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A visit to House of Cool Inc.

You have probably watched at least one animated movie. Have you ever wondered how they are made? They are usually done by animation studios.

raymond with robot

Raymond at The Iron Giant Screening at TIFF 2015

Remember the animated movie from last year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), The Iron Giant? It was animated by Ricardo Curtis, a veteran animator and the president of the House of Cool. He invited Voice K to come into his studio to demonstrate how he does all this cool stuff. So, on March 17, 2016, we went to House of Cool, Inc. to experience how animations are made.

The location is quite close to where we attended TIFF. The office is an open space room with a few small offices. The windows allow streams of sunlight to flow in.  You’re welcomed with a funny quote as well: “We lock the door because we don’t want the House of Coolers to escape.”

House of Cool is a pre-production studio, which means it handles script writing, character development and storyboarding. They make the story come to life. To make an animated movie, you have to go through different steps. It starts with the producers, who layout all of the work for everyone else. Without them, the movie wouldn’t even exist!

Cash Lim and Katie Hasleham are two energetic producers that really enjoy their job.  They not only have to answer questions from artists, but they also organize most of the storyboard and script given to the artists. Voice K was very lucky to have an interview with them.  

 “We have a really great staff, and mostly everyone gets their job done on time, so that makes our job much easier,” Hasleham said.  

The producers make sure everything goes the right way and try their best to answer the questions of their colleagues. They work closely with the artists to share ideas. They decide where the money goes and manage most of the movie.

Dea interviews Daniel LaFrance

Dea interviews Daniel LaFrance

Next, we visited two story artists. They take the script and draw very rough sketches of it so that the animators can see visually what the script is. We went to interview Daniel LaFrance, the story artist of the House of Cool. LaFrance’s daily job is reading scripts and illustrating them into panels. It’s almost like a comic book. On the wall behind LaFrance’s desk, there was a timeline with many post-it notes beneath it. We asked LaFrance what it was about. He told us that he separates the script into each minute and writes down what happens each minute. The post-it notes were questions for the directors.  

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 5.19.55 PMHave you seen the movie Peanuts? It was animated by the House of Cool.  If you have seen it, you may know of the intense airplane battle. Joe Giampapa, the other story artist we met, showed us the storyboard of Peanuts.

The storyboard was live with action, but much of it is in black and white. Some parts are highlighted in red so that people can separate complicated figures from each other. Giampapa created sound effects with his mouth and mimicked the sharp voice of Snoopy to show us how it’s going to look like as a movie. Even though this is a very early stage of the movie, it’s already very complicated!

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 5.19.38 PMI’ve always loved art, but never was I able to do what these artists have done to illustrate the characters. They’d make you laugh, and then turn it quickly into a weep. Two of the artists: Trevor Deane-Freeman and Katherine Lim had some time to share with us. Both artists think hands are hardest to draw, but it may have become easier through computer animation.

“Originally when I got into this business 20 years ago, we did it all on paper, and our drawings were scanned in,” said Deane-Freeman.  “I did that for 14 years and slowly computers become more and more useful, and the hand drawn animation was dying out.”  Deane-Freeman doesn’t think (nor hope) robots will be able to take over an artist’s job.

It’s one of the best jobs in the world. We get paid entertain people. We get paid to draw funny pictures. The best thing is after you finish a film and you go to the theatre, you look around and see people’s reactions. You want them to laugh, to cry, to enjoy.

Last but not least, Voice K had the amazing opportunity to interview Ricardo Curtis, the president of the House of Cool. Curtis was invited to France recently. He felt honored to be invited to France to pitch a story to the distributors and broadcasters, as it was the first time a North American company was invited to go. He has taken part in making about 20 films, including Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, Rio, and a couple of the Ice Age movies.

We also learned that an animated film takes hundreds of people and years to produce. We asked Curtis if all the tedious work is worth it.

“It’s one of the best jobs in the world. We get paid entertain people. We get paid to draw funny pictures,” Curtis said. “The best thing is after you finish a film and you go to the theatre, you look around and see people’s reactions. You want them to laugh, to cry, to enjoy.”

Raymond interview Animation Designer copy

Raymond interviews Ricardo Curtis at TIFF

As an animator, Curtis said he is best at pulling feelings out of people. He understands how people think and what moves people.

“If I want to make you laugh, I will find the funniest thing you like. If I want to make you scared, I will find your darkest secret that scares you. If I want you cry, I will find the saddest thing,” Curtis said.

It was great to visit a “house” full of cool and creative staff. It is amazing to see how they create the movies we watch over and over again. Next time you sit down in the theatre and put on your 3D glasses, try to catch the details such as the character’s slight smile during a dive into the ocean. Every detail is important to the animators. Next time you watch an animation, think about the people sitting behind a desk drawing those details!

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Meet the writers

Raymond Qiu

Raymond Qiu

Hi there! My name is Raymond Qiu. I’m 11 years old. My favorite sports are swimming, skiing, and volleyball. I also enjoy playing Chess and Lego with my friends. On the breaks, I love to travel to cool destinations to take pictures and enjoy the delicious food. When I’m tired of homework, I like to create random pieces on the piano and be my own audience. I admire those who can speak many different languages, and I wish I could learn more too. This great skill can help me communicate and make friends when I travel, and also support me become a businessman with a global business in the future. Let’s start from VoiceK.

Dea Yu

Dea Yu

Hi everyone, my name is Dea, I am 10 years old. My name is not popular; I only knew one girl whose name sounds the same, but it is spelled differently. Guess how I got this name, my Mom told me she found it on a website called babynames.com. It is a Greek Goddess name who was in charge of beauty. My favourite classes at school are Drama and Music. I love playing acting games with my Drama teacher. I live in Mississauga, Ontario. I like reading and all kinds of arts. I am a Ballet dancer; I had my fourth recital this year. I really enjoy putting on a new costume each year and dancing on the stage. That is it, so far.

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