Still Loco for Toons
It seems like just yesterday that we began hearing whisperings of the Latin American animation market’s emerging promise, and a certain Gothic-inspired CG animated feature out of Mexico that was stirring antennas in the Toon Town hive. It’s hard to believe that’s it has been a full five years since Lo Coloco Films opened its doors in Mexico City.
Founded by prolific producer Pablo Baksht, the talented team of artists were brought together by their shared dedication to dreaming big, working hard and being just a little bit nutty. As a studio rep explained to us, “Everything we do is silly, and there is a reason they call us crazy—“Lo Coloco” in Spanish is the word crazy repeated twice; it also has another meaning which is ‘putting it in place, or positioning.’ See? Even our name is silly!”
The studio’s ambitious break-out project is a stereoscopic CG feat that has persistently found its way into the toon news over the last several years. Directed by Lo Coloco’s acclaimed Carlos Carrera, who helmed the Oscar-nominated The Crime of Padre Amaro and earned multiple accolades—including the Palme d’Or at Cannes—for his 1994 animated short El Héroe (which Baksht produced), Ana y BruNo tells the story of a young girl who befriends a strange mischievous creature in hopes of saving her mother, from a novel by Daniel Emil.
First-look stills and trailers for the dark, brooding flick have helped fuel its buzz in the industry—not to mention its status as the first stereoscopic animated film to be produced in the country. Perhaps it is the quality of project that leaves so many scratching their heads as to its point of origin, as the Lo Coloco crew tells us the one thing no one can ever guess about their studio is that they are a Mexican outfit. Regardless, we have a feeling that once Ana hits theaters in 2013, the world will be clamoring to find out more about this up-and-coming toon house.
Sony Pictures Animation
In a year that Sony Pictures Animation’s movies have done remarkably well commercially and critically, it’s difficult to think that the thriving toon shop has only been around for a decade. Founded in May of 2002 by Yair Landau, Sandra Rabins and Penney Finkelman Cox, the studio has made huge strides thanks to the leadership of president Bob Osher and president of production Michelle Raimo Kouyate.
In 2006, the Culver City, Calif.-based studio’s first foray into the competitive CG animation market, Open Season, made a strong impression on the industry. Directed by industry veterans Roger Allers, Jill Culton and Anthony Stacchi, the picture made over $197 million worldwide, and spawned two sequels in 2008 and 2010. The same year, the studio scored another home run with Gil Kenan’s underdog feature Monster House, which was nominated for an Academy Award. The following year, the studio also fared well with Surf’s Up, a look at the life of surfing penguins created in a faux documentary style. Directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, the film also received an Oscar nom for Best Animated Feature.
In 2009, the studio took a chance on TV’s Clone High creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller and put them in charge of the adaptation of Judi and Rob Barrett’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The stereoscopic 3-D comedy proved to be a sizeable hit (scoring $243 million globally) and also received rave reviews and Golden Globe, Annie and VES Award nominations.
2011 proved to be a watershed year for the studio, as the much-anticipated CG-hybrid feature The Smurfs, directed by Raja Gosnell and produced by Jordan Kerner, became the blockbuster hit of the summer. The family movie based on Peyo’s popular characters made over $561 million worldwide, and resulted in the studio greenlighting a sequel immediately, set for August of 2013. The little blue guys’ success was followed by another cinematic high point, the arrival of the Sony/Aardman holiday feature Arthur Christmas. Directed by Sarah Smith, the cheerful movie about the dysfunctional Claus family scored high with the critics and held its own during a very competitive Thanksgiving weekend at the box office this year.
Studio spokesperson Don Levy tells us that the best thing the company did was to decide not to have a house style, which set their creative forces free. And the silliest thing? “We studied what really happens when a hamburger is dropped from the rooftop of our studio so we could animate the burger rain in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs!”
Among the many cool movies in the Sony pipeline for 2012 and beyond are Aardman’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits (March 2012), Genndy Tartakovsky’s Hotel Transylvania (September 2012), The Familiars, Popeye and, of course, a Cloudy sequel titled Revenge of the Leftovers! As Levy tells us, “Some characters can only come to life through animation and we are inspired every day by the extraordinary talent of artists.” We feel the exact same way about the brilliant team at Sony Animation.
Golden Idols of the Effects Gods
Roughly 16 years ago, one of the most crucial facets of the entertainment industry found representation when the Visual Effects Society was formed under Tom Atkin. To this day, the VES is the world’s only organization dedicated to the artists, animators, model makers, technologists, educators, studio leaders, supervisors and producers across the broad (and broadening) visual effects realm. Boasting thousands of members in over 20 countries, the organization helped bring these magic makers further into the spotlight 10 years ago when it held the first annual VES Awards.
The Awards, celebrating the best in vfx work for film, TV, commercials, music videos and videogames, launched in 2002 and gave top honors to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Stuart Little 2. Since then, the Awards ceremony has proved to be a highly respected accolade for the hardworking men and women carving their marks on the industry who follow the VES’s motto: “If you can imagine it, we can create it!”
Currently helmed by chairman of the board Jeffrey A. Okun and executive director Eric Roth, the VES also puts on an Annual Production Summit to offer new information and insights to its members across all effects disciplines. As Roth notes, “People are usually surprised that for such a small organization we have such a large footprint,” a fact proven by the society’s expansion into established and emerging digital entertainment markets—VES currently boasts Sections in San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, London, New Zealand and Australia, with a Montreal branch opening soon.
With all the visual stunners that enchanted audiences over the past year—from the wizarding world of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; superheroic actioners like Green Lantern, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger; to more unusual offerings like Sucker Punch, The Tree of Life and Cowboys & Aliens—the 2012 VES Awards are shaping up to be the most intriguing yet … but Society members and the entertainment biz at large will have to wait for the ceremony on February 7 to find out! Further highlights will be the presentation of Stan Lee’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and Douglas Trumbull’s Georges Méliès Award.
Roth, who lists the Society’s role models as effects pioneers and luminaries Georges Méliès, Ray Harryhausen, Linwood Dunn, Albert Whitlock, Peter Ellenshaw, Douglas Trumbull, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Dennis Muren, says that what keeps the deceptively small but dedicated team going is simply a passion for the industry. And the VES is proving that passion each day with new exciting projects meant to bring the vfx community ever closer together, despite its global span. Roth shares that we can soon expect a Women in Visual Effects & Animation Conference, Visual Effects Technology Expo and VFX Film Festival to join the Awards as must-attend fx industry events. And who knows what the next decade will bring?
How Animation Got Bent
Far north of the California sunshine warming the toon lots of Burbank, another animation enclave is nestled by the chilly waters of the Willamette River in Portland, Ore. It was under the rainy skies of the Rose City that an intrepid band of talented animators/directors—Ray Di Carlo, Chel White and David Daniels—founded the acclaimed commercial and music video production house Bent Image Lab in 2002.
Operating under the inspiring in-house motto “What if…?” (and the wise guidance of honorary CEO Taco the Cat) the three creatives have made a globe-spanning name for themselves by crafting memorable animated spots and CG/vfx-laden music videos. As the Bent crew tells us, it can be hard to pin down their most famous creation:
“It depends on which country you live in,” they explain. “In the United States our most famous character is the Diet Dr. Pepper delivery man in Deutsch’s ‘Unbelievable’ campaign. In Canada, it’s El Tabador for Koodo. In Germany, it’s Bob from Tetra Park. In China, it’s Chip from Chips Ahoy.” Their music video clients include Thom Yorke, Modest Mouse and They Might Be Giants. Bent has also produced visual effects work for directors Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes.
The studio is also widely known for their painstakingly hand-crafted, old school stop-motion animation, which offers a blend of warm retro goodness and cutting-edge technical achievement. “We have also re-created several Rankin/Bass classic characters for many nostalgic holiday spots and for Saturday Night Live’s TV Fun House in ‘The Narrator that Ruined Christmas’ and ‘Santa and the State.’” Their touchable stop-frame skills can also be seen in Hallmark Channel’s original holiday special Jingle All the Way.
Despite any irritating allergies, the crew would appear to have been wisely led by Taco the Cat (Di Carlo, White and Daniels might have some sway as well) from the breadth of projects the studio has put under its belt in the last 10 years. And they show no signs of slowing down. Amongst their cool upcoming projects is a new David Lynch music video for Chrysta Bell’s “Bird of Flames” and home-grown vfx work for Portland area productions Grimm (NBC) and Portlandia (IFC).
The Bent team keeps their sanity amongst the crush of projects coming in their doors by keeping a healthy sense of humor. Whether it’s throwing super silly, morale-boosting holiday parties (the Goth theme allowed for an especially memorable event) or sending Bent branded underoos to their clients, these Pacific North West toon towners always find a way to celebrate their unique creativity. And if anyone is really lacking for something to do, they can clean out CEO Taco’s … err … “outbox.”
Keeping it Luxe
In this increasing digital age, even the majority of “traditional” animation is touched by computer generated embellishment—so deeply has CG infiltrated the entertainment industry, that there’s hardly a film, commercial or TV show that comes off the line without a little digital magic. (Come on, you expect us to believe Snooki’s hair really looks like that?) And none of this would be possible without the tireless R&D efforts of the industry’s top software houses, like the now 10-year-old Luxology, creators of modo.
The Silicon Valley company emerged out of a rift at NewTek in the early 2000s, when current Luxology CEO Brad Peebler and partners Allen Hastings and Stuart Ferguson (lead developers of LightWave) gathered up a core group of team members and struck out on their own. Ten years later, their modo 3D modeling software is one of the most in-demand tools in the biz. It has been quite a journey for the three founders—Ferguson and Hastings have been friends since junior high, and Peebler got his start in the software industry working product support, which is quite the ladder climbing feat! When asked about the best thing they ever did, their cheerful answer is, “Remain friends!”
When the old pals are not too busy throwing crazy holiday parties or joshing with bedraggled animation journalists (“Our biggest role model is … Hmm … John Carmack? John Knoll? Definitely someone named John,” being one of many snippets of wit evident in their responses) they are constantly tweaking their flagship software to prepare it for the wide range of projects that demand the modo touch. In recent years, Industrial Light & Magic has utilized modo for their effects work on Confessions of a Shopaholic and Iron Man 2, and in the videogame world the tool was used for id Software’s Rage and Eden Games’ Test Drive Unlimited 2. The program has even been used to recreate Hadrian’s Wall for an English museum and is helping students in an advanced course at UC Berkeley research new avenues in architecture, manufacturing and design.
As for exciting new projects, the teasing trio—who insist they stay in the modeling software game because they are “addicted to fame”—will only hint that it involves a robot, a fast car and an electronic drum set. Which leads us to believe that Hollywood has finally answered our prayers for a Terminator/Gone in 60 Seconds crossover rock opera.
A Couple of Berry Good Pals
Though the U.K.’s Itchy Feet Animations is a relative new kid on the animation block, having just opened its doors back in 2009, the studio’s juicy break-out stars Horis and Boris have been kicking around in founders Jez Nicholls and Jennifer Emin’s heads for much longer. The adventurous blackberries were first put to paper 15 years ago, and with the hard work of the Itchy Feet crew may soon see their animated adventures truly take flight.
The studio is currently in development on a children’s series starring the two tasty morsels, to be titled It’s Horis and Boris. The 13 x 7 dialog-free show is animated entirely in Flash and follows Horis and Boris on their “adventures within adventures” as they search out fun and excitement with their flying machine, never quite knowing where they are going or who they will meet along the way.
One of the most curious things about the driven founders, who somewhat curiously tap big wave surfing legend Laird Hamilton as their biggest role model, is that their previous entrepreneurial experience had nothing to do with animation! In fact, they published a cycling magazine and even rode along on the Tour de France for journalistic glory! But Itchy Feet’s true loves are cartooning, and Horis and Boris, of course.
Staying true to their goal of turning “ideas into motion,” Itchy Feet has also worked out some pals to keep Horis and Boris company on their animation slate. Two shorts are in development at the U.K. house: Godfrey Spotter and Scrubble. They have also crafted some cute critters with toon potential like Moon Mouse and Hedge Hodge—Horis and Boris can’t have all the adventures! While the Itchy Feet team stays hard at work making their dreams come true, we will all be looking to see if their little berry pals get to make their long-awaited TV debut before they turn 20.
Sony Pictures Imageworks
It’s common knowledge that it’s not easy to keep up with the ever-evolving, competitive and financially strapped world of visual effects, but for the past two decades, the astute team at Sony Pictures Imageworks has offered a reliable source of top-of-the-line visual magic. Current CEO and president Bob Osher began his association with the studio back in 2004, when he joined Columbia Pictures Group as chief operating officer. “Animation may be the most collaborative of the cinematic arts, so the people you work with and the way you work with people may be one of the most important characteristics of success,” he told Animag last month.
Founded by Ken Williams, Bill Burrell, Tim McGovern, Jerome Chen, George Merkert and Frank Foster in 1992, the vfx studio has worked on a ridiculously long list of award-winning features. The Spider-Man trilogy, James and the Giant Peach, Starship Troopers, Godzilla, Stuart Little, Hollow Man, Superman Returns, Speed Racer, 2012, Alice in Wonderland, I Am Legend and Beowulf are some of Imageworks’ better-known titles. Over the past year, we’ve witnessed some of the studio’s excellent work in movies as diverse as The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, The Smurfs and Zookeeper. The hardworking artists and technicians at the studio are currently working on movies such as The Amazing Spider-Man, Men in Black III, Oz the Great and Powerful and Hotel Transylvania.
SPI’s excellent spokesman Don Levy tell us that the one thing nobody can guess about the studio is “the ratio between processing power and PhDs.” He also says the silliest thing the shop did was to find the idea for the Oscar-winning short The ChubbChubbs by holding a Gong Show competition at the studio.
It’s not surprising that the company looks at effects legend Ray Harryhausen at its biggest role model and idol. “We stay in this business because of our love of movies and because there are no limits to imagination,” adds Levy. All we can add to that is thanks for creating some of the most visually remarkable and memorable scenes from our favorite Hollywood films over the past 20 years. This town would be a lot less exciting without the geniuses at SPI.
Cuppa Coffee Hits the Big Two-O
Adam Shaheen’s creative and cutting-edge toon house Cuppa Coffee opened its doors in Toronto in 1992. Since then, the multi-faceted shop has branched out in many different areas, from Flash-animation to state-of-the-art stop-motion to eye-popping work for TV commercials.
Throughout the studio’s colorful 20-year-history, Shaheen and company have delivered beloved preschool show such as Bruno and JoJo’s Circus, and offered fun adult material like MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch and Logo’s Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World. Stop-motion fans will also remember their work on the hilarious reality show spoof Life’s a Zoo, and their two big holiday specials A Miser Brothers’ Christmas and A Very Barry Christmas. Cuppa Coffee has also been modestly producing the great animation for Comedy Central’s Ugly Americans and Nick at Nite’s Glenn Martin, DDS. And they make it all look so easy!
Shaheen tells us that his studio is busier than ever on the commercial side. They are also developing five shows for various networks, including one featuring Dog the Bounty Hunter. In addition, Cuppa recently crafted a wonderful stop-motion sequence for A Russell Peters Christmas special, which debuted on Canada’s The Comedy Network in December.
“What I love about my business is that it’s always evolving and shifting its creative focus,” says Shaheen. “What I don’t love so much is that animation now has more people than ever in it who couldn’t care less about the art form!” And what are this toon veteran’s words of advice for those who are contemplating a career? “Focus purely on your passion, not on a ‘career.’ The career and success will flow naturally from being genuine and unique.” Listen to the man. He knows exactly what he’s talking about!
BRB Internacional Turns 40!
There must be something about Barcelona that draws great artists to the city. How else can we explain the fact that there are museums devoted to Pablo Picasso, Antoni Gaudi and Joan Miró in the beautiful city? Today, the city is also home to thriving animation studio BRB Internacional, which is celebrating its 40th birthday in August.
Founded by Claudio Biern Boyd, the dynamic studio delivered memorable animated shows such as David the Gnome, Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds (come on, how can you not love a show about dog Musketeers?) and Willy Fog during its earlier decades. Dogtanian will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year as well!
Under the expert guidance of Carlos Biern, exec VP of co-productions and worldwide distribution, BRB has introduced successful animated shows such as The Imp, Angus & Cheryl and Papawa. Among the latest global success of BRB and its Catalan studio Screen21 are innovative CG shows such as Bernard, Suckers, Canimals, Kambu and Zoobabu. The company also handles the licensing of Cartoon Network shows such as Ben 10, Bakugan and Generator Rex for Spain and Portugal.
BRB’s newest co-pro is a great-looking project called Khuda-Yana, which was introduced at MIPCOM this fall. The animated 26 x half-hour toon centers on the adventures of a street thief who is aided by a blue genie to become a responsible leader. In the near future, the studio also plans to produce a 3-D stereoscopic movie showcasing the world of its original character, the swash-buckling canine Dogtanian. As Biern explains, “Despite being such an old company, we try to innovate on every single project we get started.”
“We love this business and are very lucky to be able to produce entertaining cartoons,” he adds. “Our company’s slogan is ‘Let’s make kids happy!’ and our biggest role model is David, the Gnome, because ‘nobody is better because they’re bigger!’”
We hope to see BRB’s star continue to shine brightly on the Spanish and global animation landscape for many more decades to come. Here’s to cuarenta años mas!