A Joyful Ode
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.” [