Hi all! I am not sure if people still visit this site or read my musings, but I figured it is about time for me to write an update. SO MUCH has happened since my last post. It feels like a lifetime ago and a completely different world!
Since August of 2020, we completed production on "Us Again" from home during the beginning months of the pandemic. I am so so proud of the film and the team that created it. It was an insanely challenging film from the beginning, but to finish it from home as tools and workflows were getting ironed out for our work-from-home situation was even harder. It turned out AMAZING and was really well received in March of 2021, albeit a bit under the radar because of the whole... global pandemic thing that is STILL HAPPENING. I got to actually see some people in real life around August of 2020 to do the final sound mix and it was such an emotional punctuation on a period of my life that meant the world to me.
Us Again came from a deep place in my heart. It balances my insecurities around aging, but also my aspirations around living in the present that is exemplified by the incredible women in my life; my mother and my wife. I got to blend a multitude of my fascinations into one story. I have always wanted to tell a story through dance, and I have a huge love for 60s/70s soul/funk music. Since I was a kid, I would go to the theater with my mom and marvel at stories told through dance and song. When I was in high school, I started watching So You Think You Can Dance with my mom and we ooh-ed and aah-ed at the athletic feats, but also the emotional story-telling. As soon as Us Again sparked in the back of my brain, I connected the idea of the story to a video a friend of mine once showed me of this amazing couple dancing as if they were old people. Their style of dance was both a caricature of real life and a unique blend of hip hop and contemporary dance. The dancers were named Keone and Mari Madrid. I used a super cut of Keone and Mari's work as part of the pitch for Us Again to show a way in which I thought we could create a world where dance is not something that you go and do, but HOW you do everything. I never thought in a million years that we would actually get to work with Keone and Mari. I always imagined we would hire someone who could do a similar style, but was blown away when Keone and Mari agreed to come in for a meeting. They are the most incredible collaborators I could have asked for. They had great character instincts and they are amazing story-tellers as well. They are now directing multiple Broadway shows and I am thrilled to see where their careers go from here. Hopefully, we will get to work together again in the future.
After the whirlwind that was Us Again, I jumped back into the fire of animating on Raya and the Last Dragon, which was honestly kind of relaxing by comparison to finishing a film as a director. It was nice to get back on the box and animate shots, and the film was so beautiful. It is really amazing to get to be a part of films that are so big and so wide reaching. After Raya, I had some of the most fun I have ever had as an animator. A fellow Disney Animator, Hyrum Osmond, pitched a series of short shorts that are now on Disney+ called Olaf Presents. I got to animate about 75% of the Moana episode as well as a multitude of iconic shots from the other episodes. I had never animated Olaf before since I had missed all the other Frozen content for other jobs. He is SO MUCH FUN! He is a bouncing ball with the most appealing and easy to manipulate face. It was cartoon heaven for me, and just what I needed after years of directing and then working on heavy shots from Raya. The shorts turned out great, so go check em out!
Then, the best thing ever happened. My wife delivered our beautiful baby girl, Ziggy Aiko. Let's just say the beginning of 2021 was a whirlwind. Between the insurrection in the U.S. and the global pandemic still raging, the release of Us Again and then the delivery of our first daughter.... I haven't slept much. Parenting is HARD!! I have so much respect for literally everyone who has kids now, and so much guilt for cutting parents a break when I was supervising or directing. If you are still reading this rambling, and you supervise people at all... give the parents some slack. They are tired AF.
While on paternity leave (thanks Disney!), I was contacted by Netflix. They inquired if I was interested in joining Chris Williams to direct the animation for his upcoming epic film, The Sea Beast. Chris is a top notch story teller and without even seeing the film, I was pretty much sold. I knew it would be a great film, and they were working with Sony Imageworks and a good friend of mine was the Head of Animation on the film. It felt like the right time to finally say goodbye to my amazing home at Disney. It broke me. I will be honest. I had to clean out my old office completely alone because of Covid. I walked the empty hallways and stood in the Caffeine Patch (the coffee/communal area at Disney) and wept. Disney was my home for 12 years. It was AMAZING and I look forward to going back someday. The opportunity at Netflix was so exciting and new. It felt like the right time to try out the world outside the Disney walls and see where I stood on my own. We are getting close to finishing The Sea Beast and it has been a joy. An insanely challenging joy, but a joy. I can't say anything else, but I am confident people are going to be blown away. Chris and the team at SPI have raised the bar.
So now, I find myself in an interesting predicament. I work for Netflix, but Us Again is now Oscar eligible. My fingers, toes and eyes are crossed hoping that the Academy sees merit in our little Us Again and we can make that enviable Short List. If not, I am still insanely proud of the film and excited to keep making more cool stuff at Netflix, Disney or anywhere. All I know is I gotta keep making money because a whole new life depends on it. Anyone wanna make fun stuff?
If you are still reading, you get a big gold star. There is nothing much to learn from this post except an old animators musings, but I am proud of the work I am doing and excited to keep making more. Cheers.