Friday, December 4, 2015

A CREATOR’S MANIFESTO

 
            In an era of complete corporatization of the medium of animation (yes I said medium, because animation is not a genre as Hollywood would like to categorize it) I am here as a lone creator to declare my absolute commitment to my art.  I do not have the financial backing of a major studio, nor a large infrastructure housing hundreds of artists.  I am one man, with one vision, to make one film, and that film is ‘Dawgtown’.  


            For decades conventional wisdom has told us that no animated feature film of quality can be produced by an independent; it’s just too difficult, time-consuming and expensive (of course Bill Plympton disproves that time and again, but he is viewed as an exception).  I believe those are falsehoods and excuses that the Industry has used to keep animators from launching out and making their own films.
Never before in history has the technology existed to produce hand-drawn animation so fast, and fast means less expensive.  Gone are the high-costs of camera set-ups, film processing, and cel painting; even scanners have gone goodbye thanks to digital drawing tablets.  Labor now remains the only substantial expense, which is still challenging to finance, but not impossible.  There are also more distribution opportunities than ever before, and films can find a successful life even without a theatrical release.  The Kindle has become a home movie theater for many who are perfectly content renting and purchasing movies direct to their deviceIn short, the time has never been better for independent animation.
It is my belief that feature film animation in the United States should not be the exclusive playground of four or five major studios.  If we resign ourselves to that perceived notion, then we are allowing a very narrow group of individuals determine what stories the medium is permitted to tell.  And as we’ve seen, they will be stories that only appeal to the broadest possible demographic, and contain nothing remotely controversial, offensive, subversive, or intellectually challenging.  Sit through the average studio trailer for the latest animated film and you'll be confronted with a presentation so frantic that it's the equivalent of dangling keys in front of a one-year-old.  Wonderful films such as ‘Watership Down’ and ‘The Plague Dogs’ would probably never be produced today, and that is a frightening reality to come to terms with.    

 
            Do not misunderstand me, I respect the tradition and knowledge that studios like Disney have passed down over the years, but the days of hand-crafted pictures such as ‘Snow White’ and ‘Pinocchio’ have long since been abandoned, and I believe it is up to independent creators such as myself to stand in the gap.  Though web and television animation have become ever more diverse in both style and content, there is a void when it comes to feature-length animation.
As great as some of the CG-animated studio pictures may be today, there is a still an assembly-line factory feel to the way they are produced.  It’s very telling when one compares the end credits of a current animated film, many requiring over 1000 artists, to films like ‘The Fox & the Hound’ and ‘Wizards’, which were each animated by only about 30-40 people.  There are no ‘Nine Old Men’ these days; they’ve been replaced by armies of faceless CG animators.  I don’t question a CG animator’s talent, or commitment to the art, but there is simply a more personal stamp on the performances in hand-drawn films, and that is the wonderful thing about the medium.  One artist can literally own the visual performance in a hand-drawn scene, or the entire picture for that matter.
As an independent, I can make films about subject matter that few studios would ever produce (notice I didn’t say distribute, I only said produce).  In that sense, I have a degree of creative power that they can never wield.  It is a responsibility to both the medium of animation, as well as storytelling itself, to use that power to tell stories they can’t tell, rather than simply trying to ape what they are doing.  The Major Studios make some great films within their content limitations (‘Inside Out’ was pure genius), but that shouldn’t be all there is for audiences to choose from. 

            I am building a team of artists who share that vision, and who not only believe in the story I am telling, but who also believe in carrying on the tradition of hand-drawn animation (which I personally think to be the highest of all art forms).  I am in this for the long haul, and have made a promise to complete this film at the expense of any future artistic endeavors, even if it takes the rest of my natural life to do so.  
            I never ask anything from an artist that I too have not already given, or will continue to give.  Every artist should get full credit for their work, and I strive to promote them and their contributions above my own.  I also commit myself to offering artists the best pay rates my budget will afford, and to even offer them the opportunity to become owners in ‘Dawgtown’ should they choose to do so.  Artists are not faceless laborers cranking out product for a paycheck.  They are vital to the success of any animated feature and their work enhances the voice performances, bringing much needed humanity to what can be a very cold, impersonal medium.   Their value is immeasurable, and without them there is no film.  I challenge any artist I hire to put aside the voices of doubt that the industry has perpetuated; voices that say it can’t be done. 

Remember, it was Walt himself who stated, “if a corporation can dream it, it can do it.”  Wait…correction, Walt actually said, “if you can dream it, you can do it.”  Dream it with me, and join me in making something truly special.



Justin Murphy

Writer/Producer/Director

Legacy Animation Studios

‘Dawgtown’