By Dan Sarto.
Our tour continued with a screening and lunch at Sony Pictures Animation. It’s always a treat to go to SPA – we’re always greeted warmly and the audience is always enthusiastic. Today was no exception.
We wasted no time getting over to the Ray Harryhausen Theatre for the screening and Q&A. As expected, the audience questions were familiar, though it was nice to get Minkyu Lee, director of Adam and Dog, into the mix a bit more, his ongoing work duties at Disney having kept him from joining us for much of the week.
After the screening, Minkyu answered the first question about his film’s budget, explaining that he made the film with no budget, working in his bedroom on his own equipment. Tim Reckart and Fondhla Cronin O’Reilly, director and producer respectively of Head Over Heels, described details of their student production, working with very little budget, with a crew of students themselves studying various filmmaking disciplines, and how their teachers were not convinced they could actually get the film made at all. They discussed making not just an animatic but a photomatic, where they built a mockup of the set and used cardboard cutouts and a camera to plan their shots and develop scenes in ways they could only realize were possible once they had a physical mockup.
When asked how they produced their films, Minkyu spoke first, mentioning how there was no real schedule, how everyone working on the film was a friend putting in time here and there where they could. He talked passionately about his great fortune enlisting the help of two of his heroes, Glen Keane and James Baxter. He described creating a number of versions of animatics, showing them to lots of people to get feedback. One initial challenge was he realized he couldn’t animate a dog, because he never had. Jennifer Hager, who also animated on Paperman, taught him the difference between a walk, a trot and a run. He kept hearing from people who would contact him to volunteer to do a few shots. He then talked about unfortunately having to cut out a scene Glen worked on that expanded the story of Eve.
Minkyu continued talking about Glen’s involvement with the film. He told the audience that Glen was really interested in animating Eve. In an earlier cut of the film, there were more interactions between the dog and Eve. As he explained, “One message we didn’t want to get out was that Eve was the cause of all evil. Or that woman comes in and ruins everything. We had some nice Eve scenes that we had to cut out for economy sake and making sure the story was just between the dog and Adam. He did all these beautiful designs of fawns. I have so many great stories about Glen.”
When asked about their film’s inspiration, Minkyu mentioned the National Geographic article talking about how dog’s probably were domesticated from the gentler wolves that gravitated towards villages, moving away from packs. Tim talked about his own experiences with a long distance relationship as well as Rembrandt’s painting The Philosopher in Meditation, which depicts a staircase that appears it could be walked on from the bottom up or from the top down.When asked about the absence of dialogue, Minkyu mentioned that films without dialogue seem more contemplative. Tim mentioned he used limited dialogue early on as a crutch to setup certain ideas, but he always knew he would tell the story using metaphorical images without any dialogue.
With the Q&A finished, we headed over to another buiding for a special systems demo. Yiotis Katsambas, whom we met last year on the tour, did a demo of Flix, their animatic production tool that allows for sharing, editing and version control archiving within the storyboarding process. With more than 500 changes being made each day, things could get out of hand quite quickly without such a robust tool.
From there we headed up to lunch. We took a small detour to meet the filmmakers of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 – we were introduced to and said a fast “Hello and goodbye” to producer Kirk Bodyfelt and directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn. We also stopped for a few minutes to check out some really great looking concept art for Genndy Tartakovsky’s next film, Popeye. As a huge Popeye fan, I’m looking forward to seeing what Genndy can do with this storied franchise on a film he helms from the very beginning.
We had a nice lunch (I ate a really tasty turkey, bacon and avocado sandwich) with many key production and development executives, including Bob Osher, president of Sony Pictures Digital Productions, director Stephan Franck, Michelle Raimo Kouyate, president of production for SPA, Pam Marsden, senior vice president physical production for SPA, Michael Lachance, senior vice president creative development at SPA, Jenni Marchick, vice president creative development at SPA, Becky Chaires, senior vice president marketing for SPDP and Olivier Mouroux, vice president of publicity. It’s important to note that it’s a real treat to get such focused time with the studio’s key executives, to talk about film, production and visual development. These folks are quite busy, so getting so many together in the same room is no small feat.
But soon, our time at SPA came to an end. We hit the streets and made a mad dash over to 20th Century Fox in Century City.