This report is part of Rotoscopers’ coverage of the 2016 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. Check these links here for more news throughout the week, as well as this link here for live updates, videos, drawings, and more!
This year marks the first festival appearance of Warner Animation Group. A relatively new unit, they exploded onto the feature animation scene with The LEGO Movie and quickly became one of the most exciting new animation studios on the block.
So it’s no surprise that, as they did with LEGO Movie, they planned to make a statement during what is already proving to be a busy week with what Variety calls “the largest Hollywood presence ever.” Judging by this news, they certainly didn’t disappoint.
Following their Focus Studio panel at MIFA, where Brad Lewis unveiled exclusive footage from WAG’s upcoming fall feature Storks, the company has announced a Spring 2018 release date for their long-gestating original project Smallfoot.
Smallfoot will be the third 2018 release for Warner Animation Group, following The LEGO Movie Sequel on May 24 and S.C.O.O.B. on September 21. Furthermore, it adds to an already ambitious slate: six films from the studio that take them all the way to 2019, with more in various stages of development.
The film, written by John Requa and Glenn Ficara and set to be directed by Despicable Me‘s Sergio Pablos (who developed the original idea), flips the Yeti myth on its head by having the Yeti believe that humans actually exist.
Christopher DeFaria, president of animation, digital production, and VFX for Warner Bros. Pictures, described Warner Animation Group as a ‘front-end’ studio based in LA. Essentially, that means that WAG handles the storyboarding, character design, concept art, editorial, story-building (writing), and voice recording, while a partner studio (Animal Logic, usually) handles the animation.
In the case of Smallfoot, the character designs and story reels will be drawn up at Sergio Pablos’ Madrid-based SPA studios. The movie will then be animated at a partner studio (again, Animal Logic).
This news came as Storks producer Brad Lewis gave the attending audience its best look yet at footage from the film (seven sequences were shown, whereas just two-to-three minutes of it were shown to the public in a teaser trailer). The presentation, according to Lewis, was to underscore Warner Animation Group’s developing house-style: strong creative voices, a witty sense of humor, and a distinctive zaniness that channels the studio’s Looney Tunes heritage.
“The idea with WAG is to borrow on Warner Bros. legacy and its history of animation and also on their tone and feel. That was the biggest accomplishment of ‘The Lego Movie.’ It felt like a Warner Bros. movie, distilling and channeling ‘Looney Tunes’ and the sensibility the studio was famous for,” said deFaria. ““There is a tone, feel and voice you can recognize as the Warner Bros. animated film. It gives us a place to distinguish ourselves in what is otherwise a very crowded marketplace of incredible quality films.”
Those sensibilities resonated very strongly in the footage shown for Storks. The seven clips – which appear to encompass the first and second acts of the film – begin with a scene setter at a stork factory that acts as an Amazon-style delivery service for babies. In this scene, Junior (Andy Samberg) wins his first big promotion. The next two scenes establish the Gardeners, a family with workaholic parents and an only son who wishes to have a sibling.
The next scene features Junior and Tulip (Katie Crown), a human orphan who works at the factory, crashing their plane in a snowfield with a baby that they are trying to deliver to the Gardeners (their banter is described as being similar to Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner’s rapport in Romancing the Stone). They are then captured by a pack of wolves, but the alpha males get gooey-eyed over the baby, allowing them to escape.
Another sequence – which drew the most laughs from the audience – is one where the baby is kidnapped by an evil band of penguins with black eyes. Junior and Tulip want to fight, but since neither side wants to wake up the baby, they engage in a silent (and pained) confrontation.
After the footage wrapped, Lewis made a point of saying how Storks was their attempt at introducing improvisation into the animation process.
“As an art form, we are not spontaneous. Animation is all about iteration,” he observed. “Typically animation progresses via script pages, story telling, then editorial.” But with Storks, the filmmakers wanted to go a different route. Said route manifested into three-hour recording sessions where writer and co-directer Nicholas Stoller would work with the actors on developing the character on certain scenes.
What’s more, while Stoller brings the humor and narrative moments, co-director Doug Sweetland brings a “crazy animation style” that is in line with the Looney Tunes brand that has defined much of Warner’s animation output. “We like it crazy, we like fun.” He remarked.
There was also an aim for Storks to be shot a little differently than most other animated movies. “In CG animation, there’s an over-reliance on simulation, there’s less of a reliance on how a shot serves a story.” He said.
In Storks, some shots aren’t perfectly composed, but rather they are set up to make a dramatic or comedic point. As such, things like lighting effects are played up to achieve that goal. For example, there’s a campfire scene in the snow, where a moonlit sky and shadows are heavily emphasized. “We wanted a certain cinema verité,” Lewis observed.
The presentation ended with a promo reel that teased Warner Animation Group’s future films: The LEGO Batman Movie, the second LCU film and a Batman movie that will ask the hard question (can he truly be happy?) on February 10, 2017. The LEGO Ninjago Movie, the third LCU film and a genre mash-up of kung-fu movies, kaiju films, and anime for September 22, 2017. Following on after Smallfoot is The LEGO Movie Sequel, the fourth LCU film that brings Emmet and Wyldstyle back for a second adventure on May 24, 2018. Last but not least, S.C.O.O.B., which brings Scooby-Doo to feature animation for the first time and is the first installment of a cinematic universe of films based on Hanna-Barbera properties, bowing in theaters on September 21, 2018.
If that wasn’t enough, two more animated features were confirmed by Christopher DeFaria to be in active development: Meet the Beatles, an animated musical focused on an original member of The Beatles (directed by Paddington‘s Paul King) and another animated feature from Nicholas Stoller (who is a member of WAG’s creative ‘brain trust’ of writers and directors).
I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that Warner Animation Group will be an animation studio to watch!
What do you think? Any thoughts on the news regarding Smallfoot? Are you looking forward to Storks (or any other of Warner Animation Group’s films)?