By Kira Formina
Today, February 14th, is Valentine’s Day, and there’s plenty of love in the air aimed at the directors of the nominated animated shorts. Two more have joined us today - Paperman director John Kahrs and Adam and Dog director Minkyu Lee. We are all greeted by host Victor Fuste in the PDI/DreamWorks lobby. The group decides to have lunch during the screening and come up for the Q&A session afterwards.
The main subject of discussion is Mr. Peabody and Sherman, scheduled for release on March 7, 2014. The story of the sophisticated dog genius and his adopted boy companion spans back to the 50’s, originally part of the Rocky and Bullwinkle animated series.
Jason Schleifer, head of character animation, leads the discussion and demo of one of the film’s more polished scenes (the whole thing is 32% finished, Schleifer says). While everyone is seated within the soundproof gray walls on either a sofa or giant beanbag, the scene plays over and over, showing different stages of production, such as the storyboarding, the Maya blocking, the staging, the animation, and finally the lighting (every scene leading up to the finished piece is somewhat lacking in detail without the integration with the other components: however, by far the funniest thing of all is watching the reference videos - animators in either their own homes or in one of the homier rooms on the DreamWorks premises acting like talking dogs or somber seven-year-old boys, while their own pets accidentally walk into the frame. Everyone had a big laugh!.
Soon, it’s time for lunch; everyone is seated in the remote meeting room for more privacy. At this point we are joined by Conan Low, head of layout on Penguins of Madagascar, Hoon Kim, production supervisor on story; Jason Spencer-Galsworthy, supervising animator on Peabody (Bristol native and sometime Nick Park colleague), and Kendal Cronkhite, the production designer on Madagascar.
Briefly abandoning this sophisticated group, I steal away to ask Minkyu some questions about his film. Having missed his flight from Burbank yesterday, he joins us today, saluted by dog lovers and admirers of fine animation everywhere! Like Tim and Fodhla, Minkyu is in his mid-twenties. He works full time as a viz dev artist at Disney. Adam and Dog is his first short animated film, he says, and took two and a half years to complete. During the Q&A session, many in the audience have questions about the organically beautiful backgrounds that look so hand painted. In fact, Minkyu painted ALL of them himself, having learned Photoshop on his own to facilitate work on other projects. This seems to be Minkyu’s pattern. If he doesn’t know, he will learn on his own or ask for guidance from someone else who is an expert. That is how he came to know all about animal animation from good friend and Disney colleague Jennifer Hager (she is the one who explained the peculiarities of dog anatomy, specifically the difference between an up-facing and a low-hanging lower back, both of which can be seen throughout the film, Minkyu says). That is also how James Baxter and Glen Keane came to work on Adam and Dog, although they volunteered after just hearing the pitch for the story. Keane referenced and sketched the final sequence where Eve shows affection for the dog, an exquisite scene that transforms the outlook of the whole piece.
Another nominee who joined the tour today is John Kahrs, the director of Paperman. When asked about his inspiration for the film, John referred back to his days of living in New York and his daily observations of the people in the crowd, asking himself the question, “Can we have a life together?” (laughter from the audience). Among other notable things in the short, the audience seemed to be particularly drawn to the style, asking whether a full feature film will ever be produced in a similar black and white fashion? John does not know, comparing his current project situation to the half-floor in Being John Malkovich (more laughter from the audience). Paperman happened to be started right after Tangled and since its recent completion he cannot predict future projects, not unlike the others on the tour. The only intriguing clue he dropped was to say that his next project will in fact be a visual opposite of Paperman, full of texture, saturated colors, and lush, tropical settings.
The day’s tour continues on as the group travels to San Francisco’s Walt Disney Family Museum, located near in the center of the picturesque Park Presidio.