It’s been a very good week for the inspiration of animation. One British filmmaking team, dreaming of stop-motion travel far from home, has landed big-time representation after charming a planet. And two self-described Disney “fanatics” have landed their dream home — a colorful, real-life construction of Pixar’s airborne “Up” house — after being charmed by the Oscar-winning film.
Both stories winningly remind: Sometimes, when the thirst for travel, adventure and fresh frontiers becomes great, the best window to a new world is illuminated by animation.
For that, these are Comic Riffs’ Picks of the Week:
BENEATH THE COLD AND RAINY SKIES OF LONDON, Tom Jenkins nurtured his dreams of other worlds. On one hand, he pined for driving across the amber waves of America. On another, he was fascinated with the ability to experience whole other lands through the “virtual parallel world” of Google’s Street View.
In casting about the reality of his English office, though, what spoke to the commercial filmmaker from one shelf were “toys, inspirational junk and mementos from various shoots.”
“I always thought,” Jenkins tells Comic Riffs, “about how these inanimate objects might interact and play when everybody else had gone home.”
As charmed viewers the globe over now know, those creative elements fused to form the basis for “Address Is Approximate,” the beguiling stop-motion short in which a travel-hungry desk toy embarks on a virtual adventure. With humble expectation, Jenkins and co-director Simon Sharp went public with their pet project by sharing it two weeks ago via Vimeo.
More than 1.7-million views later, “AIA” has won over famous and influential fans (including Google co-founder Larry Page), sparked messages from deeply touched people — and helped Jenkins and Sharp chart a whole new professional trajectory.
On Friday, Jenkins and Sharp announced through their commercial production company, The Theory, that they have just signed with WME (formerly William Morris Endeavor) with the aim to expand into feature production — a deal that Jenkins tells us leaves him feeling “flattered and excited.”
From a virtual creation, their sudden opportunities are becoming especially real.
“It honestly feels like we’re going to wake up and it’s all been an amazing dream,” Jenkins tells Comic Riffs. “ ‘Address Is Approximate’ was the reason they contacted us — [WME agent] Sharon Jackson saw it and really understood what it was about, and because it genuinly touched her, she was keen to get us on board.”
With the signing and the newfound spotlight, Jenkins, 33, and Sharp, 37, can redirect their career sights.
“Our ambition is to direct features,” Jenkins tells Comic Riffs. “We’ve been working on a screenplay which we’re very excited about, and now we have the chance to drive this forward, as well as looking at other projects to really show what we can do with 90 minutes instead of three.”.
Jenkins — who studied media production at Bradford University — says he and Sharp kept intending to do self-initiated work after they set up The Theory in 2009. “But as usually happens, the paid work took a front seat. Then earlier this year, we had a little space between projects, so I thought the time was right to do ’AIA,’ ” says Jenkins, who founded his first production company with Sharp and two other directors in 2002. “On the whole, this was my project,” Jenkins says, “but Simon was instrumental in advising on edits, helping produce and of course appearing in the film as the office guy! We generally act as a directing duo — and we have plenty more where this came from.”
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Some viewers have said the film’s emotional storytelling through animated toys summons thoughts of Pixar. Google’s Page even posted on Google+: “It’s poetic and charming so wanted to share it — StreetView meets Toy Story.” Yet Jenkins says The Theory’s influences are primarly from live-action. “We adore the work of Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Rodriguez, Fincher, M. Night Shyamalan, among others,”he says, “both for their way of telling stories and actually how they work — doing it on their own terms in their own way.
“Saying that, of course we love Pixar!”
Jenkins, in fact, says The Theory had never really considered doing stop-motion. “But lately, I realized that if I could use it in a unique way, it could be interesting,” he tells Comic Riffs. “That’s kind of what prompted me to consider actually animating Street View.” (For the animation, Jenkins bought Dragon Stop Motion to run on his laptop, then hooked it up to their Canon 5d MkII before taking everything into After Effects for polishing; editing was done in Avid Media Composer.)
“Creatively, we love innovative and distinct work that has a pure voice,” Jenkins says, “so ‘AIA’ was born from this.”
A creative “voice” so pure, in this case, it doesn’t even require dialogue.
“I think because there’s no dialogue and we rely 100 percent on the visuals and music, the film can be seen and enjoyed by anybody — no matter where you’re from,” Jenkins tells us. “And it plays on a universal desire: the longing for adventure we all have deep within us.
“I also think the music plays a huge part — it took a long time to find a piece that fitted the tone I was looking for,” he continues. “But when I heard the Cinematic Orchestra’s ‘Arrival of the Birds’ track, I knew that was the one.”
Those combined elements have appealed so universally, the heartfelt responses into their English offices have come from far-flung regions.
“Some of the messages we’ve received have actually been very moving,” Jenkins says. “A lady from the middle of the Australian bush sent us a beautiful e-mail expressing her thoughts — and we were blown away to think that this little film made in our office in London has moved someone to tears on the other side of the world.”
And what resonates so universal comes directly from the personal.
“I’ve never driven along the Pacific Coast, but it’s always been a dream of mine — as well as driving across America,” Jenkins tells Comic Riffs. “So yes, it was personally meaningful in that way. I’ve always loved the thought of vast horizons, long deserted roads and beautiful scenery.
“Living in cold and rainy London is probably why!”
A tiny desk toy seeks new horizons by stepping onto a car and up to Street View. Nearly 2-million people are transported by this visual and visceral poetry. And a humble filmmaking team is suddenly propelled toward a whole new professional horizon-line.
“Whatever happens in the future,” Jenkins says, “so far it’s been a hell of a ride!”
The Salt Lake Tribune reported earlier this year that a full-scale replica of the pastel-tinted home depicted in the hit Pixar film “Up” had been created in the city’s suburb of Herriman. The house reflected a painstaking attention to detail, re-creating seemingly every last exterior and interior detail found in Carl and Ellie Frederickson’s airborne home.
Well, word came from the Tribune this week that the other shoe had dropped — with all the impact of the film’s house itself. Clinton and Lynette Hamblin of Petaluma, Calif., had sought a similar home — but now the Herriman replica is theirs. They reportedly have purchased the home for $400,000 — complete with the telltale retro appliances.
“We just love the message of the movie — adventure is out there,” Lynette Hamblin told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Tom Jenkins could not have said it better himself.