When I started on Rock Dog as a story consultant, I never planned to direct it.
But it was like the girl who's just a friend, until one day you're suddenly in
love with her.
There was a lot to love about the project - producers at Mandoo who generously
allowed me creative freedom, the challenge of making a high-quality movie with
only a fraction of the budget of the major studio features (in itself a worthy
creative endeavor), and the seeds of a compelling story already in place.
Having had a lengthy background at Pixar, I share that studio's love for simple
storytelling and a focus on finding great depth and humor within each character.
My approach to directing is to guide the film as gently as possible, and allow
for everyone to plus the ideas, making room for possibility and happy accidents.
This approach extended to the recording of our actors; the usual method is to
record each actor separately. In the case of Rock Dog we brought them together,
allowing them the freedom to play off each other and to improvise, and we walked
away with superb performances and deeper characters.
With our characters and natural performances in place to ground the film, I
wanted to embrace a "cartoon" style with the animation and look of picture. The
character designs are intentionally simple, borrowing from the strong shapes and
silhouettes of hand-drawn animation. We even used "smear frames" and multiple
limbs on characters for the more frenetic moments.
With the music we had the opportunity to make the most of the animation medium;
when Bodi hears a rock song on the radio for the first time, we go into his
mind's eye and see abstract visuals sync'd with the music. Bodi's journey
through this world of colors, shapes and sounds allows us to feel how the song
makes him feel, and it becomes his de facto "I want" song.
Because the main plot of Bodi's musical journey was potentially thin for an
82-minute run time, we staged another story around it - a revenge plot involving
a wolf gang aiming to attack Bodi's village of sheep. By carefully weaving the
two plots together, we found a way to create additional conflict, tension and
humor, and give Bodi something bigger to fight for beyond just becoming a
That led to the discovery of the theme of the movie: "You get what you give."
Bodi's dilemma, how to chase his own dream and also fulfill his responsibility
to his family and community, is something we all encounter in our lives, and I
hope the movie strikes a chord. But most of all I hope that Rock Dog reminds us
that making music is a joyful thing.
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