A Joy­ful Ode

Animation Magazine - - Features -

Di­rec­tor Tom McGrath brings clas­sic an­i­ma­tion tech­niques and their emo­tional im­pact into the CG age with Dream­Works An­i­ma­tion’s new fea­ture The Boss Baby. By Tom McLean.

artists, led by Andy Schuler, who de­signed those worlds.”

But that was tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing, Naito says. “We knew we needed to get (the fan­tasy se­quences) into the pipe­line be­cause it all has to go through the same thing, but there were cer­tain mo­ments where we were like, does it re­ally?” says Naito. “Ul­ti­mately, we did, but it was that chal­lenge of fig­ur­ing out, how do you take this highly styl­ized, pretty much two-di­men­sional art­work that you see in these fan­tasy mo­ments and re­al­ize that in 3D? How are we go­ing to do that and make it feel seam­less with the rest of the film?”

Artis­tic Im­pres­sion McGrath wanted his an­i­ma­tors — on top of their school­ing in an­i­ma­tion his­tory and 1960s graphic de­sign — to have the kind of im­pact hand-drawn an­i­ma­tors had in the golden age. One way he did that was to re­duce by half the num­ber of con­trols in their rigs.

“My big­gest com­plaint with CG an­i­ma­tors is they want to keep mov­ing it and mov­ing it, to the point where it just feels mushy,” he says. “Hav­ing (the rig) lim­ited just made you com­mit to a strong ex­pres­sion.”

McGrath sought to con­vey some of the prin­ci­ples he had learned at CalArts in the 1980s, study­ing un­der such renowned an­i­ma­tors as Hal Am­bro, Frank Thomas, Ollie John­ston and Glen Keane. “We watched Mickey in the Clock Clean­ers (short film), and Hal Am­bro would make us watch it back­wards too be­cause you could see the tim­ing and how it was ex­ag­ger­ated,” he says. “They should teach more of that there, be­cause tim­ing is an art and it’s a very per­sonal choice as an an­i­ma­tor.”

The Boss Baby him­self was de­signed like a 2D char­ac­ter that might have ap­peared in some­thing like a Chuck Jones car­toon. And fig­ur­ing out a char­ac­ter that al­ter­nates per­son­al­ity from act­ing like a real baby to act­ing like a big-shot CEO was a lot of fun. While there are tons of videos of real ba­bies on­line, McGrath had to look to the busi­ness world and some of its icons to round out the char­ac­ter.

“I took one man­age­ment class that was re­ally silly, but I re­mem­ber they had you do this thing where you’re ‘hold­ing the vol­ley­ball,’ and you see a lot of busi­ness peo­ple when they make pre­sen­ta­tions are hold­ing the vol­ley­ball,” he says “You’d watch (Steve) Jobs un­veil a phone or some­thing and you look at all these po­lit­i­cal fig­ures and find lit­tle tics be­cause that de­fines the per­son­al­ity.” Get­ting Jig­gle Just Right While the movie is highly styl­ized, CG an­i­ma­tion still re­quires a cer­tain level of re­al­ity for its physics. The ul­ti­mate ex­am­ple, Naito says, was baby jig­gle.

“Even though this was a highly de­signed film, you know we still had to get baby jig­gle right, and we had a task force on baby jig­gle,” she says.

One of the un­ex­pected is­sues the movie may face is that Bald­win has be­come pop­u­lar im­per­son­at­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump — him­self known as a tough busi­ness­man — pos­si­bly at­tract­ing com­par­isons be­tween the two roles.

McGrath says noth­ing in the movie is based on or in­tended to com­ment on Trump. “I just want it to be a time­less piece,” he says. “But, yeah, I think a lot of peo­ple don’t know how long it takes to make an an­i­mated film so they prob­a­bly think we started this movie three months ago as a movie about Trump.”

The movie also makes a big state­ment of the value of fam­ily over work — a tough mes­sage to de­liver given how an­i­ma­tion is so time con­sum­ing that those work­ing in it of­ten miss out on fam­ily time. McGrath says he’s worked on six movies over the last 16 or 17 years with only a week’s break in be­tween and has first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence with the is­sue.

“After this one, I’m go­ing to take a huge break,” he says. [

Boat­ing with Clyde, and was part of the col­lec­tive mu­si­cal group Your Heart Breaks, this was his first push into an­i­ma­tion. The project was done mostly in Petersen’s bed­room over the course of more than a year with a team of seven in­terns — one com­ing in to work each day of the week — us­ing a mul­ti­plat­form cam­era built from an Ikea cloth­ing rack. Petersen worked with the in­terns to fash­ion the style and look of the an­i­ma­tion. The artist isn’t en­tirely sure how much the pro­duc­tion cost to put to­gether be­cause it would be dif­fi­cult to cal­cu­late things like a por­tion of rent on his bed­room for the time it was used to make the film, but he es­ti­mates it was around $50,000. That chunk of change came from grants and Petersen’s own wages from other work.

“We took a day off once in a while, but we mostly worked straight through and I knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted the story to feel,” says Petersen. “Once you’ve worked that out, your path is pretty clear.”

The film pre­miered at Twist: Seat­tle’s Queer Film Fes­ti­val and quickly found an au­di­ence and earned raves from crit­ics. Ini­tially, Petersen trav­eled with his band and played the score live when the film was shown. Through a grant he was able to travel and stage per­for­mances at fes­ti­vals and art spa­ces to show his work.

The film doesn’t con­tain much ac­tual lan­guage but prefers to lean on the vi­su­als to tell this rich, soul­ful com­ing-of-age story. One of the few places the au­di­ence will hear words spo­ken or sung is in the mov­ing sound­track that ac­com­pa­nies the film. Petersen worked with a var­ied group of mu­si­cians to put it to­gether, in­clud­ing the mem­bers of Your Heart

Efinds its way to the United States as

very year, thou­sands of girls across the world slip on their bal­let shoes and their tu­tus in hopes of mak­ing the kind of a splash in their dance classes that earns them a fea­tured role or solo per­for­mance on a stage in Any Town, U.S.A. The beauty and dif­fi­culty of this art is legendary — and so is the com­pet­i­tive­ness that sur­rounds it. The new an­i­mated mu­si­cal fea­ture Leap cap­tures all of this through the eyes of a young French or­phan who dreams of danc­ing with the finest bal­leri­nas in the world at the Paris Opera Bal­let.

Orig­i­nally re­leased in var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional mar­kets un­der the ti­tle Bal­le­rina, the movie is set for its U.S. re­lease on April 21 with dis­trib­u­tor The We­in­stein Com­pany. The film was co-directed by Eric Sum­mer and Eric Warin. The an­i­ma­tion was done at L’Ate­lier An­i­ma­tion in Mon­treal with a crew lead by an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor Ted Ty. The com­pany came to­gether in 2012.

Sum­mer — also a writer on the film — wanted to tell a story with depth so (spoiler alert!) our hero­ine doesn’t suc­ceed at ev­ery turn. In fact, she fails in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion along her jour­ney.

“Chil­dren and adults should feel in­spired to fol­low their dream by this film, but it wouldn’t be as emo­tional if she just can have her dream eas­ily,” says Sum­mer. “That’s not life.”

Ty is a vet­eran an­i­ma­tor with more than 24

an an­i­mated mu­si­cal set in the com­pet­i­tive world of bal­let. By Karen Idel­son.

years ex­pe­ri­ence and has worked for Dream­Works and Walt Dis­ney Fea­ture An­i­ma­tion Florida. His cred­its in­clude Rise of the Guardians and Kung Fu Panda. For this sea­soned artist, it was im­por­tant to let the story and vo­cal per­for­mances shine as he brought his team to­gether on the project.

“I would say there was a re­al­ism to the style of an­i­ma­tion, that we were only about 15 per­cent more ex­ag­ger­ated than real life,” says Ty, whose team used Maya on the film. “The great chal­lenge was to make the key-frame an­i­ma­tion of bal­let not just as the dancers danced but as they wished they could dance.”

Be­fore the film­mak­ers de­cided on keyframe an­i­ma­tion, they ex­per­i­mented with mo­tion cap­ture, but the re­sults weren’t as magical as hoped and they set off on an­other course. They wanted to bring to the screen the qual­ity that in­spires young bal­leri­nas and any­one who might have a crazy dream that still in­spires them.

“We heard the pitch for this story in 2010 and it took sev­eral years of ques­tion­ing and imag­in­ing what it could be,” says pro­ducer Yann Ze­nou. “It takes a long time.”

Ze­nou’s pro­duc­ing part­ner Laurent Zeitoun agrees.

“We are in love with an­i­ma­tion now,” says Zeitoun. “We have been do­ing two to three films a year but this is our first ex­pe­ri­ence with an­i­ma­tion and the pos­si­bil­i­ties are won­der­ful.”

The film also fea­tures an im­pres­sive voice cast that in­cludes “It Girl” and in­genue Elle Fan­ning, pop star Carly Rae Jepsen and Mad­die Ziegler in a vil­lain­ous star turn that prom­ises to fur­ther ex­tend her rep as a gifted per­former. Ziegler is per­haps best known for the Life­time re­al­ity show Dance Moms where she was a reg­u­lar for five years. Ziegler also showed her for­mi­da­ble tal­ent as a dancer in five mu­sic videos by elec­tropop artist Sia, in­clud­ing videos for the hits “Chan­de­lier” and “Elas­tic Heart.”

“We have a won­der­ful voice cast and I es­pe­cially think Mad­die will have a very good ca­reer ahead of her,” says Zeitoun. “She’s the nicest per­son when you meet her in real life but she was a won­der­ful vil­lain in this role, re­ally very scary even.” [

Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kim­mel voice the par­ents of Boss Baby ( Alec Bald­win). Be­low, Miles Bak­shi ( grand­son of Ralph Bak­shi) voices Tim Tem­ple­ton.

Film­maker Clyde Petersen re­calls trav­el­ing on the road with his schiz­o­phrenic mother in the in­die an­i­mated fea­ture Tor­rey Pines.

Yann Ze­nou and Laurent Zeitoun.

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