FESTS AND EVENTS World Animation Celebration Returns to Sony Lot in 2017
Animation Libation Studios and Animation Magazine will again present The World Animation Celebration in 2017. Hosted by Sony Pictures Animation, the international animated short film festival will take place Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at the studio, located in Culver City, Calif.
The two-day event will showcase the best in traditional, CG, digital, stop-motion, experimental and VR animation from fllmmakers and students around the world, which will be reviewed by a panel of world-class professionals as judges.
In addition to the film program, attendees will be able to take in industry panels, guest speakers and artist demos, meet with recruiters and school representatives, and participate in portfolio reviews.
Film submission and early-bird registration information will be announced soon.
Bookmark WorldAnimationCelebration.com for updates.
U.S. film and TV producer Skydance Media has launched an animation division and multiyear partnership with Madrid-based Ilion Animation Studios ( Mortadelo & Filemon, Planet
1The two-day Vision VR/AR Summit kicks off in L.A., while the Golden Kuker-Sofia Int’l Animation Film Festival begins a week of screenings in Sofia, Bulgaria. [visionsummit2017. com | 2017.animationfest-bg.eu]
Spark: A Space Tail aspires to something few animated features these days will admit to: It’s an animated movie squarely aimed at entertaining children.
“There’s a sort of purity to animation,” says the feature’s writer-director Aaron Woodley, “where you’re really trying to lock into an emotional narrative line for children … breaking things down into that childlike mode of storytelling and imagination, and that’s really what I was trying to do.”
Released April 14 in the United States via Open Road Films, the CG animated sci-fi adventure movie is a Canadian-Korean co-production between ToonBox Entertainment, Redrover Co. Ltd., Shanghai Hoongman Technology Co. Ltd. and Gulfstream Pictures. Double Dutch International is handling the Canadian distribution as well as international sales, excluding China and Korea.
The movie follows the story of Spark (Jace Norman), a teenage monkey who lives in a galactic junkyard with his pals Vix (Jessica Biel) and Chunk (Rob deLeeuw), and discovers his true identity to be the key to taking back the planet Bana from the evil King Zhong (Alan C. Peterson).
Woodley has a broad background that includes stop-motion animation work on shorts and the series Glenn Martin, DDS. He’s also directed live-action features and TV, giving him the kind of broad experience the co-production was seeking when they hired him in 2011.
“They had a script and it was loosely based on Journey to the West, which is an ancient Chinese text,” he says. Coming aboard to rewrite the script, Woodley stepped into the director’s slot on what was his first experience with CG animation. And with a budget of $15 million, there were plenty of challenges to overcome.
“Creatively, there’s not a whole lot of difference between making a live-action film, making an animated film, making a stop-motion film or a CG film,” he says. “It was really trying to learn how to harness these tools, these highly technological tools, to do that.”
Most of the work on the movie was done at ToonBox’s studio in Toronto, with about 30 percent of the animation done in Korea, Woodley says.
Typical of the movie’s challenges was the need to animate a character named The Captain before an actor was cast in the role. When Patrick Stewart took the role, he impressed the entire crew by rising to the challenge of delivering a performance that synched up with the animation and was affecting and fresh.
“I thought possibly he would walk away from the project, but he didn’t,” says Woodley. “Not only did he nail the synch — in one or two takes maximum — but he actually made the synch better, which I think is astounding.”
While the movie didn’t set the U.S. box office aflame in its opening frame, it is set for theatrical release April 28 in Canada, with the United Kingdom to follow — and Woodley says he’s happy just getting the movie seen.
“It’s really just about hoping that people enjoy the movie and have a good time at the theater.” [
character is only about half based on reality, the other half on fantasy. “I’m not a jerk like the guy in the movie,” he says with a laugh. “And I feel like it’s more maybe a parody of autobio stories or a parody of those kinds of Hollywood movie that are clearly the director’s fantasy.”
Asked if he thinks viewers will confuse the fictional Dash with the real one, Shaw says he hopes not. “I feel like it’s really clearly a joke, but maybe I’m being optimistic,” he says.
Shaw also took inspiration from the works of other comic-book artists who turned to animation, such as Osamu Tezuka on the original Astro Boy. “He wanted to compete with Disney but the Japanese television companies didn’t give him enough money, so he created limited animation and he relied on his skills as a cartoonist to make cinema, and I always thought that that was super awesome,” he says.
Shaw began work on the movie with his wife, animator Jane Samborski. “She really is the technical mind behind the movie,” he says.
All of the movie was drawn on 8½-by-11inch paper and animated using After Effects. “There’s no lines that are made on the computer,” says Shaw. “I storyboarded it in color markers and so there was a guide for the whole movie and indications of how the color would be and how everything would look.”
Shaw used the boards to divide up the labor for each shot, with Samborski sometimes drawing the underlying images and friends of Shaw’s from the comics world contributing things like painted backgrounds. Shaw inked all the drawings himself before they were scanned in the computer.
This way of working saved the project at one point when about 10 minutes of the movie was lost to a cut-and-paste error.
“But we still had all of the actual drawings, so it only took us a couple of days to put it back together,” Shaw says.
Finding the Voices Unusual for most animated projects, Shaw had about 80 percent of the animation done before he began looking for actors. Knowing nothing about that side of movie making, Shaw contacted producers Kyle Martin and Craig Zobel, whom he had met while they were all fellows at the Sundance Institute in 2010.
“I saw that they were two people that had made awesome movies relatively inexpensively and they both happened to live in my neighborhood when I lived in Brooklyn, and so I asked them to help me produce the movie,” says Shaw.
The producers suggested for the lead role Jason Schwartzman, who Shaw had met years ago and stayed in touch with. Shaw also had met Lena Dunham at the Sundance labs and Martin had produced her feature film Tiny Furniture. With those names attached, and a chunk of the movie to show, the rest of the cast filled out with the likes of Maya Rudolph, Reggie Watts and Susan Sarandon as the unforgettable Lunch Lady Lorraine.
Once the voices were recorded, the animation was adjusted to accommodate the actors’ performances. “The drawings were done, but they would be changed to match what the actor came up with,” Shaw says.
The film was full of new experiences for Shaw, who says he’s enjoyed the process of collaborating with actors, producers and an editor, and to see his movie play on the big screen.
“It was rad and I want to do it again,” he says. [
IBlue-Zoo unites ambitious CG animation with broad appeal for kids in its stylish hit Nick Jr. preschool series By Karen Yossman.
n an era defined by remakes and adaptations, getting an original series commissioned is no easy feat, even one with a target demographic of ages 4 to 6. Which is why when British animation studio Blue-Zoo first pitched Nickelodeon’s London office with Digby Dragon, a preschool show about an anthropomorphic Scottish fire-breather and his coterie of fantastical friends, they made sure to emphasize the series’ blend of visual innovation coupled with old-school British charm to get the green light.
“It felt like a real heritage project,” Blue-Zoo co-founder Oli Hyatt says of the show, which was conceived by author and illustrator Sally Hunter, best known for the children’s book Humphrey’s Corner. Hunter first approached Blue-Zoo in 2012 with a sketchbook full of ideas for Digby, although the timing was less than ideal since the studio had recently decided to focus only on intellectual property developed in-house. But, Hyatt recalls, he soon “fell so in love with the character” he agreed to take on the show anyway.
Nickelodeon was equally smitten and quickly snapped up Digby for the network’s preschool channel Nick Jr., on which it also airs in the United States. “We were immediately taken by Digby Dragon’s art style and, most importantly, the heart at the center of the series,” says Alison Bakunowich, GM of Nickelodeon U.K. & Ireland. “Digby Dragon is a strong British property with lots of opportunity to develop across platforms and into consumer products.”
Hyatt agrees that a large part of the show’s appeal is down to its “unapologetic” Britishness. Digby is set in Applecross Wood, a real location in Scotland where Hunter used to spend vacations with her grandparents, and, with an ensemble cast that includes characters such as Fizzy the Fairy and Grumpy Goblin, evokes classic children’s stories such as Winnie the Pooh.
In fact, that tubby little cubby, who last year celebrated his 90th anniversary, was very much an inspiration for the show during the development process. “We wanted to have a brand that had longevity,” Hyatt says, revealing that his goal for Digby was to produce “really high-quality animation and make something that felt like it wouldn’t date that easily.” Quality Isn’t Cheap However, high-quality animation means higher production costs. To make the show financially viable, it had to have as broad an appeal as possible, which is why a decision was
biggest writing challenge for Adam, the simple fact that the people don’t have easy access to telephones.
Animag: Well you mentioned that you think this is one of the best-looking seasons, can you talk a little bit about getting the look of 1947 L.A. right?
Thompson: We really went back and did a lot of research, specifically film noir stuff, things like The Maltese Falcon. We actually hired a costume designer for this season, which we hadn’t done in seasons past. We’ve had people on staff serve as our costume designers on seasons past, but this season we want it to be so accurate with the clothing that people were wearing that we hired a costume designer who had worked on the short lived series Mob City.
But I think that the largest thing adding to the different look for the season is the lighting, the special attention that our staff had to take in the compositing of all these scenes. If you look at any of those scenes from The Maltese Falcon and all of that film noir stuff, it’s the way that the light comes through the blinds, it’s the way light shines through. And because a lot of these things are black and white, they’re using heavy contrast, and we really tried to pay a great deal of attention to how things were being lit.
Animag: How did making those changes affect your pipeline? Was this a tougher sea- son to animate?
Thompson: It’s slowed it down greatly. We call our background characters that really have nothing to do with the scene “drones,” and all of our drones have been built up over six or seven seasons of the show so we could pop people in the background. But now all those drones had to have new clothes, and that meant that our illustration department really had to draw much, much, much more heavily than in seasons past.
Animag: You have a complete season here and a couple of more seasons ordered up after this one. Do you have a plan for what you’re going to do to top this?
Thompson: We do. We definitely have a plan, but I’m not wanting to talk about it yet. But I will say that the ending to the season is very dramatic. And the final episode of this season is astounding. Big, big things happen at the end of it. It feels almost overwhelming. [