Animated Shorts: Starting a New Animation Studio

Animated Shorts: The Story of Delgo

Delgo

When we left off our interview with Mark Adler, we were in the middle of his experience recording the late, great actress Anne Bancroft. As anyone familiar with the ADR process knows, voice recording in a feature film more often than not involves multiple sessions, the first being the main recordings, then comes re-recording sessions or patches. Considering Bancroft passed away before she could do her patches, that could be a thorny issue.

That isn’t the only issue Adler faced when doing his film. There’s also the matter that his studio, Fathom, is absolutely new. Over the last several years, you have to have the backing of the likes of a Steve Jobs, George Lucas or combo of Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg to launch on the scale Adler did. A little more on how he did it seemed in order.

Here’s what he had to say:

Newsarama: Most studios have a clause in their contract with their voice artists where if there’s a patch or some new dialogue, you can call them in for it. You couldn’t do that with Ms. Bancroft unless you had some truly special connection. What did you do?

Mark Adler: That would have been some kind of connection. Actually, we were prepared for this before hand. She did most of her work herself, but she already had nodes in her throat. This prevented her from screaming. This was important because in the last part of the film. So, in places like that, where her character is yelling, she actually asked for a double.

So we were searching for a double while we recorded her. I probably looked at 100 people between LA and New York. None of them could quite do her voice. After all, Anne Bancroft was an Academy Award winning actress who had been smoking for who knows how long. This gave her a quality to her voice. So to get someone who could double that was no small feat.

Coincidentally, we were working with a woman, Melissa McBride, as a casting agent here in Atlanta. She was doing one of the bit parts of our film, Piro, who was one of the stone sages who told Delgo they had to go to war. She asked if she could do Anne’s voice. So she requested the tapes of Anne. Two days later she came in with a recording and it was almost indistinguishable. The way she did it was amazing. She did it by pointing her nose way up in the air and then pinching her throat, which is completely stretched out. All she needed then was a little bit of EQ.

NRAMA: Now moving on. Fathom Films is located inside this organization called MacQuarium. Is that right?

MA: That’s right.

NRAMA: Now, obviously, you have another major animation complex not that far away from you, Cartoon Network. Did that help or hinder you?

MA: It helped a great deal. I think Cartoon Network helps our whole community actually. It isn’t just because of the animators either. It’s because it’s full of people who understand animation. They understand things like color correction, which is very different in animation from live action. We also have SCAD, the Savannah College of Art & Design, which is a huge depository for animation with a major facility literally two blocks from us. So basically, on the same street, we have SCAD, us and Cartoon Network. It’s quite phenomenal to have that kind of concentration.

NRAMA: So you’re saying that Atlanta may not be as big as LA or New York, but you’ve got a lot of animation going on.

MA: Yeah. Honestly it’s all about this technology meeting creativity. It’s a cross roads of these two disciplines. To that end, you also have Georgia Tech and some other people in play. They come up with the technical side that helps make it all a reality. So you have both right and left brain coming into play in the same place.

NRAMA: So did you have any difficulty getting animators?

MA: I wouldn’t say it wasn’t difficult. Certainly when we started there wasn’t a huge repository of people to begin with. A lot of the ones that were out there were mainly working on video games. I also couldn’t get a lot of animators to come to Atlanta because we couldn’t make a four-picture commitment like the big studios. When you’re talking about animators raising their own families, well you know…

That precluded us from getting some industry veterans. What we had to do was find the stray pearls in the oyster bed. That made it a little harder. We built ourselves on some great talent, but a lot of it was raw and willing to take risks. One of the ways we got them was they were able to contribute more than they could on bigger productions. They could really be part of the collaboration.

NRAMA: Were you influenced by the film Savage Planet by Rene Laloux?

MA: No.

NRAMA: It was a French animated movie from the 70s that involved similar themes.

MA: Interesting. Is it available on video?

NRAMA: Yes. Again, I saw similar themes about racial tolerance on a completely alien world, etc. in Delgo

MA: It’s a classic storyline, which we tried to stay to as much as possible. We also made Delgo for kids because I think kids are smart. Yes, it’s not just for kids but kids can understand a lot more than most adults give them credit for. You don’t need to talk down to them. So we didn’t want to dumb the movie down.

NRAMA: It’s an interesting time. Wall*E was a family film, but it wasn’t a dumb film either.

MA: It was a tremendous film. What I think is so great about animation is I think we’re almost boxed in, but it’s really not a genre. We can have horror, comedy, all kinds of genres. Animation is just the medium to execute these genres in. You can do anything you want with it. Still, there are a lot of people who want to box us in. There have been films like Monster House that show the range of what you can do.

NRAMA: So you’re saying animation is a process.

MA: Yeah. I hate being classified that because I do animation that I’m doing it just for little kids. It’s not all the same. It shouldn’t all be talking animals comedy for kids. When you go to other countries, it’s far from that.

NRAMA: So who or what were serious influences?

MA: On me or the picture?

NRAMA: Let’s start with you.

MA: For me it would be a mix of sci-fi and fantasy. Secret of NIMH, love it. Dark Crystal was really incredible. So was Star Wars, as was Neverending Story. They were all things that when I was a kid I had dreams about. A good example is the dragon-dog in Neverending Story. I used to dream that it would be great if that was my dog and I lived in that world. Those were the things I wanted to kids to want after they saw my film.

NRAMA: So now, what about the film?

MA: To some degree it’s the same. Still, we wanted the film to feel more edgy. So we took a lot of liberties that you don’t normally do with American animation, like shadows and color palettes. For instance, Pixar has a style. They pretty much stay away from blacks. Their shadows are very saturated. They are toned blue or red.

We took a lot of our cues from the video game world, which uses a very, very rich color saturation and a lot of custom color palettes. You’ll also see a lot of detailed textures. We also didn’t shy away from the full gamut of black and white.

NRAMA: Now having a lot of detail usually means you sacrifice when it comes to motion. How did you get around that?

MA: We tried to cut corners where the corners didn’t show. We did things like leave the feeling where we used a million characters when really we didn’t.

NRAMA: So are you satisfied with the final results?

MA: I was talking to my animation director today and, of course, we’re starting to get a little nervous. All I can say is we’re not sure how all this is going to turn out, but we pretty much did the unthinkable and should really be proud of all we accomplished just doing what we did. Hopefully it’s commercially accepted but this is literally the first independent animation feature done on this scale in the U.S. It’s also distributed independently.

NRAMA: Any future projects?

MA: We have a short before the film. It’s called “Chroma Chameleon.” It’s about chameleon that can’t change colors. It’s been something we’ve been working on for the last nine months. It’s more a comedy and more Pixar-esque. If the short is well-received, we have a full script coming behind it.

RZA RELEASING SAMURAI SOUNDTRACK

Wu Music Group will release their second album, Afro Samurai: The Resurrection, on January 27th, 2009. The album is the soundtrack to season two of the animated TV show and DVD featuring the voice of Samuel L Jackson and the music by Wu Tang Clan’s The RZA. The soundtrack features recording artists such as Sly Stone, the Wu-Tang Clan, Kool G Rap, Rah Digga, and a whole cast of RZA’s protégé’s, including the late ODB’s son – Boy Jones.

The Afro Samurai animated series debuted on Spike TV in 2006 and was the best-selling anime DVD release of 2007.. Joining the cast this season is Lucy Liu as Sio, the seductive and sadistic mastermind plotting to destroy Afro. Also newly cast is Mark Hamill as Bin, Sio’s servant and protector.

NYICFF ADDS SECOND CLAYMATION CLASS

Due to overwhelming demand, the New York International Children’s Film Festival announced it is adding a second Claymation Class during the NYC’s winter break, February 16-20. Open to children aged 6-16, the students will learn to create this most basic of stop motion animation techniques from local experts. The completed films will be screened at the 2009 New York International Children's Film Festival.

The NYICFF is also offering a kids-level class in documentary filmmaking. For more information, click here.

BANDAI TO SIMULCAST KUROKAMI

Bandai Entertainment Inc. announced it will take part in a simultaneous broadcast of the anime series Kurokami (The Animation) from animation studio Sunrise. It will broadcast on January 8, in the U.S. on ImaginAsian TV (IATV) at 8pm.

The version aired in the U.S. will be an English dub produced by Bandai Entertainment Inc. the first ever dub to be made parallel with the Japanese production.

The movie is based on the manga by the same name from Korean creative team consisting of writer Young Lim Dall and artist Park Sung Woo. The manga has been released in the U.S. by Yen Press under the title Black God. The anime is directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi (The Twelve Kingdoms) with series story composition by Reiko Yoshida, and character designs and animation direction by Hiroyuki Nishimura.

The story focuses on Keita, a high school student living on his own, lost his mother in his youth. One night at a ramen stand, he meets a mysterious girl named Kuro. Keita is told the story of how if a person runs into another that looks just like them, they would die. From Kuro, Keita learns of the Doppeliner System and the Coexistence Equilibrium and how his life would never be that same afterward…

NEXT COLUMN: We sit down with the creators of Aqua Teen Hunger Force

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