6 animators turned filmmakers
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
Who knew animator to director was a legitimate career path?
The recent success of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) has seen Brad Bird make the successful jump from animation to live-action filmmaking. Bird is best known for his work on Pixar productions The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007), and for his cult classic animation The Iron Giant (1999).
Alongside Bird, this year a number of prominent animators are set to follow the same course. The upcoming buddy cop comedy 21 Jump Street (2012) – based on the popular eighties TV show of the same name – is being directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2011). March will also see Bird’s colleague from Pixar Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo (2003) and WALL-E (2008), enter the live-action arena with the big-budget blockbuster John Carter (2012).
Whereas it may seem a somewhat risky prospect to hire an animator to helm a major production, the likes of Bird and his cohorts are not the first individuals to make the transition to live-action filmmaking. In fact, some of the most successful and critically acclaimed contemporary directors started off as animators.
Best known for his films Brazil (1985), Twelve Monkeys (1995) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), Gilliam began his career as a cartoonist for American satire magazine Help! during the sixties.
He gained recognition as an animator based on his work on the children’s series Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-69). The show also became a springboard for aspiring comedians Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Michael Palin, who would later form the Monty Python comedy troupe along with Gilliam. Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-73) saw Gilliam’s animating talents reach fruition, with his imaginative cut-outs used to link together the sketches that made up the show. He first stepped behind the camera as co-director on Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974). However, his first solo success as a filmmaker came with fantasy film Time Bandits (1981). The film was met with critical acclaim and was a considerable success both in the UK and the US.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone rose to fame as the co-creators and animators of the foul-mouthed animated series South Park (1997-present). That show’s breakout success allowed Parker to direct and star in the live-action comedy Orgazmo (1997). The film tells the story of a Mormon missionary who agrees to star in a porn film. As its title implies, it proved just as controversial as Parker’s prior work. Due to its sexual content Orgazmo received a NC-17 rating in the US, which is generally viewed as box-office suicide. However, South Park’s continuing success allowed Parker to direct another feature; Team America: World Police (2004). The film was just as foul-mouthed and politically incorrect as his prior work but its use of puppets instead of actors meant that it was awarded the audience-friendly R rating. Needless to say it fared better at the box office than Orgazmo.
By far the most commercially successful director on this list, Burton began his career as an animator at Disney. He worked on a number of films for the company including The Fox and the Hound (1981) and The Black Cauldron (1985). Disney also allowed the experimental animator in Burton free rein on his own personal projects, which included the gothic Vincent Price homage Vincent (1982) and the as-yet unreleased Frankenweenie (1984).
These animated shorts led to Burton directing the oddball comedy Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). He followed this with the cult classic Beetlejuice (1988), which incorporated his surrealist style of animation in a live-action comedy horror. Since then Burton has split his time between blockbusters such as Batman (1989) and Alice in Wonderland (2010) and more idiosyncratic films such as Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Ed Wood (1994). The director has also returned to his first love of animation throughout his career. He co-wrote and produced Henry Selick’s stop-motion masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and directed his own stylistically similar production The Corpse Bride (2005).
Although Mike Judge will always be remembered for his cult animated series Beavis and Butt-Head (1993-97, 2011-present) and King of the Hill (1997-2010), he has also found moderate success as a director. Judge made his live-action debut with the comedy Office Space (1999). The film expanded upon Judge’s animated shorts entitled Milton (1991) – originally broadcast on Saturday Night Live – and followed the exploits of the jaded employees at a crass software company. Released two years before The Office TV series, it dealt with similar themes but was nowhere near as successful. In interviews following the film’s unremarkable commercial performance, Judge noted that 20th Century Fox didn’t understand Office Space and therefore got its marketing wrong.
Despite these problems Judge carried on making cult movies. His other live-action comedies include the dystopian sci-fi Idiocracy (2006) and the social satire Extract (2009).
Another animator who started out at Disney, Rob Minkoff has stuck to making children’s films throughout his career. After honing his skills on animated features such as Basil, The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney gave Minkoff co-directing duties on its blockbuster The Lion King (1994). Following a five-year gap, Minkoff made his transition to live action filmmaking with Stuart Little (1999). The film, which starred a CGI mouse as its eponymous protagonist, was a commercial success and even spawned a sequel – also directed by Minkoff.
The director once again partnered with Disney for his next live-action project The Haunted Mansion (2003). Minkoff’s career then took an unpredictable turn when he took charge of the martial arts film The Forbidden Kingdom (2008). Despite boasting the first collaboration between martial arts legends Jet Li and Jackie Chan, The Forbidden Kingdom was still oriented toward younger viewers. It consequently paled in comparison to the superior Chinese-language output of its lead actors.
Ralph Bakshi’s difficult transition from animation to live-action filmmaking is a cautionary tale in the hazards involved in dealing with major film studios. Bakshi made his name as an animator for Tellytoons and Paramount Pictures in the seventies. His handiwork can be seen in everything from Deputy Dawg (1962-63) to Spiderman (1967-70). However, it was his animated adaptation of Robert Crumb’s comic strip Fritz the Cat (1972) that brought him widespread recognition. The feature-length animation was the first to receive an X rating and its consequent notoriety led to commercial success.
The eighties saw Bakshi release a number of ambitious productions, including the fantasy animation Wizards (1977) and his animated version of part one of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1978) – the subsequent sequels that Bakshi intended to produce were cut off by a reluctant studio in the form of United Artists. Bakshi’s clash with another studio, his former employers Paramount Pictures, ultimately destroyed his first stab at live-action filmmaking, Cool World (1992). The film starred a then unknown Brad Pitt and blended animation with live-action, much like the hugely popular Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). The studio obviously wanted to emulate the success of that film but disagreed with Bakshi’s script. By the time Cool World was released its script had been revised several times without Bakshi’s knowledge. As a result, the messy final product was a critical and commercial flop and severely dented Bakshi’s trust of the studios. A few years later he quit filmmaking to focus on painting instead.
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