Lots of Smurfs in the Kitchen
A LOOK BACK AT THE PAST WEEK IN STORY…
I’ve said before “It takes a Smurf village” to make an animated movie. That notion is never more true than when discussing the story process.
Our writers along with several other story-oriented members of the Smurf Movie Team (myself included), have spent long hours in a big room, hashing out all sorts of ideas…and, as always, some ideas work…some don’t.
There is no more collaborative part of the animated movie making process than that of cooking up the story. It is intricate, delicate, detailed and exhaustive, but well worth the time spent in making sure the plot and characters work together to tell a good tale.
We laugh, we get frustrated, we yell, we draw funny pictures of each other, we eat lunch, we nearly destroy large erasable boards jotting down plot points and ideas…and we go home each night feeling as if we’ve run a marathon.
Then, next morning, we wake up and do it all again. We plug away until we have forged a story we all feel confident about. And we get nearer to that destination every day.
This, my Smurfs, is how animated stories come to be. I’ve been doing it like this for over thirty years, on many different movies, and it’s always the same.
We are cooking a “Story Soup”.
And, so far, it’s tasting pretty good!
The Hardest Part About Storyboarding…
Sometimes, the cold fact is that storyboarding is all about trial and error. What reads well on a script page just doesn’t always translate into a visual version of the same idea. Still, it is part of the story artist’s job to help the director and the whole movie team see whether a concept is going to work…or not.
Storyboarding requires a lot of revising and starting over from scratch. The job requires patience and a true spirit for teamwork. The objective is always to give any sequence its best chance to function within the context of the movie.
And there is real value in everyone seeing what DOESN’T work, as well as what does. A good story artist will take his lumps, then dive right back into working to get it right.
It’s all part of the process…though not the easiest part.
A Smurfy Root Beer Tasting!
Animated movies are not all work and no play. The crew becomes close and lifelong friendships are struck. There are often fun team get-togethers for little reason beyond a bit of socializing.
Recently the Smurf Movie Editorial Team hosted a root beer tasting.
Goal: To find the perfect root beer!
Several people gathered to take sips of various brands of the wonderful dark bubbly drink. Each maker was hidden for fairness.
While I’m not at liberty to divulge the maker of the winning root beer, suffice it to say that it was spicy, refreshing, frothy and delicious!
A sudsy and Smurfy time was had by all!
Next time it will be a root beer FLOAT tasting!
On any movie, a lot of things happen at the same time. The Smurf Team is always hard at work maintaining each and every aspect of the production.
In short, we are never bored!
A day’s work might include a morning storyboard pitch, followed by an art direction meeting, then an update on character design.
Lunch can turn into a cinematography discussion, moving directly to a scratch dialogue session.
Afternoons can include a voice casting meeting, a script notes session, another storyboard pitch, all leading an editorial review.
Whatever the focus or department, each meeting is of equal importance and every “plate” must be kept “spinning”.
No broken plates allowed!
And, believe it or not, it’s still fun! I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Making an animated movie takes a lot of time and there are always many talented people involved, all of whom have an opinion and/or an idea of what they envision the film to ultimately look like. The hard part is waiting for the basic foundation of the story and characters to become fully formed, before adding all the details.
It’s very easy to get caught up in wanting to taste the “icing” before the “cake” is fully baked.
Currently, Team Smurf and I are still at the earliest stages of story development. We are fortifying the slab on which the future awesome Mushroom house will be built.
I hope my drawing sort of says it all.
Some days, it feels kind of like this.
Smurfing the Movie’s “THEME”
In my experience, there are three basic methods by which to arrive at the overall “Meaning” or “Theme” of a given movie. This is the “Lesson” all storytellers and filmmakers hope audiences walk away with after the tale has been told.
METHOD ONE: Start with a specific theme in mind, such as “You can’t judge a book by its cover” or “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Anything that sums up the point of the whole thing. This method is tried and true, and serves as a touchstone to constantly remind the storyteller/s what they are trying to convey. From the start, the entire movie is designed to make a predetermined statement.
METHOD TWO: Let the theme emerge for the story and/or characters. Sometimes, it’s better to just start telling the tale and see what lesson/s bubble to the surface. This way is a bit more difficult, but can lead to some rich discoveries, particularly regarding character depth and motivation. There are a lot of surprises that come from allowing the story to find its own way toward deeper meaning.
METHOD THREE: Combine Methods One and Two. Start with the general idea for the theme, but allow for the story’s natural “evolution” to cause shifts in the original plan. This more open method gives way to all sorts of possibilities, but is always anchored in the storyteller’s first instincts. Sometimes this way leads to multi-leveled themes, which can have a profound effect on the audience’s experience.
Be it simple or complicated, bold or subtle, every story has some core meaning to it. There are no rules as to how one arrives at a Theme.
In any event, almost always, if I can’t find the Theme, it eventually finds me.
I am very proud to be able to count the great illusionist David Copperfield among my good friends. I met David in 2010, when he contacted me regarding DUMMY DAYS, a non-fiction book I wrote about the history of ventriloquism.
During my recent visit to Las Vegas he indulged me by posing with Smurfy, who appears to be entranced about the whole thing.
Thanks, David! Keep making the magic!
Meet Michelle Raimo Kouyate - President of Sony Pictures Animation!
1) What is the job of the PRESIDENT OF SONY PICTURES ANIMATION on an animated feature film?
I oversee the production for the studio, making sure all the creative elements of the film stay on track and reach their fullest potential. One of my most important roles is to support the director in realizing his or her vision.
2) Do you have a favorite Smurf?
Smurfette - I have a husband, 2 sons and a male dog so I know what it feels like to be the only girl in the village!
3) If you were a Smurf, what would your name be?
Mama Smurf - I love taking care of all my Smurfs both at work and at home.
4) So far while working on this all new Smurfs movie, what has been a fun or favorite behind-the-scenes moment?
There was this one particular sequence at the beginning of the movie where Papa is reprimanding the Smurfs for doing something they shouldn’t have been doing that was pitched by one of our talented storyboard artists — it was hilarious. We all paused, looked at you, then each other and said, we love it!! He hit on the right tone of comedy we were looking for. It was one of those great collaborative moments which I absolutely love about making animated movies.
5) If you could have one magic power, what would it be?
Flying for sure. I’ve always wished I could soar over a city at night like Peter Pan.
Smurfing The Best Choice…
A recent story meeting went something like this:
DIRECTOR: So in this scene our characters come upon a river too wide to cross. “Character A” suggests they use a natural bridge, which is far downstream, while “Character B” wants to try a more convenient, but dangerous way. This starts an argument, which results in the accidental loss of an “Important Object”, which they must now race to retrieve…What’s the clearest way to depict all of this?
STORY ARTIST: What is the natural bridge made of?
WRITER #1: In the script it’s a fallen tree.
WRITER #2: But it could be fallen rocks.
CONSULTANT: Are there large enough rocks in our world?
DIRECTOR: Sure. There’s no rule about that, yet.
STORY ARTIST: How deep is the river?
WRITER #1: Knee deep.
STORY ARTIST: So it’s really more like a creek.
WRITER #2: Well, it needs to be treacherous.
CONSULTANT: Like with rapids?
PRODUCER: Rapids are expensive.
DIRECTOR: Let’s go with the fallen tree.
STORY ARTIST: How far downstream is the tree?
DIRECTOR: Maybe a half mile?
WRITER #2: But it could be closer.
DIRECTOR: These characters are small, so it should “feel” like a half mile to them.
WRITER #2: It has to seem do-able, though.
STORY ARTIST: Is it a large tree?
DIRECTOR: Large in comparison to these characters.
CONSULTANT: What type of tree is it?
DIRECTOR: It just needs to be a large log fallen across the river.
CONSULTANT: How did it fall?
WRITER #2: We just assumed it fell from age.
CONSULTANT: So it’s an old tree?
DIRECTOR: Yes, let’s make it an old fallen tree.
STORY ARTIST: But you said it could be rocks.
DIRECTOR: Just make it a tree. A big, old dead tree.
CONSULTANT: Won’t a dead tree make a dark statement to the audience? (LONG MOMENT OF SILENCE)
DIRECTOR: Let’s take a break…