The Fantastic Flying Animated Adventure of William Joyce
William Joyce and Brandon Oldenberg are obviously onto something special with their award-winning short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It creatively coalesces low and high-tech in a silent ode to the curative power of reading, telling the story of a Keatonesque book lover displaced by a twister and hurled into an alternate world ruled by books.
The maiden project of their Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana, The Fantastic Flying Books utilizes nearly every animated technique: CG for the protagonist and anything that moved; 2D for Humpty Dumpty like a flip book; miniatures for the library coupled with stop-motion camera moves; matte paintings on top of miniature environments when they're still; and practical shots of dust and debris. There's even a Zoetrope effect. They used Maya, Nuke, boujou, and Photoshop.
They wanted a tactile look so they also created their own miniature sets (principally the library topped off with matte paintings and filled with thousands of books that were rapid prototyped as brick models), and shot live-action elements for dust and debris.
Joyce, who has two adaptations coming to the big screen: Rise of the Guardians from DreamWorks in 2012 and Leaf Men from Blue Sky in 2013, said the idea sprang eight years ago on a flight to New York to visit his dying mentor, Bill Morris, a children's book advocate at HarperCollins. Morris was one of the last of the grand old gentlemen of old publishing. "I wrote this funny, little parable on lined notebook paper and by the time I landed, I pretty much had done it, and I read it to him in our last visit and he seemed very pleased," adds Joyce.
The love of books certainly shines through in this Oz-like phantasmagoria (fittingly composed in both color and black-and-white) along with the sense of displacement and hopelessness from Hurricane Katrina, which also impacted Joyce.
He got a grant to chronicle the aftermath, in which 45,000 were displaced in Shreveport. After taking photos of people in shelters and getting them to describe their experiences and hopelessness, the mere act of telling their stories brought a light to their faces. "But there were organizations that brought books for them to read and that was great for the kids, who were surrounded by strangers yet completely absorbed in their books," Joyce recalls, emphasizing the power of printed media.