Domee Shi, the writer and director of “Turning Red” had the SCAD Savannah Film Festival crowd in stitches after answering the question about what was the first film that inspired her to…
Domee Shi, the writer and director of “Turning Red” had the SCAD Savannah Film Festival crowd in stitches after answering the question about what was the first film that inspired her to get into animation. She named the Disney classic “Aladdin” (1992), which was the first movie her parents purchased on VHS when her family immigrated to Canada. “We popped it in, and I was just like, whoa, Aladdin’s so hot,” she shared as the crowd erupted in laughter. “I pause, and then I draw him and tried to understand how Glenn Keane can make this 2-D guy be my dream boyfriend.”
Shi was joined by five other animators as part of the Sketch to Screen panel at SCAD to discuss their films and the evolving medium. The panelists included Kyle Balda (“Minions: The Rise of Gru”), Joel Crawford (“Puss in Boots; The Last Wish”), Dean Fleischer-Camp (“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”), Henry Selick (“Wendell and Wild”), Domee Shi (“Turning Red”) and Masaaki Yuasa (“Inu-oh”). The six-film selection showcased a broad array of artistic avenues and animation styles, as their compelling stories contend for Oscar acclaim. As the senior awards editor at Variety, I had the honor of moderating and programming the discussion.
Selick was the recipient of SCAD’s outstanding achievement in animation award for his Netflix feature, which he co-produced and co-wrote with Oscar-winner Jordan Peele. An Oscar-nominee for “Coraline” (2009), and helmer of the classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993), Selick stressed to any aspiring artists not to compare their success to others, using his friends Tim Burton and David Fincher as examples. “Tim Burton was a fully formed genius at 19,” he said to the crowd. “In fact, I don’t think he’s done anything better than what he was able to do at age 28. And that’s a very rare person.”
Shi, an Oscar-winner for the animated short film “Bao,” (2018) spoke about the difficulty adding or re-working scenes after receiving “a mountain of notes.” As the sole woman on the panel for her PIxar film, she is hopeful for the future of animation and its inclusiveness. “I look out in the crowd and see such a bright future for animation,” she said. “I feel so honored to be one of those people that are there to open the door, but I want to be able to hold the door open. You’re seeing directors really experiment and try different things.”
Referring back to Shi’s statement about notes, Selick said, “I’d liked to see what your film would have been with less notes,” as he discussed where the medium currently stands at this point. “I think more auteur-authorship is a really good thing for animation, and I think we can get more interesting films, even the biggest budget ones, that will be less expensive.”
Fleischer-Camp, who also produced, co-wrote and edited the A24 animated and live-action hybrid, which he also stars in, spoke about the need to be humble when creating. “As a director, you have to sell people on this great idea, and then you have to kill your ego,” he said. Talking about how personal the story became to him, especially after losing both of his grandparents during production he said, “while we were shooting it, it became even more personal. It’s about grief and processing loss.”
The multi-hyphenate director also emphasized how animation is changing and how the industry must embrace it. He adds: “Technologically we are empowered as filmmakers, now more than ever, not be regimented by a certain craft or lane we have to stay in. All my favorite films break some kind of barrier.”
Crawford’s film, which is part of the successful “Shrek” franchise and crafted to look like a fairytale painting, highlighted that animation isn’t only for kids — contrary to what Disney’s Bob Chapek recently implied. “It’s for everybody because everybody can be dropped into this fantasy world, and be carried on a journey.”
Earlier in the festival, Crawford showed the first 30 minutes of the anticipated DreamWorks Animation sequel to the SCAD community. He discussed how keeping the familiarity of the beloved character, voiced by Antonio Banderas, needed an upgrade as audiences evolve. “Audiences have gotten more sophisticated as animation techniques, as storytelling techniques have gotten more sophisticated.”
Balda, who helmed two previous films in the franchise, “Minions” (2015) and “Despicable Me 3,” (2017) expressed how Hollywood is moving towards edgier takes in animation. “It has a lot to do with the audience’s appetite for those new styles and those new stories to be told.,” he says. “That helps the studios feel more comfortable to take those risks.”
The movie trended on TikTok and Twitter with the hashtag #Gentleminions, and accrued more than 10 million views on social platforms with young moviegoers dressing in formal attire to attend the screening. Yuasa, who spoke through his interpreter Saki McCarthy, talked about how the GKIDS movie is a reflection of bringing a story that takes place 600 years ago to life. In addition, he spoke about being inspired by 2-D animation. “When I was growing manga and anime were starting to become popular,” he shared. “When I was 13, there was a big anime boom in Japan, I knew this is what I want to do.” He added jokingly, “I thought for anime I didn’t have to really think about the story.”
At SCAD, one of the beautiful elements is witnessing that animators are looked at as celebrities at the Savannah, Ga. festival. When the panel ended, dozens of community members and students rushed the stage in hopes having a conversation with the filmmakers. It’s a hopeful sign to see so many young people fired up about the medium.