Hand-drawn animation needs a hero, and the latest project to champion the technique is an upstart steampunk adventure overseen by a group of veteran Disney and DreamWorks artists.
Hullabaloo is the Victorian era sci-fi story of Veronica Daring, a young scientist who goes on a quest to find her kidnapped inventor father. The title refers not just to the ruckus she causes, but is the codename for her secret, crime-fighting identity.
To complete her mission, Hullabaloo’s going to need friends, cunning, intelligence, and — in the real world, at least — some money. That’s where Indiegogo comes in with a fundraising campaign by creator James Lopez to raise $80,000 to produce a proof-of-concept short.
The dream: a full-length, hand-drawn feature film — something none of the major film studios plan to make in the foreseeable future.
The creative force behind Hullabaloo is Lopez, who helped animate Timon in The Lion King and the creepy Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog, which in 2009 stands as the last Disney film rendered in the hand-drawn style.
But he’s far from alone, having recruited a team of do-it-yourself proponents of the traditional animation technique. Among the participants: Bruce Smith, creator of the Disney Channel cartoon The Proud Family; Rick Farmiloe, an animator for Lefou in Beauty and the Beast and Apu in Aladdin; and Minkyu Lee, a visual development artist on Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph who was nominated for a Best Animated Short Oscar in 2013 for his independently made Adam and Dog.
Adam and Dog lost that Academy Award to Walt Disney Animation Studio’s Paperman, a hybrid of 3-D digital modeling and hand-drawn flare, but Lee’s film stood out as a homegrown passion project that became a formidable opponent of the high-tech, big-studio release. (Ironically, Lopez was a line artist on Paperman, while Farmiloe did uncredited animation help on Adam and Dog.)
The world of animation is a tight-knit community, but the skills necessary to create large scale hand-drawn animation is in danger of fading away. What incoming Cal Arts student would focus on mastering these techniques with no major studio supplying resources for such work?
Fans of hand-drawn style may still be out there, and the Indiegogo campaign will be a major test of whether they’re willing to pay (in advance, in this case) to see new work in this field. Lopez’s effort has already raised north of $44,000 — a little more than half what they need to gather some of the steam they’ll need for this steampunk adventure.
It may help 2-D animation in another important way. Lopez is offering lessons and mentoring to donors, passing on the skills he has learned to those who want to carry the torch with him.
And if he can gather enough steam … Lopez would like to use those resources to fund his own studio.
Have a look at Lopez’s plans in the video below, and scroll down for EW’s exclusive Q&A with the storyteller:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You work on a freelance basis for a lot of studios, so what is the day job right now if Hullabaloo is the nights and weekends passion project?
JAMES LOPEZ: I’m not working directly for Disney, but I’m working for a small studio in Hollywood called Titmouse, doing storyboard work on a television show called Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja. It’s on the Disney XD channel. I’m actually finishing up Season 2 … so I’m looking for work!
Does that mean more time for Hullabaloo, or less time — since you’ll may need to hunt for the next gig?
Somebody asked me if I’ll be doing Hullabaloo full time, and I was like, ‘Golly … I don’t know.’ I intended to do something else, while this is a part time thing.
This is about a young girl on a quest to find her missing father. Why did you choose a steampunk setting for that tale?
The broad story I want to tell is about somebody who feels they have a lot to contribute, and how do they find a place for themselves in this world that’s on the edge of shifting technology? I like to think that’s relevant to what we’re dealing with today.
In both animation and journalism!
Exactly. That’s the story I want to tell through the symbolism of steam and diesel. It’s kind of a personal story. From my perspective, I was a 2-D hand-drawn animator, and then computers came in. So this story mirrors the struggles I’ve had to go through to adapt and change.
Can you explain what’s going on in the image you’ve released of Veronica facing the girl in the cat mask?
The Cheshire Cat is a cat burglar who Hullabaloo – our hero – is trying to apprehend. Part of the Cheshire Cat’s power is to hypnotize people, and it causes them to have these vivid dreams until someone breaks them out of that spell, otherwise they’re destined to live in that horrific world indefinitely. So she’s in the midst of being put under that hypnotic spell.
Tell me about Veronica’s friend, another young, female science geek named Jules. Obviously a little reference to Jules Verne.
Yeah, and Veronica is like a long version of Verne. I wanted their names to be a play on words: Jules and Veronica.
Since they’re both obsessed with science, gizmos, and tech, what would you say distinguishes the two girls from each other?
They’re polar opposites, but they compliment each other. I drew inspiration from my two daughters, who are total opposites. One likes to stay inside and read, and the other likes to go outside and play. When I was crafting these characters, I wanted to develop a character relationship my daughters could relate to. Veronica is more raised in a school of etiquette, where Jules is more sort of street.
So book-smart versus street-smart?
Exactly. Veronica is much more into the traditional fashion sense, and likes to wear the latest trend of that era, bustle skirts and such. But Jules won’t have any of that. She dresses in all black, and is a little more tomboyish, I guess.
Veronica’s heroic identity is called Hullabaloo, which brings a kind of superhero flavor to the mix.
When I looked at all the steampunk cosplay, I thought it would be cool to tell a superhero story in that world. The goggles would take the place of a traditional mask, and the gadgetry could work both for and against evil. It also gives her a cause to dress up so eccentrically. Actual Victorian dress was very conservative and prim and proper.
The team you’ve assembled to help make this is really impressive. You all collaborate on each other’s personal projects, can you explain how the cross pollination works?
We all know each other very well, and have high regard for each other. We’re friends, and try to support each other when we can. When one of us has a personal project we’re taking on, usually we contact each other and ask for help, and vice versa. It’s not a quid pro quo thing, more like we’re working toward the same thing: supporting hand-drawn animation and keeping the art form alive.
You’re like your own superhero story, putting together a team based on what skill you need. The Avengers of hand-drawn animation.
Very much! We definitely feel like we’re taking on a challenge, for sure.