The making of Free Birds all began with an original idea from screenwriters
David I. Stern and John J. Strauss. "The initial premise for the film at that time
was, 'Two turkeys go back in time to the first Thanksgiving and try to take
themselves off the menu,'" says Stern. Stern and Strauss felt they had something
unique and exciting on their hands, and after spending six months developing the
idea, they flew to Dallas in the fall of 2008 to pitch the concept to executives at
Reel FX. A long-time digital effects/animation service company for commercial
and entertainment clients, Reel FX had been wanting, according to president
David Ross, "to branch out from being just a service company into being a
creation company." When executives heard Stern and Strauss' idea, they all
erupted in laughter. Free Birds felt like the ideal first project for the company,
and the two writers got to work fleshing out the story. "It makes me incredibly
proud that Free Birds is Reel FX's first feature," says Aron Warner, executive
producer of Free Birds and President of Animation for Reel FX. "First of all,
technically, the film is beautiful. And story-wise, its tone is completely unique."
Free Birds continues the comic tradition of the buddy comedy, featuring two
incompatible heroes -- in this case two turkeys: brainy, self-serving Reggie and
dim-witted, heroic Jake -- thrown into a rollicking, and ultimately life-changing,
adventure. "We wanted Free Birds, at its heart, to convey the meaning of
friendship, loyalty, and ultimately what it means to 'do the right thing,'" says
Strauss. Adds Stern, "We played with various pairings of personalities to create
plenty of comic friction. And once we began researching turkeys, we used actual 5
differences -- free-range versus factory-farmed; genetically modified versus
natural -- to help create a truly mismatched duo."
Pre-production work at Reel FX began in 2009, but it wasn't until the spring of
2011 that writer/director Jimmy Hayward, who previously directed Horton Hears a
Who!, came aboard to push the project into production. Hayward was joined by
writer/producer Scott Mosier and Academy Award-winning executive producer
Aron Warner (the Shrek franchise). "As soon as Jimmy, Scott and Aron came
aboard, the movie just shot off like a cannon," says David Ross, President of
Reel FX. "They all have a really smart yet oddball sense of humor, which is what
this movie's all about."
Hayward's extensive background in animation at Pixar and Blue Sky helped him
immeasurably in creating a high-quality product made entirely outside of the
studio system. "Jimmy is an animator's director," says executive producer Aron
Warner. "He brings such passion to every session we have in editorial and in
animation. He acts out the parts in great detail for the animators. He's incredibly
good at communicating what he wants to feel in a scene and what he wants to
see on the screen."
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