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ILM’s Valentine’s Gift — A Night at Skywalker Ranch

As we drove up to Skywalker Ranch, the excitement was clearly growing in the packed van. After watching the Skywalker Sound reel and some animation clips in the impressive Stag Theatre, we met with Randy Thom, who is nominated for his sound work on Ratatouille.

The group poses for a pic at Skywalker Sound. © 2008 AWN Inc.

The group poses for a pic at Skywalker Sound. © 2008 AWN Inc.

At the beginning of our long ride to Skywalker Ranch, Marcy learned that the Oscar nominated shorts were written up in an extensive article in The New York Times. The piece was in conjunction with Magnolia’s theatrical release of the Oscar shorts in theaters. Josh said that Magnolia have been awesome, stating that they were willing to take the legal liability if rights issues were not worked out with the Lennon estate. In the future, Josh and James hope to turn their film into a book that goes into more detail about how Jerry Levitan made the Lennon recordings. Their idea is to make intricate handmade books that feature a DVD of the film. Hugh shared the advertising he had printed for the feature film he produced called Free Jimmy, which has been making the festival circuit and chronicles the adventures of a circus elephant that has heroin sown into its stomach. With Skywalker Ranch on everyone’s mind, the conversation turned to the animated Star Wars: Clone Wars, which it was just announced will be coming to theaters as a feature first before arriving on Cartoon Network in the fall. Chris coined the phrase inter-quel to describe it. Along the way, Hugh had us introduce ourselves for a video diary he is doing for Channel 5 in the U.K., which airs on Friday. So if you’re in England, set your TiVos, we want copies.

As we drove up to Skywalker Ranch, the excitement was clearly growing in the packed van. After watching the Skywalker Sound reel and some animation clips in the impressive Stag Theatre, we met with Randy Thom, who is nominated for his sound work on Ratatouille. He said that Brad Bird likes to experiment with sound before animation is even begun and one sound issue they needed to work out was how much would they use the rats’ real rat voices. As the final film shows, they decided that lesser is better. The voices were actually created by speeding up the actors’ voices. Randy said that for most productions 25-35% of the sound is recorded new and that the rest is taken from their vast library and manipulated to create something unique for the particular project.

Maciek listens to his voice bounce off the sound reflectors in the Skywalker Sound recording stage. © 2008 AWN Inc.

Maciek listens to his voice bounce off the sound reflectors in the Skywalker Sound recording stage. © 2008 AWN Inc.

Next we ventured over to the massive recording stage, where everything from orchestras to bands like Rancid have recorded. Panels on the walls and mathematically calibrated wood buffers allow the sound artists to manipulate the recording space to their liking. Currently Iron Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are mixing at the facility and security is tight. So when we headed to the Foley stage, we were not able to see the artists at work, but were able to look around at the vast collection of objects used to create film soundtracks.

Marcy shows off her lavish accommodations in the Lillian Gish room. © 2008 AWN Inc.

Marcy shows off her lavish accommodations in the Lillian Gish room. © 2008 AWN Inc.

After we all settled into our fabulous rooms (Ron’s features its own kitchen and breakfast nook), we all piled back into the van and headed to diner. Chris said he had checked out this blog and was surprised with the detail. Hopefully that doesn’t put a chilling effect on what people say. This is a rare event and I feel it warrants thorough coverage, because so rarely do animators get such a chance to be in the spotlight. Josh said at dinner that it’s hard to keep a realistic perspective that not every film he makes will lead to flying all over the world “getting high fives for your film.” Talk about getting high fives, James later said that Leonard Cohen loved their film.

Not quite romantic, but it is a Valentine's Day dinner. © 2008 AWN Inc.

Not quite romantic, but it is a Valentine's Day dinner. © 2008 AWN Inc.

A great deal of the dinner conversation centered on film. Josh and I discussed the visual effects nominees and our love for Spider-Man 2, as the best comic book adaptation. Maciek described a Guy Madden short called Sissy Boy Slap Party that I need to see ASAP. Additionally, he believes David Lynch’s Inland Empire is a masterpiece that should make all filmmakers reconsider where film should be going in the future.

Maciek also proudly proclaimed that he does not have a cell phone or a credit card. Josh responded by asking whether he was on Facebook. It’s that find of report that fills the interactions between the Madame Tutli-Putli and I Met the Walrus filmmakers, built from the experience of traveling around on the Animation Show of Shows tour earlier in the year.

Suzie mentioned that Rosto and she will be teaching an animation workshop together. Before becoming an animator, Suzie ran a co-op café in South Hampton. Hugh said after graduating from school he had jobs selling fish and hardwood flooring. For Peter and the Wolf, Hugh explained that they tried to work 14-hour days, but it was too tiring for the animators, so they went back to 12-hour shifts on a 24-hour cycle.

Though all the filmmakers (except for Sam who has Lucie along) have been away from their loved ones on Valentine’s Day, this is probably a Hallmark holiday dinner that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.