written by Rick DeMott
The Los Angeles leg of the tour picked up on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at Sony. Jakob Schuh and Max Lang were back for the second round; while Bastien Dubois, the director of Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage, his producer Ron Dyens, and Michael Rose and Martin Pope, the producers of The Gruffalo, joined them for the first time.
The day began with a guided tour of the studio lot. The nominees had a chance to see the 12 Oscars the studio has won over the years, as well as the backlot and stage for Wheel of Fortune (which was less impressive to the European crowd.) On one of the soundstages, we saw a crew diligently constructing a sewer pipe set for a secret project filming pyrotechnics later in the week.
After the studio tour wrapped up, the filmmakers were introduced to the crowd of the first screening made up of studio execs and luminaries who would be joining us for lunch afterward. By this time Geefwee Boedoe had joined us. The reception to the films from the upper echelon of Sony was very positive.
At lunch the nominees had a chance to sit down with artists and execs in a nice casual environment. I had a chance to chat with Dave Schaub, another Oscar nominee for the visual effects on Alice in Wonderland, about his latest project Green Lantern. The vfx artists are feverishly at work trying to get the project done for its June release. One of the most difficult tasks is Green Lantern's suit, which is digital in every shot. The skilled artists have to virtually attached Ryan Reynolds head to a skin-tight suit for nearly the whole film. Talk about a registration challenge.
Geefwee talked about how he saved up his money in order to take a year and a half off to work exclusively on his short Let's Pollute. At the conclusion, he had to work some freelance to get the project finished. He created most of the satirical film entirely by himself, receiving help only at the end for editing and music. He's really grateful for the nomination because it allows a wider audience to see his film. At first he doubted whether he took the right risk when the first few festivals he submitted to rejected him.
After lunch, the filmmakers headed over to the theater to take questions from the artists who just finished watching the second screening. Geefwee told the audience that he hopes to make a triad of films in the same vein as Let's Pollute, with the follow-ups titled Peace is for Sissies and Give Ignorance a Chance.
When asked how the studio obtained the rights to The Gruffalo, producer Rose said it was a three year process of assuring the authors Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler that they would be true to the source material. Rose's work on the Wallace & Gromit films helped assure them that their baby was in the right hands. Jakob said Julia and Axel's input throughout the production was invaluable in helping shape the story.
In a terrifying tale for any artist, Bastien said he had decided to make his film in Madagascar over a year and half time span, but he had to leave after about 10 months, because the unreliable electric was making it too difficult to work. Once a lightning storm almost wiped out a whole days worth of work.
After the Q&A, marketing master Don Levy took us on a private tour of Sony Pictures Animation. The filmmakers received a demo of SPA's proprietary Flix storyboarding software, which gave us a sneak peek at some boards from Arthur Christmas. Then we got a treat with two roughly animated scenes from the highly anticipated film from Aardman. Following the Arthur Christmas demo, we were treated to another demo for The Smurfs. The nominees got to see the painstaking attention the studio is paying to integrate the digital Smurfs into the live-action environments. We watched two extended clips from the summer release. The CG and cloth sims were very impressive indeed.