interesting times

i'm guessing that many of you have already read the news that laika has pulled the plug on their proposed CG film "jack and ben", leading to the layoffs of 65 employees. weird timing, right? obviously this totally sucks for those 65 people. i don't think i personally know any of those directly affected by the layoffs, but i can relate since i was recently "rolled off" from the company myself. there is a huge difference, though. we got to finish a movie, and they didn't even get theirs off the ground. i can't imagine how bad it must feel to invest yourself in a project only to see it come to a grinding halt and have nothing to show for it. i think this decision really surprised everyone, so there is an inevitable negative emotional component to the parting of ways. i sympathize.


i can only see this as a good thing for the future of laika. according to this article in animation magazine, "jack and ben's animated adventure" was announced in july of 2005. (that article is so old that coraline is then referred to as a hybrid CG/stop motion film.) when i started work on coraline in 2006 "jack and ben" was well into the development process. the 2005 article linked above states that:

"jack and ben will reportedly tackle the ever-popular talking animal formula as it follows the adventures of two brothers from a yet-undisclosed sector of the animal kingdom."

a more recent synopsis was a little more specific:

"A young bird, desperate to fly solo, and his little brother, determined to tag along, risk their tail-feathers when they skip migration to compete in a cross-continental race."

maybe they didn't feel like it had the right tone for a follow up to comparatively edgy film like coraline. another article published in the oregonian a couple of months ago left me with some questions along those lines. in brief, the piece is about how laika is going against the grain on coraline by using an unconventional animation technique (stop motion), telling an unconventional type of contemporary children's story (scary), and doing it in an unconventional town (portland). (its still too early to use the word maverick isn't it?) i remember trying to reconcile that philosophy with the rather typical sounding "talking animal movie" and it just never made much sense to me. in some ways i'm relieved that they pulled the plug on it, because it is an indication that they are trying to refine the direction they want to take things in the future. hopefully the NEAR future. if coraline does well, i think laika is going to be in a good position to make good on those claims of creating a niche for itself with films that are a bit more distinctive than all that other CG mung out there, and that can only be good, right?

ultimately, we all know it just comes down to 3 things. yeah, STORY, STORY, STORY! if you start with an interesting, solid, tight story and then manage to tell that story in a compelling way by using the technique that best suits it, then you are really doing all you can. if you can tell great stories and still manage to stylistically stand apart from the crowd, then you've really accomplished something rare. if laika wants to tell some of these stories with CG, that's great. i hope they're awesome. if laika wants to tell some of these stories with stop motion, that's even better. i hope they kick ass too, and i hope i get to work on some of them. according to the article reporting the layoffs laika will have more announcements after the first of the year. let's hope those announcements lead to more work for all of us.

reading back over this... jeez, what a boring post... i'm really trying to come across as some kind of a know-it-all, huh? blah blah blah. at least we still have this "jack and ben" to look forward to next year, even though i really never look forward to jack...

i don't really know what the heck this is, but it looks crazy. if you live in NYC go down to 57th and 3rd and tell me what the heck is going on.


frankenstoen said...

Sorry, but Coraline IS a hybrid CG/Stop-Motion Film, though perhaps not in the way most people would imagine. YOU should know that better than anyone. Hopefully on the next one they'll go 100% handcrafted Stop-Motion.

j.spake said...

yeah, yeah... you're a stickler for details, damon. as for the next one being a purist's dream? you know better than that! although i do agree that a lot of the RP props were stupid-looking, and flimsy.

Anonymous said...

I hope those 65 find work easily and quickly.

With the recent tanking of Delgo, and the historical example of Iron Giant. I hope Laika realizes that the real key to a succesful movie is a well done advertising blitz. Especially since Coraline doesn't fit into the expected formula.

Being outside of the hollywood loop, and the head honcho (and his hirelings) coming not from the entertainment biz, I'm betting they aren't gonna slam dunk with the media.

Here's hoping Coraline does fantabulous and loosens the chokehold on style and story in hollywood.

j.spake said...

well, they certainly got off to a slow start, but i think they are trying to push the advertising as hard as they can in here in the final 6 weeks before release. i sure hope it works. it worries me a bit that it isn't on more people's radar already, but it does seem to be taking off a little bit. we'll see, won't we?

frankenstoen said...

I just think some of the characters' faces look a little too smooth and perfect and obviously of CG origin - and I'm worried that smooth CG look will turn people off who have gotten sick of crappy Dreamworks CGI movies.

I am however super-impressed by Focus Features' marketing of the movie so far. It's at least ten times better than I was expecting, and it would make me very excited to see the film if I were an eight-year-old girl.

j.spake said...

actually its pretty clear that focus features completely dropped the ball on marketing coraline. they didn't even take the film to san diego comic-con! a closer look at the coraline.com website reveals that it was these guys who picked it up and ran with it. thank god.

Anonymous said...

I quit my night job after getting a call to try out as an assistant animator for Coraline, and then spent the next four months without a job, finally running out of food and money while I was waiting to hear back. If it weren't for my good standing with the job I left and the fact that I was able to get rehired, I'm not sure I would have a place to live right now.

Laika is a cool-looking company with great people working there, but I'm not sure that it's a good idea to toss out every other employment offer while they decide whether or not to take you on. I don't know whose fault that is, or if it's just the nature of the type of work we do- but the company is very unapproachable and extremely corporate. This clashes with its easy-going atmosphere 16 years ago, when I could ask to speak to an animator I knew and they would put them on, rather than offer to take my number and never ever call me.

To a trained eye that lacks "production experience", the only-way-in-via-front-desk approach doesn't seem like a wise choice for the studio. I say this because, throughout the hiring process, a lot of talented people might not even be considered for a job that they are desperately needed for! As a result, the film doesn't get made because of SEMANTICS.

As of now, I don't have an opinion one way or the other. I can only say that I've felt the sting of rejection and witnessed the horror that unemployment can be while trying to follow one's dream. If I had gotten hired, I would have been laid off with my friends and acquaintances in the company just the same. I almost feel damned either way. The bit about 5 years of TV work or work on a feature film as mentioned on the posted jobs is BS, though. If an animator is worth his or her salt, he/she will be able to do the work needed with or without professional experience. Some of the greatest animators started out in their basements... Some of the best I know are still there.

...and they're getting steady work as animators.

Again, I'm not blaming anyone. I'd just like to see a happier ending for the artists involved.

Edwound Wisent said...

(^ mindblowingly, I'll bother to follow some of your posts: but it is true that getting work in any field has less to do with talent and more to do with timing.

(^ I'll admit that 50 boxes of busted arms tossed out to trying to become animators was a mighty fine ad campaign move.

(^ here's to all the former stop motion wizards stuck working in the game industry for lack of content writers in the wake of a strike!


jriggity said...

well....as for dropping jak and ben.

It probably was the right decision....if the films not working after those years put in in probably wont work.

sucks for the Laika Employees...

.....but a better project will rise and give call to the talents .

its a pretty smart decision to create both cg and stop mo films as a company though. CG will have much better chances of feeding the company and staff inbetween the Stop mo films.

Laika is a Special place with a new film that could really leave a mark on the stop mo and hopefully world of filmgoers.