Q&A WITH CHRIS CARTAGENA
EDITOR ON "FREE BIRDS"
From Relativity Media and Reel FX Animation Studios, Free Birds is the first theatrical full-length computer-animated film to be made at the award-winning Reel FX studios in Dallas, Texas. Free Birds tells the story of two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks who much put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to change the course of history -- and get turkey off the Thanksgiving menu for good. The film opens nationwide on November 1st.
Q: What does an editor do on an animated film like Free Birds?
A: Animation editing is a little bit different from live-action editing. I've worked on reality television shows, short films, visual effects films, and the big difference with animation for me is that more than any other medium, you have to build everything from scratch. You have to do more proof of concept work before you actually go into production. So we build ideas using the script, scratch actors, temporary actors and temporary storyboards to see if the ideas play many times over, many different ways before we even get to the recording the actors and start animation. With live-action you have a lot more material to respond to right off the bat, whereas with animation, you have to figure out what it could be and push it in that direction, see if it works and then build upon it.
Q: Are some of those things you're talking about considered animatics in what you do, or is that more for live-action?
A: Our animatic format traditionally is me taking anywhere from 5-15 storyboards per shot in order to sell the timing of what that shot will be in animation. So you have to do a very rough animation yourself in order to sell the timing. When it comes to comedy jokes, you have to bias the timing for pauses and speedups to get the timing across along with the dialogue that's in there.
Q: How was your collaboration with director Jimmy Hayward?
A: Jimmy's fast, and the movie really reflects his comic sensibility and the tone he set for the movie. My job was to absorb his point of view and try to translate it into a visual medium using whatever bits and pieces I can gather, like sound effects, music cues and music stings. My goal is to put the material together in the way he expects but also try and surprise him and make him laugh from time to time.
Q: What about working with producer Scott Mosier? He has an editing background, so how did that help you get things done?
A: Based on Scott's editing background, he's able to understand the difficulty level of each task. He can also stand back and really take a look at what can be done about reordering things considering the material we have and how to enhance what we're doing. What's funny is that we'll be sitting in reviews quite often and as soon as we're done going through a sequence, he'll see me scribbling down notes and he'll say "Hey, uh..." and I'll say "Shot 30. I know, I got it." There's just a great shorthand there.
Q: What has it been like working at Reel FX?
A: It's been very interesting, this is a very different place for me. I've worked at a couple of studios now, Animal Logic in Sydney while working on Happy Feet, and Rainmaker up in Vancouver, and they are all very similar but also very different at the same time. What's been different for us, is that we spent a lot of time on the front end working out Reel FX's Santa Monica facility, a little bit separated from the rest of the crew. But then when production got into full swing, we moved to the Dallas studio and got to feel the amazing energy and commitment that everyone puts into their work. There's a really great talent pool at Reel FX, really impressive people who are committed to their work.
Q: What has been the most challenging thing about the job for you?
A: Basically just because Reel FX is a smaller studio, resources are a little bit tighter. We don't have established workflows and things so we're kind of inventing it as we go. We also don't have as many people in each department. Traditionally on a film this size there would be three editors and seven assistant editors, but on Free Birds, it was just me and a very small crew.
Q: So being from Australia and having lived in several different countries, what did you know about Thanksgiving going into this film?
A: Well, there's no Thanksgiving in Australia as such. There's Thanksgiving in Canada, but it's on a different day and it's pretty much the same celebration. Eating turkey and stuffing and watching football or a day is great. But as a tradition, it's not that common to me. So when people on the production would talk about the holiday as if everyone knew all about it, for instance, the concept of the pardoned turkey, I wouldn't quite get it. I thought that we made that up for the movie! In the end it was probably good that I had this perspective or lack of Thanksgiving knowledge, as I could then point out what was not so obvious to people in other countries so we could make a film that was more accessible for people all over the world.