With over a decade of visual effects editor/supervisor credits on prestige projects under his belt, Brad Minnich (The Good Lord Bird, upcoming Zack Snyder’s Justice League) is now tackling an ambitious feature animation project of his own. Part sci-fi epic, part prison escape actioner, 2150 is conceived as a multifaceted narrative told through different visual styles supervised by a dozen directors and teams of artists around the world. The team Minnich has assembled includes Star Wars and Marvel concept artist Iain McCaig, Smallfoot director Jason Reisig, VFX supervisor John “DJ” DesJardin, Oscar-winning editor Mike McCusker (Ford v Ferrari), to name a few. We caught up with Minnich to hear more about how he’s bringing this sweeping concept to life as creator, exec producer, writer and director:
Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of your new feature?
Brad Minnich: I have always loved the “prison escape” movie. Think about Shawshank Redemption, The Great Escape or the original Papillon: These films have ordinary characters thrown into an extraordinary situation. At this time, I was also thinking about space exploration and colonization. These two ideas started to converge and 2150 was born. In the future, convicts are sent to a lunar prison to work and die. When our lead characters arrive on the Moon, they have to become friends, overcome their harsh reality and escape back to earth.
When did you start working on it?
The idea first came to me in 1998. I thought of space colonization and what it would really take for humans to start living in space. Then I came up with the idea of lower orbit space casinos, similar to the way Las Vegas attracted people to the desert. I always say good ideas stick around. So, year after year, this idea kept coming to the surface until I just had to start working on it. The process was really slow – I would write and research and write some more. My first draft was years ago but the lightbulb really went off when I saw the Netflix show Love, Death + Robots. That’s when I decided to make it an animated feature using different animation styles.
Why did you decide on using 16 different styles in the project?
No one has ever done this before – telling a linear story with so many different animation styles. The recent film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse combined different animation styles and it was a huge success. I want to take 2150 to the next level. The script has 16 different natural beats and I decided that each beat needed to have an obvious style change that would enhance the storytelling. For example, when the main characters Deakins and Xavier leave Earth and arrive at the Lunar Prison, that’s a natural beat break to tell a new story, so that is the beginning of a new animation style.
Where is the animation being produced? Ballpark budget?
2150 is global. There are 16 beats, 12 directors, eight different production companies in six different countries. We are trying to find the best talent and best animation techniques.
It’s hard to talk about numbers because it always changes, but it’s not a cheap movie. In the end, 2150 will be less expensive than traditional tentpole animation movies, because most artists are now working remotely and we are able to take advantage of tax incentives in various countries.
How many people are working it and when will it be ready for delivery?
As of today, there are a couple dozen people working on 2150. We are looking to start production in 2021 and are expecting completion in 12 -18 months.
What do you love about this new project?
I love how unique the concept is – it is very different and no one has ever attempted to make a film like this before. I also love working with so many talented people like Iain McCaig, Sean Cushing, Bryan Hirota, Jason Reisig and Academy Award winner Mike McCusker. Looking at all the people attached, we have the best people in business, in art, in VFX and in animation. They have all worked on the biggest films and have proven track records. I love having creative conversations with them, problem solving and all of the collaboration. I also really love the idea of where 2150 can take us. Once this world is established there will be many areas to expand including, publishing, TV, comics, gaming, etc.
What is your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is the 16 different styles and selling this original idea to the people who can finance the production. It is the number one concern until I explain how each beat will be directed by a world class director in his or her distinct animation style which will be connected to the overarching narrative through character models, wardrobe, music, dialogue and environmental geometry.
You have worked on many hugely popular comic-based features in your career. How did that prepare you for 2150?
My previous work has prepared me for this project because I have met so many different people on many different sized projects. After so much work you begin to understand how to put a project as big as 2150 together. I have been able to learn visual storytelling after working with the best filmmakers in the industry. Every project is a learning experience. I try to absorb everything and I am ready to tell this story.
What is your take on the visual effects scene today? What are the biggest challenges facing the industry in 2021?
VFX is only getting better! We can tell any story we want to now. CGI, VFX and animation blend together so we can create whatever we want. The biggest challenge we are facing in 2021 is the state of the world which is forcing everyone to work remotely. COVID threw a wrench in production for obvious reasons. But, this challenge does create innovation. While we are all at home, we are learning how to problem solve and create different solutions. And that’s what’s so cool about 2150 – it is COVID-proof because all artists are already working remotely, and we do not need a big on-set production.
What do you love about working in animation?
I love working with artists and exploring ideas. The artistry is great. I actually can’t draw that well, but I get to discuss my ideas with the best artists in the world. Then those ideas evolve, and I can see them realized. For example, the slightest brush stroke around an eye will change the character – I love how exciting those little things are!
Who are some of your favorite animated projects and creators?
As for animators, you have to love Brad Bird, the entire Pixar universe, and then there is Phil Lord and Chris Miller who are definitely pushing the boundaries. But really, I am inspired by great filmmakers. You have David Lean for scope, Quentin Tarantino for dialogue, Zack Snyder for shot construction, and Ridley Scott for everything.
What kind of advice would you offer newbies who want to get into the VFX and/or animation business?
There are creative people all over the world, but it’s really hard to work in a vacuum. If you are a creative person who wants to work in the business, you have to eventually work your way to the epicenters of creativity. Pack your bag and move — whether it’s Los Angeles, England, Mumbai or any other creative centers, get moving to where the action is. I grew up in Wilmington, DE. and I wanted to work in the industry, so I moved to Los Angeles. I did not know a single person. Was I scared? Absolutely. But that’s when my life changed forever and I began pursuing my dream. If I can do it, then you can too, but you have to take the big leap of faith. Show up, work hard, and make it happen for yourself.
Learn more about 2150 at www.enter2150.com.