The director of Let's Pollute talks about combining entertainment with an environmental message.
Veteran Pixar and Disney animator Geefwee Boedoe got the urge several years ago to make an indie animated short, Let's Pollute, a satiric throwback to '50s and '60s educational films that connects consumer habits with corporate strategies, and teaches us "how to be better polluters for a better blighted tomorrow." It took Boedoe about four years to complete his short, with some help along with way from a few pals, including fellow Oscar nominee Teddy Newton (Day & Night), Tim Crawfurd and Torbin Xan Bullock of Pixar and Christopher Barnett of Skywalker. Boedoe explains how he channeled his frustrations and creativity for Let's Pollute.
Bill Desowitz: How did this come about?
Geefwee Boedoe: For me, I guess I wanted to do a personal short film for quite a while. At the same time, there's a part of me that wanted to get more active in social, environmental and political causes. So somewhere all these thoughts percolated in my head and around 2005 it started jelling. I thought I could merge this idea of taking a short personal animated film but having a social, environmental message. But I wasn't sure how to bring those together. Then, as I began playing around with it, around the spring of 2006, I hit upon this idea of doing it through the eyes of '50s educational films. It's certainly not trying to be a literal '50s film: the subject matter is very current. But, to me, to make these unpleasant subjects more accessible to a larger audience, it all started falling together really nicely. It just seemed funny and entertaining, and, at the same time, had a solid message as well. And that was the trick in developing it. In some ways, I always felt like I was on a balance beam or walking a tight rope.
BD: What were the big challenges for you?
GB: Probably the biggest challenges came from the fact that I had no funding. I was convinced that this was the thing to do. It was a film that no studio would want to touch, so I figured I was going to make it on my own. And so the biggest hurdle was committing because it was going to be a lot of work and a big chunk of time. Then it was just a matter of keeping my steam up because for the first two-and-a-half years I worked on it solo. And then, finally, when I luckily hooked up with some industry people to help out during post-production I didn't do this in a bubble, of course, so I would periodically show my story reels and get some good input.
BD: What was the process like along the way?
GB: For me, I would just go back and forth between writing and drawing and then working on the story reels. I kept the storyboards pretty minimal and loose because I knew it was more for me, so I actually didn't put a whole lot of polish in my story reel. And then I did layout and most of my working, coming from a hand-drawn background, all the line work is like a black lithographic crayon on paper. And then I would scan that into the computer and do the coloring in Photoshop and then I would take that and put it into After Affects to do the final tweaking. But along the way, for some of the backgrounds, the line work was all paper and pencil. But I did create a lot of physical textures, like with India ink on sheets of plastic, which created gritty textures. Then I would take those textures from the physical world, scan those in and do any kind of tinting or coloring in the computer. And I also scanned in some cloth. There's this one history section, which goes back to olden days, so I wanted to create an Americana, folk with quilt kind of patterns that keep it a little more pristine and then when we go into the modern day, it gets more gritty and textural.
BD: What were your stylistic influences?
GB: My style is reminiscent of some of the higher-end films of that era: the UPA films and early Hubley, even something like Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom. So I pulled from a lot of those influences.
BD: What about your narrator, Jim Thornton?
GB: He's a radio, news, voice over guy. And I'd have to say he was a real find. He hit that classic era narration and it really helped sell the tone. A really nice, positive, enthusiastic outlook while everything in the film has a dismal undercurrent. To me the film was all about contrasts: I wanted to make the characters cute and appeal but at the same time have these gritty textures, trying to play that up.
BD: And how did you come across the music of Roger Roger?
GB: Another thing that spurred me along the way was Roger Roger, the French composer. I would listen to his music on CD when I was writing and storyboarding, and there was this contrast, like with the narrator, dealing with the subject and then hearing that music, which was a great lift for the entertainment value of it. And then I ended up using almost all of his music in the film. I was able to track down the original recordings and that was a little tricky, trying to work with pre-recorded music and trying not to edit the music too much, but at the same time making it work for the film. It was an interesting mix.
BD: What are you proudest of?
GB: I'm not sure. To me, I'm pretty happy with the way it's all come about and the biggest, most positive thing about getting the Oscar nomination is that now the film will actually get seen. I had no distribution or studio funding to push it out into the world, so it took me a year of sending it out to film festivals and barely moving along. So it was a long process and this is my first independent venture and it's been quite a process. But now, the Oscar nomination has opened up doors suddenly and this is all terrific. It feels like finally the message is getting out.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.