“One of the best animated short films not produced by a major studio I have ever seen.”
I’m taking a break from directing my next project, so I slapped a fresh coat of paint on the site to make it way easier to watch my film online.
=Now fully optimized for screens of all sizes, from giant desktops to tiny little phones, the new site also features ARTICLES OF WAR in glorious high definition, along with tons of artwork, behind-the-scenes stories, and more.
As always, thanks so much for watching!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved “nose art” – those one-of-a-kind, unmistakable emblems that air crews started painting on the sides of their planes in World War II. When I was ten years old and deep into my “model airplane” phase, I’d wander up and down the aisles of the hobby store and pick the box with the best looking painting – and the best paintings always featured nose art. Even though my finished models always had a droopy, slightly crash-landed look about them (I’m horrible at gluing things together, unless my own fingers count, in which case I’m an expert), I could always salvage the nose art (usually in the form of a sticker, which I’d paste on whatever notebook I was using in elementary school that year).
So even before I started researching ARTICLES OF WAR, I was building a collection of nose art from the 1940s. These historical artifacts would serve as my inspiration when it came time to create an original symbol for the fictional plane of my film, the “Dakota Zephyr.” This would be an important piece of artwork, a visual cue for my audience to immediately identify the “hero” aircraft from the rest of the squadron.
I always planned to create a brand new piece of nose art for the Dakota Zephyr, but that changed the instant I laid eyes on the incredible paintings of Don Allen. I first read about this legendary nose art designer in an article on www.historicwings.com, where I learned that an entire gallery of his work is featured at the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, Delaware. Mr. Allen re-created all of his original nose art designs for the museum (the originals, of course, were destroyed when the planes that survived the war got scrapped in the years following V-Day).
Mr. Allen’s work is, in this humble artist’s opinion, simply the best – vivid, original, and amazingly well rendered. I find it hard enough to paint using my computer, where every mistake can be magically “undone” with the click of a mouse, but Mr. Allen created his work against an unforgiving metal fuselage, using paint scrounged from limited supplies in wartime England.
Mr. Allen’s nose art paintings are the work of a confident artist, and when I saw his collection of beauties at the AMC museum, it was love at first sight.
My personal favorite of Mr. Allen’s wartime creations is his nose art for “Ill Wind?,” a P-51 Mustang flown by Nicholas “Cowboy” Megura. The timeless design is simple and sexy… a beautiful girl swept up in a breeze, barely able to hold onto an umbrella that’s about to take flight. Back in 1944, that breeze was obviously the “Ill Wind”… but when I saw it, I immediately imagined it was the “Dakota Zephyr” sweeping the lady off her feet.
I held onto this concept throughout pre-production and just couldn’t let it go. Every time I tried creating an original design of my own, it wound up looking like a pale imitation of Mr. Allen’s original work. So in the end, I used Mr. Allen’s “Ill Wind?” emblem as the nose art for the Dakota Zephyr. I switched a few colors around, but overall, it’s a faithful reproduction of the original.
Thankfully, Mr. Allen – now a retired commercial artist living in Ohio – recently viewed a rough cut of the film and approved the use of his artwork in my production. He sent me an amazing handwritten letter, describing his wartime experience:
The 33 months I spent in WWII England as a commercial artist remade into an air mechanic/nose artist/left waist gunner was certainly a life changing experience. The keyword is “life” – there were incidents during my wartime service that could have been disastrous, but Lady Luck was sure on my side.
My 4th Fighter Group was the highest scoring in victories in the whole 8th Air Force – but it came at great cost – 128 of our pilots died in combat – the “unlucky” ones… Every one of those 128 had grave misgivings each time they strapped themselves into that small cockpit. They somehow made themselves believe it was going to be the other guy that got “it.”
It was a huge thrill to communicate with Mr. Allen, a veteran and artist who generously offered his advice and approval of my film. Actually speaking to the artist behind some of the most iconic nose art in World War II history will always rank as a huge highlight of making ARTICLES OF WAR. In fact, Mr. Allen told me his designs have even been featured on model airplanes. If I ever have a kid that goes through the same “phase” I did, you can bet the first thing we build will be a P-51 Mustang with “Ill Wind?” proudly displayed on the nose!
Visit the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, Delaware to view Don Allen’s hand painted recreations of his iconic nose art designs from World War II. Special thanks to director Michael D. Leister of the AMC Museum and the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio for their generous time and assistance.
It’s the summer of 2003 and I’m crouched inside the cramped metal belly of an American warbird built over sixty years ago. Even though it’s the middle of July, my teeth are rattling – not from the temperature, but from the vibration produced by four supercharged Pratt & Whitney R1830 engines, roaring mechanized beasts of iron and oil and God knows what else that’s keeping this 45,000 pound monster aloft.
The wind whips across my face – there’s no glass in the window I’m hunkered next to, just a 50-caliber machine gun (it doesn’t work, but I’m still afraid of it). I’ve got a fantastic birds eye view of a multimillion-dollar ski resort (we’re doing circles above the Wasatch mountain range in Utah, home to “The Best Snow On Earth”).
Welcome aboard the only restored and operational B-24 bomber in the entire world.
Once the most produced Allied aircraft of all time (by 1943, American factories were churning ‘em out at the rate of one an hour on the largest assembly line on Earth), today there are only a handful of B-24s left. Most of them are grounded, sitting in museums, their flying days a distant memory of the past. But the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to the restoration and operation of historic aircraft, maintains their B-24 as a “living artifact.” Every year, crews from the Foundation fly the warbird to air shows across the country, offering the public a unique opportunity to pay tribute to those who served and sacrificed during the Second World War.
The efforts of the Collings Foundation have really paid off. I love museums, and I’ve visited every military exhibit in every city I’ve ever been in, but short of interviewing actual veterans, I’ve never felt closer to the history of World War II than while flying on their fully restored B-24.
It’s a feeling I’m trying to capture with my film ARTICLES OF WAR, an animated story about a B-24 pilot writing home to his father. It’s a film I’ve wanted make for years, and the reason I climbed onboard a fully operational warbird in the first place. Or perhaps it’s the other way around – maybe I’ve always wanted to feel what it’s like to fly on a B-24, and making this film is the perfect excuse… either way, it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
I’ve admired B-24 bombers since I was a little kid, long before I discovered the significant role the aircraft played in the Allied victory of World War II. The B-24 is often overshadowed by the always-popular B-17 “Flying Fortress,” but although I admire the B-17, I’m a complete freak for the B-24. In this humble artist’s opinion, it’s just one of the coolest airplane of all time (I suppose I’m a sucker for the unique twin tail and rudder assembly that gives the B-24 such a distinctive profile).
So even before I wrote the script for ARTICLES OF WAR, I was in love with “THE PLANE” (I always referred to it in my notes as “THE PLANE,” in ALL CAPS, because it’s that important – I hate sounding so dramatic, but if I couldn’t create a convincing B-24, then my movie was doomed to failure).
My home studio was soon overflowing with B-24 research. I started by collecting photographic reference of THE PLANE in books and magazine articles, and once I ran out of photos I hired a talented artist to build a couple of small models for me to study (in addition to building the planes, he also constructed the ingenious boxes they arrived in, which miraculously saved the fragile plastic replicas from the notoriously abusive New York City postal system).
Once I figured out what the B-24 looked like from the outside, I took advantage of Google, the greatest research tool of all time, to see what I could learn about their insides. I think I followed every link Google spit out – it turns out there are a lot of people on the World Wide Web who have turned loving the B-24 into a career, which is how I found the Collings Foundation and their one-of-a-kind flying museum.
The Collings Foundation turned out to be an indispensable resource, because even the best books and websites (and I found some really great ones) weren’t enough to satisfy the unique needs of my animated production. Despite all of my detective work, I could never get a feel for what it felt like to actually be inside a B-24. Most of ARTICLES OF WAR takes place from the point of view of a B-24 pilot behind the controls of his ship. Since I’d be animating the movie from scratch, using drawings of the characters composited against backgrounds painted by Yours Truly, I needed to gather as much photographic reference as possible. I needed to see for myself the pilot’s point of view… and that meant finding a way to climb inside the cockpit of a real B-24.
Which brings me back to Utah. I discovered the Collings Foundation’s “Wings Of Freedom” tour would be making a stop at a small airshow in Heber City, which is coincidentally the summer home of my favorite aunt and uncle (I visit as often as possible, especially in the winter – Utah really does have the best snow on Earth, and it turns out the summers are awfully beautiful, too). My family welcomed me with open arms, and since Heber City is as small as small towns get, I knew the B-24 wouldn’t be too crowded when it was open to the public.
I’d have lots and lots of face time with my favorite airplane.
I arrived on the day of my flight extra early, eager to photograph every inch of the THE PLANE (I even wore a professional-looking photojournalist jacket, just to get into character). The Collings Foundation staff proved to be very patient with the overeager, highly-caffeinated filmmaker that showed up to document every inch of their vintage aircraft. I was allowed inside the normally off-limits cockpit to capture my coveted “pilot’s point of view,” and I crawled all over plane, clicking away with my digital camera.
I found angles that were impossible to see with my study models, and the interior was completely different than what I imagined. Control lines ran across the interior fuselage – I was warned not to touch them. The front landing gear retracted into the nose of the ship – another thing to stay away from in flight, since the wheel spins so fast after takeoff that it can easily rip off your hand if you accidentally get snagged.
But nothing compares to the warning I got right before my flight took off – the pilot cautioned me not to step off the thin elevated catwalk spanning the bomb bay. The doors, he stressed, were engineered to break away if a bomb ever got loose, so if you put pressure on them, you might crash through the doors and wind up becoming a HUMAN bomb.
For the record, yes, my eyes have never been wider than after hearing this critical warning.
I’ve been in faster planes – I have no doubt the JetBlue airliner that got me from New York to Utah is a bazillion times more powerful than the B-24 – but my Collings Foundation flight was the fastest, most memorable thirty minutes of my life. Hurling through the air with the roar of the engines rattling my eardrums, it’s just impossible not to imagine what it felt like to fly on a B-24 during the war. I visualized myself cocooned in a flight suit, breathing bottled oxygen in a freezing, unpressurized cabin, sitting next to a bomb bay filled with 500 pound explosives, with nothing but a thin sheet of unarmored metal between myself and an exploding German artillery shell.
I have nothing but respect for the veterans who sacrificed so much to fly these warbirds, which I’ve come to think of as so much more than just a “cool” airplane.
The flight was the perfect way to begin production on a film centered on the efforts of a B-24 pilot fighting in the war. While I remain eternally grateful that I’ve never experienced a single second of combat, I did get a small taste of what it means to fly on a B-24. I left with hundreds of photos, and even though I had to navigate the bomb bay catwalk a couple of times, I thankfully avoided becoming a human bomb.
These research photographs proved to be indispensable in the making of ARTICLES OF WAR. Interacting with an actual B-24 and personally witnessing its power transformed my direction of the film. Even though I created the movie using drawings and paintings, the Collings Foundation gave me an opportunity to base my artwork on something tangible and real… a warbird that gave me the ride of my life through the mountains of Utah.
In 2005, the Collings Foundation’s B-24 received a new paint job and name – it’s now known as “Witchcraft,” in honor of a legendary 8th Air Force plane that flew over 130 missions in Europe. Visit the Collings Foundation on the web at www.collingsfoundation.org and check to see if their incredible aircraft collection, including the “Witchcraft,” is coming to a city near you!
As a self-confessed film fanatic growing up in a small Midwestern town in the early 1980s, I devoured anything movie-related I could get my hands on. And before the Internet and “Special Edition” DVDs with director commentaries and even ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, about the only thing I could get my hands on were magazines with titles that my parents couldn’t pronounce. Publications with names like Fangoria, Cinefex and Cinefantastique.
Everybody else had subscriptions to Sports Illustrated, but I saved up my pennies for genre publications devoted to the films of my youth – the sci-fi, horror and animated epics that inspired me to make movies in the first place. I spent many rainy (and probably too many sunny) days with my nose buried in these magazines. My favorite articles were the “making of’ cover stories, the ones with lots of behind-the-scenes photographs, where effects artists, model makers, and animators would pose with their creations and spill the beans on their methods of madness. They did a great job of explaining how my favorite movies actually made it to the silver screen.
Today, it’s easier than ever to find behind-the-scenes information about the movies (Peter Jackson puts enough supplemental information on his DVDs that watching them is like getting a free class in film school with the coolest professor of all time). And if you’re interested in actually making movies, the tools are more accessible than ever. I animated all of ARTICLES OF WAR in a home studio I built from scratch, using off-the-shelf equipment and software available to the average consumer.
In the spirit of my favorite childhood magazines, here’s my own “spill the beans” article on ARTICLES OF WAR. This feature speaks in broad terms about the making of the film, which for a scrappy little independent film feels a bit like overkill (to those who’ve heard it all before, feel free to browse through the many artwork examples accompanying the story). I also want to focus on the creation of one specific shot in the film – shot #149, which shows up about 10 minutes into the movie.
ARTICLES OF WAR is filled with visuals that I couldn’t stop thinking about when I first started imagining a film set from the point of view of a B-24 bomber pilot. My best ideas usually arrive as images, and for ARTICLES OF WAR, I crafted a script to connect those images together.
I wrote my film in the New York Public Library – the famed 5th Avenue branch, with the lion sculptures in front (and, if you’ve seen the opening minutes of GHOSTBUSTERS, a seriously pissed off ghost librarian in the basement). I love my home studio, and it’s got the perfect amount of diversions to keep me sane while I animate, but writing requires a whole different level of concentration, so when it’s time to write something new, I head for the library.
I described shot #149 in the first draft of my script, dated December 23rd, 2002. Though the scene didn’t survive the various drafts that followed, I ultimately decided to restore it right before I started animation. In my final cut, the action follows closely to what I described in my first draft:
EXT. VIENNA RAILYARD – DAY
Black smoke drifts towards the heavens.
PAN DOWN to reveal the corpse of an enemy soldier, floating facedown in a brackish puddle of water.
CONTINUE PANNING across the lifeless body until we’re DRIFTING OVER the surface of the water.
A hint of sunlight reveals the rippled reflection of a B-24 flying overhead as we…
INT. DAKOTA ZEPHYR COCKPIT – DAY
MATCH ACTION as we DRIFT OVER the surface of the pilot’s letter. Jim’s familiar handwriting fills the frame…
One of the unique challenges of making shot #149 (and the rest of ARTICLES OF WAR) is how many major creative decisions I made at the beginning of the production. Because of the time and expense involved in creating animation, I only animated what I storyboarded, limiting my ability to “find” the movie in post-production (while plenty of storyboarded sequences hit the cutting room floor, there are exactly zero animated shots for me to include in the DVD’s “Deleted Scenes” section).
The creative choices I made in preproduction were decisions I just couldn’t afford to change once animation started, which really added to the pressure of creating an animatic with storyboard artist Rob Vargas and editor Jeff Yorkes. Thankfully, I found two artists who really understand animation – and since I’m pretty sure Rob and Jeff read the same issues of Cinefex that I did when I was a kid, we speak the same language.
Essentially an edited version of the film using storyboards in place of animation, the animatic for ARTICLES OF WAR served as an audio and visual bible of the entire production. In addition to visualizing my screenplay, Rob contributed many original ideas for staging the action, and Jeff wasn’t afraid to offer alternate choices when something wound up not working as planned.
Just like the script, the animatic went through several drafts. After holding a few ‘test screenings,’ I wound up adding a prologue and epilogue, giving the film a completely different ending than originally conceived. Shot #149 was based on a scene that I added during this revision process. It was missing from the script Rob used to storyboard the film, but at the last minute I decided to go back to my first draft and rescue it from the cutting room floor. By this time, Rob had already wrapped his work on the film, so I drew the storyboards used to make shot #149.
Animated films generate a tremendous amount of artwork, and ARTICLES OF WAR is no exception. Warren O’Neill, a talented artist who’s worked for everyone from DreamWorks to the legendary Chuck Jones, designed and drew the characters. He brought his own unique style to the project, and embraced the limitations of the production (because I couldn’t afford full-blown, 24 frames-per-second animation, Warren was forced to convey physical action in as few drawings as possible). Telling an animator to actually draw less is never an ideal situation, but Warren always created strong poses that were a joy to animate.
I was a painter long before I was an animator, and since it’s a muscle I rarely get to flex these days, I made the decision to paint all the backgrounds myself. In the past, I always trusted my old fashioned Windsor & Newton paintbrushes, but because of the schedule and the volume of work, I decided it was time to make the leap to using digital tools. I traded in my watercolors and drafting table for a Wacom tablet and Corel Painter, a software program that allows artists to paint in the computer using a pressure-sensitive computer pen. It all sounds like something out of TRON, and working in this new medium took some getting used to, but as soon as I discovered the “undo” command, I was hooked.
The primary artwork for shot #149 is a character designed and drawn by Warren composited into one of my background paintings. I painted the background first, imagining a shattered wasteland.
For inspiration, I just had to go for a walk (I don’t live anywhere near a shattered wasteland, but the look of the uneven cobblestone streets of my Greenwich Village neighborhood were just what I wanted for this scene). Warren tailored his pose of the dead German soldier to my painting, drawing a battered corpse slumped in a puddle of water.
The animation in ARTICLES OF WAR owes a great debt to the brilliant work of a Disney animator and engineer I’ve long admired, the legendary Ub Iwerks. He helped invent the groundbreaking ‘multiplane’ camera system used in all of the traditionally animated Disney classics, a system of shooting through multiple moving background paintings to give the illusion of three-dimensional depth.
I always loved the sense of movement and rich depth of field found in the best multiplane camera setups – when they’re done right, you really do feel like you’re traveling through a painting. Creating shots with multiple layers set at different “depths” felt like the perfect fit for ARTICLES OF WAR, a movie filled with demanding camera moves and ambitious action. Considering one of the ‘stars’ of the movie was a B-24 bomber, I pushed for shots that would not only sell the speed of powered flight, but also showcase the scale and depth of the environment, from vast Allied airfields to the sun-drenched skies found in a pilot’s point-of-view. I wanted a true sense of depth and an ability to move forward and backwards through the different two-dimensional layers of artwork.
Of course, I don’t own a multiplane camera – I remember seeing one on display down at Disney World, and I doubt it’d even fit through the front door of my studio. The Mouse House traded in their traditional film cameras for a digital ink-and-paint/compositing system way back in the late Eighties, and although I shot my first few films under an Oxberry animation camera, I’ve been making movies using computers for over a decade.
I animated ARTICLES OF WAR using Adobe AfterEffects, a software package that let me to manipulate and composite together many individual layers of artwork. Wikipedia describes the software as “Photoshop for video” – it was originally developed for broadcast design and motion graphics – but animators and visual effects artists have been using it as a relatively inexpensive digital camera stand and compositing tool for years.
I used AfterEffects to animate shot #149 by setting keyframes that controlled the position, scale and rotation of dozens of different layers, simulating the sweeping camera move described in my script. I also added a variety of effects, from the smoke and fire in the foreground frame to the rippled surface of the water that reflects the belly of a B-24.
For another look into my animation process, here’s a 1 minute video feature I originally created as a “special feature” for the film’s DVD release. This shot progression highlights each individual piece of artwork seen in Shot #42:
Sound designer Joe Pleiman and composer Ryan Shore both worked miracles for me on a previous production, A LETTER FROM THE WESTERN FRONT, which won a Gold Medal for animation at the Student Academy Awards. Both are back for ARTICLES OF WAR, and they’ve spent months creating an amazing soundtrack for this new film.
Joe created a library of original sound effects and Ryan wrote an original orchestral score to support the visuals (for an in-depth look into the music, check out the article I wrote about our experience recording at Skywalker Ranch).
I’ve rendered the animation as a high definition digital file, which a film lab will use to make 35 MM prints for exhibition.
I’ve always known that no matter what, ARTICLES OF WAR was always going to be two things:
#1. An animated film.
#2. A long, long time in the making.
I chose to make ARTICLES OF WAR an animated film because even though it’s not the most obvious choice, I believe animation is a unique medium capable of telling a wide variety of stories… even historical dramas set during the Second World War. For an independent production armed with big visuals and a small budget, animation was the only way I could affordably realize the images that, once stuck in my head, I absolutely had to see on the big screen.
It’s 6 AM on a perfect spring morning in Northern California, and I’m riding my bike through a bank of fog that’s drifting only a few feet off the ground. It’s such a startlingly beautiful sight that I have to remind myself I’m not in the middle of some sort of crazy visual effect… and that this isn’t some sort of crazy fantasy.
But I’m not dreaming – I really am peddling down the main road inside Skywalker Ranch. I’ll admit, this is holy territory for me… I grew up wanting to be Han Solo on the even days, and Indiana Jones on the odd ones. The same genius who invented those heroes built this place, and right now, I feel like I have it all to myself.
It’s Sunday, and I’m the only one awake (unless you count the longhorn cattle grazing in the distance and the hawks riding the thermals high above). The sun is just barely creeping over the rolling hills on the horizon, and even though I’m up way too early, I’ve never felt more alive.
Why? In a few hours, I’ll be standing on the greatest scoring stage ever built listening to an entire symphony orchestra play the soundtrack of ARTICLES OF WAR for the first time. Aside from keeping myself balanced (I ride way more subways than bikes these days), the one thought racing through my head is that I’m about to experience something insanely special.
You know those times when you’re anticipating an event so much that you already know it’s going to go by way too fast, no matter how much you want it to last forever? It’s not something I experience very often (I’m not that obnoxious), but I already know the scoring session for ARTICLES OF WAR is going be one of those times.
How the hell did I get here? And am I the luckiest dude on the planet? (Yes, obviously, I’m the luckiest dude on the planet. But it’ll take me a few more paragraphs to answer the first question…)
It took me literally years to get here. And while I had the time of my life making ARTICLES OF WAR, there were a few moments (OK, maybe more than a few) when it felt like I’d never finish… but I could always remind myself that I still had the music to look forward to. I’ve loved film music since before I could walk (my parents had the original STAR WARS double LP – it’s the album my Dad used to teach me how to operate the family record player), so working on the score is by far my favorite part of post-production.
The whole process is just so mysterious and – I know I’m charging headfirst into Really Clichéd Territory here, but screw it – magical. As much as I admire music, I don’t know the first thing about creating it (when I took dance lessons before my wedding, my ever-patient fiancée had to teach me the concept of keeping to a beat… every single time we practiced). So when I hear a piece of music that perfectly supports the images I’ve created, I’m always impressed. And when the score surpasses my lofty expectations … well, aside from wanting to tell good stories (and still wishing I was Han Solo), that’s why I got into this business in the first place.
Of course, the key ingredient in this whole story is “talent” – and I’m really fortunate to know an insanely talented composer named Ryan Shore. We first met back in the late ‘90s, when he scored my student thesis project, A LETTER FROM THE WESTERN FRONT. Ryan wrote and conducted a full orchestral score performed by an ad-hoc group of New York musicians, an ambitious approach that really paid off (when SISKEL & EBERT reviewed the movie, Roger Ebert said his favorite part was the music).
Back then, we used a small recording studio at NYU – I remember the room wasn’t big enough to accommodate all the players, so we recorded them in groups and blended everything together in the mixing room. Years later, Ryan re-recorded the entire score performed by the Prague National Orchestra – I thought it sounded amazing the first time around, but now it really kicks ass. Visit www.ryanshore.com and you’ll totally agree.
We both realized early on that ARTICLES OF WAR demanded a much more ambitious sound than our earlier collaboration. Once I finished my rough cut of the film, Ryan began writing, sending me demo cues every couple of days… and slowly but surely, the movie started to feel like a capital-M “Movie.”
We worked via the Internet – he sent me files via the Internet from his home studio in California, and then I’d sync ‘em up in my home studio in New York. We knew exactly what was needed – the score had to be just as rich as the imagery, and support (and sometimes even drive) the emotional impact of the story. Nothing beats the sound produced by a full-sized orchestra.
Ryan really delivered, and I couldn’t wait to hear what his beautiful demos would sound like performed live by dozens of talented musicians. In early 2008, Ryan proposed going to Skywalker Ranch. We could record the entire score in just one session, and luckily for us, the facility champions independent productions (George Lucas, of course, is famous for self-financing all of his own projects).
I knew all about the Ranch from my formative years of being a big movie nerd (and my current years of being an even bigger movie nerd). When I was a little kid, I assumed – like most kids in my neighborhood – that George Lucas actually lived at Skywalker Ranch. Of course, I eventually learned that the property actually houses Lucasfilm’s administrative offices, archive, and art department. The Ranch is also home to Skywalker Sound, a state-of-the-art post-production facility where movies go to become Capital-M “Movies.”
It’s where sound gets designed and mixed, and where scores get recorded… in other words, where movies get outfitted with a big part of their heart and soul.
Skywalker Ranch is an amazing setup, staffed with an amazing crew… and it all culminates in an amazing experience for the filmmaker. If you bring a movie to the Ranch, you get actually get to live at the Ranch, in a collection of houses dotting the property called the Skywalker Inn. Like everything at the Ranch, it manages to be perfectly designed and completely functional at the same time, while totally blending in with the scenery. I felt like I was staying at somebody’s really nice country house… which, in a way, I guess I was.
For example, if you sit in a chair at the Ranch, be prepared to sit the nicest chair imaginable – and it’s the only chair you’d ever want to see placed in that particular corner (which is, let’s face it, the most impeccable corner of all time). The fact is, when the Ranch got built, somebody obviously really qualified in chairs and corners spent a long time picking out furniture and finding it the right home.
If they put that much thought into the architecture, imagine the kind of attention your film gets…
The Skywalker Scoring Stage is located inside the Technical Building, built in 1987 and art-directed to resemble a refurbished winery (there’s a great “virtual tour” of the building on the Skywalker Sound website). Aside from the Main House, this is the part of the Ranch that is most recognizable – if you own any of the recent STAR WARS films on DVD, you’ve seen (and heard, obviously) Skywalker Sound in action in the supplemental “making of” documentaries.
The scoring stage is vast – the first time I laid eyes on it was the night before our session. The lights were dimmed, and I could just barely make out the space through control booth window. I wandered on the stage and found the area completely prepped for the next day’s work. Microphone stands were everywhere, and resting on every podium was a copy of Ryan’s ARTICLES OF WAR sheet music. Dominating the back of the stage was a huge screen – my first time seeing the film projected would be as Ryan conducted the orchestra. Talk about a fantastic first screening…
Of course, the session itself went by way too fast – we only had a few precious hours to record the entire score, with no second chances once our time was up. My memory of the session is a blur, but it was a total thrill watching Ryan tweak the score with the orchestra. They speak a musical language that makes my head spin (terms like “adagio” and “allegro” apparently have something to do with tempo, although they’ll always sound like the names of allergy medications to me). I spent most of my time on the stage, and even a few minutes on the podium next to Ryan. In all my years of going to concerts, I finally had the best seat… and it was the coolest live show of all time.
Even better, I got to share the experience with two great friends and fellow ARTICLES OF WAR collaborators, sound designer Joe Pleiman and editor Jeff Yorkes. Jeff brought along his camera to document the entire experience (he’s directing a special feature on the scoring session for the DVD, and it’s awesome).
Joe is a mad scientist when it comes to audio – he takes his recorder everywhere, and didn’t waste any time gathering sounds when we got to Skywalker. While I was out riding my bike through cinematic banks of fog, Joe scoured the Ranch for cool sound effects. Now that the movie is fully mixed, I can reveal that we actually have sound from Skywalker Sound in our movie, including our rental car rolling over a rickety bridge and the air exchangers in the underground parking garage beneath the Main House.
Working at Skywalker Ranch was a surreal experience, one I hope to repeat as soon as possible… but nothing will be like the first time. Hearing an original score played live is awesome enough, but when it happens at a place you’ve dreamed of working since you were a little kid… well, it bears repeating:
Yes, I am the luckiest dude on the planet.
DANIEL M. KANEMOTO founded Ex Mortis Films in 2001. His 1999 directorial debut, A LETTER FROM THE WESTERN FRONT, won the Gold Medal for Best Animated Short at the Student Academy Awards.
For the past fifteen years, Dan’s diverse body of work, from original films to national commercial campaigns, has been featured on Cinemax, Nickelodeon, MTV, Discovery Communications, and movie theaters around the world.
His most recent work can be seen online at www.exmortisfilms.com.
Dan was raised in Northcentral Wisconsin and is a 1998 graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts film program. He hates writing about himself in the third person, but loves everything else about making movies and TV.
RYAN SHORE is a 2x Emmy Award and Grammy Award nominated composer, songwriter and conductor for film, television, virtual reality, games, records and theatre.
Shore was Assistant Music Director and Contributing Composer / Arranger / Orchestrator for the 87th Academy Awards, where he worked with artists including Lady Gaga, John Legend, Adam Levine, Anna Kendrick, Common, Tim McGraw, Jack Black, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jennifer Hudson.
Shore’s 60+ credits include scores for the upcoming 2017 animated series STAR WARS: FORCES OF DESTINY (Lucasfilm), JULIE’S GREENROOM (Netflix) starring Julie Andrews with all new puppets from the Jim Henson Company, PENN ZERO: PART TIME HERO (Disney Television Animation), SPYHUNTER (Warner Bros), THE SHRINE (IFC), PRIME (Universal), and THE X FACTOR. (FOX).
JOE PLEIMAN was born in 1976, which coincidentally, was the same year that Rocky was released. Joe has always been the “Rocky” of the audio world. He drinks raw eggs in the morning and then runs around for no reason, and if he were to have children, they would be like the sequels, meaning his 2nd child (Rocky 3) would be ridiculous but totally awesome and have “Eye of the Tiger” as its theme.
You might know JEFF YORKES from his appearance in Detective Comics issue #787, where he fought Batman – for real.
He is also an editor and filmmaker who’s cut trailers for the likes Sesame Street, Nickelodeon, MTV, Coca-Cola, Gold Circle Films, Columbia-TriStar, Fancy Feast, Goya Foods, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, the Oxygen Network and ExpoTV.
He’s also garnered some “Internettention” for his Cinemashups, splicing together cool movies with cool songs.