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'Open Season' Diary: Intro to Sony Pictures Animation

In the first of a series of production diaries, Sony Pictures Animation describes the establishing of its division and first 3D-animated feature, Open Season.

Boog and Elliot are ready for the spotlight in Sony Pictures Animations first 3D feature. All images © Sony Pictures Ent.

Boog and Elliot are ready for the spotlight in Sony Pictures Animations first 3D feature. All images © Sony Pictures Ent.

From the AWN/VFXWorld Exclusive Open Season Diaries.

Open Season, the first completely computer-generated motion picture to be created by Sony Pictures Animation (SPA), opening Sept. 29, is the culmination of a decade-long journey for many of its creators. Firm in the belief that animation is a wonderful and powerful way to tell original stories, and clear that each movie can be made in a distinctive style true to its story and characters, the journey began when Sony Pictures Imageworks made a commitment to build its character animation capabilities, first proven on Stuart Little and refined ever since. The staff at Imageworks created every frame of Open Season, from rough model through animation to final composite. Creative vision came from the minds at SPA, a new production unit to Sony Pictures Digital Ent.

The work done on the original Spider-Man (top) and then on The ChubbChubbs were technical precursors to Open Season. 

The work done on the original Spider-Man (top) and then on The ChubbChubbs were technical precursors to Open Season. 

Open Season, is an animated action-adventure comedy in which Boog (Martin Lawrence), a grizzly bear with no survival skills, has his perfect world in the tranquil town of Timberline turned upside-down when he meets Elliot (Ashton Kutcher), a scrawny, fast-talking wild mule deer. When Elliot convinces Boog to desert his idyllic existence with his beloved Park Ranger Beth (Debra Messing), who raised him since he was a cub, and try the wild life, things quickly spiral out of control. With open season upon them, and the hunters arriving in force, Elliot must help Boog get in touch with his inner grizzly to unite the woodland creatures and take the forest back!

Open Season is based on the humor of cartoonist Steve Moore (In the Bleachers), who, along with John Carls, serves as exec producer. The film is directed by Roger Allers (The Lion King) and Jill Culton (Monsters, Inc., Toy Story 2). The co-director is Anthony Stacchi (Antz). The producer is Michelle Murdocca (Stuart Little, Stuart Little 2). Legendary singer-songwriter Paul Westerberg is creating original songs and score. The CG animation is by Imageworks.

The film was an exciting opportunity to explore the exaggerated 2D animation and the super-stylized environments of mid-century Warner Bros., Disney and Tex Avery shorts, as honored and respected two-dimensional design came together with three-dimensional expertise.

Over the next several days, we will take you through the creative process in the making of Open Season.

The idea from the very beginning was a belief that we are working in an age of blended cinema. This was the topic of a presentation made at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last year in which a panel of distinguished professionals charted a course through the history of film, demonstrating how far the art and craft of visual effects and animation have traveled.

SPA evps Sandra Rabins (clockwise from top left) and Penney Finkelman Cox; Yair Landau, president of Sony Pictures Digital Ent.; and Tim Sarnoff, Imageworks president, wanted the foundation of Sony Pictures Animation to stand on great tales.

SPA evps Sandra Rabins (clockwise from top left) and Penney Finkelman Cox; Yair Landau, president of Sony Pictures Digital Ent.; and Tim Sarnoff, Imageworks president, wanted the foundation of Sony Pictures Animation to stand on great tales.

The belief that many of the techniques of visual effects production now apply to animation and many of the techniques of animation apply in visual effects is one of the cornerstones of the production environment at both Imageworks and SPA. Working together advances the artistic integrity and visual sensibility of all our work, sharing knowledge, talent and skill. This was central to the vision of Yair Landau, president of Sony Pictures Digital Ent., who leads both Imageworks and Animation.

Preparing the production environment for this union was ultimately an evolutionary process. Many of the pieces were already part of the natural order and were, in fact, part of the objective set forth by Tim Sarnoff (Imageworks president), Jenny Fulle (evp of production and exec producer at Imageworks) and Barry Weiss (svp of animation production at Imageworks) when they put The ChubbChubbs into production.

With the formation of SPA, evps Sandra Rabins and Penney Finkelman Cox were able to identify their wish lists and requirements. Foremost among them was the need to build the entire creative front-end necessary for animation production.

Simultaneous to this, the creative team embarked on the discovery of ideas for stories. As soon as Animation hung its shingle on the door, writers and artists recognized that SPA simply wanted to produce outstanding animated movies was completely open to original ideas and fresh voices. They were convinced that SPA should have no specific company style other than one that allowed each project to be defined by its own creative vision.

Behind the scenes, as the creative vision began to crystallize, infrastructure and staffing requirements were manifest and addressed.

Beginning with the next installment, well cover some of the production highlights as we set up our pipeline, created the story, designed the picture, set up the characters, produced the animation, colored, lit, clothed, furred and rendered a movie we are very proud to call the first from Sony Pictures Animation.

Various artists at Sony Pictures Animation, who worked on Open Season, have contributed to the writing of this series of production diaries on the making of the film.

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