Sunday, November 01, 2009

Iron Giant Reunion

 I was anticipating the film in 1999 by looking at their movie website. At the time, I was excited about anything that was a non-Disney animated feature. I'm not sure why this was the case, but I'm guessing it is because I was sick of musicals. I remember I saw the Iron Giant on August 7th, 1999. I still have the movie ticket stub. I knew right then I had watched an instant classic.

I can't believe it has been ten years since this movie has come out. I re-watched the movie right before going to the reunion lecture, and it is still just as funny, fresh, and beautiful as the day I saw it (which is sadly not the case for Anastasia).

I wrote down notes during the lecture which was being held at the Stephen J. Ross Theater at the Warner Bros. Studio Lot down in Burbank. I was really sad a lot of my fellow CalArts friends couldn't get tickets. Here is a summary of the lecture:

In the beginning, Brad Bird was working on a project called Ray Gun, which was supposedly an action and sci-fi animated movie. When Turner merged with Time Warner, the project was dropped. This movie was supposedly supremely awesome. Warner Bros. instead gave Brad Bird an optional to do a movie based on pre-existing stories they owned. One of them was Ted Hughes's book, The Iron Man. Brad pitched to the executives a question: "What if a gun had a soul and didn't want to be a gun?" They liked the idea, but there were several more obstacles he had to face.

Pete Townshend from The Who already was heavily involved in the project and even wrote an album The Iron Man: The Musical. Yes, the Iron Giant was going to be a musical. Brad finally had to tell Pete that he was dropped from the project. A musical would not fit a movie about a town in 1957 full of innocence and paranoia. Warner Bros. finally green-lit the project one day after Brad was going to leave the studio.

The movie had about 48 million dollars for the entire budget. At the time, they made elaborate story reels using after effects to get scenes approved faster. The color palette of the film was inspired by Thomas Benton and Grant Wood. They had a warm autumn palette that went to cool colors for the end of the film. One interesting fact for the flashlight scene in the forest is the layout team had to make a night and day version. When he flashes his light, the day layout would appear.

From the start, Brad Bird knew the Giant would be CG. The problem they had to overcome is to make the computer less perfect. They used the beta version of Maya and created line textures to mimic the wobble in the line that traditional animation has. When they were animating, they had to take out frames from Maya to make the Giant feel like he's on 2 frames per image. Based on who was the focus in the scene the traditional animation would either be done first or last. When Hogarth is in contact with the Giant's hands, one of the animators actually drew the hand in the animation to connect the two together. Usually they would get printouts of the CG and animate over it like a layout. This is why scenes with the hands and Hogarth have so much warmth. They don't feel like separate mediums.

Fun tidbits:

Four Calarts students got the chance to animating some scenes and do rough animation. Shane Prigmore, Pete Sohn, Eddie Rosas and Andy Schuler were the students. They got the chance because they asked Brad Bird to lunch and, he remembered them from that meeting. Shane wrote about it here.

Ted Turner cried when he saw the movie.

Brad put Eli Marienthal's (voice of Hogarth) feet in a bucket of ice cold water for the swimming scene.

Hogarth Hughes's last name is a tribute to Ted Hughes.

Brad always intended the Giant to be alive at the end, which makes sense. He set up the Giant's ability to repair himself at the beginning.

One idea that was cut from the movie was Kent dancing to Pat Boone's version of Little Richard's Tutti Frutti. He was suppose to be dancing and confrontational in front of Hogarth. Brad wanted to keep this scene because he knew it would be great to see Teddy Newton animate it.

A feeling I got from the lecture was everybody who worked on the film loved working on it. Even if their work was down, they still came in to try to help make the movie work. This such a rare feeling in the entertainment industry or in any job. You can really feel it in this movie.

Well, that's it. It's amazing how much thing have changed in ten years. My first year animation teacher is Mike Nguyen who was a supervising animator on the movie. I never dreamed I could meet people who worked on this amazing film. I had a wonderful time at the lecture and for five seconds I met Brad Bird.


Anonymous said...

Oh wow! Thanks a lot for sharing this insight, Ellen!! I enjoyed reading the tidbits!

Marcos Cohen said...

What an awesome experience Ellen! Thanks o much for sharing and cool picture!

Jennifer Harlow said...

Yay! Excellent notes, Ellen! Thanks so much for posting and I'm thrilled you got to attend it. :) Sounds like it was really inspiring.

Now I need to go re-watch the film myself. haha

E.A. said...

That's tremendous, Melon!

Brad looks kind of cheesy in his pic with you, but I guess that's what makes him a great guy. You should see his AMPAS clip where he is seen "participating" in the voting process. . .with his eyes closed!