Friday, September 29, 2006

Curious



As some of you know Curious George was my last project. It is my last time animating on a feature . I have been animating since 1979 and as 2D was being battered by bad choices and bad timing I decided years ago that I had maybe one more film in me , but that was it . Animating is incredibly time consuming and supervising is more than that. We went in with our eyes open though. The film was in the process for 16 or more years before we even set our eyes on it which, is not good. Managements changed , what seemed like hundreds of writers trundled through and even we lost our beloved director Jun in what seemed to be a 2 year battle.



In the end we lost the war to keep it in North America , they had spent so much on scripts and our time had run out ( they had absolute production dates linked to marketing contracts they would have been penalized for ) so we lost the entire crew at Universal (some went to Mikes outside the union border to be paid non Union wages ) all of the LA cleanup was sent to Asia. That meant that everything we had done would be put through a process of disassembly so that it could be churned out by a system that produces the most base and mediocre of animation. What we got back was devoid of the original ruff inbetweens, they threw away our lipsync (probably couldn't understand a non ABCDEF mouth system , I envied Tony's George team, ha, no lip sync ) and put in inbetweens that were only called inbetweens because they fell somewhere relatively between the major keys.




Our new director Matt told me near the end not to look at the animation coming in , it would only make me angry. I admit, I looked and it did but ..... I didn't worry about it. I realized that the story worked ( thank god for Matt , Darrell head of story and Ken the writer ) and there was nothing to be done. I didn't go to the premiere but that was because I wanted to put off any upset I might feel. Normally a film in animation production takes a year and a half but we only had seven months. We fixed what animation we could under the table even though we were told not to. Strangely enough our management knew ( Bonne and Mary Alice were and are the best and every cutback was as much a blow to them ) . The Imagine/Universal management themselves came in and , knowing we were hurting , asked point blank how much more they could hurt us. It wasn't really a question, it was a statement of what was coming and we all knew it.





Our American outsources like Fat Cat , Firefly , Yowza , Mikes July Films, the guys in France and James Baxter did the best they could under ridiculous conditions and really , as uneven as it may seem , without them it would have been probably the ugliest animation ever produced . Our strengths were the art director Yarrow Cheney (who is just awesome) , the designers Shannon and Shane , our producers Bonne + Mary Alice and our final director Matt (who will tell you the basic story was there but , I know and he did a hell of a job). Tony , Jeff Franz , Steve and John the leads were great to work with and that really is all animation is about. I know I should feel bad because it lacked perfection , it has a million different Ted's but , I actually have gotten over all that and can just enjoy it now. It was a great film to end on that way and I have no regrets. I probably like it more because no matter what we had done it was going to happen the way it did.


25 comments:

Shane P said...

What a crazy time dude. I miss workin with you man.You have taught me more than you will know....lets make out! Oh and Ill try to have an avartar bye monday!

TotalD said...

Lol, I thought Shannon had dibbs on you :) Heehee ! God , we are lonely in animation aren't we . You easily taught me as much Shane .

Mukpuddy said...

Wow, this is great insight into how it all works!! It's such a shame classic stories and characters can get f##ked with so much by the people wearing suits, it's cool you found your peace with it dude! We still haven't had the film down here in New Zealand, so Im kinda handing out, probably just end up getting it off Amazon!

Cool blog by the ways, will you ever post drawings from George?

TotalD said...

I have a a lot. What I should post is some of the early production stuff. That might be too scary though :) I'm doing some Pixar stuff tonight that I'm behind on so maybe in the next week.

Kei Acedera said...

Wow, what a head-ache it must have been to deal with all that mess..But with all that hard work, the end results are always rewarding..I really enjoyed the film, you guys just made Curious George even more lovable..I wish he was real!

Mukpuddy said...

Yeah some of the early stuff would be awesome dude, I always love seeing the really early pre-production stuff!!!

Senor D. said...

Thank you for giving us these gory details of the production process (or whatever it's called). We get into this stuff with such unrealistic hopes. Sorry to hear you're done. Best of luck.

DTN said...

Great post, Mr. B. Scary, but very interesting and with lessons to be gleaned. Should be required reading by execs who think they know how to put together an animated film ("how hard could it be? Just a cartoon" they blithely think to themselves) but are totally clueless and dangerous.

This film sounds like a textbook case of how to do mismanage a production, despite having great people on board. The fact that it turned out as good as it did is a testimony to you guys who were supervising on it and who went above and beyond the call of duty to try to salvage the good that was there . I thought Curious George held together pretty well in terms of the animation , but I know it must have been frustrating to see scenes coming back from clean up at one of the overseas animation factories with the inbetweens and lip-sync ignored.

I'm glad to see you're blogging and look forward to your drawings and your thoughts on the animation industry and otherwise.

TotalD said...

Hopefully I don't make out that this is all hopeless or anything of the sort . It's not , it is just important though to keep your eyes open and realize that this starts as a business first so expect business decisions. For all of us who weld the stylus our focus often becomes very narrow (myself most definately ). That can be our undoing if caught off guard . I still think intelligent choices and careful preservation of your energy focused on the things that matter and you will survive quite nicely . We tried , and with at least a degree of success to make everything count. We were lucky to have the people we had.

And don't feel sorry. I am not out of art I just don't want to do any more full time feature work. I just finished 30 CG sets for my own project so I'm kinda still "doing it " as well as the stuff on the side. I think what Shannon ,Shane , Andy and Devon are doing the right thing by producing their own work. Even if you only do it a few times in your life there is nothing more satisfying than working your own projects. Most of all, even more than being hard work, art should be fun :)

TotalD said...

Thanks Dave. Well you have had just as many adventures I'm sure. Great to see you out here as well.

bclark said...

All that said, I just watched it twice this last weekend with my little 2 year old girl. She loved it, I had a great time watching it and was just happy to see a film that was fun, and I could just watch it and not think about animation. I have not done that in a long long time. Anyway just wanted to post- a sorry things were bad but the end result was a very enjoyable film. So thank you for your hard work on the movie my family apreciates it and aprecaites all the other hardworking people that snuck around to make it better.

Todd_J said...

So here's where you've been hiding.

As much as this production was a pain in all our sides, I'll never forget your comment to me when I finished animating that scene for you. What made me appreciate it even more was that you've seen where I've been and what I've done over the ten plus years since we met.

I sure hope we get to work together again someday. (That would make it five.) Anything you need help on, you let me know.

All my best wishes, Pally.

TotalD said...

On behalf of the whole crew of CG (some of which have visited here ) you are so welcome Brad. All the crews struggled to do the best they could and the most satisfying thing to us I think is that children can watch it with parents . Matt our director , who sacrificed a lot of his time with his own family, is the one to really thank though. I hope he is proud and it does something good for him.

TotalD said...

Hey Todd ! What an incredibly kind offer. I'll keep that in mind and don't be surprised if I take you up an it :) By the way, if I haven't told you a thousand times, thanks.

Blair Kitchen said...

Hi Dave! I was up at Yowza animating for you guys, and really enjoyed working with you guys. We lucked out, because everyone (as animators) that we got to work with, such as yourself and Matt, were really great. We didn't have to concern ourselves with all of the B.S. that was going on down in L.A. So for me, it was a really great experience. I agree that Matt did an excellent job with the story, and watching it again, all of the cuts that he made at the end, really worked. I remember you saying this would be your last feature, but wasn't sure if you really meant it. Take care.

TotalD said...

Blair ! As long as I live you will never have to remind me who you are. Every one of your scenes was a joy.

Mr. Semaj said...

It's not as depressing as it would sound.

Frankly, I'm surprised nobody threw out all of your sweat and blood and turned Curious George into another lame-ass live-action/CGI feature. For them to stay the hand-drawn course during this CGI fad shows that at least ONE of your executives made a smart decision.

Anyways, my girlfriend and I enjoyed the film.

TotalD said...

Well actually now you mention it Semaj .... Lucasfilm not only built George model but tried tests of it. They tried to do a live version of it. and It was ....... very scary. As I said 16 years before we got it. We actually had the Lucas George head in the studio and totally ignore it. Shannon could tell you about that. We hid it in one of the desks because honestly, it was too scary to look at. Brad Bird actually wrote a live action script for it while we were doing Osmosis. So , it wasn't for them not trying.

Justin Barrett said...

Enjoyed reading your comments, TotalD. The film was fun to watch...not perfect, as you say, but definitely fun, and our five-year-old daughter loved it as well. We just picked up the DVD, but didn't tell her, so I'm curious to see her reaction when she spots it on the shelf.

I also wanted to echo your props for Yarrow Cheney. I've had the pleasure of working with him and his wife Carrie for the past few months as they directed us at Reel FX on their project, The Very First Noel. They're both awesome people, and Yarrow's work is just amazing. He acted as both co-director and production designer (and probably more), and I always loved to peek over his shoulder as he was working on designs and matte paintings for the show. It wasn't until recently that I learned of his involvement on Curious George, so I'll have a new appreciation for that when I watch it again.

Sorry to hear that George was your last feature (if I read correctly). What are you working on next?

TotalD said...

Yarrow is indeed a wonderful person , awesome talent and really the heart of the look (I know , it's pretty sickening having to listen to "Oh they are great, wonderful , talented" but in Yarrows case it's all true) . One of the joys of George was watching him paint the setups . You feel smarter after just watching him and he sold me on the Cintiq (helped by the digital hucksters Shane and Shannon, I mean they were using adapted personal touch screen laptops ) .

Right now I am doing my own project (not animated , though it kind of looks it ) and freelancing some design work for Pixar . I think of it as a working retirement.

chuck said...

Gee,
Like this never happened before?
It ain't over yet, honey!
hugs and kisses
Total Devoted Fan
hey where's Spafford?

TotalD said...

Wendoid is working with Debbie Chuck, I will ask. Yeah I know and this probably isn't any worse than any other production . One of the other leads wrote me and said " Yah know, and every word of it is true. Thats exactly what happened " :)

chuck said...

I just saw Bruno Bozetto's Allegro Non Troppo again on the big screen.
Not a perfect film but awesome animation and great style!!
And no CG

Chuck

CarolineJarvis said...

It's always intriguing to get an insight into areas I would like to dive into one day. I've been in the biz for about a year and a half.. doing mostly tv animation (currently Johhny Test)and the big dream is to animate on some feature films. There's not much animation that impresses me these days, but I must say Curious George blew me away.... While the credits were rolling(the first time I saw it in theatres), there were several groups of children in circles dancing to the music because they loved the film so much! It was amazing! ... one of those moments that makes you proud to do what you do. The biz can be a bitch sometimes but seriously, you gotta be proud to have been a part of such an extraordinary film.

Thanks so much for your insight.... what are you working on these days?

TotalD said...

Yeah I saw Bruno's Olymic stuff. It was great, he still has a sense of humor.

Caroline, you are right, the biz is a bitch. All of us whine about it but that doesn't change it so now that 2D is kind of on the momentary outs it's time to create new models. As you may have noticed producers are finding out 3D is not an instant win. The way they judge the audience is pretty simple. They don't restrict production at all so once again you have films becoming non events. Nobody learns a thing.

And me. well , that's just a secret :)
I did a little work for Pixar on a feature that is due in 2011 ( hmmm hopefully I will live to see it :) ) and I turned down some really great offers to do my own stuff. I will probably regret it but I think it is time to . If not now it will never happen and that is something no artist should have to give up.

And that's great about the kids. Frankly I enjoy what they think most of all. Adults liking Curious is a great plus but it is made for kids.