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Muldoon chats ART STORY with Disney Animation Veterans Aaron Blaise and Chuck Willams!

Hello ladies and gentlemen, Muldoon here with a brief interview from two gentlemen who, while their names might not immediately jump out at you, you're absolutely familiar with their work. Aaron Blaise and Chuck Williams are storytellers, men who started at Disney on the same day no less, who have had their fingerprints on numerous Disney animated features. Between the two, they've served as lead animators on a number of classic Disney films like THE LION KING, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, MULAN, ALADDIN, BROTHER BEAR and many others. As a child of the nineties, these films were my Disney. As silly as this sounds, it's slightly surreal to equate an artist with a specific character, where as a child "Rajah" from ALADDIN was simply "Rajah," a cartooned, yet "real" tiger who helped guard Princess Jasmine, so to talk with the guy who pretty much gave life to those characters, that's pretty cool. I will always jump at the opportunity to speak with creative folks who have in some way impacted my life and that's exactly what I did here. I caught wind of a film they are putting together called ART STORY and jumped at the opportunity to pick their brains about the film. Rather than pushing the project through the studio system, they're looking to Kickstarter to help fund the film. Personally (as I'm certain anyone with access to a blog gets) I get emails asking to post Kickstarter pages all the time, and I mean ALL THE TIME. My view is I'm not here to sell anyone on anything, truthfully. I'm not a launching board for free advertising on AICN for many reasons. Post enough of that stuff and it's only a matter of time when your credibility will simply vanish and I'm not down with that. I don't post much, so when I do it's about something I legitametely think is cool and what these guys are doing with ART STORY seems damn cool. So if you're just as curious as I am about what the two have up their sleeves, read on.



Muldoon: Okay guys; well let’s jump right on in. First and foremost, I just want to thank you both for taking the time out of your day to chat with me about your new project, ART STORY.

Aaron Blaise: We actually want to thank you as well.

Muldoon: Yeah, well it seems like a pretty cool movie. It’s essentially the story of a little boy named “Walt” and his grandfather who get tossed into a magical world of paintings and whatnot, right?

Chuck Williams: That’s right. They get stuck in a world of paintings and they have to get out, but they have to journey from painting to painting in order to find a way out.

AB: And along the way, the emotional journey and the emotional story is these two who are complete opposites really come together, see eye-to-eye, and come to love each other by the end.

Muldoon: Right. So is “Walt” an obvious nod to Mr. Walt Disney, given your past work with the studio?

AB: You know, I never thought of that actually. (Laughs)

CW: No, I thought of it. It’s sort of serendipitous, but originally his name was “Walt Winterbottom” from an early take of it and we just started calling him that until it stuck, but it is a bit of an homage to Walt.

Muldoon: So first real question, where did the concept for the film come from?

CW: Well we have been talking for a while, while the technology has caught up, with the notion of having paintings and the characters going into paintings and “what if they because rendered in that style?” We thought that because technology can do that nowadays, that that’s a great idea for a film and we started talking about stories and it’s been so long since somebody did a grandfather-grandchild story. WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY kind of has that element to it. We thought that it’s fairly rare. I remember a trip I took with my grandfather when I was about eight and it was rocky at the beginning, but by the end we had gotten to know each other a lot better and really bonded on the trip. That’s something that stuck with me, and we talk about our personal experiences like that all of the time with our story. It just felt right.

Muldoon: One thing that stands out as pretty cool about your story is, hopefully, the film will be opening kids up to an entire world of art that they might not have seen before, famous paintings and artists that they don’t necessarily show on Nickelodeon or in video games. When you two were growing up, were there any art pieces that stood out to you or is that something you grew into as you got older? Better question, what got you both into animation or art in general?

AB: It’s funny, I fell into animation. I wanted to be a painter. I wanted to be a fine artist when I was young and I’ve drawn and painted since I could hold a pencil. My parents were always very supportive and always told me that that was what I was going to do for a living and so I was always a big fan of the old masters and in particular animal art and that sort of thing. I studied some of the Dutch and that sort of thing when I was younger and because we both love art so much, we just thought “Man, it’s such a no brainer because it’s obviously so close to us.” That’s my story, but Chuck?

CW: Yeah, I would just add we also both have kids and when you try to take them to museums or show them the art work online or in a book, they just get bored and they don’t really appreciate it for what it is or for letting their imagination go, looking at something and feeling it… If we could pass on something to our kids, it would be for them to be inspired and curious to go and seek out these paintings. We thought, “If we could set a film in this world, what a great introduction to younger minds and even adults to these worlds and characters that are in the world and we can bring them alive, tell a great entertaining story with that as a backdrop, what a great introduction to the public to get them excited about classic art again.”

Muldoon: Nice, I think that’s wonderful. Anything you can do to inspire a kid to want to know more about art, that’s always a good thing.

AB: There’s also an interesting dichotomy going on too, because we are making a film with such an extreme technological technique and here we are going back to some of the original techniques of animation. With hand drawn animation kind of fading away, this will be interesting to take the two opposite ends of the poll, so to speak, and mix them together.

Muldoon: So it’s going to be animated with the help of computers as opposed to hand drawn?

AB: Because we are going into so many different worlds, obviously with different paintings the look is going to change from world to world, so we are really keeping our mind open to whatever technique is going t to suit that world at the time. It might be hand drawn animation, it might be CG, it might be some blend of the two, we don’t know. Right now we are exploring that and trying to keep an open mind.

CW: Yeah, to match the style of the world we are in. So if you’re in a Lichtenstein, which is very graphic, that probably calls out for 2D animation and we will test that out and make sure that’s right, but if you’re in something much more rendered and you want like a Rembrandt then you have to get that rendering to match the look of that and the computer animation might be the best to go.

Muldoon: Right. Speaking of creating worlds, both of you are no strangers given your past work with THE LION KING, POCAHONTAS, THE LITTLE MERMAID… Long story short, you guys know what you’re doing and I’m exited to see you jumping styles in the same film.

AB: That’s one of the first things we talked about. Obviously we talk about story and relationships, but “what kind of world are these going to be set in?” We dig very deeply and do a lot of research to really create that world before we really start creating the story. With BROTHER BEAR we went to Alaska a couple of times. We went all over North America and really soaked up the best of North America before we started creating that world.

CW: That’s what we love about movies, movies that take you on a journey, that take you out of your world and into that world and let you experience characters and all their feelings and emotions within those worlds. That’s what makes exciting filmmaking I think.

Muldoon: I have to agree with you there. Speaking of BROTHER BEAR, that was pretty successful, I mean an Academy nominated film… It’s a solid movie. With the success of that film and with both of your backgrounds with big animated films, what leads you to something like Kickstarter?

CW: We’re both from Florida and we left California and sort of our careers there, meaning Disney, to come out to Florida to start something up. That was the dream and in fact the last project we were on, the company that we were with went bankrupt, so we thought “You know what? If we are going to start something new, let’s start this and let’s try to do it in Florida and fulfill that dream as well.” Most films when they are developed at studios they are very secretive and they keep things very quiet. In a way that’s sort of old school thinking with this open source new generation coming on. We just thought “Let’s put out our idea. Let’s see if there is an audience for this.” That’s what we are hoping to find in the Kickstarter campaign and “Let’s try doing it differently. Let’s do it outside the studio system at first,” but we know animation is expensive. We are going to need to find a distributor, maybe partner with a studio to finish the film, “but let’s see if we can attract an audience right from the beginning that can help fund the beginnings of this film.”

AB: There’s been a lot of success with Kickstarter on smaller films and we just thought it would be an interesting opportunity to be the first to try to fund a full length animated feature. We know we’ve got the background. We’ve got a little bit of a reputation. We thought maybe would could capitalize on that and we love making stories and all the people that know us know that, so we thought maybe we’d have some success with it.

Muldoon: That seems pretty honest. You’re right, most studios do their best to keep things very secretive, while you guys have your concept art and all of this information about the film already out there and online. I was just skimming the rewards and one of the things that stood out to me was you have a blog. I guess for either ten or twenty-five dollars, something like that, people will be able to keep up with the progress of the film through each step?

AB: For years the model has been “keep it secret” then you do your ad campaign and release it to the world. We are in a huge age of information now and I think people are really interested in the process, Chuck and I both do, so we thought “What if we did something opposite? What if for people that contribute to the film, they are helping us make the film, so why not include them in the process?” We won’t give away every twist and turn that’s in the story, but they are going to get to see a lot more than they normally would with a larger company and really get to see over the period of three or four years how a film is made.

Muldoon: Three or four years. Looking at that as an investment in film education, if you’re at all interested in animation or filmmaking in general, that’s not bad. I’m always watching the behind the scenes features, checking out “how they did it” videos on Youtube, and I don’t think I’m alone there. The process of creating feature stories is something I’m personally interested in, so out of all the reward types out there, that’s the one I keyed in on. In that same vain, I did see that you guys did a TED Talk on story.

CW: We’re very open about our process and that was our previous project, THE LEGEND OF TEMBO and we were showing where the idea came from and how we started to develop it in a very quick way for the TED audience.

Muldoon: So what’s a typical day for you guys like? Clearly you need money before you can really get the ball rolling, but what does a typical day kind of look like for you guys in regards to ART STORY? Do you meet up daily or Skype?

CW: We do other things as well. I’m a filmmaker and resident at Florida State University film school and so I teach part time there and Aaron is also doing some freelance directing commercials and doing animation, but we try to meet as often as possible. The thing with Kickstarter is it will give us more time to do this full on. We try to meet as often as possible and we get in the room and we hash out the story. We talk through the opening scene and the next scene and then we go back and redo it and then Aaron goes away and does lots of visual development artwork and I fine tune the scenes from a writing standpoint and approach. With the Kickstarter money we will hire a small crew, a handful of artists, to work with us to shape it into a whole package including a children’s book story, some more visual development art work, the completed script, and the video reel of the whole show. We think with that kind of package we can go off to the studios and to financiers and get the next phase of funding for the project.

Muldoon: Okay, well guys I think I’m pretty much out of questions for you. Best of luck with the film in whatever way it ends up getting on screen. It sounds like a pretty cool project.

AB: Thank you very much. We really appreciate you taking the time.

CW: Thanks again, Mike.


ART STORY on Kickstarter


And there we have it ladies and gents. So what are your thoguhts on ART STORY? I'd like to shoot a giant thanks to Nick Burch for making this interview happen. Like I said, I'm always down to talk to interesting folks, I just hope you all out there dig hearing their thoughts just as much as I did. Thanks for reading, I'll see you all tomorrow with another SATURDAY SHORTS (with a really, really badass short that I'm over the moon for).

- Mike McCutchen



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