Monday, September 22, 2014

James Lopez and Alexa Summerfield Talk 'Hullabaloo'

Iry over at Italian Disney blog Impero Disney got the chance to interview animator James Lopez, the mastermind behind an ambitious 2D animation project called Hullabaloo. She also got to interview Alexa Summerfield, a 2D animator who is working on the project. For those who don't know, Lopez is currently raising money for what is right now going to be a series of short films, it's a steampunk story of a young inventor girl searching for father. Shorts are set to be made, but Lopez hopes that he can make a feature-length film…

Let's hope his plans come to fruition… Anyways, here's what he had to say to Iry about the project and other things…

Now, onto Iry's interview with the two…


First, James Lopez…

Hi James, thank you so much for answering our questions. We would like to begin by congratulating you for Hullabaloo's success. After just one week you’ve already doubled the first goal. Were you expecting so much support?

Thank you for the invitation to be interviewed and thank you for your support! I honestly wasn’t expecting this much support. My friends did believe that I would make my goal but I don’t think they expected this much support, either.

The situation of hand drawn animation seems to be really awful. The few attempts at making a hand-drawn animated movie in the last few years (The Princess and the Frog, Winnie The Pooh) were failures. If we look at huge successes like Frozen's, we may think the best way to survive in the animation industry is investing only in 3D animation because 2D seems to be “old”. Is 2D animation slowly dying? And could Hullabaloo really save this technique as you say in the movie's presentation on Indiegogo?

First, let me make a few things clear. Princess and the Frog and Winnie The Pooh were not failures, as they did turn in a profit and were both positively reviewed. That misconception is part of the reason why 2D animation is in the situation that it is in.

2D is an art form like any other in that it needs mentoring in order to be passed down. Where that mentoring most effectively takes place is in the professional working environment and unfortunately there are not enough 2D animated films in production that exhibit the level of quality that we are proposing to not only preserve but advance the medium as well.

What we are hoping with Hullabaloo is to open the door and pave the way for the next generation of animators to be inspired by and continue practicing the art form so that it may thrive.

You worked on the Academy Award winner short Paperman. Do you think that mixing the two techniques could be another way to help traditional animation survive?

Any business, in order to survive, it needs to be practical. Paperman’s technical process of mixing the two, in the way that it was performed, proved to be impractical from a business standpoint. What Paperman truly had to offer was a good story combined with good art direction, cinematography and appealing characters that had a hand-drawn aesthetic.

The process used to create that look could be done without the technology and be more practical in the business sense.

What will ultimately help traditional animation survive is if it there is a greater sense of artistry and cinematography that is applied to the look and design of the picture.

During the decades the art of animation has always been refined by developing and using new techniques which always replace the older ones. So, in your opinion why is it so important to preserve 2D animation? What can this “old” technique give to modern audiences?

As it has just been suggested, it would to keep using new techniques. We’ve developed a technique that will merge CG environments and 2D characters in a way that has never been used before in order to give it an artful and cinematic look which is what audiences seem to respond to today.

It’s a shame that 2D has to unfairly prove itself in order to uphold its relevance when it is a valid art form like any other.

When music synthesizers were introduced, we didn’t stop playing instruments. Orchestras still exist and we still pay money to see live performances instead of just listening to engineered and recorded tracks on our stereo. So why, when CG is introduced, do we negate 2D?

If the case is a matter of box-office results, not all live-action films are big-budgeted blockbusters but studios still continue to make films with a modest budget that people enjoy seeing and even win awards. Take for example, The Artist. It was in black and white and had no sound. It was reminiscent of the silent film era and it won Best Picture at the Gloden Globes, BAFTA and the Academy Awards. It also made money. So, if being “old” possesses the potential of success, why not produce a 2D film?

2D animation is an art.

Art is a common language that unites the world. To lose 2D would be like losing a language. In order for our culture to grow, it will come from people being inspired. 2D is an art that inspires.

I receive several emails and read countless messages that thank me and the production for our efforts to keep the art of 2D in practice because the next generation dreams and aspires to make great 2D animated films. It’s a part of our heritage and its destined to be our future.

Over time, it has somehow been propagated that animated filmmaking must be an either/or proposition, 2D vs. CG and vice versa. It’s time to change the conversation. There is room for both and both can keep the integrity of what each other has to offer without compromise. It’s time to recognize 2D for what it is. It is a valid art form, a powerful tool that can inspire and it is also a commercially viable option for success.

Apart from the return of traditional animation, Hullabaloo features two interesting female characters and a steampunk atmosphere. Where does the plot idea come from and why did you choose this style?

I have two daughters and when I think about the purpose of my work, I think about what I can make that my daughters could relate to and be entertained and inspired by. So, I wanted to create positive female role models. My character’s personalities are based upon the dynamic relationship between my two daughters. One would prefer to stay inside, read, do crafts and sew whereas the other one would rather go outside, play and put on a show.

The choice to use steampunk came about a few years back when I realized that there was a serious lack of quality 2D animation film in production. Rather than sit and wait for and idea for a project to come along, I took the initiative to be proactive and create one of my own. I tried to think of what would be a good story in which to tell in an animated film.

I was sitting at the breakfast table with my wife and I asked her opinion. She remembered a few months prior to Halloween, that we went to see a friend’s decorations. Soon after we arrived, these people showed up dressed in Victorian-era clothing who were there for a photo op with my friend's display. It was there that I learned what steampunk was all about, it was Victorian science fiction. My wife recounted how "enchanted" she felt to be in their presence and she said that if I could put that feeling and sense of enchantment into an animated film, I would truly have something special.

For me, steampunk has a spirit of optimism. There’s a sense that anything can happen. It is a world inhabited by progressive and forward thinking characters and the aesthetic of the inventions that they create are truly fantastic in the literal sense of the word.

When I was researching steampunk, I saw that the costumes people wore gave the suggestion of being some sort of Victorian-era super-hero. I decided then that Veronica should moonlight as a goggled crusader called "Hullabaloo". There is a saying that a hero is only as strong as their enemy so I created Hullabaloo's arch nemesis, the Cheshire Cat, which is based upon the character in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

In terms of the world, I wanted to convey a world that was on the shift of ever-changing technology and the pros and cons in adopting that newfound technology. I wanted to tell a story that would be relevant to what we face today and that we could relate to in some way, shape or form.

When I think of thematic approach to steampunk, that being taking modern technology and combining it with a traditional aesthetic, it seemed to coincide with the process that I want to use which is mixing computer generated (CG) imagery with traditional hand-drawn animation.

At the moment you have collected enough money to produce 3 shorts. How will you distribute them? Do your plans involve producing a full-length movie?

Currently, I plan to distribute them online for all to see. For the people who donated to the campaign, they will get to see the films before the general public is able to.

Eventually, we would like to produce a feature film. We have long road ahead of us but, like every journey, it starts with a single step.


Now onto Iry's interview with Alexa Summerfield (she worked on DreamWorks' 2D films, along with some Disney direct-to-video films)…

Hullabaloo's team comes from different studios such as Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks and others. How did you start to work together? Is your common bond your love for traditional animation?

No matter what studio, a lot of us animation folks have either worked toghether or met at some point, traditional animation is a small world after all. I met James in 1996 when I came to work at DreamWorks through some Disney friends and he gave me my first ever unforgettable tour at Disney Studios, we have been friends since. I knew he was working on this project a few years ago and I have been bugging him to let me help ever since, so I am really excited to be working on Hullabaloo. You can definitely say that the love of traditional animation is our bond, together with a passion for drawing.

Reading your biography on your blog, we've noticed that you stopped working for many studios every time they gave up on 2D and started to work exclusively with CGI animation. Have you ever thought about giving 3D animation a chance? Why haven't you ever stopped working with 2D animation even though you knew studios didn’t value it anymore?

Well it was not my choice to stop working for the studios as much as them not needing my services any longer. At DreamWorks they tried to help us make the change to 3D/CGI, but it was frustrating to me and if I wanted to puppeteer (thats what it is to animate in 3D, really) I would have gone to Aardman or Henson's to do that, but I love to draw and since you don’t really draw in 3D that was not my road to take. I will never give up on traditional animation because I love it and to me it has a charm and agelessness beyond time and it is already missed by the young artists of the animation world, even if the big studios keep denying its value. People still want to see it and our success with the IndieGogo campaign for Hullabaloo has shown just that so prominently. It is my passion and my life and we will find a way to keep it afloat because I believe there is space for all types of animation today and in the future.

Majors always repeat that CGI is cheaper than hand-drawn animation. But we have noticed that movies like Frozen needed a huge budget (about $150-200 million), while movies like Winnie the Pooh show perfect 2D animation, and they cost around $30 million. Is it really just a matter of money?

Well, when traditional animation was all there was in the big studios and 3D was just starting out everyone said that CGI was so much cheaper than 2D and slowly they all converted, now 2D is cheaper that 3D, go figure??? If you take one hundred artists and pay them $100,000 a year for 2 years of production, it adds up to $20 million. Add another 10 million for computers, supplies and all the rest you need to make the movie that costs $30 million. So where do they spend the rest of the $100 million we all would like to know… Anyway the money issue is not really the point, the truth is that big studios have abandoned traditional animation for now and it is up to us to keep it alive with projects like Hullabaloo. So we need all the support we can get from the people that still believe in hand drawn animation.

As an animator, what do you like most in the Hullabaloo project? In other words, what made you decide that you wanted to work with James Lopez?

Where do I start with that? I love James’s style in general, have you seen his “Martini Chic” booklet? A few years ago I saw the designs and ideas for Hullabaloo and instantly I knew I wanted to draw those characters, they where so appealing. I told James I wanted to help then, and I kept telling him at every chance, as well as pushing him to actually get a bunch of his friends to help, too, to make the movie. I guess in the end he listended and here we are… Hullabaloo encompasses so many great reasons for me to want to be part of it. The designs, the story, two female lead characters, steampunk gadgets and vehicles (cars and flying mashines), ray guns, Victorian attire, adventure and style… Oh and did I mention it is all hand drawn animation from some of the best animators in town? Who wouldn’t want to work on this? I am already getting calls from other artists who now want to be a part of Hullaballoo. I am just so grateful James chose me to be on his team from the very beginning. So stay tuned because Hullabaloo is going to be awesome.


My two cents, Lopez is spot on about how traditional animation is perceived today and how something like The Princess and the Frog was wrongly deemed a failure/flop/disappointment/underperformer. Summerfield gives us a good insight on the costs of CG films, and what goes into it. (I'm guessing the other $100 million goes to evolving technology and the casts.) It's great to see that those who trying to keep traditional animation alive in feature films are vocal, for Lopez's words are - again - very true. Of course, I feel that 2D suffers today because ignorant higher-ups see it as useless when it comes to box office… But they mostly base that generalization on films that either weren't good that people didn't want to see, or films that were screwed over by bad circumstances. (Again, Frog and a couple of others.)

Anyways, to Hullabaloo! To James Lopez and crew! To traditional animation! *raises glass*

A really big thanks to Iry, who asked me to publish an English version of the interview here. Be sure to follow her on Twitter, and be sure to check out Impero Disney! Sound off with your thoughts!

1 comment:

  1. Here's my two cents. Disney should not have tried to do a hand-drawn film on their own just yet. They should have waited until some upstart took a stab at it, and then make a hand-drawn film just to compete with that particular upstart. If Hullabaloo is a success, that might give Disney a second chance.