Blue Sky Studio’s latest film, Spies in Disguise, made its way to home media platforms today, Centering a haughty secret agent (Will Smith) and his unlikely partnership with a plucky inventor (Tom Holland), Spies puts a comedic spin on the spy flicks that the likes of Bond and Hunt have made legendary. To celebrate the release of the film on Blu-ray, Rotoscopers, and other outlets, were invited to Blue Sky Studios in Connecticut for an in-depth look at what it takes to create an animated feature film—particularly, Spies in Disguise.
Something that drives my love of movies is the filmmaking process itself. I’ve always been fascinated by the thoughts of those behind the camera, and that’s what I got while interviewing co-directors Troy Quane and Nick Bruno at the start of the day. The two went in-depth about some of the film’s central themes—one was a non-violence message, which was nice to see in a film teeming with explosions and combat. The other centered the importance of friendship and teamwork.
While the latter theme is nothing new—particularly in family entertainment—it was interesting to see how production designer Micheal Knapp sought to convey it using color. The “lone wolf” spy, Lance Sterling (whose basic design was inspired by a martini glass), is primarily dressed in blue, which represents isolation here. Sterling shares this visual motif with the film’s recluse villain, Killian, illustrating the similarities between the two morally antithetical characters. The-ever gregarious Walter Beckett, meanwhile, is painted with warm yellows and browns—representations of teamwork.
Before the panel’s end, the directors were directly (pun intended) asked about the possibility of a sequel, to which they responded with a strive to revisit their world and characters should the opportunity present itself.
Next stop was a more grueling-sounding piece of the puzzle: storyboarding. This is one of the unsung departments in animation, as their work technically doesn’t appear onscreen, apart from bonus features on home media. They are nevertheless essential to the execution of the film, as they bring life to a script long before other departments like animation, voice acting, and score can work their magic.
Speaking of animation magic, animator Eric Prah and senior animator Jackie Tarascio demonstrated exactly that with a presentation on how a character like Jeff the Pigeon is brought to life. While I can vaguely imagine how gratifying it must feel to finish a scene, I can definitely imagine how exhausted I’d be after finishing a mere few frames. Prah did not hesitate to proclaim how much patience is needed to do the work of an animator, and I did not hesitate to take his word for it.
We were then taken to the sculpting department, where the lovely Vicki Saulls gave us an up-close look at some of the maquettes used for Spies in Dosguise, as well as other Blue Sky projects like Ice Age and Rio. This was among my favorite panels of the day, for the sheer beauty of these figures. There’s so much attention to detail here, and they capture the essence of each character to a tee. Sadly, none of these masterpieces are ever taken home by Saulls, which I think is a crime against humanity. On the bright side, this allows us and others that visit the studio, a chance to bask in their glory.
The special effects and lighting department painted a vivid image regarding how important their craft is to the overall beauty of the film. Shortly afterwards, we tested our own craft when it came time to draw Lance Sterling (in bird form) for the sadistic pleasure of lead designer Jason Sadler, and visual development artist Tyler Carter. While my Lance won’t be winning any awards, I can’t say the same for some of my colleagues and their pitch perfect renditions of the character.
The day ended with a round table discussion with the co-directors, where they discussed more interesting tidbits about the work that went into crafting the film. such as working with the voice talent. Despite the chemistry between their respective characters, Tom Holland and Will Smith did not work together during the making of the film, only collaborating after the fact during promotional runs. This is business as usual in modern animation, as conflicting schedules (among other factors) often lead to voice actors recording their dialogue separately, DJ Khalid (who voices Ears in the movie) was also brought up, being praised for his comedic timing.