Over the past year I’ve been hunting down examples of how animated films are made. Animation is such a wonderful medium. It’s vibrant, appeals to children and adults, and the stories told are beyond imagination. It’s been a great pleasure to dive in and ingest and learn about the creative process from people who excel at their craft.
The Pixar Story
The Pixar Story (2007) is the nearly as fantastic as one of their stories. A small team band together against the odds to create the first feature length computer animated film and it’s a success. Pixar then went on to repeat that success with more Oscar-winning stories. Getting a look behind the scenes of how these stories comes together is insightful.
The works of Pixar –the products of hundreds of people coming together to make imagination a reality– are phenomenal. Recent allegations of sexual misconduct by director John Lasseter somewhat tarnish the legacy. It’s a dark cloud on something intended to be fun.
Waking Sleeping Beauty
Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009) is a lot like The Pixar Story but from the other side. A once successful studio has fallen from grace. Near death it managed to pick itself back up not once but twice! This is the story of people modernizing their process and letting go of the old ways. This is the story of CEOs caring about the product and turning ships around.
Although this is the biggest emotional rollercoaster of all my picks, I think I love it for that reason – it seems more relatable.
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013) is the story of Studio Ghibli, creators of animation classics like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. The movie follows the genius behind these films, Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki tells of his life, his career, his inspirations, as we follow him into retirement (SPOILER: the guy will probably never retire).
One scene that has stuck with me over and over since watching; Miyazaki with his eyes closed imaging a scene with a stopwatch in hand, snapping measurements for each keyframe. Watching Miyazaki labor obsessively and take the time to feel the tempo of each beat of his masterpieces leaves me without words.
Frank and Ollie
Frank and Ollie (1995) follows the lifelong friendship of two of the original Disney animators. They talk of their life working with Walt Disney, their work creating the classic Disney films, and helping to invent the techniques and discipline of animation. It’s rare to hear two masters of their craft talk about such a breadth and body of work. To top it off, Frank and Ollie have the kind of friendship that you pray to find in this life.
Bonus: 24 Hour Comic
24 Hour Comic (2017) is almost the opposite of a 2 year process to create an animated film, but with a similar problem set. 8 artists gather in a comic store in Portland challenging themselves to create a 24-page comic in 24 hours. I’m a sucker for any documentary where bottled pressure gets applied to an interesting cast. Another surprise was finding out web friend Rachel Nabors (who has a short A Book Apart book on animation) and author of Understanding Comics Scott McCloud both appear in the film.
Hit me up with your animation documentary recommendations! I’m always on the hunt and will give anything 15 minutes.