You probably remember Pocahontas, Disney’s 1995 prestige animated musical. It made the studio some $347 million, but never became the next Beauty and the Beast Disney hoped for (and has yet to make it to Broadway – perhaps they’re still looking for an actor small enough to fit into a Meeko suit).
On the other hand, you might not remember A Goofy Movie, another animated Disney feature from the same year. Definitely a “B” picture and created for the most part in Disney’s Australia and Paris studios, Goofy’s feature debut took in a little over a tenth of Pocahontas’ box office – but for some people it was ten times more entertaining: if you were a kid back then, you might’ve related more to the story of a teen trying to impress a girl while putting up with a clueless dad than a romantic retelling of America’s 17th century colonization.
Ted Sowards did.
“A Goofy Movie was a big part of my childhood and all my friends around me,” the Arizona college student explained. “It was just so cool. I loved [the “Disney Afternoon” TV series] Goof Troop too – I loved how they took a main Disney character and expanded his universe.”
They say it’s mandatory for the hero in a musical to perform an ‘I want’ song early on; in A Goofy Movie the hero is Goofy’s son Max and his ‘I want’ song is “After Today:” it’s the last day of school and while everyone else is looking forward to vacation, Max is determined to lose his “Maxie the geek” reputation and impress Roxanne, the girl of his (beginning of the movie) dream. “We felt that since everyone had been to high school and had wanted to get noticed by someone, that even if they didn't grow up with A Goofy Movie that they would still relate.”
Ted related all right, so much so that he created a video of his friends lip-synching and performing the song. No big deal perhaps; Ted’s far from alone in identifying with Max and says there are 18 “good” remakes “and heaps more that are bad” to be seen on YouTube,* but none of them attempted what he accomplished: perfectly replicating the entire song, shot-by-shot in live action. (Gus Van Sant, eat your heart out.)
But why go to the trouble, I asked Ted.
“We love the song, we love the movie, and we thought we could hit a popular thing that a majority knows and loves. It was in our reach to make; based in a modern neighborhood, clothes not that far out of date and very little cartoon physics. We also approached this as if a client, in this case Disney, came to us with the idea and storyboard and said, "This is what we want, don't detour from it.”
I had a few other questions I needed to ask… but you might want to first watch the video at http://aftertodaylive.com/ to understand what we’re talking about – and to see a side-by-side comparison of Ted’s version and the original.
Okay, first question: who are you?
I'm a native Arizonan majoring at Arizona State University in Business Management who wants to see more good quality videos that everyone can enjoy.
I was expecting you to be a film student.
Most people are surprised about that. My brother Rex, who helped out extensively, began film school after we started making the video.
He started film school afterwards?
Yeah. We realized we didn't know much about video – lighting, organizing, etc., but Rex started film school last year when we were already a third of the way through the video.
The video’s about 97% – astonishingly – on target. What were some of the challenges? I'm sure there was no shortage of them.
Getting people was a big one – everyone did it for free and on their own time. So finding a time when everyone we needed in a scene could be there was a challenge. When we needed props, like a megaphone, we would post it on Facebook. Sure enough, old friends from years past would get in touch and say that they had one. Facebook was a life saver.
Another challenge was the bus. We walked into our city's school bus depot and asked for a bus. They were puzzled, but surprisingly enough they agreed and said they would have one for us. When it arrived, we said “everyone on the bus for a drive by scene” – and were promptly informed that their insurance didn't cover non-students riding in the bus. Panicking, we quickly improvised and took pictures of all sides of the bus and rebuilt it in a 3D program. Then we greenscreened all our friends sitting on stools and composited them in. If you notice the bus pulls up and the wheels don't turn. We cut it out digitally and slid it across the screen to make it seem like it pulled up.
I don't think anyone will notice the wheels - I didn't.
When I make a film or video I watch it 4,000 times and I know every frame by heart, no joke. Halfway through editing I would turn off the sound – I didn’t want to get sick of the song too soon.
Any other challenges? How about matching up locations to the film?
Locations were a challenge, especially living in Arizona. The movie is based in the green east coast and we have mostly brown dead desert here. Many hours were spent driving around looking for exact locations. We finally found a historic neighborhood that had nature strips – the patch of grass between the sidewalk and the road. Many of our shots came from there. It was a life saver.
Where in Arizona?
We filmed mostly in Mesa, but drove 45 minutes across Phoenix to Glendale to film in their downtown because it matched the film exactly. We even brought a red fire hydrant to place on the corner – all the hydrants here are yellow.
Did you bring in the bench for the two women Max sings to?
We found that bench in my grandmother's retirement community. That happened a lot: we would drive around forever but find that the perfect location was closer than we thought.
It sounds like your project was blessed from the start. I would think people were enthusiastic for the most part. Was there anyone who refused to take part – “I don't want to play a cartoon character,” etc.?
No one refused because of the cartoon aspect of it. Most of the people we talked to love animated movies as much as we do. The bigger challenge was the people who said “Oh, I'm only going to be in it for 5 seconds?! No thanks!”
The Star Trek geeks cracked me up - it looked like the performers were reveling in their geekiness. You also cast very well in terms of physical type - even if nobody had black olive-shaped noses. It also looks like you lifted a few backgrounds from the film via freeze frame and composited your performers over it, like the two gals under and the two guys atop the picnic table umbrella.
That location is a real place here in the Phoenix area, but we did use Photoshop to take out tables and place one conveniently in the center to make it match exactly.
[The video begins with a shot borrowed from the movie of Goofy giving Max a farewell kiss.] Having Goofy's kiss 'magically' turn Max into a human was a genius touch.
Thanks, it worked out better than we thought. Starting our video in the cartoon was a last-minute decision. Finding someone to portray Goofy was tough – we wanted to get Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy, to play him in the video. But due to a deadline and the fact that we didn’t know how to contact him we came up with this idea to help the audience better understand that this is an exact recreation.
You were playing back the movie as you did your shooting for lip sync. Did you also refer to it for acting and how the characters moved?
Oh yeah, that was our bible. The actors carefully studied each frame in order to match it up. We had a MacBook there playing it simultaneously to get it perfect. Another problem were the reflections in the store window [when ‘Roxanne’ walks past ‘Max’ leaning against the window]; they didn’t obey real world physics in the cartoon and we wanted to match that. That scene was actually filmed at many locations with eight composited layers and effects.
That must've taken some serious trial and error to get right.
‘Max’ is in a dance studio in front of a giant mirror with the green screen behind the camera. Kellen Garner, our Max, must have thought we were crazy, but he trusted us. We knew theoretically that the mirror should work, but we spent hours rotoscoping his reflection so it could be transparent. Roxanne and the Powerline fans were green screened in different living rooms, the kids running by were in the historic neighborhood, and we took background photos of a few different stores.
Substituting Elvis for Powerline [the movie’s rock star] in the record store window was another great touch.
We loved the Elvis replacement. Originally it was going to either be cutouts of Zach Efron [High School Musical] or Michael Jackson but Elvis won because his outfit was similar to Powerline’s.
In terms of posting what kind of equipment and software did you use?
Our goal was to only use Apple software in this video, so all the visual effects were done in Motion 4. We normally also use After Effects because it can do much more detailed things, but we wanted to test out Motion. We found it easier and used it for everything including the store front, the school bus, the Australian school in the background, everything.
The Australian school?
The school you see in the far background is the Geelong Grammar School near Melbourne Australia.
You were looking for a perfect match for Max's school... how the heck did you come up with one in Australia? Facebook again?
Tim Schnepf, our cameraman, searched online for a school with a clock tower and found it. The funny thing is I lived in Melbourne in 2002 when I was on a church mission and didn’t even know it was there, or that I would be using it later.
Talk about coincidences…what editing software did you use?
Final Cut Pro. This project was easy because we just laid the cartoon on a lower track and lined it up with our footage. So in unfinished renderings there were segments that were still in cartoon. It would go in and out of live and was fun to watch the progression.
That's how they do it in animation. You've probably seen outtakes on DVDs where scenes will switch between storyboard panels, rough animation, near finished or fully animated shots that are plugged in as they're completed...what kind of camera did you use?
We borrowed our cameraman’s sister’s wedding business camera – a Panasonic 720p HD digital camera. It had a schedule all its own that we had to work around.
I'm impressed by how so many people pitched in and got into the spirit of what you were trying to do. Did you ever see Be Kind Rewind? It reminds me of how the whole neighborhood got involved in making their recreations of Hollywood movies
I've heard of that movie. I've been told that the Ghostbusters scene is a must see and the best ever.
The whole film is wonderfully silly. After this experience are you thinking about switching majors and going after a film or TV production career? Are any of your crew going that route?
I like the business side of things and would love to manage an entertainment group. My brother Rex is in film school and our cameraman, Tim Schnepf, is considering it too.
Would you consider yourself the producer or director of the project?
I more consider myself the producer and the original Disney crew as the directors.
Did you have a big premiere party for everyone when the video was finished?
We entered it into a metropolitan-wide college club's film competition, which gave us our deadline and a place for the cast and crew to view the film. We won first place.
Congratulations! Have you seen Enchanted? It was directed by Kevin Lima. [ A Goofy Movie’s director.] There’s a huge, elaborate production number that’s the centerpiece of the movie; I guess Lima likes pulling those together.
Yes. We thought it was fun – and ironic that he did a cartoon-to-live-action style of film.
Is there anything you'd like to say to him?
We think he did a great job on A Goofy Movie and Enchanted. We wish there was A Goofy Movie DVD with his commentary on it; it would be great to hear his story of it.
A Goofy Movie was their 'B' feature for the year. They probably didn't want to spend a lot of money on the DVD release.
Yeah, we’re also disappointed they didn’t release it in widescreen.
* * *
In case you were wondering, Kevin Lima has seen Sowards’ “After Today” recreation and shared his reaction with me:
A few months back and without any set-up, a friend who worked on A Goofy Movie with me pointed me towards a YouTube video. I didn't pay much heed to the title and after watching it, with my jaw on the desktop and tears in my eyes, I was dumbstruck. I mean, who does this kind of thing? And why? What I realized, and honestly hadn't even thought about, was that this little film I made had made an impression, that it had affected a generation of kids who were now expressing themselves. Wow... be careful what you give to the world, they are watching.
Watching that video led me to the other videos you mentioned. I'm overwhelmed. I would have never thought...
* * *
* - A playlist of Ted’s favorite “After Today” remakes are on YouTube at