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Feature Film

Disney Veterans Aaron Blaise and Chuck Williams Launch “Art Story” Kickstarter

For the first time ever, the director of a Disney feature film is using crowdfunding to launch an animated feature project. Art Story, which debuted yesterday on Kickstarter, is a new project from Aaron Blaise and Chuck Williams.

Blaise, who is one of the only artists who can claim to have worked at Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida on the studio’s opening day in 1989 and its closing day in 2004, animated on many of the modern-day Disney classics including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, before he co-directed Brother Bear. Chuck Williams was the producer of the latter film, which went on to be nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar.

More recently, Blaise and Williams were set to be the directors of The Legend of Tembo, which was to have been the first feature from Digital Domain’s Tradition Studios. The very public meltdown of that studio last year left them out in the cold, but they’ve bounced back from that experience with this project of their own, an unconventional and creative CGI family film about a boy and his grandfather who become trapped in the world of fine art. Here is their pitch for the project:

The Art Story Kickstarter is asking for $350,000 over 47 days. The campaign has raised nearly $17,000 in less than 24 hours, which puts it on a solid pace to achieve its goal. Blaise and Williams point out that the production of the film will need additional funding—in the tens of millions—and that the money they are raising will allow them to create a children’s storybook, script, development art and storyreel. The majority of the Kickstarter rewards, such as the children’s book, film pitch book and physical rewards will be honored even if the film doesn’t make it to production.

The Kickstarter rewards include all the usuals—development blog access, digital download of children’s storybook, T-shirts, posters—but also some unique items, such as a PDF of their film pitch book, the chance to sit in on a story meeting, and even a three-month apprenticeship to participate in the development of the film. They’ve set up the Kickstarter in a unique way that allows every backer to experience and participate in the development of an animated feature; even the $1 donation level lets backers make their voice heard in the development process by suggesting paintings they want to see in the film.

  • Ant G

    This sounds awesome. I resent their disclaimer that this may sound but won’t be “high brow”. What’s wrong with high brow and can it not be both “high brow” and entertaining? Too often we think of “high brow” as boring lecturing by elitists. But you can’t entice people to appreciate art history if they don’t have the slightest interest in it, no matter how entertaining you try to be. It’s a really common class subject students take, I think even a requisite in many majors, so the movie wouldn’t be esoteric in the slightest. Anyway, I love that they included MC Escher; the fine art world likes to exclude “illustrators”.

    • Aaron Blaise

      I agree whole heartedly. It’s just that we’ve had the “high brow” comments from executives in the past. Thanks so much!!

  • Marooon

    Why would this film be CGI? The medium of Traditional Animation is perfectly suited to a project like this, because one could actually use the tools and techniques with which the original masterpieces were made when animating the characters. It just seems like a terrible shame when an admittedly creative idea like this is turned into another CG fest.

    • John A

      Maybe it won’t be ALL CGI–or 3-D CG anyway—the computer, in the right hands can produce artwork that resembles 100% hand drawn animation in a fraction of the time. It already looks like it’ll be a mash-up of different styles, and these two have a long history with 2-D, I’m sure they’ll find a way to work it into this project.

    • Funkybat

      One can always hope that by “CG” they mean “produced entirely in Toon Boom/TVPaint/Photoshop.” That would technically be all-digital art.

      I definitely hope to see more drawn animation projects proposed through Kickstarter. The demand is out there, whether or not the executives think it is.

  • Uli Meyer

    This project sounds very intriguing and maybe a mixture of techniques would be work well. Some old master techniques are impossible to do in 2D. A neo classicistic painting by someone like Jaques Louis David would often take a year or two to finish because the the painting technique involved an arduous process of painting in layers involving weeks of drying time. Etchings by Rembrandt involved a process whereby the image was slowly build up, printing test images and adding to them. Again very time consuming for one single image. Most of the old master’s techniques are totally inappropriate for 2D animation. But in CG you can create textures that mimic those techniques and in those cases CG might be the way to go. On the other hand, a typical Lichtenstein would be great to do in 2D. Or some of Picasso’s work. Or some of the expressionists. Indeed, any direct painting technique could be done by hand, IF you can find an artist good enough to mimic it.
    This project has great potential and could be a visual feast. We should support it rather than turn it into a 2D vs CG discussion.

    • jean morel

      Check out ”Le Tableau” by french animator Jean Francois Laguionie.

  • Hypermirage

    Sorry, I really want to be supportive of this. But it’s just not in me.

    Apparently the filmmakers believe that by rendering scenes “in
    the style” of masterworks they’ll adequately convey why the parent
    paintings are great. Do the the filmmakers think great art is ultimately reducible to great aesthetic style?

    It has to be said that the concept art of their lackluster characters photoshoehorned into these paintings reveals the shortcoming of the film’s concept, if not the limitations of their hubris: even if the animation blended flawlessly with the style of the paintings (and one look at the concept art confirms the suspicion that “close enough” is good enough), one still wrestles with the ugly underlying insinuation that great art needs to be tarted up in order for people to recognize it as great. What unbelievable arrogance to think your art is in any way eligible to piggyback on theirs.

    As for being concerned that this project would be too “high-brow”, on this count we obviously have nothing to fear.

    • Axolotl

      The perfect is the enemy of the good.

    • Art Good

      Wow. What a bizarre reaction. Are you actually in the business? It’s concept art obviously. The great films take years after this stage. This film can go any direction visually. These guys are great at story. That’s what counts. I am sure they’ll hear a lot of crap internally from folks like you and they’ll get it right. For now, it’s a dream project for an artist to work on a film that explores the world of art. In the end, this should be about the characters in the story, not the brush stroke of the original artist. Don’t be presumptuous and judgmental at the same time. Just give it a chance. It’s a whole lot better than the shallow comedy concepts that have replaced the great films in this genre.

      • Hypermirage

        I guess my reaction can’t be all that bizarre if you think they’ll hear all sorts of similar crap from people “internally”. I hope they do. THEY should hope they do. Addressing criticism and arguing the finer points keeps a creator sharp and honest.

        I haven’t read Art Story’s script, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t either. They may indeed be geniuses at story. But let me go ahead and saw away the limb you went out on with your claim that story is what counts. I know, I know, every budding little flower of an animator has had “Story is Everything!” drilled into his or her head by instructors, film makers, sage elder statesmen animators, and sites like Cartoon Brew. And while it’s true that story is very, very important, someone less familiar with the phenomenon might very sensibly ask “If story is what counts, why are we all hanging out on animation sites, working in animation, and always trying to draw better?” Because while story is important, our medium is visual and relies on images to convey that story. Images that have to look good, be in some way appealing, and give the audience an anchor. Will the images for Art Story eventually do all that? Who knows. All I can do is look at what they’ve presented so far.

        Which brings me to the point of concept art. Yes, it’s true that *internally* concept art is the hammer and chisel we use to free a great idea from the mass of possibility. It’s messy sometimes, wrong-headed, full of blind alleys and aborted ambition. Move up the entertainment food chain with me for a moment, though. When concept art is used as a pitch element, it has to carry a hell of a lot more weight. It has to be stunning. It has to suggest possibility, while confirming that the project can be executed as promised. It has to show that the creators have given more than a passing thought to what the finished project will look and *feel* like. Which is why you do some development for in-house, and keep the really great stuff for show in your pitch materials. Because you have to convince a hostile audience that your idea is a good one. An idea worth spending money on.

        Yes, this is concept art. And it doesn’t do its job in the pitch. I’m not wowed. It illustrates the basic idea dully and offers up zero surprises, repeatedly jamming a boy and a man into superior works in a bland and unimaginative way. So if I’m meant to be persuaded into funding this project (and I suppose I am, as this is a public request for financing), it’s failed in hooking me with its premise, its art, and confidence in completion.

        All of which has very little to do with my original comment that I thought the core idea was reductionist and somewhat arrogant. A claim, by the way, which you failed to address at all. I will absolutely be judgmental when I’m being asked to part with my money to fund someone else’s dream. And in a discussion about animators co-opting master works of art for a self-proclaimed family “buddy comedy”, surely you are using the word “presumptuous” in the most outrageously ironic way possible.

        And yeah, I’m in the industry.

        • Aaron Blaise

          Your point is well taken. All I can say at this point is Chuck and I have a long road ahead of us. Thank you for your honesty and hopefully we can win you over as our project develops and becomes better through the process.

    • Glass Half Full Kinda Guy

      I think you’re missing the point of the film with your “apparently” assumption. Seems to me, the paintings are a backdrop to the story they want to tell — be it buddy comedy or whatever. They talk about the film as an audiences’ “introduction” to these great paintings. Not to convey how the paintings are great by sticking their characters in them. Once discovered, the paintings themselves stand for themselves. But maybe this introduction will allow a much broader audience than normal to discover that for themselves. Better than pounding them over the head continually inane fantasies, talking vehicles and animals I think. Maybe instead of a kid wanting to just play with cars, he’ll want want to know who that funny man with sunflowers is.

  • Mike R.

    REALLY hope it’s not all CG. Please Aaron! Either way, it’s good to see another project trying to be produced independently. Good Luck!

    • Tom Hignite

      HOORAY, for indie animation! Aaron and Chuck stand a good chance of making history and every supporter can go along for the ride. If you have not done so, head over to Kickstarter and support this dynamic duo. We’re pulling for you.

    • Aaron Blaise

      We are looking at all possibilities of mediums…2D included. Whatever best suits executing the style of whatever world they are in at that particular point in the story. Once again though, the story will drive the art. It will dictate to us where we need to be visually as Chuck and I both love to include visual metaphor in our story telling. The style at that point in the story will do that among other things. Thankjs so much for all of the support!!

  • Hey Now

    “Looney Tunes: Back In Action” already did it. (And pretty well, IMO) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97PLr9FK0sw

  • criostoir