On The Shoulders of Giants is a new documentary that looks the history of professional basketball through the prism of the Harlem Rens, a pioneering basketball team from the late 1930s, and features three key animated sequences created by Calabash Animation. The film recently had premieres in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and is currently airing on pay-per-view in select markets.
“The producers wanted this film to be graphically strong,” says Sean Henry, Calabash Animation Executive Producer. “There is literally no film footage of any of these major championship games, and although their historical importance is significant, they barely got a footnote in the newspapers of the time. Our goal was to provide visuals that would fit the story and the setting and the mood of the film. A large percentage of our time was spent just developing the style of the animation.
On The Shoulders of Giants honors the greatest basketball team you’ve never heard of — a group of sports pioneers who have been all but forgotten to time, and it celebrates the legacy of a magical game. It tells the story of Bob Douglas, who loved the new sport of basketball and was determined to make it profitable. To do this, he would not only have to fight for the game itself, but against the rampant racism that was determined to see him fail. His team, the New York Renaissance Big Five, affectionately known as the Harlem Rens, became the embodiment of a new attitude among African Americans who fought to be recognized for their abilities rather than for the color of their skin. They were the precursors to those brave men and women who, twenty years later, would found the Civil Rights Movement.
The look Calabash developed has a dynamic, high end feel, but avoids anything overly cartoony or silly. The style takes is cues from the distinct look of urban artist Justin Bua, who contributed original art to the film.
“We weren’t trying to copy him exactly, but be in keeping with his overall sensibility and style,” Calabash animator Eric Meister adds.
For the Calabash creative team, the ultimate challenge was to find a way to depict these games and their intensity through animation.
“It is not easy to capture the physical nature and beauty of the game of basketball in animation,” Henry notes. “In the end we decided not to try to perfectly simulate the action of the game, but rather to tell the story with visuals that complimented the narrative.”