12Italian toon fest Cartoons on the Bay returns to Turin for three days of children’s TV and multiplatform appreciation. [cartoonsbay.com/en]
Fox, remembers feeling awestruck when he read the first draft of the script more than three years ago. “I thought that it was a funny and heartfelt script, but I also realized that it was going to be a challenge logistically, because of all the different action sequences and numerous locations,” he recalls. “I think there was one sequence that had a montage of 22 different locations. It’s also a movie about talking dogs, so it couldn’t have been done in any other medium but animation.”
Dawson says after looking at various options, they opted for 3 Mills Studios in London, just as they had done with Fantastic Mr. Fox. He adds, “The thing about Wes is that he brings his own
people working on site at some point. The movie had about 50 stage units overall, and took about 18 months to shoot.”
Waring says Anderson was very specific about what he wanted in each scene. “He is very detail-oriented,” notes the animation director. “He has this love for all the materials and textures. All those different elements are very important to him. He was insistent on doing water in stop-frame rather than CG. We did a lot of testing to come up with the ideal way to show water, clouds, rain; what is the best way to use plastic wrap to depict water. It took us months of animation tests to find solutions that looked great on camera.”
The animators knew that they were going for the same handmade style that audiences loved in Fantastic Mr. Fox. Anderson also prepared them by screening the ’60s-era films of Akira Kurosawa. “He wanted us to be influenced by their style and the reserved approach to performances,” says Waring. “We also had lots of dogs running around in the studio, which were similar to the ones in the movie, and we studied their movements carefully.”
The film’s canine characters also provided the team with lots of questions. “We knew that the dogs only have conversations amongst themselves. We had to establish those rules first. Were they human-like or do they act like Scooby-Doo? It’s a clever conceit that the humans don’t understand them, but we empathize with them because we understand them when they are talking to each other. They actually behave like dogs — they have fleas, they scratch themselves and bare their teeth.”
One of the amazing facts about the production is that Anderson only visited the London studio a few times and managed to do his job by communicating with the team via emails and video conferencing. “He is so fastidious and really knows what he wants,” explains Waring. “He focuses on every element of every scene. He comments on every single item, every color, every shape, every box, every leaf, every book in the background … and he has an encyclopedic memory. I received about 50,000 emails from him, and that was just me! The great thing was that we had worked with him before on Fantastic Mr. Fox, so we had established this shorthand on how to make an animated film. We were three-fourths of the way there already.”
According to Waring, one of the film’s most complex sequences involved a Japanese chef making sushi. “Wes told us that he wanted this scene to show the best sushi that has ever been made,” exclaims Waring. “He said, real sushi chefs will want to make it this way!”
To prepare for this 45-second scene, Waring and his team (director Brad Schiff, and animators Andy Biddle, Tony Farquhar-Smith and Tobias Fouracre) had to study the best sushi chefs for months. The elaborate sushi sequence took about two and half months to shoot. “It was such an involved technical process,” he recalls. “There are many different
Sherlock Holmes is an infinitely complex, challenging and charismatic character. He’s been interpreted countless times in film, television and literature and still hasn’t lost his appeal to new fans generation after generation. In the new film Sherlock Gnomes, a crew of animation veterans reinterpret him in a way he’s never been seen before — as a ceramic garden gnome.
Directed by John Stevenson ( Kung Fu Panda), the movie reunites veterans of the original 2011 movie Gnomeo and Juliet. James McAvoy and Emily Blunt reprise their roles as the star-crossed lovers, while Maggie Smith and Michael Caine voice Lady Blueberry and Lord Redbrick. New to the gnome universe are Johnny Depp, who voices Sherlock Gnomes, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Watson and Mary J. Blige as the enigmatic Irene (who also sings an original song written by Elton John for the movie).
While John wrote many songs for the original movie, there are not as many new compositions for Sherlock Gnomes since the genre change from romantic comedy to action adventure meant there were fewer moments to stop for some singing in the faster paced mystery.
“Johnny [Depp] had done Rango, so he was not unfamiliar with the process of doing a voice for animated feature, but Chiwetel [Ejiofor] had never done it and was curious about it. So, he came to the studio in London and we showed him how everything worked so he could get a sense of how it was different from doing live action,” says Stevenson. “That was a thrill getting to work with [Ejiofor]. He’s a great actor and I think he adds a lot to the movie. We also have Mary J. Blige as Irene Adler, who was a popular figure from Sherlock Holmes stories often interpreted with a romantic bent. So, we have gone with a version of that in our backstory for Sherlock Gnomes.” A Scene-Stealing Sidekick
Stevenson feels that the great surprise of the movie may be a performance by an emerging comic actor. “Our big discovery I would say is Jamie Demetriou, who plays our villain Moriarty,” says Stevenson, who worked on The Muppet Show with Jim Henson in the beginning of his career. “We had him come in to do some scratch voices at first, but we kept coming back to him and thinking, ‘He is Moriarty.’ He made it impossible for us to think of anyone else in the role.”
RMB (about $250,000) in just 44 days. Our success caught the attention of Wang Changtian and Li Xiaoping at Enlight Media. After a long meeting, we decided to work together.”
This arrangement enabled the artists to complete their film. The final budget was 35 million RMB (about $5.5 million), although the film’s rich visuals rival much more expensive features. Pure Hearts and Spirits
In the spirit world she inhabits, Chun is accompanied by Qiu, a young man utterly devoted to her. “Chun and Qiu’s names are also from a myth in Wandering at Ease: ‘In ancient times there was a great tree; it lived 8,000 years for spring (春 chūn), 8,000 years for autumn (秋 qiū),’” Liang explains. “Qiu’s soul is the leaf, and Chun’s soul is the begonia flower. Just as leaves fall to nourish a tree, everything Qiu does is to protect Chun. Both of them are very pure.”
The adventures Chun and Qiu share send them under the sea and over the clouds; they walk through forests and elaborate structures that reflect traditional Chinese architecture. Many of these scenes involved a combination of drawn and CG elements. “3D rendering sometimes gives you an effect that’s overly realistic. Big Fish & Begonia is a 2D animation film, and we needed the final result to resemble a hand-drawn animated film,” says Zhang. “But the sense of perspective in hand-drawn backgrounds is totally different from how things look through a lens in real life. Sometimes we had to adjust realistic perspective for the sake of composition and aesthetics.”
The resolute heroine and imaginative visuals in Big Fish suggest the influence of the Studio Ghibli features. Liang says, “When I first saw Miyazaki’s work, I was surprised that this animation forefather’s films had so many ideas that were similar to what was in my own head — you have to remember, we have a 40-year age gap between us.” Inspired by Ariel
“When we did the short film version of Big Fish & Begonia in 2004, I was greatly influ- enced by The Little Mermaid, which is a fairy tale I revere,” he continues. “I also love the Coen Brothers, James Cameron and Ang Lee. I feel Lee’s movies maintain an artistic sensibility while achieving commercial success. So I hope our movies can achieve a similar result.”
Chinese animated films have only recently begun to appear in American theaters. Liang comments, “We didn’t think too much about who was the intended audience when we started. I only wanted to tell the story I envisioned. There’s a lot of traditional Chinese elements and mythology in the film, so Chinese audiences might be able to see more they can relate to. But I believe people everywhere who enjoy films full of heart or who are interested in Chinese culture will like this film.”
Zhang and Liang are already doing pre-production work for the sequel to Big Fish & Begonia. After that, they to hope to create other fantasy or sci-fi animated films. Shout! Studios will release Big Fish & Begonia in select U.S. theaters April 8.
It’s been 34 years since the animated baby versions of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal and other of Jim Henson’s Muppets first entertained Saturday morning TV audiences. A new generation of viewers will get to meet the loveable toddler gang this month when the CG-animated Muppet Babies wreaks havoc on Disney Junior.
The show’s exec producer Tom Warburton says he was thrilled to be asked to develop and produce this new version of the classic property. He recalls, “I was finishing up work on the Disney’s The 7D when Nancy Kanter [Disney Channel’s exec VP and general manager of Disney Junior] called me up and said, ‘We think you’ll be great to develop the new reboot of Muppet Babies.’ And of course, I said yes!”
Although the reboot is CG-animated, the new Muppet Babies retains the original’s wonderful characters and distinctive, silly charms. “At its heart, the show is about a lovable band of weirdos,” says Warburton, who is best known for creating the popular Cartoon Network series Codename: Kids Next Door and has also worked on shows such as Doug, Pepper Ann, Sheep in the City and Fish Hooks. “People respond to the fact that despite all their quirks, they are all friends and love hanging out together. It’s all about Fozzie Bear and his silly jokes, Gonzo getting shot out of cannons, Miss Piggy’s self-absorption and craziness, and Kermit pulling them all together. It’s really a big honor to bring them back and introduce a new audience to these special characters.”
This time around, voicing the series’ timeless characters are Jenny Slate as Miss Nanny, Melanie Harrison ( Fish Hooks) as Piggy, Dee Bradley Baker ( Phineas and Ferb) as Animal, Ben Diskin ( The Spectacular Spider-Man) as Gonzo, Eric Bauza ( The Adventures of Puss in Boots) as Fozzie Bear, and supervising direc- pets Take Manhattan. The creative team studied the movements of the original Muppet Babies puppets and developed a digital sim technique called “Jiggle Tech” which allows the animated Muppet Babies to move just like their puppet character counterparts. Powered by Imagination Each episode of the new show features two