Day 3 at VIEW was very much an animation day with presentations from Aardman on Shaun the Sheep, Sony on Hotel Transylvania 2 and the director of The Book of Life.

Shaun the Sheep
Shaun the Sheep stop motion character. Image courtesy Michael Rubin. Website: http://www.byrubin.com.
Shaun the Sheep stop motion character. Image courtesy Michael Rubin. Website: http://www.byrubin.com.

If you haven’t seen this movie from Aardman based on their TV series, we would seriously recommend seeking it out. Creative Director Richard Starzak and producer Paul Kewley had the audience in stitches even from just the animatics they demo’d (the standout one being a scene where the sheep dress up in human clothes and attempt to eat at a human restaurant).

The presenters revisited the history of Shaun, from his appearance in a Wallace & Grommit short to the TV show and then development of the film. The premise of it all was quite simple - keep what sheep do simple (they eat grass) but when the farmer is not watching, they get up to mischief. In the film, there is next to no dialogue, so in general terms the animation was made simpler - no replacement faces, for instance.

Animation in progress on the film.
Animation in progress on the film.

During animation, some scenes involved multiple characters and this led some of the animators to start talking to their puppets (a way of remembering what actions they had already completed or were to complete). The models, which the team brought with them, were built to last, but also made easy to maintain if pieces broke. “We had a sheep doctor on set,” said Starzak, “who would replace arms. There were a lot of body parts around which was a bit scary.”

Hotel Transylvania 2

Sony Animation production designer Michael Kurinsky, who had earlier delivered a workshop on his colorscripting process, discussed the work involved in bringing Hotel Transylvania 2 to life. This was a great presentation to see just how much work is involved in designing EVERYTHING for the film. We thought we’d highlight just one interesting aspect and that is the character design for the kid Dennis, a fiery red-head with crazy curly hair. Check out the pics below showing the progression.

Original sketch.
Original sketch.
Painting based on sketch - it was soon realized that the hair would be too big making Dennis too hard to hold and interact with other characters.
Painting based on sketch - it was soon realized that the hair would be too big making Dennis too hard to hold and interact with other characters.
Dennis revised.
Dennis revised.
The Book of Life

The Book of Life is such a spectacular film - but the road there was a huge journey for director Jorge R Gutierrez, one he relayed in hilarious detail for the audience here at VIEW. He took us through his time from getting into CalArts to the pitch he made to Guillermo del Toro to be a producer on the film.

Director Jorge R. Gutierrez. Image courtesy Michael Rubin. Website: http://www.byrubin.com.
Director Jorge R. Gutierrez. Image courtesy Michael Rubin. Website: http://www.byrubin.com.

Originally from Mexico, Gutierrez applied to CalArts in experimental animation as only a 17 year old. He was at the time unsure whether to show a portfolio of work he thought the American school would want to see (Barbarians, girls in bikinis) or his art showcasing Mexican things he loved (cobras, wresting). At the portfolio inteview was famous animator and teacher Jules Engel, well known for his often blunt assessments. Gutierrez showed his American portfolio and Engel said as he turned each page, “This is crap, crap, crap, crap. I was heartbroken by the end of it,” says Gutierrez. “He said ‘you are not an artist, you are a copy machine - this portfolio only tells me what you’re like, not what you like. You should consider doing something else.”

Gutierrez walked away but then Engel happened to pick up his Mexican portfolio. This time as he turned each page the comments were ‘Magic magic magic magic!’. Engel said to Gutierrez, “ You son of a bitch, why you no show me this! This is your voice, this is who you are, this is the inside of you. I’ll let you into the school as long as your stop drawing the crap you think we want to see, and draw what you know.”

El Tigre.
El Tigre.

Gutierrez says it was like having Superman tell me how to become a superhero. During school, Gutierrez found out that Engel did not like sad films and did not like CG animation, but that was exactly what he made - a story about a little kid who dies. The result was suprising. “I showed Jules my student film Carmelo,” says Gutierrez, “and he wiped a tear, put a hat back on. He looked at me, slapped me in the face, and got up and walked away.”

At this point, Gutierrez made an internet short called El Macho and soon was asked by Sony to make a series. Executives asked him in a meeting, ‘How much will each internet cartoon cost?’ Gutierrez thought, “Well, the first one cost me zero, so whatever amount I give will be profit! Out of my mouth comes $16,000. They said, ‘Well, you drive a hard bargain - we’re going to approve it.’ But then three years later, I found out they had pre-approved $100K for each episode. So I learnt, never say a number! Say, ‘How much do you have?’”

Pepe the Bull.
Pepe the Bull.

Gutierrez and his Sandra Equihua made the series, but soon after the Sony Digital Animation studio was closed down. “When that happened the big boss came in to the studio with lawyers at 11am and said at 3pm they were going to delete everything on the hard drives,” says Gutierrez. “He said ‘take everything you deserve’. I was only idiot with giant grin. I rang Sandra and said quick bring two shopping carts! We deserve everything! And this is how good my wife is, she just said, ‘OK, got it’. Sandra came over with these giant shopping carts and we take computers, tablets, animation discs, I even took my chair. As we’re walking out we look like Haitian refugees. Then the security guard grabbed his stapler and put it in there. That’s how we started our first animation studio.”

Gutierrez touched on several interesting aspects of his career that took place before The Book of Life became a reality - one of the most interesting was that he did a number of pitches to big studios, who loved the work but requested what Gutierrez thought were changes that would not be true to his culture and to the material. For example, he pitched a show called Pepe the Bull to Disney. “Disney had notes,” he says. “They suggested the show be about his sister, not the bull. They were willing to greenlight. But I said no.”

The Book of Life designs.
The Book of Life designs.

One show that Gutierrez did embark upon was the very successful El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera for Nickelodeon about a regular 13-year-old boy with superpowers trying to choose between being good or evil. “This was based on my father, my grandfather and my wife,” says Gutierrez. “We basically took our lives and turned them into a flash cartoon. The cartoon did really well in countries with bad governments.”

Another show Gutierrez pitched, again to Disney (who came back when they saw how successful El Tigre had been). The show was Carmen Got Expelled. But again once Disney saw the pitch, they loved it but asked for notes. “They said we don’t want Carmen to be Hispanic, we want her to be a white girl who follows the rules.”

Gutierrez then began development of The Book of Life at DreamWorks, who after a change of management had their own notes. The film was then called El Matador, but the executives said it cannot take in Mexico, it can’t have bull fighting and the character can’t die. They also wanted it set in urban New York and be a hip hop salsa musical. Gutierrez quit.

Geo used in The Book of Life.
Geo used in The Book of Life.

It was a tough time for Gutierrez - El Tigre had been cancelled, DreamWorks was not making his feature film. His wife also found out she was pregnant - certainly not a low point, but it meant there would be many challenges ahead.

Then, a new opportunity came with ReelFX to make the film there. However, they would only be able to put in $25m - Gutierrez would need to find another $25m and a major producer to secure the film. For that, he looked to Guillermo del Toro. “Del Toro turned me down 15 times,” says Gutierrez. “He would keep cancelling at the last minute. I knew he was testing me!”

Finally Gutierrez was asked to pitch del Toro at one of his houses that is full of film memorabilia. “He opens the door and cold steam comes out. Inside his house was incredible - I knew we couldn’t pitch there because all our stuff would be overshadowed by his stuff. So I asked to go outside near the pool. But it’s so hot and we’re out there and we’re all sweating. Before I can start he goes you have five minutes! I thought I had 20. Then these five gardeners next door start with their leaf blowers, and I go, ‘Do I wait?’ and del Toro says, ‘You have four minutes!’”

Jorge has fun with the audience. Image courtesy Michael Rubin. Website: http://www.byrubin.com.
Jorge has fun with the audience. Image courtesy Michael Rubin. Website: http://www.byrubin.com.

Gutierrez says he then began telling the most tender story of my life, but he thought the pitch was a complete disaster. “My pitch ends, the leaf blower guys finished. I’m drenched. Guillermo is drenched. I apologized to him. He says, ‘That was the shittiest pitch I’ve ever seen. But, I know who you are. I have two daughters and we watch El Tigre together. I left Mexico, but I will go back to our culture for you.’”

Finally, del Toro required that Gutierrez had written the script himself. Gutierrez had a copy of the script in his car, but a bottle of tequila from a wedding the director had attended had spilled all over it. When he gave it to his mentor, del Toro grabbed the pages, smelled them and said, ‘This is a good script!’


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