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A Chat With Don Bluth And Gary Goldman (Part I)

Larry Lauria starts his two-part series with a conversation with Gary Goldman, co-director of Fox Feature Animations summer release Titan, A.E. and industry veteran.

Don Bluth. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

Don Bluth. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

I first met Don Bluth on May 1, 1981, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. He was giving a presentation at the American Film Institute about his latest picture Secret of NIMH. Don had just returned from the United Kingdom where the London Philharmonic had recorded music for the film. What Don showed that day was little more than a progression reel with some scenes in color, some in pencil test and still others in storyboard form. During his talk he referred to some of the up and coming young animators as "hot shots from Art Center." Having graduated from Art Center only a couple of years before, I took the opportunity to introduce myself as "one of those hotshots..." We exchanged pleasantries and he was gone.

Fast forward to circa 1989. I was president of Washington, DC's ASIFA chapter, and we happened to be hosting Don Bluth at a local animation gallery. It was a great night. About 300 people showed up to view and buy artwork from his films and have their pictures snapped with Don. I was one of them!

Goldman. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

Goldman. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

Fast forward again to 1991 -- Dublin, Ireland. At that time, the Sullivan/Bluth Studios were supporting the classical animation program at Senior College, Ballyfermot. I had just come on board as Coordinator/Animation Instructor for the course. My first official meeting was with Don Bluth and Gary Goldman; and Gary, as things turned out, was our program/studio liaison throughout my entire 4 years with the college...and a good time was had by all!

As I glance back over the years, I like to think that Don and Gary began what I term their "great experiment" when they chose to leave Disney Feature. They have continued to create "outside the system." To date, they have directed 12 animated feature films -- far more than any other animation team.

Recently, we had a chat about their upcoming feature film from Fox Feature Animation, Titan, A.E., which will be released June 16th...

Gelatinous villains seek out fresh prey. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

Gelatinous villains seek out fresh prey. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

Larry Lauria: Gary, can you tell me about the "look" of Titan, A.E.?

Gary Goldman: The look is similar to a graphic novel or dark comic book. The opening is softer pastel colors, almost pastoral. The computer graphic imagery [CGI] and animation are some of our best, ever. The CGI work is in about 80% of the film....in 3-D backgrounds, spaceships and the villains. The villains have a gelatin or glass-filled look.

LL: As compared with other Don Bluth/Gary Goldman films -- what would you say is different, visually, about Titan... other than the computer work and the pallets?

An intimate moment occurs in the blue shadows of night. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

An intimate moment occurs in the blue shadows of night. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

GG: Our style. It's probably darker with a lot more dark silhouettes used in the backgrounds. All of the detail is there...it's just a different look. The animation is comparable to Anastasia because the characters are human. We use a lot of live-action reference. And there are aliens -- some have live-action reference, some don't. You won't be able to tell -- it looks so good. We didn't use a lot of holds in the animation. It's a very fast-paced film. We have a key group of animators who are very good. The film is 91 minutes long plus 8 minutes of credits. I'm real pleased with it -- especially with the pacing of it. And I'm pleased with the audience test results. The fact is, it was made for young adults -- a young male audience, specifically. But the recent test screenings showed the appreciation levels were as high for females as for males in the young adult group. I'm not sure what to attribute that to other than some edits and some relationships within the story.

LL: What were some of the challenges on the film?

GG: I think the biggest challenge was the limited time on the picture. We had only 19 months to complete the whole thing. People who have seen the picture -- even the color timer at Disney -- have said that they can't believe that it was done in such a short time.

LL: What were the most challenging aspects, artistically?

GG: Well, originally we started out planning for about 40% CGI. With the time constraints and budget, there was just no way we were going to have a lot of CGI. But we ended up with far more CGI than we've had on any other film -- about 87% of the film is some form of CGI.

LL: Was that something that happened throughout production?

GG: They [Fox] just wanted more and more CGI as we went along. We actually contracted out to POVDE, which is David Paul Dozoretz's group that does George Lucas' animatics for him. They animated all of the Ice Crystal sequence from Don's storyboards. We used Blue Sky Studios for the creation of The New World sequence. Our guys here, twelve of them, did everything else.

LL: From what I hear, you all weren't originally slated to direct Titan... when you were put on this picture you were developing something else at the time...Is that right?

GG: No, we had just finished Bartok [The Magnificent]. They didn't have a picture for us at the time.

LL: But I thought you were in development on something else.

GG: Titan, A.E. originally, was a live-action movie, and [Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairman and CEO] Bill Mechanic thought it might be good in CGI. So, we took a look at it, and the only thing we could think was...it was really science fiction...probably like something Moebius did...Most of the people who have looked at this, internationally, have asked the question: 'Have you been influenced by anime?' and we weren't. I take that as a compliment because anime has become quite popular. I think they feel that the color, style, the look, the pacing, the subject matter, all feel like anime. It just kind of evolved. Originally, two other directors had started the project. Pre-production was completed, but Don and the folks in animation re-designed a lot of the film.

LL: The movie has a PG rating?

GG: Yes, they are targeting young adult males, 12-17 years old. The accompanying music is rock 'n roll.

Titan A.E. launches on a mission to outer space. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

Titan A.E. launches on a mission to outer space. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

LL: Compared to films you've worked on in the past, Titan is "edgier?"

GG: I'd say it's not a 'mother friendly' movie. Although we haven't left the mothers and children out. There is some swearing, some sexual innuendo, it's intense...there's a lot of violence. I don't think anybody under 8 years old should see this film.

LL: What is happening in the studio now that Titan is finished? What about the lay-offs?

GG: We've got four projects in pre-production and Fox is trying to decide which ones go forward. There have been a lot of lay-offs because the next project was not developed. The same circumstances occurred after Anastasia. Don came up with Bartok the Magnificent and they let us do it. It kept the studio alive for fourteen months until Titan came along.

An explosive budget! © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

An explosive budget! © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

LL: What was the budget on Titan A.E.?

GG: It was $55 million.

LL: I heard you were doing something with Space Ace -- is that true?

GG: No, it's Dragon's Lair. We have been waiting to do something with it for over ten years. We made it part of our presentation to Fox. The four productions in development have over 70 people contributing to them at various stages. Don has been overseeing development while I've been finishing Titan.

LL: At this point, where do you see Gary Goldman going?

GG: Eh, I don't know! I think I have achieved our goal. I would say that I want to hang in here for the next couple of pictures to help train people to do what we do. There's a lot of information, a lot of things people need to learn.

LL: Is there anything you would like to do that you haven't done?

GG: I would really like to do Dragon's Lair. Derk is a funny character and he has an attitude and personality that we established in the video games. It's still one of the most popular video games -- ever -- on the "all time" list.

LL: What do you think of the criticisms you have received for your stories and films, or for the fact that you and Don left Disney?

"Its all about having the passion to learn and daring to take on any challenge!" ã 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

GG: Well, if they want to try it -- try to carry 400 people on their backs; go out and raise the rent for a studio, and get talent... in 15 years of being independent...let them try it and then ask questions. You know, we've only had two down times...one in '84 and another in '91.

LL: How does Gary Goldman after 28 years keep his passion for what he's doing?

GG: I think it's the people. The crew has passion. They really want to make it work. They really want to learn more...that teaches me. My whole goal, besides trying to get more production value back into animation, was really to provide an environment like there was at Disney at one time, where you felt secure as an artist, filmmaker, contributor, animator. You could plan your life, have a place to raise your family, have a home and not worry about living like a gypsy. Personally, I can say I've been in the business for 28 years and have never been unemployed...though sometimes not paid. We've done our best to try to take care of our people. We've done our best to try to make good stories. How many people have gone out and hired sometimes over 500 people and come up with over $450,000 a week in salaries and still tried to create a quality product? It's not an easy thing to do...but it gives a great feeling of accomplishment.

LL: Gary, it's been great. Thanks for taking the time to chat. All the best with Titan.

Next month we will feature Part II, which will be with Don Bluth.

Larry Lauria is an animator/educator with 25 years in the industry. When not working on his current millennium animation project, 2KJ, Larry keeps himself busy working as a freelance animator and classical animation instructor. He can also be found designing animation curricula, or traveling around the world giving animation workshops and master classes. His Web site "The Toon Institute" is part of the AWN family.

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