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Q&A with “Toy Story 4” Head of Story Valerie LaPointe

As Story Supervisor on Toy Story 4, Valerie LaPointe spent the past five years helping to bring this new, and somewhat unexpected chapter of the beloved franchise to life. In this “spoiler-free” interview, the Pixar veteran discusses the multigenerational approach she and her colleagues took in crafting this emotionally-charged journey for Woody and company — as well as her own, personal journey with animation, which began thanks to a certain mermaid.

Jackson Murphy: When Toy Story 4 was announced, people were surprised considering the impact of “Toy Story 3”. What was your initial reaction to the news that Pixar was going to do Toy Story 4?

Valerie LaPointe: If I’m gonna be completely honest, I think me and a lot of other people at Pixar had a similar reaction. We all really loved being part of previous films or being here when they happened. It felt like a lot of closure with “Toy Story 3”. But for me, I was like, “Ah. Okay. What’s the story?” And then right away when I was pitched, I think by [director] Josh [Cooley] what the story was going to be and that Bo Peep was the pivotal character, then I perked up and thought, “Okay. Yeah. I could see this being a really good reason to make this.”

JM: It’s been 20 years since “Toy Story 2”, which was the last time we saw Bo Peep. And she’s definitely got more of an edge in this one. Was it challenging to take who she was before and give her a little bit of a spin, while still staying true to the character?

VL: I think it was a challenge in the sense that you’re taking a secondary, if not tertiary, sub-character in this world and making her a main character. We definitely had to add a lot of dimension to her and an interesting backstory. And there was a big challenge in that, but it was a lot of fun. And we had to take what we knew of her character: we knew she was flirty and confident – but that she actually was a pretty pivotal character to Woody, if you think about it. She’s the one he confides in and is the voice of reason for him. So she was pretty pivotal to him, even in a small way. From there we expanded out as far as where we wanted to take Woody in the film and how Bo would be a catalyst for that.

JM: And where you take Woody is awe-inspiring. Some scenes are stunning and really deep. Not gonna spoil things, but this is largely a psychological drama for Woody. Did you and the other writers talk with psychologists or mental illness specialists to really get the emotions?

VL: Well I think what naturally happens is you pull from your own life stories. It was an interesting combination of multi-generations here. There’s the people who started the first “Toy Story” movies, and there’s the middle generation where I came in around 2006. And now we have a new generation at Pixar. I felt like it was this amazing combination of all those voices and perspectives and life experience that kind of informed where we believed he would be at and what would be the next chapter in his life.

JM: And listening to Tom Hanks’ voice performance this time as Woody – I think he’s got the most grit to the character out of the four movies. Was Mr. Hanks really surprised in how deep things were going to get for Woody?

VL: Yeah. The story evolved over time, so he saw it evolve as well. Each time we brought the film back to him to record again, we made slight tweaks and big changes. And he was really impressed with where we were taking it – the ending especially. But we were definitely going back and get the fun and the charm of Woody. He’s obviously not Woody in “Toy Story 1” – he’s a more evolved Woody. But those core pieces of his personality are true and there in pulling that out of his performance.

JM: I know “Toy Story 4” has been in the works for a long time. There were stories that came out that “Cars 3” and “Incredibles 2” had to be moved-up in order to make more time to fully develop “TS4”. At what point was the script that we see play-out in this movie… officially locked-in?

VL: We went through many, many versions on this film. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to live-up to our own expectations (laughs)… and have a really good reason for making it. And I believe maybe right before Josh came on as director, as we were sort of finding that, and Andrew Stanton was a big part of that. And we started locking-in on these bigger, different ideas about what was going to happen to Woody – how he was going to change – and also about Bo Peep. The idea of her becoming a lost toy, which I don’t think I’m giving away because it’s in the trailer, and re-defining that because it’s always presented as this terrible thing that can happen to a toy through Woody. We were looking at it from a different angle (“What if that’s not a bad thing?”). That was a big step, also, in expanding the universe and world of “Toy Story”.

JM: As the story supervisor, you’re looking at all of this and trying to balance everything out. There’s fun elements for the kids, but a lot for the adults as well. But when it comes to the emotions, do you look everything over and go, “Wait a second – maybe this is too much. Maybe we’re going too far”?

VL: Yeah. That was definitely something we had to constantly consider and debate about, to be honest – like friendly debate with our story team and the director and writers. We all feel very passionately about these characters and this world. And we went back and forth a lot about how far we could take it or how much was believable, knowing these characters so well, especially Woody. It was a challenge in finding that balance – also in coming to that decision of “How do we tell that story?” Just putting the pieces together in the right order so that it feels right.

JM: I saw Tom Hanks on “Kimmel” the other night, and he brought out a couple pieces of paper about things he could and couldn’t say when it comes “TS4”. How have you honestly been over the last several years keeping this all in, and then in just a matter of days it’s going to be unleashed upon the world?

VL: (laughs) I think it’s been strange for me and for our story team because it’s been so personal to us for so long. I’ve literally worked on this film for five years. My first daughter was a baby when I started making it, and now she just finished Kindergarten. It’s been this long haul. We care so much about it – every tiny little detail and decision. There’s been a lot of excitement and energy and I’m just blown away about how well it’s being received and how everyone loves it. It’s a really great graduation, in a way. Five years of your life culminating.

JM: You guys really pull it off. Does your daughter really understand what’s going on in the “Toy Story” movies?

VL: It’s been funny to go through this and experience it at the young age when she’s just having fun watching it, but doesn’t retain or remember too much of it – and then now she is at the age where she’s taking it in more. She just saw it [the other day], and it was pretty exciting. She had her Bo Peep costume on, and she was changing her outfit every time Bo Peep’s cape or skirt changed. So I thought to myself, “Alright. Mission accomplished.” This is what I wanted to have happen with Bo Peep – everyone, especially young girls, relate to her and connect with her on that level.

JM: And did she take the ending well? Did she take it how you hope audiences do?

VL: She’s so young… with the gripping emotional quality of the trilogy combined, she hasn’t totally completely gotten that yet, so I didn’t have balling tears yet. But I am curious to see how teenagers and adults are gonna be taking this.

JM: The two words I wrote in my review are “painfully satisfying.”

VL: Oh wow!

JM: That’s what I think people are going to feel – in a positive way. That’s honestly how I felt.

VL: That’s a really good way to describe what a story team aims for. (laughs)

JM: You’ve got a lot of new characters. I think one of the other risks you had was putting a lot of new characters front and center, especially Key & Peele’s Ducky and Bunny. They’re great. And Key & Peele are a bit more over the top in nature when it comes to their comedy style. But when you see their scenes, they really fit well into this franchise.

VL: We developed so many great characters that it was a challenge to find enough screen time to give them all. At some point, you want to favor your main characters in your main story, of course, but then as soon as they came in… especially Ducky, Bunny and Forky. As soon as they were animated… you just want to keep watching them. They’re so hilarious. And literally it’s that magic that happens when animation brings it to life. You just want more them. There’s only so much screen time, but we managed to get them in there.

JM: And using them for the Super Bowl spot was a very smart move as well. And going in, I thought maybe Duke Caboom was going to be similar in tone to how Ken was in “Toy Story 3”, but he’s actually more restrained. How was that character shaped, and what made the movie star of the moment Keanu Reeves, perfect for him?

VL: We all Keanu Reeves, so at some point his name got thrown out there in our laughing and goofing around. And when it stuck we were like, “Really? We’re gonna get him?!” And then of course being from Canada arose from the Story Department. “Wouldn’t it be funny if he was from Canada?” [Reeves] really brought something to it – his own self brought to the character took it in an interesting direction. More restrained but really funny… and unique.

JM: If I’m not mistaken Valerie, you were a teenager when the first “Toy Story” came out?

VL: Yeah. I was just starting high school.

JM: Do you remember going to see it in the theater?

VL: Oh, yeah. I knew when I was eight that I wanted to work in animation, when I saw “The Little Mermaid”. I kind of became obsessed at that point, drawing and performing. And I remember when “Toy Story” came out because it was so good and so different with the storytelling and the humor that I started shifting gears and my dad saying to me, “You’re gonna have to learn computers.” And I thought, “OH NO! And all this time I’ve been drawing and thinking I was going to be drawing!” But of course, as I got older, I figured out that story is what I want to do, and that’s still drawing, and it’s developing characters. I love what everybody does on the computers, but it’s not necessarily my talent.

JM: And after working on “Toy Story 4″… what do you think you’d say to teenage Valerie about your future in animation and with these characters?

VL: Oh my gosh. I would just be… “You’re not gonna believe this, but it’s all gonna happen.” I don’t really know any other way to describe it. When I step back and look at what I’ve been doing – what I’m able to do right now – it’s like having a dream come true, for sure.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/qa-with-toy-story-4-head-of-story-valerie-lapointe/
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Gkids Acquires Studio Trigger’s “Promare”

GKIDS announced today it has acquired the North American distribution rights for the animated feature Promare. GKIDS will release the film theatrically in both Japanese and an all new English language version starting in September. This marks the first feature film from Studio TRIGGER, founded by former studio Gainax animator and director Hiroyuki Imaishi, whose credits include the award-winning TV series GURREN LAGANN and critically acclaimed KILL la KILL. The film’s rights are being sold worldwide by Toho and the all-rights deal for North America was negotiated by GKIDS’ CEO and Founder Eric Beckman and Akihiro Takeda for Toho.

GKIDS and Fathom Events continue their collaboration to bring exciting all new animated features to U.S. cinemas, presenting the Promare special premiere event to U.S. cinemas nationwide on September 17th and 19th. GKIDS will be releasing Promare theatrically starting September 20.

“Studio TRIGGER has proved to be the ultimate risk-takers, pushing the limits of visual storytelling time and time again,” said GKIDS President David Jesteadt. “GKIDS is thrilled to bring their feature film debut to North American audiences.”

ABOUT PROMARE
The first feature-length film from the acclaimed Studio TRIGGER, creators of the hit series KILL la KILL and Little Witch Academia, and director Hiroyuki Imaishi (GURREN LAGANN, KILL la KILL), Promare uses a bold cel-shaded visual style to tell a blistering action-adventure story, and is the spiritual successor to many of director Imaishi’s former works.

Thirty years has passed since the appearance of Burnish, a race of flame-wielding mutant beings, who destroyed half of the world with fire. When a new group of aggressive mutants calling themselves “Mad Burnish” appears, the epic battle between Galo Thymos, a new member of the anti-Burnish rescue team “Burning Rescue,” and Lio Fotia, the leader of “Mad Burnish” begins.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/gkids-acquires-studio-triggers-promare/
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DreamWorks Animation Revs Up “Fast & Furious: Spy Racers” and “Kipo & the Age of Wonderbeasts”

Today, as part of the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, DreamWorks Animation released the following: A first look teaser and title reveal of its highly anticipated Netflix original series Fast & Furious: Spy Racers (see below) – and an all new Netflix original series Kipo & the Age of Wonderbeasts from executive producers Radford Sechrist and Bill Wolkoff. This short teaser features series star Karen Fukuhara (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power) as the voice of “Kipo”:

Kipo & the Age of Wonderbeasts, coming to Netflix in 2020
After spending her entire life living in an underground burrow, a young girl named Kipo is thrust into an adventure on the surface of a fantastical post-apocalyptic Earth. She joins a ragtag group of survivors as they embark on a journey through a vibrant wonderland where everything trying to kill them is downright adorable. The series is executive produced and created by Radford Sechrist (How to Train Your Dragon 2) and executive produced and developed for TV by Bill Wolkoff (Once Upon a Time).

Fast & Furious: Spy Racers, coming soon to Netflix
Fast & Furious: Spy Racers expands the high-octane action in all-new animated series as teenager Tony Toretto follows in the footsteps of his cousin Dom when he and his friends are recruited by a government agency to infiltrate an elite racing league serving as a front for a nefarious crime organization bent on world domination. Tim Hedrick (Voltron Legendary Defender) and Bret Haaland (All Hail King Julien) will serve as executive producers and showrunners. The series is also executive produced by Vin Diesel and Chris Morgan; and is slated to debut globally on Netflix later this year.

The announcements were made during the DreamWorks Animation TV Studio Focus presentation at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, which also included updates from the studio on the critically-acclaimed Netflix original series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, as well as the original series Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny for Prime Video. Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny is also competition in the TV Films category at the festival. Additionally executive producer Lane Lueras provided a sneak peek of the recently announced Netflix original series, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous debuting globally on Netflix in 2020.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/dreamworks-animation-revs-up-fast-furious-spy-racers-and-kipo-the-age-of-wonderbeasts/
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FIRST LOOK: Warner Bros. New “Looney Tunes Cartoons”

In what was one of the most anticipated presentations of the week, Warner Bros. Animation (WBA) today unveiled the first batch of finished shorts from the upcoming series Looney Tunes Cartoons in front of a standing-room only crowd at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival. One of the shorts screened during the presentation was “Dynamite Dance,” directed by David Gemmill. Warner’s released a special excerpt of that film today:

In addition to screening multiple shorts, executive producer Pete Browngardt and supervising producer Alex Kirwan gave Annecy attendees a behind-the-scenes look inside the program’s production process.

Looney Tunes Cartoons kicked off its week at Annecy as part of the Opening Ceremony festivities, with shorts screening in front of the festival’s opening night film, Playmobil: The Movie, as well as during the festival’s open-air screenings.

About Looney Tunes Cartoons

Looney Tunes Cartoons is a series of new short form cartoons starring the iconic and beloved Looney Tunes characters. With a crew of some of the premier artists working in animation today, each “season” will produce 1,000 minutes of all-new Looney Tunes animation that will be distributed across multiple platforms — including digital, mobile and broadcast.

Looney Tunes Cartoons echoes the high production value and process of the original Looney Tunes theatrical shorts, with a cartoonist-driven approach to storytelling. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and other marquee Looney Tunes characters will be featured in their classic pairings in simple, gag-driven and visually vibrant stories. Each cartoon will vary from one to six minutes in length and, from the premise on through to the jokes, will be “written” and drawn by the cartoonists, allowing their own personality and style to come through in each cartoon.

Looney Tunes Cartoons is produced by Warner Bros. Animation and features veteran Looney Tunes voice cast members, including Eric Bauza, Jeff Bergman and Bob Bergen. Sam Register (Teen Titans Go!) and Peter Browngardt (Uncle Grandpa) serve as executive producers.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/first-look-warner-bros-new-looney-tunes-cartoons/
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What We Know About Netflix First Two Animated Features

Netflix is about to take the animation community by storm. They seem to have at least a dozen animated series in production; they are picking up award-winning animated features at Annecy and Cannes; and have announced their first two original animated features. Here are the facts we know thus far about Klaus and The Willoughbys:

ABOUT “KLAUS”
A young, Scandinavian postman named Jesper gets the chance to make his mark when he’s tasked with bringing the postal service to a contentious village in the cold north, where he meets a mysterious, white-bearded toymaker named Klaus.

FUN FACTS
• Klaus is Netflix’s first original animated film.
• The movie is a passion project for Despicable Me co-creator Sergio Pablos, who first came up with the idea for it in 2010.
• Klaus was produced entirely in Madrid, Spain with a very international crew comprised of some of the most talented hand drawn artists from all over the world.
• The film introduces a unique animation style which blends traditional hand drawn animation techniques with cutting edge technology.
• Klaus will be released theatrically in December 2019.

CREW & CAST
Director: Sergio Pablos (co-creator of Despicable Me)
Producers: Jinko Gotoh (The Little Prince, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part), Gustavo Ferrada, and Marisa Román
Art Directors: Szymon Biernacki, Marcin Jakubowski
U.S. Voice Cast: Jason Schwartzman (Jesper), J.K. Simmons (Klaus), Rashida Jones (Alva), Joan Cusack (Mrs. Krum), Norm Macdonald (Mogens), Will Sasso (Mr. Ellingboe)


ABOUT “THE WILLOUGHBYS”

When the four Willoughby children are abandoned by their selfish parents, they must learn how to adapt their old-fashioned values to the contemporary world in order to create a new and modern family.

FUN FACTS
• Netflix’s second original animated film.
• A highly stylized CG animated feature film currently in production with BRON Animation in Vancouver.
• From writer/director Kris Pearn (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2).
• Based on the acclaimed book by Newbery Award-winning author, Lois Lowry.
• Will be released in 2020.

CREW & CAST
Director: Kris Pearn (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2)
U.S. Voice Cast: Ricky Gervais (Cat), Maya Rudolph (Nanny), Will Forte (Tim), Martin Short (Father), Alessia Cara (Jane) and Jane Krakowski (Mother), Sean Cullen (The Barnabys).

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/what-we-know-about-netflix-first-two-animated-features/
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Sony Pictures Animation Unveils Upcoming Slate at Annecy Festival

Sony Pictures Animation made a splash at Annecy Festival, the animation industry’s largest annual gathering, presenting an exciting lineup of all-new animated features coming off of the success of the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Sony Animation’s president, Kristine Belson, shared exclusive visuals from the studio’s next major theatrical releases, including The Angry Birds Movie 2 which releases later this year, in addition to 2020’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines, produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and Vivo, Sony Animation’s first-ever musical featuring original songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda – which has added Zootopia director Rich Moore to the filmmaking team as a producer. The crowd was also treated to a special behind-the-scenes look at the making of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, presented by head of production Pam Marsden.

From SPA’s forthcoming “Wish Dragon”

Belson shared her vision for the studio’s future, which includes two new production initiatives to expand the studio’s output and reach audiences of all ages, across the globe.

“Sony Pictures Animation is committed to making big, bold movies, where the hand of the artist, the hand of the filmmaker, is strongly felt,” said Belson. “We celebrate the fact that we do not have a house style. We intend to continue down the path that we are on – bringing all audiences stories from around the world, stories no one else is telling – and do so in a way that pushes the boundaries of animated storytelling.”

SONY PICTURES ANIMATION’S INTERNATIONAL INITIATIVE
Academy Award-winning producer Aron Warner (“Shrek,” “The Book of Life”) joined Belson onstage to announce Sony Pictures Animation’s international initiative, which he is spearheading. With this initiative, Sony Animation will collaborate with storytellers from different countries around the world to develop and produce a wide variety of animated features for both local and global release.

Said Warner, “We are at a very critical point in our history as humans. The future is all of us working together, learning from each other’s stories, mistakes and triumphs. There are countless great stories out there that most of the world has never heard, and every day there’s a new director, writer or artist with a vision stepping up to the plate to lead a team and create something new. I truly believe this is the next big leap in the art form of animation and I’m honored, humbled and incredibly lucky to be part of this project.”

Warner is currently producing the initiative’s first release, “Wish Dragon,” an imaginative and touching tale about the power of friendship set in modern-day Shanghai. The film, directed by Chris Appelhans (“Coraline”) and set to release in China in 2020, is a co-production between Sony Pictures Animation, Beijing Sparkle Roll Media, Tencent and Base Media.

Sony Animation’s president, Kristine Belson, photographed by Michael Lewis at the SPA offices in April 2019.

SONY PICTURES ANIMATION’S ALTERNATIVE SLATE
Sony Pictures Animation vice presidents Katie Baron and Kevin Noel joined the stage to announce Sony Animation’s alternative initiative, which is inclusive of a slate of serial projects and features aimed at mature audiences.

Said Noel, “We want to continue to tell stories that speak to modern audiences, while exploring different methods of storytelling that are appealing to new filmmakers and artists.” Added Baron, “With this new initiative, we are expanding opportunities for artists inside Sony Animation, and also aiming to attract talent known for their work outside of the family space.”

Baron and Noel unveiled three shows in development at the studio: Hungry Ghosts, Superbago and The Boondocks.

Hungry Ghosts

“Hungry Ghosts” is based on the Dark Horse Graphic Novel by the late Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose. “Hungry Ghosts” will be an anthology of frightening, hilarious, twisted, and culinary-inspired ghost stories. Each episode will range in tone and will look completely different from the last, taking advantage of various forms of animation to best fit each story.

“Superbago,” a collaboration with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, and previously developed as a feature film at Sony Animation, will be a half-hour comedy that blends Claymation and live-action, and follows the adventures of two dimwitted animated heroes traveling in a very real Winnebago around the actual United States of America.

The return of “The Boondocks,” a co-production with Sony Pictures Television, is a complete re-imagining of the beloved and wildly rebellious animated satire for this modern era, and chronicles the adventures of the Freeman family against the evil local government tyrant Uncle Ruckus, who rules fictional Woodcrest County, Maryland with an iron fist.

Celebrated animation director Genndy Tartakovsky (“Hotel Transylvania,” “Samurai Jack,” “Primal”) made a surprise appearance to give the audience a first look at visuals from two upcoming animated features he is developing at Sony Animation: “Black Knight” and “Fixed.”

“Black Knight” is an original, action-adventure epic that tells the story of a highly skilled and faithful knight who, after failing to protect his king, must transform himself into the Black Knight to save the kingdom.

“Fixed,” the studio’s first R-rated comedy, directed by Tartakovsky is the story of an average, all-around good dog who is in love with the show dog next door, and what happens when he learns that he is going to get neutered in the morning. What does a dog do with his last night out with his besties?

Belson returned to the stage to close the show and introduce a sizzle piece celebrating the history of Sony Pictures Animation and the ambitious projects to come.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/sony-pictures-animation-unveils-upcoming-slate-at-annecy-festival/
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INTERVIEW: Q&A with Dreamworks director Andrew Erekson on “Marooned”

Story artist Andrew Erekson (Home, Captain Underpants) is premiering his directorial debut at the Annecy International Film Festival in France this week. The DreamWorks Animation short Marooned is about two robots stuck on the Moon hoping to return to Earth. And he’s certainly over the moon about showing his creation to audiences.

Andrew Erekson: I’m excited. It’s new for me. I’m getting used to a lot of new things, but yeah I’m excited. A little nervous.

Jackson Murphy: I’ve always been interested in space travel and astronauts. This is the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing. Have you always been interested in space, space travel and robots?

AE: Oh yeah. For sure. Growing up, I think I went to bed almost every night watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was probably a big influence on me. I’ve always been fascinated with space and space exploration and robots. I always found robots to be interesting because they could be… humanoid or they could just look like the robots in my shorts – ovens.

JM: C-0R13 definitely looks like an oven. How did you determine that that’s what you wanted for the look?

AE: When I was coming up with the design for him, I’ve always had this philosophy of working general to specific. It’s something I learned in school doing illustrations. Basically, I at first came-up with shapes: it was a square and an oval. Based on the shapes dictated what the personalities [of the characters] were – the square being a bit more stoic and sturdy and a bit of a curmudgeon. And then the circle perhaps softer, rounder, naive, more childlike. That’s what they started-out design-wise. And then as I was going, I was looking at all sorts of references from 50s and 60s design, like old radios and televisions. Ultimately it was a culmination of all those things.

And then there are a couple little easter eggs on there for the robots themselves. I’ve always been a fan of “The Rocketeer”. I love the little fin in the shape of his helmet. C-0R13’s name is Corie. It’s sort of disguised in there. And the other little robot’s name is Alicia. So her name is disguised as A-L1C1A. I took the fin off of paying an homage to “The Rocketeer”. His fin on his head is a nod to that, and her little mohawk is a little nod to “The Iron Giant”, which is another favorite robot movie of mine.

Andrew Erekson

JM: And speaking of the 60s, there’s a 1969 movie called “Marooned” that I had never heard of until researching more about your short. It’s an Oscar winning film with Gregory Peck and Gene Hackman about astronauts that opened a few months after the Moon landing. Did you happen to draw any inspiration from that movie?

AE: I didn’t. When I came up with the title, like you, I actually Googled the name “Marooned” to see if any movies at all had been named that. The only thing I did was watch it – because it was showcased on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’m a fan of that show too.

JM: One of the highlights of your short is the score. It’s very comforting and classic, which I like a lot. What were your overall goals with the music?

AE: I’ve always been a fan of movies that have themes or motifs. Growing up with a lot of Spielberg, John Williams, Alan Silvestri, James Horner – all of these movies I grew up with… that corn-gold approach to scoring, was something that always stuck with me. I like those motifs representing the characters. They stick with you more. And that’s something I feel is lost, somewhat, nowadays. A lot of film scores don’t go that way anymore – not that they’re bad, they’re just different. I wanted to harken back to those thematic elements in the score.

When talking with the composer, Amie Doherty, she really caught onto this too. I really wanted to have an Earth rise theme. Every time you saw the Earth, we would have this theme running through. And then we had a working theme – and different variations to suggest their mood. And then I also wanted whistling. Whistling is fun. Ennio Morcione’s scores you hear whistling. I always find that stuff fun to do and it helps with the characters.

One thing Amy Doherty suggested, which I thought was brilliant, was to represent each character with an instrument. Corie is represented by a bass clarinet. And Alicia is represented by a mandolin. As they come into play in each shot, you’ll hear those instruments representing the characters. It’s a subtle thing, but I thought it was a great little touch to help give vocalization to the characters.

JM: So I’m not going to give away the ending, but every frame of this short is very important. Was the structure of the final minute or so of Marooned always planned like that?

AE: I had a couple different endings. As I was showing it to different people, I would get different suggestions. The button or little tag after the end credits… was something I had in my back pocket. I always felt the short worked either way – you could have it with or without. I felt, to be honest, it was a little stronger if you took it off. But then once we put it on, and I saw the reaction of audiences, and the way it was executed, I was fine with it. It’s interesting as people watch it to hear the audible reaction to it.

JM: That’s fascinating. By the way, when you go to Annecy, I think they’re going to love that the Eiffel Tower gets a real showcase in the short.

AE: Yeah. That was something we didn’t plan, so it will be kind of interesting to see the reaction.

JM: You have a lot of other things going on. I know extended footage of upcoming DreamWorks feature “Abominable” will be shown at Annecy as well. You’re a storyboard artist on the film. How was it working on that?

AE: “Abominable” was really great to work on. I worked on it with [directors] Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman, who I’ve known from when I used to work at Sony. Jill was actually the first person who hired me to work on “Hotel Transylvania”. She gave me my first job storyboarding, and that’s where I met Todd and we became good friends. In a weird way we all ended-up at DreamWorks. “Abominable” went through a lot of different changes, as these things do. It was fun and interesting to see how it evolved and changed from one story to another. I haven’t seen the final picture, but what I’ve seen looks amazing.

JM: Is “Marooned” going to be shown in front of “Abominable” in theaters?

AE: I don’t know. That’s something that’s been talked about, but I don’t think it’s really been decided. So we’ll see. I would love it.

JM: Fingers crossed! You also worked on the third “Dragon” movie. I think 2019 for DreamWorks, based on these two movies and your short, can be defined by characters longing for their true homes. How does that theme really speak to you?

AE: It’s kind of coincidence that all three of these come out simultaneously. But as a theme, it’s something relatable. A lot of people, in some way or another, can relate to that. I think that’s always good to have in any storytelling – a theme or notion that people can grasp onto that has universal appealing. Especially in the case of “Marooned” which, in all intensive purposes, is a silent film – those things have to be really strong and ring loud even though we’re silent.

JM: I know you’re also working on “The Boss Baby 2” – you’re head of story. Have you been working with Alec Baldwin yet on this?

AE: Me personally – no. I know there have been some recordings. The director and producers have been working with him.

JM: “The Boss Baby” was such a big hit – and an Oscar nominee. I think a lot of people are anxiously awaiting the return of this character.

AE: Yeah, I think so. I know Baldwin was excited when we told him about the story and the prospect of returning to that role. I know he does call sometimes and gives his own notes and ideas. So it’s neat to have somebody that’s invested in it and wants it to be successful. He’s the voice actor, of course, but he’s still interested enough to give ideas, thoughts and notes.

JM: That’s great to hear. You’ve also been nominated for two Daytime Emmy awards for your work on the DWA series “Trollhunters”. You’ve gone back and forth between movies and TV. Has that been challenging?

AE: Yeah, but in good ways. Working in features, you have the benefit of working things over and over and trying things out, testing things out, letting them fail, and trying them again. It can be a little monotonous. So there’s pros and cons to each. And when you go to television, you basically get a very little amount of time. And you gotta get it done. And what you get done is up on the screen in a very short amount of time. So there’s something satisfying of being able to go, “Oh – I did that and there it is.”

With working in television, you get a lot of mileage in. As an artist, you get better a lot quicker because of the time restraints and other restrictions they have in TV. And it’s kind of cool to come back to features with that experience and apply it to features, whether it’s speed or being a better draftsman – better at telling stories. It’s nice to see both sides of it.

JM: And you’re making shorts, too. Are there more shorts in your future?

AE: I’ll be continuing on “Boss Baby 2”. I do have ideas for maybe a feature that I’ll hopefully be able to put together and pitch at some point. And we’ll see what happens.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/interview-qa-with-dreamworks-director-andrew-erekson-on-marooned/
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Gkids Acquires Anca Damian’s “Marona’s Fantastic Tale”

Gkids has announced it has acquired North American distribution rights for the animated feature Marona’s Fantastic Tale, the new film from director Anca Damian, whose earlier film Crulic: The Path to Beyond, won Annecy’s Cristal Prize for Best Feature in 2012. Marona’s Fantastic Tale premieres in competition at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival today. The North American all-rights deal was negotiated by Gkids’ CEO Eric Beckman and Carole Baraton for Charades. Rights are being sold worldwide by Charades.


“We have been excited about this film since we saw the first images several years ago,” said GKIDS President David Jesteadt. “The film combines a unique and wildly inventive visual style with a universal story that goes straight to the heart for anyone who has been lucky enough to spend time with a dog. We are sure audiences are going to fall in love with the film as much as we have.”

“The Charades team is very proud that GKIDS fell under the spell of this very special movie,” said Carole Baraton, co-founder of Charades. “We are sure they will provide the exposure it deserves in the US market. After partnering on Mirai last year, we are super excited to embark again on this new adventure with them.”

SYNOPSIS
Marona is a mixed-breed Labrador whose life leaves deep traces among the humans she encounters. After an accident, she reflects on all the homes and different experiences she’s had. As Marona’s memory journeys into the past, her unfailing empathy and love brings lightness and innocence into each of her owners’ lives, in this beautiful and deeply emotional story of an average dog and her extraordinary life.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/gkids-acquires-anca-damians-maronas-fantastic-tale/
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FIRST LOOK: Disney’s new “Chip n’ Dale”

Today at Annecy International Animated Film Festival, Disney announced the original series Chip ‘n’ Dale is in production for the Disney+ streaming service and shared a first look at the logo for the upcoming original series Monsters At Work. Combining a traditional style of animation with contemporary, comedic narratives, Chip ‘n’ Dale is being directed by Jean Cayrol and produced by Marc du Pontavice. The show is developed by Disney’s London-based animation team in collaboration with Xilam Animation in Paris.

Chip ‘n’ Dale will be fully produced by Xilam, an award-winning independent production studio known around the world for visual invention and cartoon comedy. The 39 x seven-minute episodes will feature the return of Disney’s much-loved chipmunk troublemakers in a non-verbal, classic style comedy, following the ups and downs of two little creatures living life in the big city. Combining a traditional style of animation with contemporary, comedic narratives, Chip ‘n’ Dale is directed by Jean Cayrol and produced by Marc du Pontavice.

Set to premiere on Disney+ in 2020, Monsters At Work stars Ben Feldman as Tylor Tuskmon, with original “Monsters, Inc.” voices Billy Crystal and John Goodman returning as Mike and Sulley. Inspired by Disney and Pixar’s Academy Award-winning feature film “Monsters, Inc.,” the series picks up six months after the original movie’s story, with the Monsters, Inc. power plant now harvesting the laughter of children to fuel the city of Monstropolis – thanks to Mike and Sulley’s discovery that laughter generates ten times more energy than screams. Tylor Tuskmon is an eager and talented young mechanic on the Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team (MIFT) who dreams of working his way up to the factory Laugh Floor to become a jokester alongside his idols Mike and Sulley. The series was developed and is executive produced by Disney animation veteran Bobs Gannaway (“Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” “Planes: Fire & Rescue”) with Ferrell Barron (“Planes: Fire & Rescue”) serving as producer.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/first-look-disneys-new-chip-n-dale/
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INTERVIEW: Creator Matt Braly on “Amphibia”

Annie Award-winning Gravity Falls writer, director and storyboard artist Matt Braly has created a new Disney Channel animated series. Amphibia, starring Mouse House staple Brenda Song, premieres June 17th. The show has just wrapped production on Season 1 and has already been renewed for a second year.

Jerry Beck: What does the title of the show refer to?

Matt Braley: The title is the world itself. And the town they’re in is called Wartwood. But the world proper is Amphibia. That’s the entire magical world that Anne gets sent to.

JB: It is a magical world. It’s a mythologically enchanted world. There’s a giant mantis, and of course you can talk to the frogs. I guess there are some secrets because this has a story arc to it, doesn’t it?

MB: Yes it does. The show is episodic, but light serialization – kind of over-the-top. I took huge inspiration from shows like “Gravity Falls” and “Steven Universe”. I think how they handled long-form storytelling was really inspiring to me.

JB: What got you into being an artist? Were you a creative artist kid? Did you read a lot of comic books? What is it that got you into this?

MB: All it really takes, I feel like, as a kid – your mom or your dad puts a drawing on the refrigerator. And from that point on you’re like, “Hey! I’m pretty good at this.” I spent my whole childhood drawing. I loved drawing Mortal Kombat characters and Transformers. But I didn’t really take animation as a career path seriously until my freshman year of high school.

My high school had a job fair, and this Pixar animator named Bobby Podesta came because he was an alumni. And he talked a little bit about what he did. He did this great drawing on the chalkboard of Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast. And from that minute, I was kind of hooked.

JB: Did you look at the old Disney classics or watch any of the Warner Bros. cartoons?

MB: I grew up watching all kinds of Looney Tunes and also those Disney classics. I feel like when I was growing up in the 90s, there was that huge VHS boom: “What was old is new again!” I remember even watching things like Fun and Fancy Free thinking it was new as a kid, but of course it wasn’t. (laughs) But I definitely soaked in all that stuff.

JB: I read on your bio is that Anne is inspired by your grandmother.

MB: I have this incredibly old photo of my grandmother. It must be from the 1920s. It’s her as a child, and in that photo, she has this amazing “wild child” hair and this ferocious look. And I remember always loving this photo and looking at it and saying to myself, “What a fantastic character.”

JB: Wow. That’s great. What is Sprig’s personality?

MB: Sprig is this very youthful, optimistic and energetic kid. He’s genuinely a kid. That was something we really honed-in on as we were casting him, as we were developing him, as we were writing him. We wanted him to feel very genuine. For example, we cast an actual youth to play him. Justin [Felbinger]… he brings an authenticity to the performance.

JB: And Hop-Pop is the grandfather.

MB: Yes, Hop-Pop is his Bilbo Baggins-esque grandfather voiced by the amazing Bill Farmer.

JB: He is also the official voice of Disney’s Goofy.

MB: He’s amazing, dude! Anyone who can sing as Goofy, that’s something, right?

JB: Let’s talk about your point of view of the fact that he show is a combination of humor and adventure – and real danger.

MB: I’m so glad that you’ve keyed-in on that. For this show, and it was something that I really picked up from “Gravity Falls”, which is really where I cut my teeth in terms of TV animation… things were always incredibly real in “Gravity Falls”. Even though it had the trappings of a sitcom, somehow at the end of the episode, the characters’ lives were genuinely at stake. I was absolutely looking to deliver that, so as an audience member you would feel worried for these characters in the third act. So this world, as cute and as friendly and magical as it can seem, it’s got some teeth.

JB: Yes, literally.

MB: (laughs) And mandibles.

JB: Clearly in the second episode, there’s a hint of what is [really] going on here.

MB: The whole draw in terms of the long-form storytelling is that you have these three best friends and they all get zapped into the world in different places. And the three of them together will have very different experiences – to the point where when they meet up over the course of the series, they’ll have changed dramatically.

JB: In the first two episodes, we’re mainly looking at things from Anne’s point of view. But are you going to be doing episodes down the road from other characters’ point of view?

MB: Without giving too much away, I’m just gonna say Yes. And that’s really exciting for us.

The creators behind Disney’s AMPHIBIA – writer Jack Ferraiolo, creator Matt Braly, Story Editor Gloria Shen – with yours truly, interviewer Jerry Beck

JB: I also got a vibe from the second episode… this show can go dark. It’s starting off in a very fun, upbeat way, but I can feel a turn might be down the road.

MB: Absolutely, man. You’re keying right into it. As you say, it’s very friendly and fun at the start. But I think the whole idea here is there’s something much richer and much deeper under the surface. I think that for the relationships of these three girls… this place will allow the three of them to re-evaluate their relationship as well.

JB: I love that it’s got this deeper thing. To be fair… I guess you need to watch the entire show – all the episodes. You almost can’t get a real sense of it from [not just] that first episode.

MB: That would be my preference. And it’s funny because we live now in an age where that is kind of storytelling. It’s really “in”: this serialized, binged storytelling. Props to Disney. Ordinarily I would expect a little push back when it comes to stuff like that. But they’ve been very encouraging in terms of, “What’s the overall payoff for these characters in this world?”

JB: I’m a big fan of Disney leading the way. Those Marvel movies are pretty much transforming theatrical movies that way. As an old timer, I was a big fan of those old-time movie serials from the 40s, with Flash Gordon and things like that. That was a thing that was lost for decades. It’s something that started cinema, believe it or not, it goes back to the 1910s in movies, and then it was lost for decades – and is just really resurging now in the last 10-15 years.

MB: Infinity War [and Endgame] – it’s insane. It’s like we all watched a TV show at the same time. We’re all experiencing this crazy payoff. And I also wanted to tell you too that I’m an artist with my influences. Obviously on “Gravity Falls”, I worked with Alex Hirsch. He was amazing – a great friend and mentor.

But I also got to work with Aaron Springer, who is an absolute comedic genius. And I remember the lessons that I learned from him. He was a director on Season 1 of “Gravity Falls”. There is a little bit of Springer in this show as well. His comedic timing and sensibilities really rubbed off on me.

JB: I feel it in terms of the humor style. I think you’re taking all these inspirations and sources and putting them all together in a new mix that is very, very satisfying.

MB: Even the way the first episode starts, not from her POV, but from the town… vagrants – that kind of style choice. I was so sure that Disney would not have been encouraging of that, but they loved it.

JB: And even the second episode that starts with her back in her regular world… you got the cinematics of it… and the beautiful Disney production values of it.

MB: Oh, yes. And you actually came to visit “Gravity Falls” crew back in the day, didn’t you?

JB: I did.

MB: Ian Worrel… is also the art director of this project. And the man is a genius. The entire look of the show can be attributed to him. No one paints rocks and trees better than this man.

JB: What is the [target] age group for Amphibia?

MB: The demo is 6-11 boys and girls. But from my point of view, I’m striving to make something that anyone can enjoy – that families can sit down together. I feel like the gold standard has been that all-inclusive Pixar feeling.

JB: And how long have you been working on this?

MB: I’ve been working on this for three and a half years. It was in development for almost two years, and then we’ve been in production for about a year and a half. So all in all… that’s comparable to a feature.

(Special thanks to Jackson Murphy)

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/interview-creator-matt-braly-on-amphibia/
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TRAILER #2: Disney’s “Frozen 2”

A new trailer was revealed this morning for Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Frozen 2, offering a glimpse at the dramatic journey Elsa and Anna take into the unknown. From the Academy Award-winning team—directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, producer Peter Del Vecho and songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez—and featuring the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad, Frozen 2 opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 22, 2019.

Why was Elsa born with magical powers? The answer is calling her and threatening her kingdom. Together with Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven, she’ll set out on a dangerous but remarkable journey. In Frozen, Elsa feared her powers were too much for the world. In Frozen 2, she must hope they are enough.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/trailer-2-disneys-frozen-2/
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Gkids Picks Up China’s “White Snake”

GKIDS, the acclaimed producer and distributor of animation for adult and family audiences, announced it has acquired the North American distribution rights for the animated feature White Snake, which premieres in competition at the Annecy Int’l Animated Film Festival this week. GKIDS will release the film theatrically this fall in both original Chinese and a new English-language version.

White Snake marks GKIDS’ first Chinese animated film. The film comes from Beijing-based Light Chaser Animation, one of China’s premiere animation studios, in a co-production with Warner Bros., and was co-directed by Amp Wong and Zhao Ji. It grossed RMB 449 million (US $67 million) during its theatrical release in China earlier this year. White Snake follows Blanca – a young woman who has lost her memory – as she searches for her identity, in a story based on one of China’s oldest tales.

GKIDS’ CEO and Founder Eric Beckman and Light Chaser Animation’s Yu Zhou negotiated the all-rights deal. International sales outside of North America, China, and Japan are handled by All Rights Entertainment, who also handled sales on the two previous animated films produced by Light Chaser Animation. “Light Chaser Animation are true innovators, raising the bar for top notch Chinese animation and storytelling,” said GKIDS President David Jesteadt. “We are overjoyed to be releasing this stunning epic to North American audiences.”

SYNOPSIS
From Light Chaser Animation, one of China’s premiere animation studios, comes a visually stunning new take on a classic legend. One day a young woman named Blanca is saved by Xuan, a snake catcher from a nearby village. She has lost her memory, and together they go on a journey to discover her real identity, developing deeper feelings for one another along the way. But as they learn more about her past, they uncover a darker plot of supernatural forces vying for power, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Conceived as a prequel to one of the most ancient and enduring stories in Chinese history, White Snake presents a sumptuous tale of trickster demons, deadly mythical beasts, assassins, wuxia action, and the promise of eternal love.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/gkids-picks-up-chinas-white-snake/
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Nickelodeon Launches New Animated Shorts Program

Nickelodeon is setting out to develop the next generation of animation talent through the launch of its new Intergalactic Shorts Program. With new leadership at Nick Animation, and a newly installed team driving its search for new talent, the Intergalactic Shorts Program is designed to identify original, comedy-driven content and nurture the voices and passionate storytellers behind them in a creative-led environment. Ramsey Naito, Nickelodeon’s Executive Vice President, Animation Production and Development, will oversee the program. Newly hired Conrad Vernon (Sausage Party) has joined Nickelodeon as the program’s executive producer, with Derek Evanick (Harvey Beaks) and Diana Lafyatis (Adventure Time) serving as part of the program’s creative braintrust. International pitches and ideas will be welcomed by Nina Hahn, Senior Vice President International Production and Development, Nickelodeon.

Said Naito: “Our shorts program is intergalactic because we want to create a universe of new stars ready to make the next big animated hits of the future,” said Naito. “Our doors are open to the best ideas out there and around the world, and we can’t wait to get started building this new home for visionary talent.”

In line with Nickelodeon’s co-viewing strategy to offer content appealing to all members of the family, the target demo for content submitted to the Intergalactic Shorts Program is Kids 6-11, with a secondary focus on content appealing to Adults 18-49, as well. Ideas will be accepted from a broad pool of creative talent from all quarters, including artists, designers, writers, directors and comedians. Creators will be provided with the necessary artistic and production support teams to help them complete their fully animated short. These shorts will have opportunities to air on different platforms and be developed for potential long-form animated series. Details surrounding submissions will be available this summer.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/nickelodeon-launches-new-animated-shorts-program/
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INTERVIEW: Victor Cook on Disney Channel’s “T.O.T.S.”

“T.O.T.S” is Disney Channel’s latest animated series. The story centers around two buddies — a flamingo and a penguin — who join a baby animal delivery service. Vic Cook, fresh-off Netflix’ Stretch Armstrong, was given the duty of bringing this show to life.

Jackson Murphy: What initially attracted you to this project?

Vic Cook: This show has been in development for a few years. It was created by Travis Braun – a very talented writer and producer. What I [first] read was a made-for-TV movie script. It had all this heart, humor and comedy, and a fantastic story. It seemed great for kids but appealing to all ages. And that’s what initially got me on board.

JM: So then how did it go from a made-for-TV movie to a series?

VC: Before I read that script, that decision was made by Disney Junior, and they thought, “Wow – this would make a great TV show. It’d be great for it to come into kids’ homes every week and really get to know these characters on a daily basis.

JM: And Braun recently signed an overall deal with Disney Channels Worldwide doing many different projects. He clearly has a strong vision when it comes to content. How have you seen that in working with him?

VC: The heart you see in the show really comes from the heart of Travis Braun. It’s his world view. One of the themes of the show is that no matter what your feathers, you can achieve your dreams. He’s a fantastic writer, but he’s involved in every step of the process. His feelings of what he wants to present in the show, we make sure it’s reflected in the animation, the storyboards and the music, as well as the scripts.

JM: And I’m sure one of the things you and Travis really had to go through was figuring out what “T.O.T.S.” would stand for. It is officially Tiny Ones Transport Service. Was it difficult figuring out what that would stand for?

VC: No – it was just meant to be. That’s what it stands for.

JM: That’s cool.

VC: When things are in development, they have different titles a lot of times along the way. But “T.O.T.S.” just seemed so perfect.

JM: I love watching Pip the Penguin and Freddy the Flamingo. You could pick from all kinds of animals. What made them the perfect two animals and characters to be the central focus of the show?

VC: Well, they are birds that in real life would contrast each other. Flamingos come from a warm climate and penguins, obviously, from a cold climate. You can have contrasting personalities. And penguins have a great sense of smell, which helps them with their direction. So that’s why Pip is the guy who knows where to go. He does all the mapping. And Freddy is a flyer. So that’s why we picked those two birds, in particular, to represent these characters.

Victor Cook, Executive Producer of Disney Junior’s “T.O.T.S.” (Disney Junior)

JM: I really enjoyed when Freddy says in the first episode, “When it doubt – order more pizza.” Because it’s true. Kids will relate to that. I related to that. I think everybody can.

VC: (laughs) As you watch the show, you’re going to find that Freddy has a real fondness for cheese. It’s a real comfort food for kids, as you know too.

JM: Still a comfort food for me. And you’ve got star-power on this show, too. Vanessa Williams voices Captain Beakman and Megan Hilty is K.C. How has it been working with the two of them?

VC: It’s fantastic. Vanessa just has that perfect combination of warmth and authority, which totally fits Captain Beakman. She’s the boss. She’s in charge. She runs T.O.T.S. It’s her responsibility to make sure that operation runs on time. But she is also very nurturing to her workers. She wants them to succeed. And so she’s always there behind them and encouraging them. That combination of warmth and authority: Vanessa really comes through. And Megan, as K.C., is also perfectly cast – so energetic; all this “get up and go”. They’re just perfect. They’re fantastic to work with. I love watching them in the booth.

JM: The first part of the series premiere is called “You Gotta Be Kitten Me”. Speaking of coming up with what things would stand for – these cute titles of each episode!

VC: (laughs) That credit really goes to Travis and Guy Toubes and the team of writers. They are an amazing group. I have the great fortune to sit in on a number of breaking stories and read throughs. I love seeing it all come together with this group.

JM: This episode explores the parent-child emotional attachment. Did that element… hit home for you and many of the people working on this show?

VC: It does hit home, being a parent myself. My kids are grown but it seems like yesterday that I brought them home as babies. Working on the show is bringing back all these memories.

JM: And the second part of this first episode is called “Whale Hello There”. And it includes a young voice for Baby Wyatt.

VC: We have a lot of different kids who are guest starring, voicing various characters on the show. The little girl who voices the kitten in Part A is sort of a semi-regular on the show. And when she came into the recording booth, she announced to us, “I’m the baby expert!” She really is – and she was really able to pull off all those great sounds.

JM: And these have to be amazing opportunities and experiences for these kids to voice characters on a Disney animated series (and for their parents).

VC: Oh, yeah. They seem really thrilled. The process is that we bring them in for the initial record. A few months down the line, sometimes we have to bring them back for pick-ups or ADR, and then they get to see it in storyboard form and sometimes rough animation form. And it’s really fun to see their eyes light up when they actually see the characters – and their voices coming out of the characters.

JM: And I think that’s why kids have been attracted to animation for so long: the warmth you feel from the look of characters. And here – they’re bright, round and wholesome. What was the overall vibe you wanted to go for with the look of this show?

VC: Well almost everything you just said. From the initial promo image [released], you’ll notice there are some slight tweaks and differences. They’re younger now and cuter. And we just wanted a bright, vibrant world. We really wanted that to come through in the colors. And we wanted our shapes to have a round, friendly feel to it. If you look at T.O.T.S. headquarters and the container crates and a lot of their technology, it’s rounded shapes. We carry that motif all throughout. And we just wanted really classic, squash and stretch animation. We really wanted to bring that to CGI animation.

The animators we have working on the show are truly amazing. I’ve been so lucky to be a part of this through every stage. You see the drawings, an then you see the drawings turn into these sculpted models. And then before the animators can animate, they do something called rigging. And that’s all the different points of articulation. Besides the animator himself, I think the amount of rigging is the true key to get that squash and stretch animation. If they’re only rigged like an action figure, then they can only pivot at certain limited points. So you can have a great animator, but the character can’t really move. They rigged this all over the place. So that’s why we get all these fantastic facial expressions, body movements, and the animators can really go to town bringing these characters to life.

JM: You mentioned “younger” for Pip and Freddy. Were they originally going to be a little older than they are?

VC: They were a little bit older in the early development. And when we started the show, we brought them to this age.

JM: I think it works… for kids: hearing young voices and the youthful energy of the two of them. And this is a show with a big theme of teamwork. How have you seen the teamwork of you and your crew in putting this all together?

VC: This is one of the most fantastic crews I’ve worked with. Not only is everybody super talented, but we all seem to find ourselves on the same page with what we want to do creatively in telling the show. Everyone from our lead character designer, John Jagusak to our writers, to our composer, Rob Cantor, to our animators. It’s been a fantastic process of true teamwork. We’re all on board for this vision, and we’re all working towards it.

JM: What are some of the other storylines and adventures we’ll be seeing on this first batch of “T.O.T.S.” episodes?

VC: I don’t want to spill the beans too much on particular plots, but we are going to go to different parts of our world. And we are going to see a variety of different, cute babies. It’s going to be a lot of fun. And sometimes there are obstacles along the way for Pip and Freddy to overcome in order to get the babies to where they’ve got to get to. But they always manage to get their job done.

JM: My favorite animal has always been an elephant. What is your favorite animal, and have you seen that animal be brought to life somewhere in “T.O.T.S.” so far?

VC: I really like cheetahs because they run really fast. And maybe you’ll see a cheetah on this show that runs really fast!

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/interview-victor-cook-on-disney-channels-t-o-t-s/
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REVIEW: “The Secret Life Of Pets 2”

When we last saw the Secret Life of Pets crew in 2016, all of them were contented indeed. Doggies Max and Duke had learned to happily co-exist, Gidget the Pomeranian continued to dream of marrying Max, Pops retired, Snowball the anarchist rabbit was happily adopted, and pampered feline Chloe presumably busied herself packing on a few more pounds. However, after grossing $363 million domestically ($875 million worldwide), it was certain that the pet’s secret lives would be busy once again. Frankly, it’s good to have them back.

Consistency and continuity greatly helped this film. Director Chris Renaud, who directed the first film, is back on board for the sequel, aided by co-director Jonathan del Val. Both are Illumination veterans who worked extensively on the Despicable Me and Minions franchises. Also returning is a majority of the original voice cast. Illumination is becoming Pixar’s closest rival in well-produced franchise properties, and Pets 2 cements that growing reputation.

The film eschews straightforward narrative this time, instead focusing on episodic, alternating storylines that do not come together until the brief third act. The first act showcases Max and Duke’s new family (including toddler Liam) as they vacation at a family-owned farm. It’s a difficult trip for Max, who obsesses over Liam’s safety to the point of a nervous breakdown. Things change dramatically when farm dog Rooster teaches Max the meaning of bravery. The second storyline details the efforts of puffy Pomeranian Gidget to guard Max’s favorite toy while he’s away. When the bee-shaped ball is (inevitably) lost, it’s up to Gidget to retrieve it from an apartment where an elderly cat lady houses dozens of tough, nasty cats. Not until she learns “the way of the cat” from Chloe will she be ready. The final storyline features Snowball, whose owner dresses him as a superhero. The delusional rabbit comes to believe that he is one. When Cocker Spaniel Daisy implores him to rescue an abused tiger cub from a cruel circus owner, they team up to free the helpless animal. This pits them against a pack of trained wolves and their evil master.

Some funny and imaginative scenes enliven the film. When Max’ owner takes him to a vet for relief of his anxiety, Max finds himself in a waiting room filled with neurotic pets that make his problem seem trivial. Snowball is the star of his own fantasy superhero sequence, portrayed in traditional animation reminiscent of the stylings of Bob Kane. Gidget dreams up a homey, cliché vision of married life with Max, complete with pups. Max undertakes a thrilling rescue of a mindless sheep at the direction of Rooster. An improbable but highly entertaining chase sequence involving a train is also a fast-paced winner.

Pets 2 features the best animation Illumination has ever produced. Animation director Patrick Delage, layout director Damien Bapst, and Production Designer Colin Stimpson (among many others) turn in a fantastic job: even among today’s sophisticated CGI animated features, this film shines. Many times I found myself admiring the backgrounds, props, and settings. The apartments featured have a lived-in look complete with chips, cracks, and stains, and the farm scenes are detailed with bucolic perfection.

The voice cast has not lost a beat since 2016. Patton Oswalt (taking over the role originated by Louis C.K. in the first film) and Eric Stonestreet make a fine pair as Max and Duke respectively. Jenny Slate’s yappy Gidget is a treat, and and Dana Carvey’s grandfatherly growl as Pops is still perfect for his character. Best of all is Kevin Hart’s reprise of the hyperkinetic, overconfident rabbit Snowball. (during the credits Snowball suddenly reappears as a rapper. I wonder if that scene was in his contract). As for the newcomers, Harrison Ford’s voice is too recognizable as Rooster; he could be identified if uncredited. On the other hand, stand-up comic Tiffany Haddish is a real find as cheeky, resolute Cocker Spaniel Daisy. I was disappointed to see Lake Bell’s Chloe receive so little screen time, but she does have one great scene where she lolls about high on catnip to the strains of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and imitates the Cheshire Cat.

Toy Story 4 has yet to debut, but Secret Life of Pets 2 is the best animated film to hit mainstream theaters in 2019 thus far. If the film performs as expected—and it likely will—then the secret is out about these pets; I for one would welcome a third installment.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/review-the-secret-life-of-pets-2/
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Gkids to Releasing “Bunuel In The Labybrith Of The Turtles” For Academy Consideration

GKIDS has announced it will release Salvador Simó’s Bunel In The Labyrinth of the Turtles on August 16th in Los Angeles. The film, based on a Spanish graphic novel, will be screening in competition at the Annecy Festival next week. A rare and unusual meditation on the nature of art and the torment of the artist, the feature will receive its qualifying theatrical run at Landmark’s Nuart theatre in West LA.

SYNOPSIS:
In a stranger-than-fiction tale befitting the master surrealist filmmaker, Bunel In The Labyrinth of the Turtles tells the true story of how Luis Buñuel made his second movie. Paris, 1930. Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel are main figures of the Surrealist movement, but Buñuel is left penniless after a scandal surrounding his film L’Age d’Or. However, his good friend, the sculptor Ramón Acín, buys a lottery ticket with the promise that, if he wins, he will pay for his next film. Incredibly, luck is on their side, and so they set out to make the movie, an ambitious documentary on the Las Hurdes region in Spain. Both a buddy adventure and fascinating episode of cinematic history, Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles presents a deeply affecting and humanistic portrait of an artist hunting for his purpose.

from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/gkids-to-releasing-bunuel-in-the-labybrith-of-the-turtles-for-academy-consideration/
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