Per­fect Match

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The show run­ners be­hind DreamWorks’ new se­ries for Net­flix bring a widescreen, West­ern look to new toon ad­ven­tures for a girl and her horse. By Tom McLean.

There’s no deny­ing that mean­ing­ful bonds can be formed in an in­stant — love at first sight, a horse per­fectly matched with its rider, or an artist bring­ing to life a story they’ve long dreamed of cre­at­ing.

The lat­ter two are par­tic­u­larly apro­pos in the case of Spirit Rid­ing Free, DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion Tele­vi­sion’s new se­ries based on the stu­dio’s 2002 fea­ture Spirit: Stal­lion of the Ci­mar­ron, and its show run­ners, Aury Walling­ton and Jim Schu­mann.

“My whole life, I’ve been ob­sessed with horse sto­ries,” says Walling­ton, who launched her TV writ­ing ca­reer as a script co­or­di­na­tor on HBO’s Sex and the City. “I cer­tainly loved the shows that I grew up with, which were more of the Mork & Mindy, Facts of Life sort of things, but I al­ways dreamed about hav­ing a show that en­com­passed those sto­ries from the books that I loved so much about ad­ven­ture and free­dom.”

That op­por­tu­nity fi­nally came to pass for Walling­ton, who’s also writ­ten for shows such as He­roes and Grav­ity Falls, when a se­ries based on Spirit was on the ta­ble dur­ing a meet­ing with DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion Tele­vi­sion.

“It in­stantly caught me be­cause the thought of hav­ing a chance to tell that story, to make the show that 9-year-old me would have gone ba­nanas over, was re­ally ir­re­sistible,” says Walling­ton.

The writ­ing ap­pealed to vet­eran an­i­ma­tion writer, di­rec­tor and pro­ducer Jim Schu­mann. He was work­ing with DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion TV on a project that didn’t come to­gether when he read Walling­ton’s pi­lot script. “It’s the rea­son I took the gig,” he says. “I could see it. I knew what it was go­ing to look like. The char­ac­ters were gen­uine. The story was gen­uine. It was ex­cit­ing.”

Ar­riv­ing with six episodes May 5 on Netf- lix, Spirit Rid­ing Free tells the tale of a gutsy 12-year-old girl named Lucky, who meets a re­silient mus­tang named Spirit — the off­spring of the fea­ture film ver­sion — when her fam­ily set­tles out west in the 1890s. With her two new best friends — and their horses — by her side, Lucky ex­plores a new world of free­dom and ad­ven­ture.

The show fea­tures the voices of Am­ber Mon­tana ( The Haunted Hath­aways), Syd­ney Park ( In­stant Mom) and Bai­ley Gam­ber­toglio ( Bub­ble Gup­pies).

Fol­low­ing Its Own Path Walling­ton’s vi­sion for the show was un­usual for an­i­ma­tion in sev­eral ways. The horses, for ex­am­ple, are not an­thro­po­mor­phized ei­ther in their ac­tions or via nar­ra­tion, as the film did. There also are no mag­i­cal or fan­tasy el­e­ments, and the sto­ries and char­ac­ters are grounded in a very re­al­is­tic and gen­uine way.

This gave Schu­mann and the show’s crew the chance to ex­per­i­ment with un­usual looks and tech­niques.

“Me and (art di­rec­tor) Ellen Jin were in­flu­enced by stuff that was com­ing out of Europe, like the Nether­lands,” he says. “We wanted the show to be big. We wanted to shoot it like a West­ern — big and wide — and use the frame.”

That am­bi­tion was not lost on the crew, which rose to the un­usual challenges Spirit Rid­ing Free pre­sented.

“When we started, we knew it was go­ing to be a tough show, but every­body on this show has bought in to what we’re try­ing to ac­com­plish,” says Schu­mann. “There’s a level of com­mit­ment to this show that I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced a lot in other shows. On a lot of other shows, it’s just a gig, but here every­body is just so com­mit­ted be­cause we kind of know we’re do­ing some­thing spe­cial.”

For the light­ing, Schu­mann turned the stan- dard approach for TV a lit­tle to the right. “Most CG shows have what’s called 12 noon light­ing, where ev­ery­thing is above the head, and then there’s sup­ple­men­tary light­ing,” he says. “We put our our light­ing at 2 o’clock, sort of like late af­ter­noon, so we get some re­ally nice shad­ows.”

The look also led to a shad­ing style and a cine­matic look. “It’s not like a clas­sic toon shad­ing, but more of a hy­brid,” says Schu­mann. “We also used a lot of 2D el­e­ments in the art­work and on the sets and stuff, so it gives us a re­ally strik­ing look to the show.” Grounded and Ac­ces­si­ble The look also is de­signed to play to the strengths of the writ­ing. “It’s set in 1890, but we didn’t want the pe­riod de­tails to in any way weigh the show down or stand as a bar­rier that would make it less ac­ces­si­ble to the audi- ence,” says Walling­ton. “So we’re try­ing to do a con­tem­po­rary show in a his­tor­i­cal set­ting and the look of the show helps give us this fla­vor of the pe­riod, the Old West, with the long shad­ows, the faded­out color in cer­tain places and the vi­brant col­ors in other places.”

As for the an­i­ma­tion, which is be­ing done by Tech­ni­color in In­dia, horses are a real chal­lenge to get right. Schu­mann says they pulled a lot of ref­er­ence from the Spirit fea­ture as well as other ref­er­ence on how horses walk, gal­lop and run. The goal was to en­sure the horses’ per­son­al­i­ties came through with­out do­ing any­thing that looks un­real or takes the au­di­ence out of the re­al­is­tic el­e­ments.

Walling­ton says it’s been fun to write for an­i­ma­tion, which re­quired a bit of a learn­ing curve to un­der­stand what could and couldn’t be done easily in CG.

“It didn’t feel dif­fer­ent from writ­ing live-ac­tion. This is the story I wanted to tell,” she says. “I’ve been lucky in hav­ing Jim and the rest of the team, who are so on the ball.”

Both are ex­tremely proud of the re­sults and anx­ious to see how the show is re­ceived. “We prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been able to make this show at any other stu­dio,” says Schu­mann. “It’s been a re­ally great ex­pe­ri­ence.” [

The Cannes Film Fes­ti­val is the most pres­ti­gious in the world and ex­em­pli­fies in many ways the hi­er­ar­chy of the over­all global movie busi­ness. Here, live ac­tion rules — di­rec­tors, ac­tors, cine­matog­ra­phers and their lat­est artis­tic works are greeted like roy­alty. And while an­i­ma­tion is not ex­cluded from the fes­ti­val in any way, the em­pha­sis and ma­jor­ity of in­ter­est in the event clearly lies else­where, while an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­ers and fans pre­pare to con­gre­gate a month later in nearby An­necy for a fes­ti­val ded­i­cated to toons.

But an­i­ma­tion’s pres­ence has been grow­ing in re­cent years. The com­pe­ti­tion for the 70th Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, set to run May 17-28, in­cludes no an­i­mated fea­tures, but there are a trio of an­i­mated shorts — all made by women — that will be in the run­ning in other ar­eas: Pépé le Morse (Grandpa Wal­rus), di­rected by Lu­crèce An­dreae, is in the short film com­pe­ti­tion, while two stu­dent an­i­mated films — Léa Krawczyk’s À Per­dre Haleine (Breath­less) and Imge Öz­bilge’s Cam­ou­flage — grace the Ciné­fon­da­tion sec­tion. Cris­tian Mungiu is pre­sid­ing over the jury for both short films and the Ciné­fon­da­tion.

This year also sees the re­turn of An­i­ma­tion Day in Cannes, an event in­de­pen­dent of the fes­ti­val that spot­lights an­i­mated projects and presents pan­els and net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Imge Öz­bilge was in­spired by some­thing she ex­pe­ri­enced in the in­creas­ingly po­lar­ized so­ci­ety of Turkey to write Cam­ou­flage, which is about a for­bid­den friend­ship that blos­soms in a city where East meets West.

“Pop­ulism is be­com­ing dan­ger­ous all over the world and that’s why I be­lieve that we need to stay to­gether even more and talk about these is­sues,” she says.

Though her travel-lov­ing and artis­tic par­ents are from Istanbul, the 29-year-old Öz­bilge was born in Vienna and spent much of her life in one city or the other. Her child­hood love of art lead her to ex­per­i­ment with an­i­ma­tion as one of many forms of ex­pres­sion, and she stud­ied an­i­ma­tion at KASK in Bel­gium.

“The rea­son why I told the story in an­i­ma­tion is the free­dom you have with an­i­ma­tion in cre­at­ing sur­real im­agery, which can cre­ate mul­ti­ple mean­ings,” she says. The film takes the au­di­ence to a mys­te­ri­ous and sur­real world in­spired by Ot­toman minia­tures and Hierony­mus Bosch. “I like to work with sub­lay­ers. They leave open space for in­ter­pre­ta­tion and there­fore cre­ate a con­nec­tion with the au­di­ence.”

Pro­duc­tion took about a year, with plenty of ad­vice from her KASK men­tor Luc De­gryse and her sis­ter and fel­low artist, Sine Öz­bilge.

The im­ages be­gin as ink on paper, then were scanned into the com­puter us­ing Pho­to­shop and an­i­mated with Af­ter Ef­fects.

Sur­prised by her ac­cep­tance into the Ciné­fon­da­tion, Öz­bilge next plans to gain some ex­pe­ri­ence in the an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try and even­tu­ally wants to co-di­rect an an­i­mated fea­ture with her sis­ter. [

scat­o­log­i­cal yet sat­is­fy­ing mu­si­cal. The year wrapped with a dou­ble dose of stu­dios work­ing at their peak, with Sony’s Stu­art Lit­tle and Pixar’s Toy Story 2 both serv­ing up strik­ing cover im­ages.

The fi­nal year of the 20th cen­tury, 2000 was a rougher year for an­i­ma­tion. High-pro­file projects that made the cover of An­i­ma­tion Mag­a­zine only to over­promise and un­der­de­liver: God, the Devil and Bob, Dis­ney’s Di­nosaur, DreamWorks’ Road to El Do­rado and The Ad­ven­tures of Rocky & Bull­win­kle. Tra­di­tional 2D an­i­ma­tion took a big hit with the fail­ure of Fox’s much-hyped sci-fi epic Ti­tan A.E. But all was re­deemed by Aard­man’s faith in stop-mo­tion — and a good story — with the suc­cess of Chicken Run.

The mag­a­zine cel­e­brated a more con­ven­tional mile­stone in 2001: its 15th an­niver­sary. In a bit of a throw­back move, an­i­ma­tors reap­peared on the cov­ers, start­ing with the al­ways-awe­some Chuck Jones, who stood in a hole at Vasquez Rocks north of Los An­ge­les to plug his Tim­ber­wolf web project.

Tra­di­tional an­i­ma­tion was still go­ing strong, with our 100th is­sue fea­tur­ing Craig McCracken and his durable cre­ation, The Pow­er­puff Girls, by a cover fea­ture on Will Vin­ton Stu­dios and its 25th an­niver­sary.

Sum­mer brought Shrek into our lives, along with a huge fi­nan­cial boost and much-needed cre­ative mo­men­tum for DreamWorks. The in­dus­try prepped for the first An­i­mated Fea­ture Os­car race, won­der­ing if it was go­ing to stick around (it has — and how!). The first tro­phy went to Shrek.

Fall brought with it the tragedy of the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks — a United We Stand logo ap­peared on our cov­ers in sup­port.

The year wrapped with Pixar re­leas­ing Mon­sters, Inc., an oc­ca­sion marked with a clever cover fea­tur­ing Mike Wa­zowski and Sully read­ing a copy of the mag­a­zine that had on its cover a photo of di­rec­tor Pete Doc­ter and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer John Las­seter.

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 edit@an­i­ma­tion­magazine.net. [

Aury Walling­ton

Jim Schu­mann

Set in 1890, Spirit Rid­ing Free ex­plores the West through the eyes of 12-year-old Lucky, her horse and her friends.

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