It takes a ton of assets to kick off a new animation studio, especially if you want to do feature films. The last two studios to do that were Dreamworks and Pixar. The first had the likes of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen behind it. The latter had Steve Jobs and Disney.
So what do you expect when a new full-length feature, an American one no less, comes from out of the blue? That’s just the case with the new feature film Delgo, from Fathom Films which makes its national debut tomorrow.
Coming from Atlanta, Georgia isn’t the only thing that’s different about the movie, either. Its subject matter is about racial relations, but it’s set on an alien world and doesn’t feature a single human or earth-like character. Even though it’s totally CGI, about the only thing it’s closest to is Rene Laloux’s legendary French film La Planete Sauvage.
On the other hand, the CGI work is incredibly solid. It also sports a voice cast including a number of marquis names, among them Jennifer Love Hewitt, Lou Gossett, Val Kilmer, Freddie Prinze Jr. and the late Anne Bancroft.
We sat down and had a very solid session with the movie’s director and creator, Mark Adler. Here’s what he had to say:
Newsarama: Your bio says you are an artist by background. What kind of art were you involved in?
Mark Adler: Not animation specifically. Growing up, I came from a family that was heavy in the art world. My parents took me to just about every art gallery in existence as a child. My great uncle was one of the largest art dealers in New York. His name was Sam Coots. He and Leo Castelli were the two big dealers in the day. He brought Picasso to the United States. So I grew up with influences from all over the world. So when I started my business, it was on the idea that technology would let me make any kind of art I could imagine. That’s why I quickly fell in love with CG.
I’ve been doing animation since 1991. It was originally all service bureau work. Station tags, flying logos, avatars, effects for films, everything you could imagine. We always wanted to do a feature, but no one is just going to come to some guy in Atlanta who’s never worked in the movie industry before and say ‘Love your ads on TV! You want to make a movie?’
NRAMA: OK. Well there are guys like Mike Judge and the South Park guys who have managed to come out of left field pretty successfully. Yet, to put together a film of this magnitude takes a small army. How did you get it together?
MA: It took years to make this go from a hobby to a reality. We also had some unfortunate things happen along the way.
Back in 1996, we had just finished our own product. It was called Windows Without Headache. It was the first thing we did script to screen, as well as the marketing. We called it an ‘edu-tainment product.’ Then we did a sequel called Windows Without Headaches Extra Strength, then Internet Without Headaches Non-Drowsy Formula. That put our toe in the water. We discovered what it was like to basically write a script with professional writers, do all of the production ourselves and all of the marketing and distribution. It gave us the ability to even consider doing a full feature.
NRAMA: Now was this for Fathom, Maquarium or what?
MA: For Fathom. So back in 1996, we came up with this concept of a movie that would discuss cultural acceptance on an alien world. We started doing designs, treatments, trailers, R&D. A lot of it is now automated, but back then it was no small challenge.
NRAMA: Now Toy Story was out at that time. The whole concept of CGI was still in its infancy.
MA: You are absolutely right. It’s kind of hard to think back to those days. Back then we not only had to prove to ourselves we could do it, but also our investors and Hollywood that we were able to execute this thing. We spent basically four years doing R&D and pieces as pitch material. We did a trailer, had a full script. All kinds of things.
Then in 2000, my cousin who I had grown up with, was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away. To me, that was a big wake up call. Life was too short. So Delgo went from a sideline venture to a full-time effort. So we hired professional readers, went back to the drawing board, killed the babies as they say, changing what was not working. A year and a half later, we had to get cast.
NRAMA: You got some pretty interesting people, Fred Prinze Jr., Anne Bancroft, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Val Kilmer. Many of these names are not associated with animation.
MA: With these actors at that level, they don’t have to do auditions. The first step was looking at pictures of the characters, going to Blockbusters and then trying to figure out who best would give their voice. We did that and put together a kit to basically sell them on this unknown studio in Atlanta that has never done a feature before. Now these guys get offers every week. They’re not going to put their reps on the line. So that’s why we did the kits instead of just an offer letter.
The kits had replicas of the stones in the movie, maps of the world, the R&D we were doing, what their character would look like. We even animated the characters with their voices from other films. As it turned out, it really helped sell them on the project.
NRAMA: So did that mean you had your character Sedessa (voiced by Anne Bancroft) playing Mrs. Robinson?
MA: (Laughs) Well, by the middle of ’03, we had our cast. The last one we got was Burt Reynold’s, who does Delgo’s father. His appeal was actually he had done a number of movies in Atlanta, and because we were a Georgia production, he basically wanted to support us. That was very gracious.
Another was Lou Gossett. What appealed to him was do you remember the movie Enemy Mine?. Our film reminded him of that. He starred in it and changed his voice back to that one for our movie.
So by getting that group of talent, it helped take us to another level. By the way, have you seen the movie? You know what I love about animation is the people involved don’t have the arrogance you normally associate with the entertainment industry.
NRAMA: Getting back to you though, what was it like getting Anne Bancroft? I mean, for starters you couldn’t call her for ADR patches if you needed to.
MA: No. We could not. She was phenomenal though.
With these people, you really don’t meet them until literally the first day (or recording). You go through a manager, a lawyer and an agent before. Then you meet them on the first day.
Another thing about all these recordings, I had to go where the actors were. It was one of the conditions with all of them. So with Bancroft we flew to I think Southampton, in Long Island, with all our equipment.
Now I actually had a 101 degree fever that day. Mel Brooks was sitting behind me when we recorded. I have one legend in front of me and another behind, and this is my first movie ever. It was quite surreal.
NRAMA: How was her health at that point?
MA: It was fine. The only problem we had is she was somewhat claustrophobic and the only studio in the area was this little house, and the recording booth was literally a former closet. It had been used in the past by Alec Baldwin. I had to leave the door open for her, which meant we had to re-record a number of scenes due to someone sneezing or even flushing the nearby toilet. It took two sessions, the first being the rough track and then the second being the one we used.
End of Part One
THREE DELIVERY DO NEW WEBISODES
The guys at Animation Collective announced the debut of eleven exclusive webisodes released in conjunction with their original show Three Delivery, which currently airs on Nicktoons Network. As part of a multiplatform strategy for the series, the 1.5 minute webisodes will roll out each week through the month of December on www.ThreeDelivery.com. A new webisode will be posted each Friday beginning December 5th through January 2nd, 2009.
In addition to the webisodes, the official Three Delivery website will also offer several new features to keep kids busy during the holidays. Crafty users can create paper Chinese lanterns, character models and fortune-tellers, as well as download Kung Fu lesson sheets. Visitors looking to gauge their luck for the New Year will be able to enjoy the “Magic Fate Bowl” fortune-telling game, as well as a fortune creator that allows you to send a customized fortune cookie to friends by email.
“We are thrilled about how Three Delivery is performing on television. We are uniquely fortunate to have the resources to be able to extend the experience for kids beyond TV allowing them to interact with the series in new ways and experience stories and characters that they are growing to love,” said Larry Schwarz, the show’s creator and CEO of Animation Collective.
4 KIDS LAUNCHES NEW YU-GI-OH CONTEST
4Kids Entertainment, Upper Deck, Konami, Playmates and The CW Network will team up to offer fans of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D the ultimate Prize Pack in the “Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds™ Unite To Duel™ Sweepstakes!”
The Sweepstakes kicks off during TheCW4Kids block, Saturday, December 13th between 7:00 am and noon. The Sweepstakes spots will air on The CW Network all morning long. Fans can enter for a chance to win at www.CW4Kids.com and become eligible to win a number of prizes including the Grand Prize which includes: A Crossroads of Chaos Uncut Card Sheet, Yusei Wrist Dealer, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds Starter Deck, Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game Collectible Tin and a Crossroads of Chaos Booster Box.
Enter by December 19th. The Sweepstakes is a “straight enter to win” and is open to kids 3 – 17 in the United States only. To obtain a copy of the Official Rules and Regulations, go to www.CW4Kids.com.
NEXT COLUMN: We conclude our interview with Delgo’s Mark Adler.