vignettes in which women recall the first time they fell in love with another girl.
Obomsawin, whose similarly themed graphic novel, On Loving Women, received wide acclaim when it was published two years ago, says she was inspired by reallife stories to create both the book and the short. “When I was about 45 year old, I realized that, since the age of 7, I was always in love with a girl or later on a woman,” she says. “Because I changed schools 14 times when I was younger, it was important for me to choose a girl with whom I could fall in love during my time there. It was an unconscious choice I made to have an effective life.”
After reading a similar book by French Canadian author Michel Tremblay, she decided to collect stories about first loves and attractions to other women from her friends. She first began the graphic novel right after she finished her previous animated short, Kaspar. “I like to alternate doing a film and then a graphic novel,” she says. “I like to explore those two different ways of telling a story. When I finish a graphic novel, I miss doing a film and vice versa.”
She spent 12 months on the graphic novel, and then worked on the animated short for the next 18 months. The short, which was funded by the National Film Board of Canada, was produced for about $200,000. “Curiously, I find working on a graphic novel much more laborious than a film,” says the animator. “With a graphic novel, you constantly have to make different decisions within each frame. When I work on a graphic novel, I find myself constantly wanting to clean my house or bake some muffins, but when I’m working on an animated project, I work without any interruptions because the decision process is much shorter than its execution.” Digging in to Digital 2D Obomsawin uses TVPaint software to produce the 2D animation in all her films. “It’s perfect for me,” she says. “I like the fact that there are a lot of steps involved in the process. I like to imagine what would be the best choices for each step. For my last film, I had a sense of the fragility of a film because, despite its simplicity, there were a lot of choices that I had to make, and I could easily spoil it. I work in 2D animation, because I actually don’t know how to work in CG. Maybe I would learn CG if it would serve the film that I wanted to make, but for now, I feel that there is a lot to explore in the 2D.”
One of the big challenges for the animator was finding the right voices for the short, which required four different ones in French and four in English. “It was a tricky task because they had to sound very natural, but they also had to be quite different from each other for each story,” Obomsawin says. “I’m very grateful to the film’s composer, because she spent a lot of time auditioning all the different voice actresses and then recorded them in her studio. I am also very happy that I made the right decisions for this short.”
When asked about advice on telling personal, effective stories in animated form, Obomsawin is quite straightforward. “I will tell animators, feel free to do whatever you would like to do,” she says. “The more freedom you give yourself, the better it is for your own good and for the good of the film. It is best to start with a very simple idea so you won’t be discouraged during the process. Also, try to work from what you know, from what interests or concerns you the most.”
What about honesty and revealing deep truths about your soul? “I think when you are really ready to make an autobiographical film, you don’t realize that you are brave or honest,” she says with a smile. “You just do what you have to do. At least, that’s the way it works for me!” [
Spain Directors: Rafa Cano Méndez, Daniel Martínez Lara Produced by: Qualifying Win: Goya Award for Best Animated Short Film Synopsis: In this busy modern world, Copi is a father who tries to guide his son, Paste. But … what is the correct path? Trailer: https://vimeo.com/139367238 alikeshort.com Switzerland Director: Anete Melece Produced by: Saski von Virág Qualifying Win: Encounters Festival Animated Grand Prix Synopsis: Anton’s head is bursting with thoughts. The gardener is seething with anger: Who has trampled her flower beds? In the park, Anton is looking for someone to play chess with; someone who plays a better game than his dachshund. viragefilm.ch USA Director: Dan Lund Produced by: Dan Lund, Connie Nartonis Thompson, Amos Sussigan Qualifying Win: Cleveland Int’l Film Festival Best Animated Short Synopsis: When a callow young farmer shows himself to be completely uninterested in the sensitive art of milking, a bovine diva (along with her singing and dancing back-up bulls) belts out a tune demanding to be respected for more than just dairy products. ariaforacow.com Germany Director: Ahmad Saleh Produced by: Stefan Gieren; Academy of Media Arts Cologne Qualifying Win: Student Academy Award for Foreign Animation — Gold Medal Synopsis: After a cruel war renders them homeless, an anxious mother tries to keep her sons from danger. But the boys chase their dreams of playing the oud, collecting scrap metal to earn money, and learning their mother’s fear had reasons. facebook.com/aynyfilm Canada Director: Hector Herrera Produced by: Pazit Cahlon; TOGETHER, Varipix Qualifying Win: Canadian Screen Award Best Animated Short Synopsis: The third “chapter” of Beastly Bards, written with a nod to traditional cowboy songs and the northern ballads of Robert W. Service. Voiced by Kenneth Welsh and scored by The Sadies, Immortal Joe puts a haunted twist on a tragically romantic Western. wearetogether.ca Canada Director: Theodore Ushev Produced by: Marc Bertrand; NFB USA Directors: Coats Produced by: Annecy Jury Award for Short Film Synopsis: Vaysha is not like other little girls. Her left eye only sees the past and her right sees only the future. Blinded by what was and tormented by what will be, she remains trapped between two irreconcilable temporalities. People call her “Blind Vaysha.” www.nfb.ca/film/blind_vaysha Qualifying Wins: Nashville Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Animated Shorts; SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival Best in Show Synopsis: A weathered sheriff returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget. With each step forward, the memories come flooding back. Faced with his mistake once again, he must find the strength to carry on. borrowedtimeshort.com Qualifying Win: Cinequest Film Festival Best Animated Short Film Synopsis: Every year, thousands of teens are placed in solitary confinement cells in juvenile halls, jails and prisons nationwide. This story is based on an investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and was created using real audio from an interview with Ismael “Izzy” Nazario about his time in solitary confinement. michaelischiller.com Switzerland Director: Jadwiga Kowalska Produced by: Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen Qualifying Win: Locarno Golden Leopard for Best Short Film (National) Synopsis: A man on a bridge, separated from the love of his life, wants to be with her one last time and decides to go and seek her in the hereafter. jadwiga.ch
Germany Directors: Alexander Lahl, Volker Schlecht Produced by: Die Kulturingenieure Qualifying Win: Stuttgart Int’l Festival of Animated Film Grand Prix Synopsis: Gabriele Stötzer from Erfurt and Birgit Willschütz from Berlin recall their prison terms at the women’s prison of Hoheneck in the former GDR for this animated documentary. Extracts of original interview recordings are interpreted in simple, minimally animated monochrome images. kaputt-broken.tumblr.com Italy Director: Ago Panini Produced by: Dude Film Srl & EDI in collaboration with Akira Film with the support of Film Commission Lombardia Qualifying Win: Seattle Int’l Film Festival Animation Grand Jury Prize Synopsis: Carlo has a secret at home in his closet that no one suspects. By day, Carlo works in an office where he has just fallen in love with his colleague, Anita. At night, Carlo spends most of his time alone. In his secret closet is a miniature floating world where everyone looks like him, but his new love threatens this planet’s existence. Trailer: https://youtu.be/XUfCTUP1Fvg dudefilm.net Mexico Director: Alejandro Rios Produced by: Edith Sieck Qualifying Win: Guadalajara Int’l Film Festival Rigo Mora Award for Best Mexican Animated Short Film Synopsis: A stray cat encounters an old man who invites him into his home, comforting him with milk and caresses. But love is a complex feeling, and there are secrets hidden behind the door of every warm home. Trailer: https://vimeo.com/159744875 USA/South Korea Director: Kangmin Kim Produced by: Studio Zazac Qualifying Win: Animated Film Synopsis: In the summer of 1992, a boy named Dujung goes to a farm in the suburbs with his parents. While his parents believe the expensive and rare specialty from the farm will strengthen their son, Dujung suffers side effects. studiozazac.com U.K. Directors: Nina Gantz Produced by: Emilie Jouffroy; National Film and Television School Qualifying Wins: BAFTA for British Short Animation; RiverRun Int’l Film Festival Best Animated Short; Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Award — Animation Synopsis: Edmond’s impulse to love and be close to others is strong — maybe too strong. As he stands by a lake contemplating his options, he reflects on his defining moments in search of the origin of his desires. www.ninagantz.com South Korea/ France Director: Dahee Jeong Produced by: Dahee Jong, Ron Dyens; Between the Pictures, Sacrebleu Prod. Qualifying Win: Hiroshima Int’l Animation Festival Grand Prize Synopsis: A meditation on being and loss as time flows on, reflected by the traces left behind in a room. The room has almost nothing but time. jeongdahee.com/the-empty Great Britain Director: Phil Mulloy Produced by: Spectre Films Qualifying Win: Animafest Zagreb Grand Prix Best Short Film Synopsis: After a tough week at the office, Richard and George like to play war games over the weekend to relax. A dispassionate atmosphere and minimalistic style belie the growing brutality of their pastime. philmulloy.tv USA Director: Carter Boyce Produced by: DePaul University Qualifying Win: Student Academy Award for Animation — Bronze Medal Synopsis: A lonely figurine, traveling on a fixed track, tries to catch a red balloon. When the machine breaks down, the boy comes to life, and attempts to finish the cycle he was originally destined to be on forever. Trailer: https://vimeo.com/131721816 carterboyce.com Sweden Director/ Producer: Peter Larsson Qualifying Win: Nordisk Panorama Best Nordic Short Film Synopsis: A group of lost bodies wander through a forest toward an open field. A gathering with an unclear purpose takes place. The story comes alive through the stop-motion film’s texture and atmosphere rather than via traditional storytelling. peterlarsson.se USA Directors: Britto Produced by: Ben Cohen, Brett Potter, Lucas Leyva, Dennis Scholl Qualifying Wins: Palm Springs ShortFest Best Animated Short; SXSW Animated Shorts Jury Award Synopsis: An astronaut recalls a glove he lost in space and where it may have gone in this charming animated meditation on the spirit of human endeavor. alexalimhaas.com Australia Director/ Producer: Qualifying Win: Sydney Film Festival Yoram Gross Animation Award Synopsis: An unexpected challenge arises from the depths of a warm, dreamy afternoon at the local pool. Shadows from the past bear down on the present as Lou is forced to face the truth about herself and the stubborn, enigmatic stepdaughter she is trying to love. graceunderwater.com Czech Republic Director: Jan Saska Produced by: Kamila Dohnalová; Studio FAMU Qualifying Win: Guanajuato Int’l Film Festival Best Short Animation Synopsis: A black comedy about death
Laura Harrison Olga Poliektova, Tatiana Poliek-
Mateusz Sadowski India Director: Ishan Shukla Produced by: Sharad Varma L.A. Shorts Fest Best Show Me Shorts — Light-
5. Disney film featuring a young girl navigator Director of
and bolts of song structure and connecting with an audience when he was only 16, playing guitar for a local top-40 band in L.A. bars. After meeting composer Hans Zimmer, through his then-wife, who was the head of DreamWorks’ music division, he began arranging and co-producing songs for the studio’s features. “I played guitar on the scores for Shrek and Antz with Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell,” Jacob says. “Then, Disney TV Animation’s music department hired me to write theme songs, which led to my work as a composer and song producer for Phineas and Ferb.”
Coincidentally, composers GregsonWilliams and Zimmer also play parts in how Tony Morales got his first job in the business. Morales, who is working on Disney TV’s new series Elena of Avalor, first met GregsonWilliams, who was good friends with one of his roommates, in 1998. “I gave Harry my composer demo cassette to pass on to anyone interested in listening,” says Morales. “That demo got me a call to compose music for a Blockbuster Video commercial that was being produced through a division of Hans Zimmer’s Media Ventures. That commercial was a success, and soon after, I found myself as a staff composer in the commercial department for the following year.” A Different Beast from Live-Action? So, is composing music for animation really that different from creating music for liveaction projects? Yes and no. For one thing, animated projects often demand wall-to-wall music, which is not the case with live-action films. Composers also need to turn around the music on a much tighter schedule — often in one or two weeks for a series. Then, of course, there’s the variety of stories that animation can offer.
“I often find stories in animation to be more colorful and diverse in their storytelling, adventures and scenarios than many live-action projects,” says Ryan Shore, the man behind the music of Penn Zero: PartTime Hero and this year’s acclaimed documentary Floyd Norman: An Animated Life. “I have a very special place in my heart for animation and animators since the very first scoring opportunities I had were animations. … I also find that many animated projects, particularly feature animations, can offer a longer period of time in production and post-production than many live-action features, and this extra time allows me more time to think about the story, the characters, the emotions, the themes, etc.”
For Morales, animated projects demand much more attention to detail. “Every note counts, and there are a lot of notes required!” he says. “You have to balance the emotional needs of the score with the comedic beats that need to hit picture actions. Marrying the two is a challenge.”
Kliesch says he doesn’t treat scoring Sofia the First any differently than he would a liveaction film. “Each episode has its own story arc that needs to be dramatically supported by the music,” he says. “I never write down to the target demographic (3- to 7-year old children) — that is, I never intentionally make the music sound like it was meant for kids. I always want the music to have a sense of complexity and maturity while still supporting the picture.”
Frederik Wiedmann, whose credits include Miles from Tomorrowland, All Hail King Julien and Beware the Batman, brings up the pluses and minuses of working without a temp score. “I can’t speak for all animated projects, but the ones that I have worked on never had a temporary score,” he says. “So I am working with bare material, visuals — sometimes even unfinished/ un-rendered — and voice-over and, rarely, sound effects. This requires a lot of imagination, since I only have the verbal conversation about the music and its dramatic needs. It can be intimidating, but also incredibly fulfilling. Temp scores can often be restricting, but having none opens up many more possibilities.” Secrets of Their Success Many of the composers interviewed for this piece agree that immersion in different musical styles and learning everything you need to know about the toon music business are key to gaining entry into this competitive field.
“You’ll need to have a good grasp of almost every style of music imaginable, since you may be asked to write it at some point in the future,” says Kliesch. “Also, you’ll need to be very, very good with technology, since almost everything is done inside the computer. About 99 percent of what you hear on Sofia the First comes from my home studio setup consisting of three computers playing back samples; the other 1 percent is the occasional live player I’ll record from time to time. But otherwise, it’s just me acting as the composer, orchestrator, performer, engineer, recordist and music editor.”
“Technology advances are tools in your arsenal,” says Jacob. “Learning to play an instrument is essential. When I’m stuck on a musical challenge, I pick up my favorite Gibson Les Paul guitar and just play. Study from the master composers, from Mahler and John Williams to (Led) Zeppelin, and when an opportunity comes along to do spec work, jump at the chance.”
Drake believes in learning everything you can about the composers you admire and how they work. “You have to be very creative about your approach,” he says. “Watch all the behind-the-scenes interviews on YouTube. Go out there and meet young animators and filmmakers. They are going to be making the big animated hits of tomorrow, and they’ll remember you if you’re good. You need to maximize your chances of getting hired.”
And of course, don’t forget that it’s not all about the business. “Make sure to live life outside of our industry as well, because regardless of the hat you wear, we’re all storytellers, and so the more life you live and experiences you have, the more depth you’ll have as a person to offer to the projects you’re scoring,” says Shore. “I’d also advise people to be very patient, as these careers can take a long time to develop. Meet as many people as possible, always be part of the solution and never stop learning. This last piece of advice may sound obvious, however, be a good person to others.” [