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Oscar Tour San Francisco Leg Rewind

Today's tour stops are PDI/Dreamworks, an ASIFA San Francisco dinner and then on to Skywalker Ranch.

Ron introduces the boys to PDI's Eric Darnell and Gail Curry.

written by Barbara Robertson

The two and a half day fast forward is behind us, now. The nominees are on their way to Los Angeles for part two of Ron Diamond’s Oscar Tour, although for the second half, I don’t think he’ll be driving the giant white van (generously donated by PDI/DreamWorks), which he, amazingly, managed to squeeze into the only parking place in San Francisco’s Mission District that was big enough and still within walking distance to the ASIFA dinner. Finding a parking place for a Smart Car in San Francisco is hard, but somehow, the reality matched Ron’s optimism that it would all work out.

Now, for a rewind and some impressions from within the bubble.


Emud, Taki, Olivier and Kunio sip on some drinks in the PDI lunchroom.

At PDI/DreamWorks, in the conference wall room, watching the nominees wave at their image on the wall to check lag time while we waited for the system at the other end to come on screen.

During the Q&A, people at PDI, as had people at Pixar before them, asked Kunio why the title of his film is in French and he answered, as before, that the translation into English didn’t capture the meaning, so a French friend suggested a French title. And, once again during the Q&A session, Konstantin’s humor stole the show.

Question: How long did it take you to make the film?

Emud (“Oktapodi”): Between six and seven months.

Kunio (“La Maison en Petits Cubes”): One year. Four months of that for planning.

Konstantin (“Lavatory Lovestory”): Story, one year. Drawing two years. (pause) I’m slow thinking.

Question: What was the inspiration for your film?

Kunio: No special inspiration but I had the visual of a house on top of a house and drew a picture of that key image. I gave that to a scenario writer who made each floor a different stage of life.

Emud: Olivier saw a picture of Octopi in a book by Peter Seve and we thought why not? It would be interesting.

Konstantin: I go to the toilet more often than most people. I just looked at the woman’s eyes who worked there and found the story immediately.

Arriving at Skywalker Ranch at midnight. We each got a folder printed with our names on the front, a map, and a key to our room. We were all very tired, but as soon as we opened the doors to our rooms, we were so amazed that we had to share the experience, running from room to room to see what each one looked like inside. A grand piano in the George Gershwin room. A grand rock fireplace in the John Houston room.

Oktapodi's Emud Mokhberi, Gobelins' Eric Riewer, La Maison's Kunio Kato, Oktapodi's Quentin Marmier, Oktapodi's Olivier Delabarre, Oktapodi's Francois-Xavier Chanioux, Robot Communications' Taki Tsuyoshi, Lavatory Lovestory's Konstantin Bronzit, Presto composer Scot Stafford, Presto's Doug Sweetland, and tour host Ron Diamond.

In the morning, Doug Sweetland from Pixar (“Presto”) and Scot Stafford, who wrote the original music for “Presto,” joined us. The chance to get out, stretch our legs, and walk a little between the buildings in the beautiful open space at Skywalker Ranch, rather than being locked into seats in the van or in a theater or at a dinner table, or on a tour, gave the nominees a chance to relax and move more easily from one group to another. It was fun to see the “Oktapodi” team re-bond with each other after each going his separate way for the last year or so, but also to begin to see some interaction between all the nominees.

Another group shot in front of the Technical Building.

As we walked from the parking lot at the “Technical Building,” past the vineyards, past the lake, Konstantin said to the group, “I will buy it. For filming. I will invite you.”

Quentin laughed, “You can call it Konstantin Farm.”

Inside the building, Glenn Kiser, the head of Skywalker Sound, which has received five Oscar nominations this year,” took us all into the scoring stage, demonstrating how the various panels in the walls and ceilings slide to change echo and decay for recording sessions. Kiser says that the studio is used 60% of the time for classical recording, but a library of 150,000 sound files makes it also a resource for lower-budget films including three that were at Sundance this year.

Inside the Big Rock theater.

At Big Rock, the animators working on the Clone Wars TV series saw a screening in yet another amazing theater. They asked about Kunio’s French title and also what inspired the filmmakers, but not surprisingly for crews working in television, they also asked how much each film cost.

Emud: We were students. We each had a machine and we had four render computers. It’s a mystery how much it cost.

Doug: I consider it a privilege that I don’t know how much it cost.

Kunio: About $50,000.

Konstantin: About $20,000. I had some government funding.

Question: Many of these films are about love. What is it about love?

Kunio: The main reason life is going on is to find love.

Konstantin: Love is all we need. But sometimes, we need toilets, too.

Boba Fett and Darth Vader joins the tour for a snapshot in the ILM lobby.

At ILM, the lunchtime screening in the studio’s huge theater played to a packed house. Once Ron had introduced all the nominees and they were standing on stage, before anyone raised a hand to ask the first question, Konstantin said, “Please, someone, ask Kunio why his title is in French.”

The humble George Lucas and the happy Ron Diamond.

Ron had told everyone that there was a chance they could meet with George Lucas for a few minutes, and sure enough, our host, Kate Shaw, led us to the seventh floor where Lucas has his office. Ron introduced Lucas to each of the directors, and Lucas greeted each nominee in turn, shaking his hand and congratulating him. I think that after spending the night at Skywalker Ranch’s fabulous guest suites, seeing the magnificent library in the main house with its stained glass cupola, and then the multi-building campus in San Francisco, they were unprepared to meet the master of this empire wearing bluejeans and a blue sweater. After the meeting, Francois – who everyone calls FX – said of George Lucas, with some astonishment, “He’s so humble.”

During the afternoon, I was sitting next to Kunio and Taki on the sky bridge that connects the main LucasFilm building and most of ILM’s facility in the park-like campus of the Presidio in San Francisco. By then, we had visited Pixar, PDI/DreamWorks, Lucas’s animation facility at Big Rock ranch in Marin County, and had met with George Lucas in his office at the Presidio. I asked him what he had learned from the visiting all these remarkable facilities and he answered, though Taki, “The work environment is really important.”

Following the screening, lunch, the meeting with George Lucas, and a tour of ILM, we had some down time before the ASIFA screening. It was pouring rain, which drowned any thoughts of walking around San Francisco. Instead, we moved to a nearby wine bar.

I asked Konstantin and Kunio, who were sitting together at the bar, whether they might ever work together on a film. Konstantin said, “But we’re already talking about it.” And, Kunio nodded. “I’m talking about it in Russian,” Konstantin said. “And Kunio is talking about it in Japanese.”

FX, sitting nearby, began teasing Konstantin about his name and they talked more seriously about how to get financing for films.

Then, back to the van and off to Dolby Labs for the ASIFA screening. Because the nominees had all seen all the films several times already, most of them stayed outside during the screening. When it was time to go in, we couldn’t find Kunio and FX.  Finally, someone said, “Oh, they’re in the bathroom. Kunio is doing a painting for FX, and he needed water.”

Konstatin entertains the crowd at the ASIFA-San Francisco screening.

At ASIFA, too, the first question from the audience was about what inspired the filmmakers and, as Konstantin said, they knew the answers by heart. By the time they meet the press in Los Angeles as they near Oscar time, these nominees will be well-prepared for that question.

The ASIFA audience, though, asked some new questions and in answering, the nominees discovered some insights.

Question: What was the most interesting thing you learned?

Emud: I had done one-director, one-film. I wanted to go to Gobelins to work with a team. I had to learn how to explain and how to trust what other people do.

Scot: Music can’t really be funny. The funniest thing is to take everything literally.

Kunio: This was the longest film with the largest number of people I’ve worked on. The challenging thing was to share what I’m thinking with my staff. To work in this way, I needed leadership and to keep the team motivated. That was the biggest thing I learned.

Konstantin: There was nothing interesting in the process. Just suffering. Every step trying to get closer and closer and nothing. Many people think you just sketch, sketch, sketch, and then it’s ho ho ho. No, it’s not that way.

Doug: I had been an animator, but, like Emud, to work on the story, I had to question all the time. I’d fight for things I thought were awesome and they’d bomb. And I’d fight against things I thought would bomb and they’d turn out to be awesome.

Question (paraphrasing): Why did you pick the theme you picked?

Emud: We were in school and had between six and seven months to make a short film. It’s easier if it’s comedy. Our group knew we wanted to push technology, and make a fast, cartoony, rhythmic film. They story came out of the brainstorming process. We banged our heads together 120 hours a week. After the fatigue wore off and we all wanted to go off and do something on our own. But now, I want to make another film with these guys.

Kunio: Taki answers for Kunio to much laughter… He always wanted to make a comedy film.

Taki then gives Kunio’s more serious answer: He didn’t pick comedy or drama. The main object was to depict a man’s life in a quiet and uneventful way, so it had to be a serious, quiet drama.

Konstantin: Every time, the story depends on an idea, on finding the only way to realize an idea. I realized all I need is love. But, also, I need toilet. So, I combined Love. Toilet.

Doug: I tried to make a three-minute film, but it’s five minutes, to make it as quick as possible. So, it borrows from classic cartoons, but it has a classic Hollywood reconciliation ending.

Question: What was your inspiration for becoming an animator?

Konstantin: Mickey Mouse

Doug: I just learned that Ron produced the Tourneys of Animation in the late 80’s and I saw that in middle school.  Also, Luxo Jr. When I saw universities listed at the end of the films, I realized I could study animation. I had an insatiable appetite.

Kunio: Originally, I wanted to be a painter, not an animator. I took a class in animation and wanted to move my drawings.

Quentin: All the great 2D films.

FX: I was always drawing. I saw a documentary of people drawing lions for "Lion King," and that inspired me.

Emud: I went from computer science to computer graphics to moving CG parts to animation.

Question (paraphrased): What did you think of the reaction of audiences to your film?

Doug: I went through such a struggle to get this film made. I learned that I’m not funny. I pitched 10 stories in seven months and they bombed every time. Only the last one clicked. So that fact that people embrace this film so well is overwhelming.

Konstantin: When I first try to put comedy in action I learned it’s impossible to calculate how to do it. I suffer. I asked my teacher why I suffer every time I make a film and why I suffer when I show the films. He said, “You are clever minded and understand your mistakes and it looks for you like you are showing your mistakes and you think everyone sees your mistakes.” I thanked him. But I still suffer.

Kunio: I couldn’t help seeing my mistakes in the finished film. So I’m very grateful that the audience appreciates.

Emud: With multiple directors, I learned that if Olivier and Quentin both think something is funny, maybe it is. Our final animation is pretty much like our story reel. We had Chris Wedge come in and look at our story reel and he reacted well to it. The reaction of audiences has exceeded all our expectations. It’s hard to put into perspective when we killed ourselves making it.

When Ron introduced the nominees to the ASIFA group, he said, “Rarely does any other group [of Oscar nominees] come together like this to celebrate their work. We don’t have enough reason in our lives to celebrate and the fact that our community comes together to celebrate these Oscar nominees is really terrific. We had people packed into the theater at Pixar and standing in the aisles and also at ILM. We met with Ed Catmull, Tom McGrath, Eric Darnell, and George Lucas. The nominees met for the first time only on Wednesday and now we’ve become a small community. I think this is really important.”

And, it is. END

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.