How to Produce and Distribute Your First Animated Feature (At Any Cost)
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 at www.funnyboneanimation.com.
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.”