‘Reindeer in Here’ Director Lino DiSalvo & Author Adam Reed Bring the Next Christmas Classic to CBS

On Tuesday, November 29, CBS will premiere the new one-hour holiday animated special Reindeer in Here. Based on the award-winning Christmas book and plush set created by acclaimed author Adam Reed and written for the screen by Greg Erb & Jason Oremland, the special tells the story of Blizzard (Blizz), a young reindeer living at the North Pole who has an unusual trait — one antler that is significantly smaller than the other — and his friends who band together to save the future of Christmas.

The show features the voices of Adam Devine (Blizz), Jim Gaffigan (Santa), Melissa Villaseñor (Candy), Henry Winkler (Smiley), Donald Faison (Bucky), Jo Koy (Hawk) and Gabriel Batema (Theo). Produced by CBS’ Eye Animation Productions and Ottawa’s Jam Filled, the special is produced by Reed, Jonathan Koch and Sander Schwartz. Lino DiSalvo is director and executive producer.

Reindeer in Here
Reindeer in Here

We had a chance to ask a few questions of creator and exec producer Reed and the special’s veteran director DiSalvo (director of Playmobil: The Movie, head of animation on Frozen). Here is what they told us:

Animation Magazine: Congrats on your new animated holiday special about the forgotten reindeer, Blizzard! Can you tell us when you started working on the project and how long it took to complete?

Adam Reed
Adam Reed

Adam Reed: I first wrote the book in 2016, and launched the book and plush set in 2017. I had always wanted to create a classic Christmas tradition with a modern twist, and over the past five years we have noticed that the market was truly yearning for something fresh. The idea to do content around Reindeer in Here was always a goal, as along with being the author, I am a TV producer, so I am very familiar with the power of deep connective content, especially at holiday time … and how it can really strike a chord.

I started talking to CBS in 2018 about the idea of this movie, and in 2020 we were able to find the path forward to make what we hope will become a true Christmas classic. The animation itself took about a year to complete, and everyone is shocked that we were able to deliver this level of quality in such a short time frame. I give all that credit to our visionary director Lino DiSalvo and the animation team at Jam Filled for pulling off what should have been virtually impossible.

Lino DiSalvo
Lino DiSalvo

Lino DiSalvo: I was sent the first draft of the script and I immediately connected with the characters and the overarching theme of “Different is normal.” I then met Adam Reed, the author of the book, and I pitched a few ideas I thought were important to the overall story and style of the movie … the rest is history.

I really enjoyed this experience. I’ve worked on animated feature films where you might get 24 months of animation exploration and character development before a single frame is animated for the actual film. Which is great, but sometimes the lack of a hard, real deadline can kill the creative process. On this project from the final draft to post-production, it was about 15 months and I loved that we had to make decisions and move quickly because we had an air date we had to hit, it was really exciting.

Where was the animation produced and which animation tools were used to create it?

Lino: I worked with the very talented folks at Jam Filled Animation studios in Toronto and Ottawa. We used Maya to animate and syncSketch for the review process. I’m a fan of both of those tools. We had animation dailies twice a day where I would review work and do draw-overs for the animators. Fun!

Can you tell us about the visual inspirations and overall look of the special?

Lino: I wanted to capture the look and feel of the illustrations from the children’s book. The characters were rendered using a dry brush technique, to mimic the book’s artwork, paying special attention to creating a strong character silhouette.

Reindeer in Here
Reindeer in Here

What were some of your biggest challenges as you set out to launch the animated version?

Adam: There is never enough time. Truthfully, a film of this quality (and we do see it as a film) should take two years of animation. The fact that we were able to marshal the creative energy and endurance to do it in such a short time frame is truly a miracle. It is a testament to the entire team from the network, to the studio, to the animation house and everyone who worked on it having the exact same vision for what this could be. No entity was ever at odds, as we knew we were making something very special.

Lino: I wouldn’t say it was my biggest challenge, but every time you start a project with a studio you haven’t worked with before, it takes some time to get to know one another regarding workflows and such. Jam Filled was a pleasure to work with, we had a lot of fun and the artist delivered the goods. I’m really proud of the work and what we were able to accomplish.

Reindeer in Here
Reindeer in Here

What do you think makes Reindeer in Here stand out among other holiday animation fare?

Adam: Visually, it is quite unique. It masterfully blends a contemporary look with a classic feel, which was the goal to tie into the images from the book that I wrote. That book served as the inspiration for Lino’s directorial vision, and he took painstaking efforts to make sure that this film could stand the test of time many, many years from now — but also stop you in your tracks now, visually, because it feels so fresh. Although it is CG animation, many characters and frames were also hand painted and you can see that level of detail if you really study the movie.

Add to that our incredible A List voiceover talent, and the blending of heart, humor and adventure, and it not only can be a movie the whole family can’t watch and love together, but it really does have the opportunity to become a true Christmas classic. (We hope!)

Lino: I think the quality of the animation is top-notch, as is the look. It was important to me that the animation in the movie be driven by subtext and smart acting, and making sure we weren’t just “moving” characters around because we could. I took everything I learned from my years at Disney Animation Studio and applied it here

Reindeer in Here
Reindeer in Here

What is your favorite animated holiday special/movie of all time?

Adam: Easy to say the original Rudolph, of course, because it has stood the test of time for so many reasons, but I’ll take it a step further:  the claymation scenes in the movie Elf — because they have the Rudolph vibe, but in a very fun and comedic way. We love the unexpected at Reindeer In Here … after all, different is normal, right!?

Lino: I’d have to say it’s the Rankin/Bass holiday specials. From Rudolph to Frosty, so incredibly well done and entertaining and inspiring! They had a profound impact on me as a child. They got me into drawing and stop-motion animation. Those movies were magic to me … and still are.

Reindeer in Here
Reindeer in Here

What do you hope audiences will get out of the story of Blizzard and his buddies?

Adam: That just like reindeer, every child in the universe is unique. And of course, that Christmas wishes really do come true!

Lino: It’s a movie with a wonderful message: Different is Normal. It’s emotional, it’s funny, the VO acting is stellar … The animation quality is top-notch. I think this a movie that all ages can enjoy, and to me, creating something that the entire family can sit together and enjoy is pretty awesome. I’ve always wanted to direct a Christmas special, so this project has a very special place in my heart.

Reindeer in Here will premiere Thursday, November 29 at 9 p.m. on CBS and will also be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

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