An Internal Balancing Act
nner Workings, Inner Workings [ Workings. Inner Workings. Moana, Mars and Beyond, — Tom McLean
It would be almost impossible for the story of My Life as a Zucchini to be any more heartfelt. It tells the story of a young boy grappling with his mother’s sudden, unexpected death who is then thrown into foster care where he must somehow make a new life — and a new family — for himself. And the filmmakers’ stylistic approach has given the film, released Nov. 11 in the United States by GKIDS, an even greater impact.
First-time director Claude Barras took his film to Cannes in May as Ma vie de Courgette, and it earned raves. Then the project also took the Grand Prize and the Audience Award at the 2016 Annecy International Animation Film Festival. As the film becomes even better known for its use of stop-motion and a deeply moving story, Barras admits making the film was not always easy. He first came upon the book by Gilles Paris 10 years ago and has been making other projects in the meantime, but found the book somehow wouldn’t let him go.
“Beyond perseverance, there were challenges on the production side,” writes Barras through a translator in an email interview with Animation Magazine. “Our budget was not very big. We wanted to keep a lot of creative freedom for a first feature which goes, of course, with a tighter budget.”
As a first-time director working with stop-motion, there was a learning curve. He was deeply committed to doing the project in his own way but also needed to solve the creative and production dilemmas that came along. Barras at one point was so constrained by his original $6 million budget that he and his producers went out during production to find new financing and increased his funds to $8 million so he could finish the film in the best way possible.
Like a Jazz Jam Barras also writes that the stylistic choice he made came with its own set of difficulties: “Stop-motion is a very demanding technique since, unlike digital techniques, the animation cannot be corrected once the scene is shot. This is called direct or developed animation.
INumerous VFX techniques imbue the star of J.A. Bayona’s with the believability and emotion the touching tale requires. By Bill Desowitz.
n a VFX season dominated by giant creatures ( The BFG, Pete’s Dragon and A Monster Calls), the tree monster of the latter fable (voiced by Liam Neeson) provided unusual animation challenges for director J.A. Bayona ( The Impossible), who wanted a tangible reality to make the movie more believable and emotionally involving.
“I really liked the silhouettes of the illustrations by Jim Kay (from the novel) and I suggested we used that as a starting point,” says Bayona.
The film, which has been earning rave reviews, tells the story of a young boy named Conor (Lewis MacDougall) in the United Kingdom whose mother (Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer, whose father has moved away to the United States, and whose grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) is a strict and foreboding figure. Lonely and confused, he accidently summons a 40-foot-high tree creature that befriends the boy and tells him tales that force him to confront his fears about life. The film is based on a 2011 novel by Patrick Ness, from an idea by Siobhan Dowd; Ness also wrote the screenplay for the feature.
A practical, animatronic version of the monster was built for use on set by DDT (the Oscar winners for Pan’s Labyrinth). This partially helped define the CG version made by MPC in Montreal, which strove to be more naturalistic than anthropomorphic in building a monster based on a Yew tree.
“For us, the face was a big challenge be-
T2D animation gives a timeless quality to the beloved British romance story of By Karen Yossman.
here can be few more-daunting tasks for a director than portraying the intimacy of a real-life, 40-year marriage as a feature-length 2D animation — especially when the sole offspring of that couple is not only an executive producer on the project but also the author of the book on which the film is based.
But that was precisely the challenge veteran animator Roger Mainwood found himself facing when, almost a decade ago, he agreed to direct an adaptation of the biographical graphic novel Ethel & Ernest, written by beloved British writer and illustrator Raymond Briggs about his parents. The book, which was published in 1998, almost 30 years after their deaths, tells the true and, in the best possible way, unremarkable story of an ordinary British couple, Ethel and Ernest — Briggs’ mother and father — as they meet, fall in love and grow old together over the course of four decades. It’s effectively a feature-length version of the opening montage from Disney-Pixar’s Up, except based on a real story.
“It was a huge responsibility because it’s about Raymond’s parents,” says Mainwood, who has previously worked on other Briggs-authored animations, including When the Wind Blows and The Snowman and the Snowdog. “It’s very personal, and for many years he wouldn’t allow us to do it. But we gained his trust and we worked on other films of his over the years.”
The unusually delicate nature of the project, which ends with the deaths of both Ethel and Ernest (voiced by Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent) within a year of each other, was brought home to the cast and crew when Raymond, now 82, broke down in tears while sitting in on one of the first voice-recording sessions.
“He said it felt a bit like his mum and dad were back in the room with him again,” says co-producer Camilla Deakin. As such, Mainwood and his team, who were based at Lupus Films’ London offices but also worked alongside animation studios in Luxemburg and Wales, made the decision to keep
“Never work with children or animals” is probably the best-known saying in show business, but as the United Kingdom-based team at Lupus Films behind the hand-drawn animated TV special We’re Going on a Bear Hunt soon realized, it doesn’t just apply to live action.
Based on the much-lauded children’s book of the same name by English author Michael Rosen and illustrator Helen Oxenbury, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt features no less than five protagonists ranging from teenager to toddler — plus their dog, Rufus — who meet a variety of critters on their quest to find a bear.
“It was really hard because each (child) had to have an individual character and yet they have to work as a family unit,” says co-director Joanna Harrison, who was responsible for turning the picture book into the treatment that resulted in the 24-minute special to be broadcast on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom around Christmas. (International distribution is set to follow in 2017.) “Then you’ve got continuity, so they always have to be in the right place at the right time to go through to the next scene. The staging has been very hard to do.”
“Making them all move and walk and talk in a different way that relates to their personality and their age was very challenging,” says producer Ruth Fielding. “Because a 5-year old moves very differently to a 10-year old, moves very differently to a 2-year old. And how they react to mud or water can be quite different. So finding the physicality of the characters was a challenge — but fun.”
Then there were the animals. As well as Rufus and the titular bear, the team “wanted to represent the flora and fauna of the English countryside and the animals that you find within,” says Fielding. “So we’ve put a hedgehog and an owl and a fox and a stag and a beetle and a field mouse … and also all the different flowers and the meadows. Joanna did quite a lot of research into what might grow in different locations, be they mud flats or some meadow or a woodland environment. So nature and the environment is very much another character in the film.”
Art on Screen In the book, the children’s caper across English countryside is lovingly captured in Oxenbury’s watercolor illustrations, and codirectors Harrison and Robin Shaw were determined to remain faithful to her visual style. But with 12 to 25 drawings per second of animation (depending on whether or not there is a camera move), this proved less than straightforward to translate onto the screen. “We had to develop a technique which enabled us to paint those (backgrounds) in watercolor and then scan them into the computer and they were animated with TVPaint on top of that,” says Fielding.
“To keep the liveliness and spontaneity of a mark with a brush on paper, we did some watercolor washes and just several versions of the same color on paper,” says Shaw, who, together with Harrison, was responsible for a team of 33 animators and 24 animation assistants. “We scanned those in, and you play them back one after the other so you get a kind of life to the color rather than it just being flat, block color. Then we used quite a charcoal-y, graphite-y line in the animation on top of that, and we used various shadowing things and tonal things that added on top to affect the colors to try and give the impression of a little bit of bleed or extra intensity of pigment in the paint. So it was quite complicated.”
Less complicated was Shaw’s outlook on the project. “One of the big things about it for me is that there aren’t enough films where children really are just being allowed to be children, on their own, without supervision, without some kind of influence from adults,” Shaw says. “All the films that are made for children now are rarely with children as the main character; it’s superheroes or Star Wars or something. So it is really harking back to classic British children’s films and stories.”
Trusting the Source The team’s faith in the book, which was first published in 1989 and is now considered a staple of children’s literature, outweighed any concerns about whether the audience might be used to a more frenetic pace of animation. “I think the themes of the story are still very pertinent to audiences today and kids love that sense of adventure and being left on their own to explore the countryside and hopefully to discover a bear,” says Fielding. “And, interestingly, when we showed the animatic (to a test group), as soon as you get (to the scene) in the cave, they are hooked and they’re absolutely on the edge of their seats.”
“It’s about moving people,” says Shaw. “Stirring emotions and for people to say, ‘Oh, it’s really lovely that film.’ We don’t just want to move things — we want to move people.” [
LNickelodeon Animation Studio pours quality into the original animated TV movie realm with its new Christmas special, By Tom McLean.
ittle heralds the coming of the holiday season as much as the airing of animated Christmas TV specials. And while everyone knows the classics and has their favorites, Nickelodeon Animation Studio is looking for far more than just a quick payoff with Albert, the studio’s first animated TV movie.
Albert tells the tale of a tiny Douglas fir tree living at a nursery in Vermont who dreams of becoming the iconic Christmas tree in huge Empire City. When a TV report informs Albert (voiced by Bobby Moynihan) that a search is underway for the perfect tree, he and his pals — a fun-loving palm tree (Sasheer Zamata) and a rambunctious weed (Judah Friedlander) — set out to make the dream a reality.
One of the great appeals of making a Christmas special is its evergreen quality, says producer Chris Viscardi. “We, like many people throughout the world, are fans of the holiday specials from when we were growing up, from Frosty to Rudolph to Charlie Brown,” he says. “We were really looking to — no pun intended — to make a Christmas special that’s evergreen and a part of our yearly celebration of specials, but also hopefully will become as iconic as those others are.”
The project began as an idea from brother writing duo Aaron and Will Eisenberg, who frequently collaborate with Viscardi and his producing partner, Will McRobb. “They told us about this adorable and sentimental idea they had for a Christmas movie, and we shared it with Nickelodeon, and Nickelodeon jumped at the opportunity to make it because, A) we hadn’t made any original animated movies before and that was something that we really wanted to do, and B) we were looking to do a Christmas story,” says Viscardi. “Those two forces combined and it moved very quickly.”
An Animated First While Nickelodeon has made many liveaction TV movies, Albert is the first time the studio has produced an animated one, says senior VP of production David Steinberg.
“The idea of making an animated made-forTV movie that leverages the amazing talent
Anyone who thinks the visual effects Oscars race is the one area where the megablockbusters take home the gold needs to rethink that premise. Recent years have seen the gold trophy going home more often with films that use effects in new and inventive ways, emphasizing quality over quantity.
Last year’s win for Ex Machina was one of the true upsets of the evening, throwing for a loop Oscar pools that had bet heavily on industry favorite Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which had dominated at the VES Awards.
This year’s picture is even more tricky, with a raft of superhero blockbusters making obvious candidates, and The Jungle Book posing a clear challenge that has a good chance of appealing to voters as an alternative.
That said, there’s a lot of mysteries still waiting to be seen — including another Star Wars movie — always an effects event worth seeing on the big screen.
Let the race begin! Disney Release Date: April 15 Box Office: $966 million worldwide ($364 million U.S.) Director: Jon Favreau VFX Supervisors: Rob Legato, Adam Valdez Effects Studios: MPC, Weta Digital, Digital Domain Behind the Scenes: Favreau turned to Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato ( Hugo, Titanic) to spearhead the movie in collaboration with MPC, which did the majority of CG characters and environments; and Weta Digital, which handled King Louie and the other primates — not surprising, given its King Kong and Planet of the Apes pedigree. Legato was thrilled to use the best that virtual production has to offer with some new tech wrinkles to work more quickly, efficiently and believably, as though they were shooting a live-action movie. Awards Chances: The surprise hit of the year, The Jungle Book defied expectations for what a completely virtual live-action re-imagining of a classic animated feature could be like. The technical work pushes the envelope in both scope and in style, creating with cutting edge tools something that’s completely convincing and totally delightful.
Doctor Strange Marvel Studios-Disney Release Date: Nov. 4 Box Office: $574 million worldwide ($184 million U.S.) as of Nov. 22 Director: Scott Derrickson VFX Supervisor: Stephane Ceretti Effects Studios: ILM, Base FX, Framestore, Method Studios, Luma Pictures, Rise Visual Effects, Lola VFX, Crafty Apes, Perception, Technicolor VFX, Exceptional Minds, Animal Logic, The Secret Lab Behind the Scenes: The biggest VFX set piece — the most visually complex of any Marvel movie thus far — is a confrontation between Strange and Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) in New York, which was inspired by M.C. Escher, who also inspired Inception. Industrial Light & Magic handled the sequence, supervised by Richard Bluff, with more ambition than Inception. “We’ve seen bending buildings, we’ve seen folding, but what we haven’t seen was the fracturing of a city and the introduction of mass duplication on a mathematical level and infinitely complex fractals,” he said. Awards Chances: Of all this year’s major comic-book movies, the effects in Doctor Strange were the most inventive and fun. The movie defies the conventions of the superhero genre — now well established by nearly 20 years of successes — a feature that should put it at the front of the pack and in line to cast a spell over the nominating voters.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Lucasfilm-Disney Release Date: Dec. 16 Director: Gareth Edwards VFX Supervisor: John Knoll Effects Studio: ILM Behind the Scenes: We don’t know much yet about the VFX process for Rogue One, as Disney is keeping the movie — as it did last year with The Force Awakens — under tight wraps ahead of its Dec. 16 release date. We do know that ILM VFX supervisor John Knoll suggested the idea for the movie — about a team of Rebel agents who are tasked with stealing the Death Star plans that were the major plot point in the original 1977 movie — and that fan reaction to the limited footage so far released in trailers and featurettes has been quite excited. Awards Chances: Star Wars movies don’t always have the kind of luck in the Oscars race that you would think the series that invented modern VFX would have. The prequel trilogy went home empty handed and last year’s entry, The Force Awakens, did well in nearly every effects award contest except the Oscars. That said, never underestimate the love for Star Wars, especially if this experimental new take on the classic series strikes critical gold.
Batman v. Superman:
Dawn of Justice Warner Bros. Release Date: March 25 Box Office: $873 million worldwide ($330 million U.S.) Director: Zack Snyder VFX Supervisor: John “DJ” DesJardin Effects Studios: Moving Picture Company, ScanlineVFX, Weta Digital, Double Negative, Method Studios, Shade VFX, Perception, Teamworks Digital, The Resistance Awards Chances: Much derided by critics and fans for its dank take on the typically sunny world of Superman, the effects of Dawn of Justice are impossible to ignore. Yes, the film is dark — it’s supposed to be — but the super heroic antics of the Man of Steel facing down the Dark Knight, with Wonder Woman chipping in for good measure, are undeniably a spectacular achievement.
Captain America: Civil War Marvel Studios-Disney Release Date: May 6 Box Office: $1.15 billion worldwide ($408 million U.S.) Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo VFX Supervisor: Dan DeLeeuw Effects Studios: ILM, Rise Visual Effects, Double Negative, Luma Pictures, Lola VFX, Cinesite, Cantina, Sarofsky, Animal Logic, Crafty Apes, Image Engine Design, Technicolor VFX, Capital T, Exceptional Minds Awards Chances: On the other side of the comic-book fanboy aisle is a movie full of the refined effects that have come to define Marvel Studios’ extraordinarily successful cinematic universe. Packed to the rim with superheroes of all stripes, Civil War brings the characters’ diverse powers to vivid life in hugely entertaining sequences.
Deadpool 20th Century Fox Release Date: Feb. 12 Box Office: $782 million worldwide ($363 million U.S.) Director: Tim Miller VFX Supervisor: Jonathan Rothbart Effects Studios: Digital Domain, Atomic Fiction, Rodeo FX, Luma Pictures, Blur Studio, Weta Digital, OllinVFX, Image Engine Design, Furious FX Awards Chances: Another superhero hit, this one with a darker edge that fits the character, who is a mangled superpowerful assassin with a smart mouth who just wants to be loved. This film and its effects gleefully embraced the insanity of its premise and took the visuals to extremes in the slow-mo truck shooting sequence, for example. While its rough edges may not earn it invitation to tea from some Academy members, the effects are too good to ignore. Warner Bros. Release Date: Nov. 18 Box Office: $226 million worldwide ($81 million U.S.) as of Nov. 22 Director: David Yates VFX Supervisors: Tim Burke, Christian Manz Effects Studios: Framestore, Double Negative, MPC, Rodeo FX, Method Studios, Image Engine, Cinesite, Milk Visual Effects, Secret Lab Awards Chances: With a return to the world of Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts injects a good dose of whimsy into the race. The Academy has always been kind to the Potter franchise, and the excellent creature work here could carry over that favor to the prequel. Effects Studios: DDT Efectos Especiales, MPC, El Ranchito VFX, Glassworks Barcelona, Miopa Efectos Visuales, Headless, Magicon Munich, Lampost Minimo VFX Awards Chances: This is exactly the kind of spoiler film awards watchers should be on guard for. This heartfelt movie relies very heavily on creating a realistic, sympathetic and nottoo-scary creature for the story’s young protagonist to pour out his heart to. And it works, positioning this movie as the dark horse to watch. Paramount Release Date: July 22 Box Office: $343 million worldwide ($184 million U.S.) Director: Justin Lin VFX Supervisor: Peter Chiang Effects Studios: Atomic Fiction, Clear Angle Studios, Double Negative, Rodeo FX, Mist VFX Studio, Prime Focus Awards Chances: Star Trek movies have rarely earned much awards love despite their huge success, but the third entry in the reboot improved impressively on the previous two movies, with effects delivering the most thrilling version to date of the Trek movie staple of destroying the Enterprise. Universal Release Date: June 10 Box Office: $433 million worldwide ($47
Jan. 5: Jan. 13: Jan. 24: Oscar Nominations Announcement Feb. 6: Feb. 11: Awards Feb. 13: Feb. 21: Feb. 26: The Oscars will be held at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland in Hollywood. The ceremony will be televised live by ABC.
The stars behind the best creative, technical and business outfits in the animation and visual effects industries shone brightly and shared their vast knowledge at the fifth annual World Animation & VFX Summit.
Sunny weather and rich sea air welcomed attendees to the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, Calif., which kicked off with a breakfast sponsored by The Gotham Group, before getting down to business with a focus on virtual reality and VFX. “The Changing Face of the VFX Industry” panel lived up to its title, featuring a panel comprised of some of the top women in the game today.
Highlighting the first afternoon was a lively panel on voice acting and a spotlight on Russian animation, during which shots of vodka were served to the audience and providing a nice segue into the opening-night cocktail party, sponsored by Nickelodeon.
The second day started with a water theme, with breakfast sponsored by Splash Entertainment and an in-depth look at the making of Disney’s most-recent animated feature, Moana, that revealed secrets about everything from creating water to maximizing the render time.
Some of the top names in streaming talked about the pros and cons of such platforms. “We are a quarter inch along on a hundred foot ruler,” said Fred Siebert of Frederator Studios, recently merged into WOW! Unlimited Media.
$23 billion industry by 1992. Page 14 offers an article headlined “New Age TV Animation,” discussing ”a new breed of animation that has found a home on network TV,” including shows such as The Tracey Ullman Show, PeeWee’s Playhouse and Amazing Stories.
Many of the animators showcased at that year’s festival also are in this first issue, including Ralph Bakshi, Bruno Bozzetto, Milt Kahl, Walter Lantz and Norman McLaren.
Our next few covers featured Pee-Wee Herman, Tim Burton with Beetlejuice, Richard Williams with Roger Rabbit, Don Bluth and Ralph Bakshi, and, in the Spring 1989 issue, Disney’s bi-coastal leaders, Peter Schneider and Roy Disney, are interviewed for the cover story.
In the summer and fall of ’89, we showcased the young Pixar team with Knick Knack, and Matt Groening with producer Sam Simon in front of Klasky Csupo’s Simpsons family character overlay.
In the February 1990 issue, Jim Henson is featured on the cover, and inside talks about his company’s merger with Disney, which was putting the finishing touches on the “new” corporate headquarters that were recently remodeled and re-opened in November 2016.
We also report on Margaret Loesch leaving her position as CEO and president of Marvel Productions to launch the new Fox Children’s Network.
All of the early issues feature extensive global coverage, including an Eastern European update, a story titled “Japanese Animation: The Cult Grows Up,” and European festival and production news.
The final issue of 1990 features Bill and Sue Kroyer with their revolutionary cel and CG movie FernGully: The Last Rainforest.
And that was just the first three years! Check out more of the archives at www.animationmagazine.net, and feel free to share your favorite memories of Animation Magazine by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The best ones may appear in future retrospectives. [