|Jerusalem - not an obvious place to make an animated film|
The Animation Lab was set up by Israeli entrepreneur and business angel Erel Margolit, the successful founder of JVP Partners, a Jerusalem-based investment fund with a strong track record of high-tech start-ups. Israel, say the locals, is second only to Silicon Valley in terms of technology entrepreneurship.
But making an animated film isn't really about technology. Of course, studios always talk about the new high-tech leaps that have been made - Merida's hair in Brave, for example. But outside of big well-funded studios like Pixar, the last thing an animated film needs is new technology - technology that can go wrong, and throw the whole delicate project off-schedule. Rather, animation is what investors call "a content play". In other words, it's all about the story.
|Stamens at Dawn. Artwork by me and art director Mary Locatel|
My own involvement with the project came when I pitched the Animation Lab an animated film idea of my own. No, they said, it's not for us, but how would you like come and direct "The Wild Bunch"? The 2006 Lebanon War was just ending and business in Israel was just starting to get back to normal. Why not? I thought. It sounds like an adventure. So I said yes.
My concerns began as soon as I read Philip's script. It was brilliant - but how would we ever get the plants to walk? After all, they can't stay rooted to the ground all through the film. But walking around? Wouldn't they die? At some point suspension of disbelief becomes impossible. So we agreed that we would make a proof-of-concept teaser at the same time as we boarded the film, just to see if any of this would actually work out on screen.
|Tom Sito's encouraging birthday card. Ridley Scott had just released Kingdom of Heaven.|
I was not the first director on the project and I wasn't the last. Directors came and went and no-one seems to have solved the fundamental problems. Still, it was huge fun while it lasted, for me at any rate. Putting together an animated film is the best job in the world. Unlike on a live action shoot, you can take your time; if something doesn't work - you fix it the next day. The pressure is always there, but it never seems insurmountable.
And I'm sorry the Animation Lab closed down. Erel's dream of building a film industry in his home town was a beautiful dream. Perhaps someone else may yet make it come true.
(Editor's note: You can also read our interview with the very talented Roy Iddan, candidate for the Israeli Libertarian Party and an alumni of the Animation Lab.)