One of the greatest benefits of the Internet has been the ability everyone has to show what they can do. People who may not have had opportunities to showcase their talents in fields such as writing, film making, singing or other such creative endeavors have had a virtually unlimited forum.
Of course, not everything that goes up online is gold, but it is a joy on those occasions when you see true creativity in action.
“Pigeon: Impossible,” an animated short film, is as fun and as polished-looking as a Pixar film, but it was created on a far smaller scale. The six-minute feature was made by freelance animator and VFX artist Lucas Martell, who said he began the project as “an excuse to learn 3D animation.”
By the end, Martell had crafted a funny, charming animated film that is sure to get him some well-deserved notice in the industry.
Martell said he grew up in a small town “about two hours south of Chicago” and went to college at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Commercial Music, he moved to Austin, Texas.
In 2004, he began production on “Pigeon: Impossible” — the tale of a rookie secret agent facing something seldom covered in basic training: what to do when a curious pigeon your multi-million dollar, government-issued nuclear briefcase.
The film, which took nearly five years to complete, was released last June.
It’s Just Movies: How did you first get interested in animation?
Lucas Martell: I was actually a music major in college and moved to Austin to get into the music industry, but someone saw a very simple VFX shot that I had done for a short film and hired me to do a few more. Before I knew it, I was getting freelance jobs as a VFX artist and I wanted to learn 3D as an extension of that.
ijm: Who are your influences in animation and in film itself?
Martell: I’m pretty mainstream. I grew up in the second golden age of Disney and my favorite films as a kid were “Star Wars,” Indiana Jones, “Back to the Future” and James Bond. I’ve definitely branched out a lot more, and I guess my current tastes tend to go for a balance of cool concept with really well-written characters and stories. Specifically in animation … of course the Pixar films are great, although two of my more recent favorites are “Kung Fu Panda” and “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” I also love [Hayao] Miyazaki, “Triplets of Belleville” and anything that Aardman does.
ijm: How did “Pigeon: Impossible” begin?
Martell: It started out as an excuse to learn 3D animation and the story was only about 30 seconds long.
ijm: Did you always intend for it to be certain length or did it grow in scope?
Martell: As I got more into it, I realized that it needed certain things to give it that “wow” factor and it gradually got bigger and bigger until it finally reached a point where we said that it didn’t matter what it took, it just had to be great. We’ve already wasted too many years for it to just be OK. I think that was a very good thing, because it forced me to be very open to feedback. If someone said that something wasn’t working. I’d go in and re-work it until it was right. We weren’t irresponsible in that we were adding a bunch of junk for production value, but if the story was actually improved by something (like the aerial battle at the end) then we found a way to pull it off.
ijm: What was your process in creating the short (storyboard, writing, etc.)?
Martell: Animation can be hard to write for if you’re not used to it. Especially something this visual without dialogue, so I pretty much did all of the writing directly in the animatic. Now that I’m more experienced, I can typically see things in my head before they go that far, but on “Pigeon: Impossible” there was a lot of things that we tried in the animatic that got thrown out as soon as we saw them.
ijm: How much involvement did other people have in the process early on? Did you find that you needed to add more people as the project grew in size?
Martell: It definitely started small and grew. For the first few years, it was just me, then Scott Rice and Austen Menges started helping out with the story and doing occasional “sass sessions,” where they would tear the story to shreds and help me put it back together. As things grew, I brought on a few people to help build the environment and then also a few animators who picked up shots whenever they had the time. At the height of production, we maybe had seven or eight people working on it in their free time. Of course, the music was a different story … there were 80 musicians in total and Christopher Reyman did an absolutely amazing job writing that big epic score, as well as the big band theme for the opening and end credits.
ijm: At what point did you realize you were creating something pretty special?
Martell: I think for any film maker, you have to think that what you’re doing is special from the very beginning, otherwise why would you ever put that much energy into it? The hard part is that you never truly know how well it works until you get it in front of a big audience. There are still a lot of things I wish I had done better, but there’s no way I’m going back to change anything. Its time to move on to the next project.
ijm: What has happened since you completed the short? How have you marketed it? Where have you shown it?
Martell: We’ve played about 50 festivals all over the world and released it online in November of 2009. The response from both has been fantastic and its definitely taken on a life of its own. I didn’t do a ton of marketing in the traditional sense, but I did create a series of video podcasts that acts kind of like a “making of” (available at www.pigeonimpossible.com/podcast). It’s targeted specifically at other animators/3D artists and I think that really helped build up a core audience who helped get it out into the world once it was finished.
ijm: What kinds of doors has it opened for you so far?
Martell: Well there’s definitely been some very big opportunities that have come up, but everything is still in the early stages so I don’t want to jinx it.
ijm: What kind of work do you see yourself doing in the future?
Martell: I still love doing 3D and animating, but the thing that interests me most is writing and directing. It still pulls on a similar set of skills, but making movies and developing stories is definitely the part of the process I enjoy the most.
ijm: Do you intend to do more shorts on your own, make a longer film, or work for a studio?
Martell: I do have another short that I’m getting anxious to put into production, as well as a couple of feature projects in development. At this point, we’re just trying to keep all of them going and see what gets out of the gate first.
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