Producer Traci Balthazor-Flynn Talks Planes
DS: With so many big budget animated and live-action/vfx driven films bombing at the box office this year, do you think the anticipated success of Planes, a much lower budget animated feature, will pave the way for more less expensive animated features hitting the theatres in the future?
TBF: No, not necessarily. I think films are always going to run the gamut of lower budget to higher budget. A lot of that is based on how they are being made, the technology needed to make them, how long they are in story development and how long the production process takes. There are so many factors, it’s probably hard to nail that down to one distinct answer. I don’t know how many more films are going to $200 million, but my guess is there will always still be a pretty wide variance. That’s just my gut.
DS: And from a strategic standpoint with regards to DTS going theatrical with Planes, how is that going to impact the development slate for sequels and other new films you may produce?
TBF: I don't know if that’s going to impact the slate so much. One of the beneficial aspects of us going theatrical is that there are so many talented artists that work at DisneyToon studios that are now going to be recognized a little bit more. The studio name will be recognized more. It will continue to help us attract great talent. I don’t think it’s necessarily going to change our slate or how we make films but I think it will help us continue to retain the great talent we have and attract additional talent to the studio. We’re really competitive filmmakers. Every movie, regardless of distribution, whether it’s DVD or theatrical, every movie that comes out, we want it to be better than the last. And as filmmakers, we push each other and we try and build on that. So I think coming out of the gate with Planes, we’re setting a certain bar. And I think every film after that, we’ll just try and push that bar even higher. It’s not because of the way it’s coming out. It’s just what we do as filmmakers. That’s part of our process.
DS: We discussed technology a bit in the roundtable. Making films like Planes involves a tremendous amount of technology. Do you think that sometimes technology gets in the way and can actually hinder the creative process?
TBF: That’s an interesting question. No, I don't know if it’s the reliance on technology that gets in the way. But sometimes, our desire to have technology do more than we’re actually able to do with our resources at that given time, that can be challenging. Sometimes we just can’t quite get something to look right and we have to come up with different creative decisions to make it work for the film. But I don't know that it’s technology that gets in the way. Our technology is definitely one of the partners in making the film. All the creative and technological parts have to come together to make things work. But I don’t know that they ever gets in the way per se.
DS: Do you get to piggyback off any of the pipeline or the technological advances made at Disney Feature Animation or Pixar? Or, do you guys pretty much operate with your own technical resource base?
TBF: We pretty much operate with our own technical resource base. One of the major differences between us, Walt Disney Animation and Pixar is we have three very different pipelines. The two other studios have much more proprietary pipelines. Our studio operates a little bit differently where we use off-the-shelf first, and build from there. So our pipeline is probably something people could access more readily than the pipelines at Pixar or Disney. It doesn’t make it less complex, it’s just different. We haven’t written any proprietary animation programs or proprietary rendering systems. Pretty much everything we use you can buy off-the-shelf.
DS: Last question. As the film’s producer, you make 50,000 decisions and take on 100 different jobs. Is there any one thing you do that gives you the most personal sense of satisfaction?
TBF: I think it’s working with all the wonderful people. Everybody is just so different and comes from all parts of the world, with such varied backgrounds and creative styles. Just getting to know all the different people is probably the coolest thing about my job. I think a close second is watching my sons laugh when they see something on the screen that I produced. My older son is obsessed with cow tipping. The fact that we have tractor tipping in our film brings joy to me from the simple fact that I know he will be extremely excited when he sees it.
Dan Sarto is editor-in-chief and publisher of Animation World Network.