More than Words
Henson’s Digital Puppetry Studio lets voice performers animate digital characters like puppets, bringing a slice of real-time acting to Splash and Bubbles. By Tom McLean.
“The effect on our little audience was nothing less than electric. They responded almost instinctively to this union of sound and motion. … It was terrible, but it was wonderful! And it was something new!” — Walt Disney, on the audience response to a live, work-in-progress showing of Steamboat Willie, 1928. ing a resume that includes songwriting with Morrissey’s Alain Whyte, cutting records with producer/engineer Joe Chiccarelli (U2, Beck, White Stripes), Brian Malouf (Michael Jackson, Queen), and mastering an album for the band that would become Local Natives (all before the age of 23) — Slagle has the unique perspective of working exclusively in the audio world for his entire life. But it was in the peculiar connection of music with the world of animation that he found his niche.
“Animation is magic,” he says. “It actually harnesses the forces of time and space to create a limitless world of possibilities through deception. I consider it visual alchemy. You have to be very perceptive to pick up the subtle connections that seamlessly stitch together the experience of the two senses. I’m a sensitive person. It’s something that took its toll during childhood and even as an adult, I hated admitting this quality in myself. It wasn’t until I started working with animation that I realized the very part of me I tried to hide was the biggest asset I have. Whenever I watch a new piece I’m working on, I feel a heavy weight of responsibly to make sure the music and audio is always in complete harmony with the animation itself.”
Slagle also built his chops as house producer for Fullerton’s Artisans Label for seven years. He explains that working in a fastpaced music studio for so many years allowed him to develop the skills to work and create about as fast as he could dream ideas up.
“When I worked on my first animation, I wasn’t thinking in the defined departments of music, Foley, sound design, etc. I just knew what needed to be there,” he says. “Every decision, no matter how big or small, should always support the bigger picture that is the story. Imagine each choice made during the production of an animation is like a pixel on a screen, the full image on the screen is the story the creator is trying to tell. Every pixel must be the appropriate color in order for the picture to be as clear as possible. Every choice mat- ters — no choice is too small.”
Open the Portal may not have released its Steamboat Willie yet, but with its focus firmly planted on both halves of the sensory spectrum, expect them to produce some interesting work. [ Influences Barrett Slagle is the co-owner and head of audio at Open the Portal, handling all sound design, Foley, VO, ADR, music composition and mixing.
Music Danny Elfman: “I grew up with the Tim Burton films and was a Danny Elfman fan before I even knew who he was. I think what I learned the most from his work was how to take a seemingly uneventful scene and, through the use of music alone, create a very impactful moment. The opening scene in Beetlejuice is just a slow pan over the model town, but his exciting and whimsical score sets the pace for the entire film and pumps up the audience for the remarkable experience ahead.”
Jon Brion: “When I first started getting serious about film scoring, I thought I had to be a John Williams type. Huge epic score, full orchestral arrangements, big big big all the time. The first time I sat down and watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I left with an entirely new perspective on what I thought film scores had to be. The score wasn’t massive. In fact, it seemed so small. I could hear the breath of a single oboe player. It sounded so intimate, but just as emotionally impactful as any big Hollywood score.”
Raymond Scott: “When I first started working with animation I thought to myself, Who is the best at this? After doing a lot of digging I found the most iconic music in all of animation history. We all have heard his music but few know his name, Raymond Scott. Scott is the master of vivid storytelling through the use of music only. His work and innovation is always inspiring to me.”
Sound Design Alan Splet: “The first time I watched Eraserhead, all I could think about was what madman concocted these perfectly mangled soundscapes. Alan Splet might take the sound of a tumbling machine and transform it into a haunting drone, or place a storm inside a house. I love the surrealist approach he brings to any film. I often find myself channeling the spirit of Alan Splet.”
Ben Burtt: “It is impossible to even discuss sound design without mentioning Ben Burtt — he invented the damn phrase. Learning from the old school Disney Cartoons and taking sound to a whole new level with Star Wars, Ben Burtt started as a child with a single (little) tape recorder, and now he is the industry standard for sound design. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from his work is just to really think outside the box and always keep your ears wide open. You never know when that magical sound might appear in daily life. I also really appreciate his attention to detail. Ben will look at a robot on screen and start thinking of all the interworking parts involved, most of which will never even be seen, just to assign each gear, grind, squeak or click a sound.” [
Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the World Animation & VFX Summit will honor six of the brightest stars in the animation and VFX sky with Hall of Fame awards to be presented at a star-studded gala ceremony Nov. 1 at the Casa del Mar’s Colonnade Ballroom, adjacent to the world-famous Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, Calif.
The gala ceremony caps the second day of the summit, which assembles top business and creative talent from across the globe for in-depth panel discussions and intimate and productive networking opportunities at the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, Calif.
This year’s Hall of Fame honorees cover the full gamut of the industry, from international business successes to creative innovators setting the agenda for the future.
The Honorees Betty Cohen, president of Betty Cohen Media Consulting, is a nationally-renowned TV network and digital media executive, as well as adviser and expert in brand creation. She was the founding president of Cartoon Network/Adult Swim/ Boomerang and later served as president and CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Networks. Cohen launched and grew Cartoon Network into a global business with a $3 billion asset value within nine years, greenlighting such hit shows as The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack, as well as launching Cartoon Network Studios, CartoonNetwork.com, Boomerang and Adult Swim. As president of Betty Cohen Media Consulting, her clients have included Speakaboos, Lynda.com, Meredith, Roadtrip Nation and the Paley Center for Media. Cohen has been inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame, and received the prestigious “Muse Award” from N.Y. Women in Film and TV. She was named one of “The 50 Most Powerful Women in Business” by Fortune magazine.
Butch Hartman is a multiple Emmy- and Annie Award-nominated and BATFA-winning animator, writer, director, producer, illustrator and actor, best known for creating the longrunning series The Fairly OddParents, which debuted on Nickelodeon 15 years ago. Hartman is the creator of two other popular Nick series, Danny Phantom and T.U.F.F. Puppy. His new animated series, Bunsen Is a Beast, about the first beast to ever go to a human school, will premiere on Nick in 2017. In 2015, Hartman launched his own entertainment network, the Noog Network, via a free interactive app, and has jumped into the world of comic books with the original series Three O’Clock Club, co-created with Jordan Gorfinkel and published by Lion Forge Comics. Also, Hartman and his wife, Julieann, founded Hartman House, a charitable, nonprofit organization that benefits needy children and families around the world.
Michael Hirsh, chairman of The Entertainment and Media Finance Group, is a highly accomplished entrepreneur and executive who began his career in entertainment as a filmmaker and later founded Nelvana and TeleTOON Canada. When DHX Media acquired Nelvana in 2012, Hirsh became vice chairman and sat on the board of DHX for three years. Hirsh cofounded and is chairman of The Entertainment and Media Finance Group, which combines professional financial advice with interim and specialized lending for small and medium-size producers in Canada. He also is chairman at CineCoup, an independent and gamified film-funding agency, and CEO at Floating Island Entertainment, a producing team with many titles in development. Hirsh has earned numerous Daytime Emmy and Gemini awards and nominations, and is a regular speaker at industry panels and events.
Travis Knight is president and CEO of LAIKA, the award-winning feature film animation studio located in Hillsboro, Ore., and the director and producer of Kubo and the Two Strings. He was producer and lead animator on LAIKA’s The Boxtrolls and ParaNorman, and was lead animator on the studio’s first feature, Coraline. All of LAIKA’s features have been nominated for Academy Awards, as well as BAFTA and PGA Awards. Coraline and The Boxtrolls also were nominated for Golden Globe Awards; and ParaNorman was cited as Best Animated Feature by 14 critics’ groups; more than any other 2012 animated feature. Knight earned an Annie Award for his character animation work on ParaNorman and, as producer, received an Academy Award nomination for The Boxtrolls. He was named a Rising Star of Animation by Animation Magazine in 2007.
Ellen Poon is an experienced supervisor, producer and artist in the field of visual effects and animation with 30 years of experience. Poon was a founding member of MPC’s Computer Graphics department in 1986. Later, at Rushes Post Production, Poon won critical acclaim for her work on a groundbreaking advertising campaign in which a 3-month-old girl spoke like an adult. Poon joined ILM in 1991 and was the first woman at the company to become a visual effects supervisor. Poon’s realization of the miracles in The Green Mile, creatures in Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace and the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are just some of her on-screen accomplishments. Poon is now an independent VFX supervisor and producer. Her work with blockbuster Asian projects Hero and Monster Hunt have won her two Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Visual Effects. While Poon enjoys being a producer and supervisor, she equally enjoys being an artist where she can be hands-on to create some of the stunning images that we see on the screen. Her work on Frozen, Zootopia and, most recently, Moana, proves Poon is a versatile artist. She is a member of AMPAS and VES.
Pierre Sissmann is chairman and CEO of Cyber Group Studios and, over the past 25 years working in the development, production and distribution of cultural and entertainment products, has been involved in TV channel launches, live and filmed TV entertainment and music production and distribution. After spending 10 years at Sony Music as European and French VP of A&R, marketing and promotion, he joined The Walt Disney Co. as president for France, then as executive VP for Europe, Middle East and Africa. He started for the company Walt Disney Animation France, the biggest European animation studio, which worked on projects such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Tarzan. In 1996, he created and was the first president of Disney Channel France. In 2005, Sissmann co-founded Cyber Group Studios, a French company that produces and distributes global content for kids and families, particularly CGI and 2D HD animated TV series. Nominated for an International Emmy for its preschool hit Zou and the recipient of more than 65 international awards in the past decade, Cyber Group Studios is one of Europe’s leading animation studios. Since its inception, Cyber Group Studios has amassed an overall catalog of 1,000 half-hours, and has produced 800 episodes of TV animation, including its most-recent acclaimed show, Zorro: The Chronicles. Through its distribution arm, Cyber Group Studios also caters directly to more than 160 clients around the world. Sissmann, already a knight in the French Legion of Honor and the National Order of Merit, was made a knight in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture in 2014.
The Presenters Presenters for the Hall of Fame awards include: Michael Eisner, founder, The Tornante Co., and former chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co.; Gale Anne Hurd, producer of such well-known movies as The Terminator, The Abyss, Armageddon and AMC’s smash-hit TV series The Walking Dead; and Fred Seibert, founder of the online animation outlet Frederator Networks and former president of HannaBarbera Cartoons. The Panels The deep lineup of panels for the summit will explore in detail such issues as how to promote
Benitez, Comet global head of kids and president, VFX editor VFX supervisor, Double manager, The Gotham CEO, founder and CEO, executive of integrated executive producer, Radar director, producer and