Saturday, May 19, 2007
Friday, May 18, 2007
History of Lucky — Part 6
Not with a bang but a whimper.
—T.S. Elliot, The Hollow Men
On March 17, 2004 (St. Patrick's Day of course) Legacy unveiled the story reel of Lucky to the studio crew and supporters. A handful showed up and the screening was fairly well received, although not with the same enthusiasm as the initial pitch. Some people gave notes and we tossed around some ideas. I think I was too close to the project to say how it really went but I do remember telling Joe Sandstrom that it didn’t think it went well.
My notes on our benefactor aren’t very clear during the next few weeks. But in a nutshell it went like this; She liked it, she didn’t like it, she loved it, she wasn’t sure. Several of us met with her and offered to rework the idea or to present her with alternatives, but she couldn’t give us a decision on what she wanted to do.
Strangely enough I have an email from her days later.
You can imagine or confusion when our next communication with her indicated she was no longer interested in supporting the project or the studio. We had suspected for some time that she was interested in backing another start-up animation studio in town. So there we were, stuck with preproduction on a short and no clients and, at this point, no money.
In all of this I hope I am expressing how much I love the Lucky development up to this point. The story is super sweet and the character design is fabulous. I also am thrilled that you want to work with an original composer vs. a music library track.
Thank you so much for pouring your heart and soul into this endeavor. You are doing a great thing for the animation world.
On March 31, 2004, I sent this email to the Legacy crew:
For the next few months we tried to find work for people but we didn't have much luck (no pun intended). A couple of jobs had come in from Disney Publishing but only enough for one artist. Many of the group had gone for too long without drawing a regular paycheck and had to take what ever job they could find. While we still had the studio space I used the equipment we had purchased to make reels for a few of the artists but by the end of June we had to leave.
As most of you know, we met with our investor last week hoping to get the next installment for Lucky. Unfortunately, she has now decided that she is not behind this project. We offered to rework the idea or to present her with alternatives, but this too was not of interest. Until we find investors for the project, I'm afraid we will have to shelve it. Legacy will now focus on bringing in outside jobs to generate revenue for our group. We have a couple of leads that we will be pursuing and hopefully will know more in the next few weeks.
I had wanted to call each of you and tell you personally but I know the news will travel faster than I will be able to dial. Thank you to all who contributed to the project. I still believe in it and will do all that I can to get it up and running again.
For myself it had been eight months of living off savings so I soon found myself in a theme park drawing caricature. My professional life had come full circle.
Stay tuned to see Lucky...
Labels: History of Lucky
The History of Lucky — Part 5
Our agreement with her was to complete the preproduction in six weeks — at the end of that time we would have initial visual development and a story reel put together. Our crew was small due to the budget. John Hurst was the first animator I brought in and I cannot say enough about how talented he is. His character designs helped to set the standard for the show and his enthusiasm the spirit of our endeavor. John was having fun and that’s why we all got into animation in the first point.
Kellie Lewis did some character designs from her studio in Ohio. Rusty Stoll contributed to clean up designs. And Broose Johnson contributed to story.
I was reluctant to ask people to work without pay (as there was another animator in town who was infamous for this) however there were some who rose to the occasion and contributed work pro bono. I think some of them realized it was an investment in our cause. Seung Kim created some amazing cg models of Victorian homes. Joe Sandstrom also created some cg models and sets. Dan Gracey contributed some beautiful clean-up of one of our characters.
But some of us were too distracted by the press attention of Legacy to do much on the show. David Nethery spent most of his time chasing down leads on animation jobs for the studio— putting together budgets and estimates (and learning on the job I might add). I was bombarded by the media asking for interviews and especially my opinion on the Roy Disney war against Eisner and the Disney board of directors. I had no interest in getting into the politics of the big boys and turned down most of the requests (although one local reporter virtually stalked me, calling my home constantly and hanging around in the hotel lobby waiting for me to show up. I never used that entrance.).
Soon we realized that the distractions were keeping us from our original goal of making a short, so we decided to go back to “plan A” and devote our resources to Lucky. Besides, most of the leads we were getting were from people who want everything for free.We told our benefactor of our new focus.
“I agree with you in getting back to Plan A.” she responded. “Please think about Plan A, Lucky, as your priority. It sounds like *****, *****, and the likes are just wasting your time. Believe that you are financially secure to create Lucky, please go forth. Please feel confident that I am eager to put more backing behind this company as things solidify. Please don't feel "this production can't afford ______".
With new confidence we blazed forward. We started a production blog — a virtual “fishbowl” (like the one we once had at the Disney-MGM Studios) where the world could watch our progress. We didn’t have money for marketing so it was our decision to make the best of the attention we were receiving. None of the big studios used the web like this in 2004. This was before Peter Jackson’s video production blog on King Kong or Pixar’s podcasts on Cars and Ratatouille. The web had great potential as tool for guerilla marketing.
Our benefactor reacted very favorably to the blog at first:
“The Lucky notes on the animation production site look great. I love reading the various artists personal entries. Kelly and John are great in this whole thing. Love David's message as well. I love the personal feel to the whole thing. Great Job!!! SO EXCITING!!”
I made another press release regarding our short film, emailing them to the media and posting one to the Internet animation community on Animationation.com. In it I made the statement: “Short Films are widely considered the best calling card for aspiring moviemakers looking to move into features. This holds true for animated films as well as live action. Even the undisputed leader in feature animation, Pixar, continues to hone their artists’ skills by producing short films.”
A week into preproduction on Lucky, I received this email form our benefactor:
“Do you think it is better for people to find this information if they search
it out themselves, then if they have it thrust upon them like this? What is your objective with a release like this? What effect do you hope to gain with this? AN is a very personable bulletin board. It is not the place I often see press releases. It feels to me you like you are only asking for others to complement you. It seems a bit boastful on the board. The Pixar lines sounds like you worshiping them.
The whole thing makes me nervous... Oh boy.
Contrary to what I just said last night, You don't have that money in the bank to deliver yet. I also wonder if this will effect (sic) unlocked-down commitments- like distribution. Of course, above all, there is also a question of safety in the protection of the concept and art. This is a real issue. “
We had to keep moving.
Labels: History of Lucky
The History of Lucky — Part 4
On January 15, 2004, we had our first meeting at our new offices in the Edgewater Hotel in Winter Garden. The hotel was built in the 1920’s so we couldn’t help but think of Walt, Roy and Ub’s humble beginnings. I pitched the ideas for the two stories that had won the voting and the response was less than enthusiastic from what I remember.
David Nethery knew that I was leaning towards Lucky. I also knew that it was all pantomime and the main character was an inanimate object — if we could pull off bringing a clover to life people would notice. In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think of how Major Studio (see
The History of Lucky — Part 2) had used inanimate objects in their first animated shorts; one even becoming their company mascot. They would surely take notice, I told myself.
But I also thought that the story was very strong. It had a lot of heart and there were certain elements that I felt paralleled the experience of the studio’s closing.
David recounted the meeting in our first entry on our production blog:
It was our first official meeting at the new studio. Twenty people crammed into our 13 x 15 foot story room. It was too small and too hot. Some people had brought their own chairs and cushions and others were sitting on the floor. For many it was their first time seeing Legacy's new home in Winter Garden’s historic Edgewater Hotel.
Eddie stood up and gave an update on what we were doing. Then he briefly mentioned the two story ideas that had been discussed earlier. After that he turned to me and said, “Anything to add?” I said, “Why don’t you just pitch Lucky.” I just felt it was time to pitch the one we most believed in.
What amazes me — and what I most recall about the pitch— is that people got it right away. They were laughing at all the right spots and nodding in understanding all the way through.
It was the perfect story pitch in a lot of ways. And by that I’m not saying that the story was perfect — because the story will develop—I say it was the perfect pitch because it was exactly what was needed at that point. Eddie had them hooked from beginning to end, and when he was done the room broke out in spontaneous chatter.
This was a critical crowd of artists. These people have seen a lot of story pitches in their careers, and many have pitched ideas themselves. It’s immensely encouraging that they got the idea and were so enthusiastic about it.
I had envisioned this silent close to the meeting, people filing out and saying, “Thanks, but…” Instead we had this jubilant crowd of people all very interested in helping out.
Everybody got it.
Lucky is an opportunity to tell a story through pantomime. It’s pure visual storytelling.
The importance of doing a short at this point, is that it’s a confidence builder for everyone involved -— that we have been doing this for ten plus years and that we can continue doing this on our own.
Labels: History of Lucky
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
The History of Lucky — Part 3
All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them
We knew that all eyes were focused on the Florida meeting and the timing was crucial. From my past experience with the news media I knew that Friday was an important news day; weekend news was usually fluff and anything important had already been written by Friday. If we were going to announce it had to be on Thursday…but were we ready?
We still had not moved into our new studio location and the final details had not been worked out with our investor. If we announced too early no one would care, if too late, we would be overshadowed by the news of Disney’s decision. So, we we sent out a press release on Thursday afternoon hoping it wasn't too late.
Jim Hill of jimhillmedia.com sent me an email with in hours of our press release. “…I just wanted to say that I'm thrilled to hear that you & the crew from WDFAF are setting up Legacy Animation Studios," he wrote. "So much so that I just rewrote the end of tomorrow's "WDFAF Countdown" story to prominently feature your press release as well as pointing out the parallels between what you're doing & what Don Bluth did back in 1979.”
I was very excited about such a fast response from a website that had become the watch station for the recent Disney animation drama. That evening I wrote the following email to the Legacy members:
Well, a lot has happened this week and I feel better than ever about Legacy's progress. Tomorrow we begin our move into our new offices and it feels pretty good! I can't wait for you guys to see the new digs. The Historic Edgewater Hotel in Winter Garden (circa 1927) will be our new home. We have three rooms with beautiful hard wood floors, high ceilings and a small door that allows people to enter the mind and life of John Lasseter for 15 minutes at a time (but that's another story for another time). There's still a little construction to be completed, but David and I plan on moving in a few things over tomorrow.
We are still negotiating with our investor, but after talking to her this afternoon, I'm confident that we will be able to come to an agreement next week. Come Monday, my plan is to start moving forward on our short film (what ever it may be). If you are registered on the forum, don't forget that the straw poll opens at Midnight tonight and an will stay open until midnight Friday.
In other news, Legacy made it's first press release to many publications around the country, both print and internet. Jim Hill of Jim Hill Media will be featuring Legacy Animation Studios in tomorrow's article, 3 days and counting: The Walt Disney Feature Animation-Florida countdown clock ticks on. It's a very nice mention that ends the article with:
"Here’s hoping that Eddie Pittman’s “leap of faith” pays off in a really big way. Both for him & his very brave crew of former WDFAF artists and technicians. As well as all us animation fans.
I sincerely hope that Legacy Animation Studios is a huge, huge success. Showing the Walt Disney Company – once & for all – what a huge mistake it made when it decided to walk away from Feature Animation Florida & cut all of those talented artists & technicians loose."
It's exactly what we hoped for, a little boost right before we are overshadowed by the big event at the studio Monday. I hope we can all find hope in Legacy.
More to come...
"It's kind of fun to do the impossible."
-- Walt Disney
By the next day the responses started to roll in. In no time we were swamped with emails and phone calls. It quickly became overwhelming. The media wanted interviews and I found myself in a spotlight I had not anticipated. It made me more that a bit uncomfortable and I knew it opened me up to ridicule. But I was representing a group of artists I believed in and that certainly gave me strength.
The emails were a definite source of inspiration. We couldn't help but be encouraged to find that people from all over the world were supporting our effort.
Most sent congratulations:
“Just saw the press release on Animation Nation, and wanted to wish you guys all the best. What everyone always says SHOULD be done, you are actually DOING, and I think that's awesome. “
“Give 'em hell. Do something monumental! Make a film that will make the whole of the industry take heed, and make Micheal Eisner wish he had never been born... Perhaps you guys will be the first breath of life the artform so badly needs. Cheers!”
“Just a friendly greeting from an animation student and fan in New York. I was overjoyed to see your press release about the new studio, and await the team's work with great anticipation. Best of luck.”
“Good luck, there are a lot of people pulling for your company. “
“ I'm an annual passholder of WDW and Disney fan, and I heard about the new animation company you are forming after the way Disney treated you. I just wanted to voice my support and hope that your company will succeed. I will remember your company name, and will certainly go and see any production, or purchase any product, that I hear you have produced, instead of a Disney direct-to-video sequel. I appreciate the extra work that goes into making a feature animation project, and I can tell the difference in the quality between what you do and what television animation studios do. I wish you the best, and hope you continue the tradition of quality animation. “
“I was happy to hear about the formation of your company. 2-D animation is so far from over!! The Disney suits have their heads up their arses. Anyways, good luck! I'm looking forward to your future productions.”
Some thanked us for carrying on something they had loved all their lives and still believed in.
“My family and I are big Disney fans! We believe the company has lost it's way, that Walt and Roy worked so hard to create so many years ago. Cheaper is not always better especially in the art of animation. We look forward to seeing your team's work soon. From what we have read about your new company you seem to have what was the heart of Disney working for you. If that is the case your company will be a huge success. Thank you very much for trying to save the spirit of Walt Disney. May God bless you and your team!”
“I am 32 years old. I have a wife a son. I have been watching disney animated movies since I can remember. I cannot tell you how happy I am that you people are getting together to create a TRADITIONAL ANIMATION STUDIO. I believe WITH ALL MY HEART that it is CONTENT and STORY which drives the animated film. I don't know exactly what films like Aladdin, Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast had but it was something that you have to find. Once you get it...make it your company's mantra...your mission statement because it's something that Disney has forgotten and something you must rediscover.”
Others wanted a piece of the action:
We even had a group of men all dressed in black meet with us about the possibilities of joining forces. All in black.
“ I was reading about your new organization and have a musical project which might be of interest to you. Give me a call if you would like to discuss.”
“Hi! My name is Jan. Will you be listing job offerings sometime?”
By Sunday night (the eve of Disney's announcement) we had nearly 3000 hits on our site and between 200 and 300 emails. I tried for the first few days to answer all of them but it quickly became impossible.
On Thursday we were slashdotted (that is this article was posted on Slashdot.org). By the end of the day our sever crashed with over 40, 000 hits on the site.
And the roller coaster had reached the top of the first hill.
Labels: History of Lucky
Sunday, May 13, 2007
For anyone who may still be out there...
I guess you could say I have some good news and some bad news (and as always, you get to decide which is which).
First the bad (good) news: I have finally decided to retire Lucky indefinitely. My schedule has been so dominated by freelance and just trying to stay afloat that I can’t imagine finding time for an animated film right now. Over last summer I polished up the story reel and felt good about the way it was looking. I sent it out to a few select people for feedback and got some very helpful notes in return (some of which I’ll share at a later time). Over all the response was good but what became apparent was the premise of the film wasn’t as clear as I had thought. After digesting the notes for several months, I’ve realized I don’t know how to fix the story with out scrapping everything that’s been done to this point... and that’s just not a possibility right now. Maybe some day I’ll have some sudden inspiration, a creative epiphany or a smack in the head…but until then I am packing it up and placing it back on the shelf.
So, what’s the good (bad) news you say? Well, over the next week, I’m going to share the rest of the Legacy story. Okay, I hear you in the back, stop your sighing. I promise it will be like a roller coaster ride with daring leaps of faith, cunning villains and muppets. Well, actually I’m not going to get that specific. But it is an interesting tale nonetheless and afterwards you can all laugh at me for being so gullible.
And, as a special added bonus, at the end of the week I’ll post the final story reel for Lucky... warts and all. I’ll also post my final thoughts on the project as well as some of the notes I’ve received (don’t worry folks, all the notes will be anonymous. No jobs will be at stake here.).
So if your still out there pop in from time to time this week and I promise an earful.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Musical Timing in Animation
ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive Project Blog: Media: Musical Timing Rediscovered
Now all I need is a pluggin for Garage Band!
Monday, August 21, 2006
The storyboards are (for the most part) completed and I am beginning to workbook the project as well as explore production designs. I imagine I could make changes for as long as I live, but at some point you have to lock things down and move on.
I'll share more of the work and experiences sometime this week. Until then, I'll leave you with another great John Hurst drawing.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
The History of Lucky — Part 2
In August of 2003, I got a call from my friend CW asking about the layoffs at the Disney Florida studio. Two months earlier Disney had fired fifty artists including 33 clean up artists (from lead keys to inbetweeners), 5 rough animators, 3 rough inbetweeners, and 8 effects artists. CW had been talking to a friend of his who happened to be the president of a major studio and they were under the impression that the layoffs had been mostly lower level people and not “A” talent. I quickly pointed out to him that Disney had let go of some of the top talent in the industry, from 20-year veterans to up-and-coming stars. Worst of all, I believed that in a year’s time (when the studio was scheduled to complete their current project) the studio in Florida would close for good.
A few days later he called again and asked if I could get a group of these former Disney Animation artists together. Except for a few close friends, it had been years since I had spoken to anyone at WDFA, but I said yes and sent out an email to a select group; some I knew personally, others only by reputation. CW had an interesting plan. He had pitched an idea to his friend that could possibly save the Florida Studio, and the Pres indicated that the idea had at least a fifty-fifty chance.
We met in the coffee shop of a local bookstore; about 15 people showed up and CW pitched his idea. Our biggest concern was to keep the talent in Florida. Evidently, Major Studio had always admired the Disney Florida studio and didn’t want to see it close, but certain legalities kept them from getting directly involved. CW suggested that we organize a small group of talent that was capable of developing ideas for feature and/or short films and make a proposal to Major Studio. The proposal was relatively simple: Major Studio would fund the group to develop ideas. After a designated time, we would then pitch them the ideas. If they liked the ideas they could green-light the project; we could start into preproduction, then when the Disney group finished My Peoples/A Few Good Ghosts and were let go, they could roll onto a new project ready for production.
The idea was bold, but I for one knew that it was possible. I had left Disney in 2000, and by August of 2003 I was finishing up my first directing job. It was called Legends of the Night Sky: Orion and it was the world’s first traditionally animated full-dome movie; an ambitious first project with a tiny budget and even smaller crew. It was hardest thing I’d ever done to date; yet, I knew that if I could pull that off, with seasoned Disney talent, we could definitely make a movie.
Generally, I think the group was excited at the possibilities, although some were more cautious. Someone suggested we needed a name for the group and after a long list of near misses, Lon Smart and Rusty Stoll (each on their own) came up with Legacy. And it stuck. So a proposal was drafted and we made a reel of our combined work, then anxiously waited for some sort of response.
But an event happened that changed everything. On November 14, David Stainton, the head of Walt Disney Feature Animation, stepped into an assembly at the Florida Studio and shut down My Peoples/A Few Good Ghosts.
A few of us in the Legacy group had discussed this possibility, but I don’t think we were prepared for it when it happened. Stainton gave the studio sixty days (can’t you just see the Wicked Witch of the West turning over the hour glass?) at which time he would return to tell them if there would be another project. But from what I heard, they were encouraged to look for other employment. You don’t say this to people if you intend for them to stay.
The Legacy Group’s proposal meant nothing now. Within a week, other major animation studios were in Orlando looking to scoop up some of Disney’s top talent; Dreamworks, Sony and even Pixar. In a short time the core talent of Florida’s animation community would be gone and chances were they wouldn’t be back.
But CW came back around with some interesting news. He told the Legacy Group that if we could produce a film, just a short, outside of Disney’s umbrella, there was still a possibility that Major Studio would fund a project. It was a daunting challenge. We had no money to produce a short, and I am not the kind of person to ask people to work for free. At this point, the members of the Legacy Group had been unemployed for close to three months. Also, we were told this meant starting a company (business acumen was not our strength). Time was running out and we needed to make a decision.
Around this time, a former student of mine called me out of the blue to get some advice on a project of hers. Her father had been a great entertainer who had inspired me as a child. He had left his company (and his own legacy) to her and her siblings along with what I can only imagine was quite a fortune. I have never been one to ask for help, but I did want to share with her the plight of the animation community and Legacy’s status.
She showed quite an interest in our work, and a few days later she sent me an email. “After much thought, I want you to know I am very interested in investing in a company such as the one you describe,” she wrote. “Creative endeavors such as this mean the world to me. I think it will be a loss to the world if an Orlando team doesn't remain intact. I maybe prepared to take a jump with you all, if you are at all interested.”
Our benefactor was on board and the ball started to roll—faster, and faster, and faster.
Labels: History of Lucky