A Long Day Rewarded With A Night at Skywalker Ranch
|Don Hahn (l to r), Roger Allers, Ron Diamond, Mike Thurmeier and Marcy Page talking about their films at PDI/DreamWorks. © AWN Inc.|
Thursday was an absolute whirlwind day on the tour. I couldn’t possibly write everything interesting that was said during the course of the day. So I’m going to set out to recap the day in full, but tease you with details to come later.
Roger Allers and Don Hahn meet the rest of us at our hotel and we ventured right down the street to EA. Boy, that seems like days ago and not just this morning. Our host Bob Nicoll showed us the immense campus, which has pool tables and videogame systems set up in a common area for the employees to use. A Starbucks is even opening up in the building so that the employees don’t have to leave to get their caffeine fix in the morning. During crunch times, the studio brings in oil change services, masseurs and dry cleaners to help the employees balance their personal lives with their busy schedules.
|The group poses in front of EA artists' personal work. Roger (l to r), Don, Marcy, Bob Nicoll, Mike & Ron. © AWN Inc.|
The screening went over well with many of the questions centering on what inspired the stories and distribution channels, which were common questions throughout the day. Marcy Page, who produced The Danish Poet, commented that the short wasn’t based specifically on the story of how director Torill Kove’s parents meet, but from a tale her father told her about how a collection of choices can profoundly affect the direction of one’s life. As the EA employees were leaving to go back to work, I overheard many of them talking about how moving Little Matchgirl was for them. Roger said during the day that he found that men with daughters seemed to be the most moved by the short. Strangely, the EA staff was more interested in the 2D films, asking Marcy about the difficulties co-producing the film of Canada and Norway. She said for this film, because Torill did most of the work herself and Torill’s husband did the music, it made the collaboration much easier.
After the screening the nominees received a nice gift bag with games and various other shwag as well as a chance to tour The Sims floor where many of the animators were hard at work in their cubicles, decorated with unique individual personality. But the tour had to be short due to the tight schedule of jetting over to PDI/DreamWorks next.
|The nominees listen to all the wonderful details of the PDI/DreamWorks. © AWN Inc.|
At PDI/DreamWorks, we were treated to some artwork from the past productions like Shrek 2 and Madagascar as well as some of the upcoming projects Shrek the Third, Kung-Fu Panda, Creature Feature and How to Train Your Dragon. But the big highlight of the tour was the chance to see the legendary conference room, which Jeffery Katzenberg had special designed for the studio and then sold the conferencing system to HP. The room is set up where an entire wall is a screen that is linked to the Los Angeles conference room, which is designed exactly the same way, giving the impression that you’re in the same room sitting across a conference table from the people in the studio at the other end of California. All the nominees want one now. Apparently, animators who use to roll in at about 10 or 10:30 are coming into work at 7 am just to get a timeslot in the coveted, high-tech conference room.
|Beauty and the Beast director Gary Trousdale catches up with Roger Allers after the screening. © AWN Inc.|
The crowd at the DreamWorks screening was more reserved than the one at EA, however many of the questions were relatively the same. Check back for follow-up entries to find out in more detail about what was asked and more so what was said by the nominees. After the screening, PDI/DreamWorks treated us to lunch from their commissary, which is free to all the employees at the studio. During the tour earlier, Roger and Don were ecstatic to run into Beauty and the Beast director Gary Trousdale in the hall. Gary took time out of his schedule, working on the TV special Shrek the Halls, to come to the screening as well as join us for lunch. He seemed very happy to have the chance to catch up with Don and Roger. Throughout the day, many of the nominees had chances to catch up with old colleagues and friends at the various venues.
After PDI/DreamWorks, we had a few hours to spare before heading over to ILM. So we hit some of the sights in San Fran. For Mike Thurmeier, it was his first time in San Francisco. The trip from PDI/DreamWorks to downtown San Fran allowed time for plenty of interesting conversation. Some of the wonderful topics (which I will go into in greater detail in future posts) included the reemergence of 3-D, Don’s idea for a third Fantasia, watching films in the theater vs. at home, the secret to how the 2D equipment was saved at Disney and what it was like living in San Francisco in 1969. It was simply wonderful sitting back and listening to the filmmakers talk about other animators that inspired them and the work they admire. But I could fill volumes so I’ll save the nice details for later. How’s that for a cliffhanger?
|The nominees relax with a cup of joe. © AWN Inc.|
After riding the trolley to Fisherman’s Warf, which was the first time for both Mike and Don, we went down to the beach along the bay, where we joked that we wouldn’t strip down bare and go for a swim like Aleksandr Petrov did when he was on the Oscar tour in 2000 for The Old Man and the Sea. After taking a spin by the Ghirardelli store, so everyone could buy sweets for their sweethearts, we walked along the Warf area looking for something hot to drink, settling on the very L.A. choice of Starbucks. Again, it was just fascinating to listen to the nominees chat about which festivals they like and don’t like as well as how they got to the place they are today.
Then sad news came. Marcy received a phone call from Ryan director Chris Landreth, telling her that legendary animator Ryan Larkin had passed away from brain cancer. Marcy, who produced Ryan and was very close with the director, was very shaken by the disturbing news. When it was time to head over to ILM, we all stood at the corner of Jones and Jefferson. As we waited, I saw Marcy put some money in the cup of a scruffy homeless man sitting near by and thought to myself – what a fitting and poignant tribute to Ryan Larkin.
|Don Hahn admires the detail of the models from Galaxy Quest. © AWN Inc.|
We arrived at ILM later than planned and we were unable to take the tour before the screening so the filmmakers opted to tour the studio while the films were playing. And as I predicted Roger is already tired of seeing his film. However, there are roughly nine more screenings to go before the end of next week. Kate Shaw, the head of training at Lucasfilm, was a wonderful host and valiantly protected us from an overeager security guard who sprung to the scene drawn to the flashes of our cameras. Seeing the many props from the films ILM worked on, which included Lemony Snicket, Galaxy Quest, a scraped Frankenstein animated feature at Universal and a little film called Star Wars, was a great treat. One of the actually R2-D2 units was a very popular photo spot once again on the Oscar tour.
Slipping in right at the end of the screening, the nominees were bombarded with the most questions due to ILM’s invite of ASIFA-San Fran members to the screening and Q&A. Afterwards, ILM treated us to dinner at a restaurant across the street where we met up with head of Lucasfilm Animation Catherine Winder, ILM animator Steve Rowlins and the new producer on the Clone Wars TV series Athena Portillo. The dinner was another great opportunity to listen in on various stories about the filmmakers work. Athena, who is a big Disney fan, was thrilled to hear about Disneyland’s secret Club 33 overtop the Pirates of the Caribbean ride from Don. Likewise, everyone in my general seating area was thrilled to hear Steve’s tales of working on the Harry Potter films. He candidly spoke about which directors understood animation and which ones didn’t. And I have taken an oath of secrecy to not divulge the answers. If you’re curious if I was able to find out anything about Clone Wars, I must report that I was unsuccessful to even get a hint from either Catherine or Athena. The company secrets are truly safe with them. In future posts you can look forward to the filmmakers thoughts on motion capture, the difficulty of continuity on the Star Wars projects and what recent films the animators didn’t like and what upcoming films everyone is looking forward to.
After the wonderful dinner, it was around 11 pm and the nominees, Ron and I hopped into our van for the long trip to Skywalker Ranch. The fog had set in on the winding country roads. The conversation along the way had turned from the business to more personal tales. Marcy talked of an experience when she was younger taking her film to screen at San Quentin prison. The sensation of the doors locking behind her made her wonder if bringing her slightly erotic film to screen for convicted rapists and murders was a wise decision. However, the inmates turned out to be polite and generally engaged in what Marcy had to show.
As we arrived at the gate to the Ranch, the tired assembly in the van seemed to get a burst of energy. A firewoman at the Ranch’s private fire station was holding the keys to our rooms and she escorted us to the beautiful Arts & Crafts decorated building. Like a group of kids who just arrived at camp, we all excitedly scoped out each others rooms. I got the Orsen Welles room. Marcy is across the hall in the NC Wyeth room .Don is in the Norman Rockwell room, which includes an original Rockwell painting. This year the Winsor McCay room went to Roger and the Frank Lloyd Wright room is being occupied by Mike. And for the life of me (maybe because it’s 5:30 in the morning) I can’t remember which room Ron received. I guess like many other interesting details, you’ll have to check back another day. But like kids on Christmas we couldn’t just go to sleep so we raided the fully stocked kitchen and sat down in the cozy, stone-walled sitting room and Don lit a fire in the fireplace. Ron informed us that Geza and Tamas are on their way from the airport and will be joining us for the Pixar screening and lunch tomorrow. After a bit of unwinding, we all set off for our rooms. Everyone was thankfully for this chance to stay here at the Ranch. It’s an awe-inspiring place. I can see how, like Marcy said, one could easily be distracted here. But I can equally see how someone could be inspired.