How to Pro­duce and Dis­trib­ute Your First An­i­mated Fea­ture (At Any Cost)

Animation Magazine - - Opportunities - By Martin Gre­bing

Step 1: In­cu­ba­tion Story: Be­fore build­ing your team, be­fore ap­proach­ing in­vestors, be­fore seek­ing dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nels, you must mas­ter the most im­por­tant el­e­ment of any fea­ture, an­i­mated or not: story. While every as­pect of your project

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needs to be as stel­lar as pos­si­ble to make a splash in the very sat­u­rated fea­ture film mar­ket­place, an ex­cel­lent story can help make up for shoddy pro­duc­tion val­ues, poor act­ing, and a lack­lus­ter bud­get (search “most suc­cess­ful in­de­pen­dent films” for in­spi­ra­tion and dozens of ex­am­ples).

As Stephen King once said, writ­ing is rewrit­ing. So, af­ter you’re worked your story to fund­ing, so it would be in your best in­ter­est to im­merse your­self in this ma­te­rial so you can reemerge as a fea­ture film fund­ing guru. If this is not in your wheel­house, I im­plore you to ex­pand your wheel­house. If it turns out that you are sim­ply not ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing on this level, you’ll need to find some­one who is and bring them onboard by any means nec­es­sary. Once you have pooled and tal­lied your fi­nan­cial re­sources, you now have an of­fi­cial start­ing point of x-dol­lars-avail­able to con­trib­ute to pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion. What­ever the dol­lar amount may be, from zero to mil­lions, any gaps from a fi­nan­cial point of view will need to be filled by as many like-minded peo­ple as pos­si­ble who are will­ing to vol­un­teer to help pro­duce the fea­ture.

Ask around. Make posts on so­cial me­dia sites. Net­work, net­work, and then net­work some more. You very well may find tal­ented peo­ple who are will­ing to join your cause sim­ply for the ex­pe­ri­ence. Some may do it solely for the ex­cite­ment of see­ing their own an­i­mated movie come to life. Some may want a piece of the pie in ex­change for their time. Some may be will­ing to work for a se­vere dis­count, while some may want to be paid rate. What­ever the case may be, the goal is to build the best, most tal­ented, most ex­pe­ri­enced, most ded­i­cated team pos­si­ble from your mod­est bud­get and ir­re­sistible charm, be­cause ev­ery­thing else that needs to be done will need to be done by the one and only re­main­ing team mem­ber—you! The Peanuts Movie, death, re­write it again. And once you’ve gone as far as you can go, let it rest, then edit it some more. Once you’ve made your 100th edit, con­grat­u­la­tions! You’re al­most half­way there. Even­tu­ally, you will want to share your story with ob­jec­tive third-party read­ers so they can pro­vide un­bi­ased opin­ions and feed­back, but in the mean­time it’s best to keep your story un­der wraps. Af­ter sub­stan­tial third-party review, an­other 100 re­vi­sions should do the trick. Prob­a­bly!

Take Fi­nan­cial In­ven­tory: Now that your story is rock-solid, you will need to take in­ven­tory of your fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion. How much money do you cur­rently have to ded­i­cate to your cause? How much more can you raise? How much can you bor­row? How much can you get from in­vestors? Have you con­sid­ered crowd­fund­ing sites? What about en­dorse­ment deals? There are many books and on­line re­sources avail­able that can help you on a high level with Martin Gre­bing is pres­i­dent of Fun­ny­bone An­i­ma­tion and can be reached at­ny­bonean­i­ma­

In the day and age where dig­i­tal im­agery has achieved in­dis­tin­guish­able pho­to­re­al­ism, film­maker Christo­pher Nolan ( In­cep­tion) is still a firm be­liever in shoot­ing as much as he can in cam­era. “Pretty much these days any­thing is pos­si­ble,” notes Os­car-nom­i­nated vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor An­drew Jack­son ( Mad Max: Fury Road), who col­lab­o­rated with Nolan for the first time on this past sum­mer’s crit­i­cal and box-of­fice hit Dunkirk. The beau­ti­fully shot project re­counts that evac­u­a­tion of 330,000 Al­lied soldiers from the beaches of North­ern France dur­ing the early stages of World War II.

“You can build the whole world and all of the com­po­nents, and make it look as con­vinc­ing as pos­si­ble, but that in my book should al­ways be the

like. We ei­ther used those as real el­e­ments or ex­actly re­pro­duced them.” No Green­screens Re­quired ac­tion was a Piper Aerostar that had IMAX cam­eras sit­u­ated on the front and back of the air­craft

All of the film’s beach scenes were shot on the ac­tual beach in Dunkirk. “We built the jetty, that is called the mole, which they used to load the troops onto the ships. There was a huge num­ber of ac­tors so most of the scenes on the beach were real peo­ple, cer­tainly in the im­me­di­ate fore­ground ar­eas that you can see eas­ily. If we did any ex­ten­sions of the crowd it was only in the wide high shots where they needed to go off into the dis­tance. Most of the work we did around the town was adding smoke and there were a few mod­ern build­ings that were taken out and ti­died up.”

At one point dur­ing the prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy, there were as many as 60 ships sail­ing across the English Chan­nel, in­clud­ing pe­riod ac­cu­rate lit­tle ships, minesweep­ers and a 105-me­ter-long French de­stroyer called the Maillé-Brézé. For the sink­ing se­quences, sec­tions of ship were built on a huge gim­bal in the 2.7 mil­lion-gal­lon wa­ter tank lo­cated at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios’ Falls Lake. Adding Land and Smoke “Due to the sched­ule, there were a lot more boats than there re­ally were, but again mostly us­ing prac­ti­cal el­e­ments,” says Jack­son. “Most of the CG work was where the ships were bombed and sank. There was a lot of en­vi­ron­men­tal cleanup on the wa­ter be­cause a lot of the ocean­based shots were shot in Hol­land in the Zuiderzee, the in­land sea. There was quite a lot of wind tur­bines on the hori­zon and land mass where it shouldn’t be, so we added land that wasn’t there. There was a lot of work on the hori­zon line to de­fine the en­vi­ron­ments in that way. The ma­jor­ity of the work that we did on land was adding smoke. We did make ad­just­ments to the sand dunes and where the town was rel­a­tive to them in a cou­ple of shots.”

Jack­son points out that us­ing 6K for­mat for the whole film adds a higher level of de­tail than they were used to in the past. “It does in­crease the time be­cause you have to be more care­ful with the com­posit­ing, roto and track­ing,” he adds. “An­other thing that de­vel­oped for me that I hadn’t re­al­ized was quite how much Chris em­braces the idea that film­mak­ing is about ac­cept­ing the re­al­ity of what hap­pens when you’re on-set, rather than tak­ing every shot and pol­ish­ing it un­til they’re all per­fectly matched. I love that.”

Deal­ing with IMAX was the big­gest chal­lenge and re­ward. “Many of the cam­eras are decades old. We were at­tach­ing them to planes and he­li­copters, fly­ing miles out to sea to film vin­tage planes, where they would promptly jam, re­quir­ing a re­turn to base. If ev­ery­thing worked the film load is a max­i­mum of three min­utes long [or shorter at high speed] be­tween reloads, only pos­si­ble af­ter land­ing. The res­o­lu­tion is higher than we nor­mally work at, which adds time to every process. Lastly, out­putting to film to review the fi­nal shot takes a week. If there are any changes, it’s an­other week. All that said, when you sit in an IMAX cin­ema and watch a three spit­fire, full-screen fly-by, it is all worth it.”

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