Interview with Disney Animator Dan Lund at Animex

For one week every February, Teesside University, Middlesbrough becomes an international hub of all things animation. Speakers and representatives from the global animation and games community converge on Teesside to educate, inspire and entertain a diverse audience made up of students, professionals and enthusiasts from across the UK and Europe. Animex is the largest festival dedicated to animation and computer games in the UK. We are proud to welcome the world of animation to Middlesbrough.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Disney Effects Animator, Dan Lund. Dan was over to speak specifically about his work on Frozen but was keen to return to a festival and town he has never stopped enthusing about since his last visit nine years ago.

I had to almost pinch myself whilst chatting to Dan. He works and lives for Disney in California and yet he cannot get enough of Animex and Middlesbrough. Just read what he has to say about the festival and the genuine enthusiasm he has for the film Frozen. Afterwards he told me how genuinely knocked out was by the kindness and friendliness he found throughout his visit. Dan was grateful and impressed by people taking time to direct him on the street to his hotel and his dining experience at Akbars which he said was superior to his restaurant experiences in L.A.

Q: Can I just ask you about yourself and what you have been doing at Animex this year.

DL: My name is Dan Lund and I work at Disney Studios as an Effects Animator and I have been to Animex years ago, they premiered one of my documentaries. It was actually about Disney. So cut to all those years later they called the studio and wanted to send somebody out to speak of Frozen. There is nobody at the studio that loves the movie more than I do. It was really one of the best experiences I have ever had. So, when the studio offered to send me it was really cool because we had already had a relationship with the festival. So coming out here it wasn’t just to promote Frozen but it was to be part of and promote a festival that I have a real fondness for. I have talked about it really often, every year since I came in 2005.

Q: Has the festival changed a lot since then, have you noticed?

DL: It feels the same. What everybody talks about with Animex is how well organised, how classy it is and how it is really designed for the people who come, the film makers and the speakers to engage with each other. I have been to festivals where you wonder if the festival even knows you are there. You are finished with your lecture and you to talk to other speakers and you don’t know where they are. Are we going to go meet somewhere? This is like being on a cruise ship. You get off that plane and someone picks you up. From the moment you arrive you are, if you want, invited to engage with each other and the students. So I have been as inspired by my experience here as I hope that kids are inspired by us being there.

Q: That interaction can only help as a bridge for students going on into the industry.

DL: Oh absolutely. It doesn’t matter how many screen credits you have or how successful you are or if you are a student, if you are an artist you want be inspired and engaged by other artists. So, I met a bunch of students last night that I was inspired by and I know I will go back to work on Monday working a little different and the same with some of the speakers here who I’ve met. We’ve already started collaborating together on things. Actually here at the festival. We have met up at my hotel suite, we were critiquing animation and talking about projects and hooking up for future things back home, lecture series. So I feel very much like a family member.

Q: I suppose that was the original core of music festivals in the 60s or early film festivals etc as a melting pot. It is great that Animex can bring people together and spark new collaborations etc.

DL: It is funny. I was complimenting on Gabby (Gabrielle Kent – Festival Director) the other night and unless I heard her wrong, she’s never really been to another festival. I thought maybe they are not even aware of how well they are doing this. Because if you had gone to another festival you would maybe turn a part of the brain off. Like I said it is like being in a cruise shape or being in college where you would have your schedule and it’s all about making sure you learn and you socialise. And learn while you are socialising. It has just been great.

Q: What sort of things have you been talking about at Animex?

DL: I have been talking about Frozen. I was the effects designer on the film. Obviously the film was a huge hit all over the world but I didn’t come here with any sort of cocky expectation that Europe is in love with Frozen or that these kids would care. I thought Oh my gosh, all the comic book people that are here are going to be the ones with the sold out lecture. So, I have been really surprised at how much the film has affected kids who we are told everyday at work aren’t part of our demographic. It is the demographic we want but we are told everyday that 18-34 year old men don’t go to see musicals and don’t want to see Disney princess movies. So to have these grown men come up to me last night and say “I’ve seen it five times and will you sign my shirt,” it’s really humbling. So, it’s that great.

Q: Everything is done these days to a demographic and you can report back it is not true.

DL: Well, I have to say the biggest story I take away from this week I actually posted a video of it on my facebook page. At the first morning here they said hey they are doing a screening of Frozen at the local movie theatre for kids, will you come and introduce it. Absolutely. So I go and right as I walk into the theatre, it is completely full; they told me that these kids have never ever been to a movie theatre before. I couldn’t believe it I don’t care what the economics are I just assumed at that age they would have experienced it somehow. So I was wow that is pretty moving.

I said to the teachers is it alright if I get some video footage of the kids and I know they have never seen a movie so I was going to ask them to sing a line of the song but maybe I can just get them to say “let it go, let it go” and I will cut it into this little video piece. So I pull my camera out and they in perfect unison sang the entire song, word for word, like a rehearsed children’s choir. I started crying. I couldn’t get through my presentation. It was so moving. I have not stopped telling that story since I’ve been here. So, I am taking away a lot of extras.

Q: That is fantastic. Their first experience and it is something that will stay with them.

DL: What a gift. To be the thing that they remember and obviously you want people to like your movie and you are excited that it affects people but the movie seems to have gone bigger than being a movie. Bigger than Disney, bigger than us. It is part of pop culture and ingrained in peoples… It is like the world owns it now and we don’t own it anymore. And they are deciding what they are going to do with it. So all these youtube videos people are making. Almost everyday I walk in a meeting and somebody pulls up a youtube clip and then we watch some little kid singing the songs, or making their own little versions of the movie or re-cutting the footage. There are tutorials online about girls braiding their hair. Just unbelievable.

So, again to come here and get to talk about the art side of the film has been great but then to also still see these kids are taking that film and my lecture and hopefully infusing it in their work.

Q: You have been involved in the industry through a lot of films so to see this reaction now must be all the more exciting for you.

DL: Yes, absolutely. I am pretty good about being humble and grateful. I realise that I was someone that grew up wanting to make movies. To be able to do it is a huge gift and part of it is talent and part of it is being at the right place at the right time. Every time I come to a place like this you meet kids who you hope will have that moment, where they are at the right place, at the right time at the right project for their talent. Because it is such a gift to be able to do.

So all these years later, I’ve done Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, I’ve had very big movies out there. But to sort of feel like a kid again, we are so grateful because we didn’t expect this from the movie. Again, we were told everyday it wouldn’t do well, it is a musical, it is for girls. So, I don’t think I’ve worked on a film in the last few years where the film makers themselves are as grateful as we are. We are not worthy to the audience. It is because of the audience that we will get to make another Disney type film like. I don’t mean like a sequel to Frozen but if it hadn’t done well we would not be making musicals. There is no question about it.

This was, I don’t even want to say an experiment. Its just that the marketing people, the suits, nobody expected this. And it has changed the way we view ourselves and the way we view our legacy. I don’t think that for me personally we have to be embarrassed about our legacy anymore.

And again bringing Animex back into this. To come to a place where we are not just talking about the box office and how successful it is but back to talking about the art. To be able to talk about my process and my thought and my style of working on the film and hoping that it enthuses something in the kids to go back and work on their own student films in a different way is really cool.

Q: And for Middlesbrough we feel so pleased and proud to hear the way you describe your Animex experience and the way you have talked about it to others and put Middlesbrough on the map.

DL: Well absolutely. Animex has invited me many times. But it is such a special festival that I didn’t want to come and talk about the same thing. I didn’t want to come for a free trip just because they liked me and would have plugged me into some kind of panel to make it kind of worth it. But to come here with something new to say and something so genuinely heart felt. I feel very right about being here. I am also thrilled that the feeling and the vibe that I’ve talked about for ten years to people still exists.

I was a little afraid when I got off the plane, what if it’s not what I remember. I’ve sort of romanticised this thing and it’s almost better than I remembered because it’s as if no time has passed. I’m bumping into the same people; each remembers each others lectures from ten years ago. We are all seeing how we have been affected by Animex. I don’t think there is anybody I’m here with now who isn’t going to go back home on Monday a different person thinking. Even if it is just sort of like taking a moment to be grateful for what you get to do.

Sometimes you go to festivals and you see tons of portfolios and tons of people and it becomes very sort of lip service. You give your general advice and you hope that they find work but you also don’t want to compete with somebody. Don’t take my job. But here, I feel that it is a mutual admiration society and we are all affecting each other the way artists should. So I am excited to go back home and see how the people I’ve met, the professionals, what they do next. That could have been influenced by a kid we met last night or a lecture or doing interviews like this. Everything I am saying is so genuine. Where I’ve done interviews before where you just give them the sound bite that they want. OK edit it to work for you. But I think we all have such a deep admiration for this festival.

Photos Tracy Hyman

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UKTI NE Masterclass: International Website Optimisation

Recently, I attended a UKTI NE Masterclass on International Website Optimisation with Norma Foster.  It was a really practical look at how your website can help or hinder your business to reach its full, global potential.

It looked at questions like whether an international audience would be able to find and then understand your offer through your current website, and whether your website could be generating more leads and enquiries for you.

We looked at specific website case studies, both pre and post internationalisation looking at design, navigation and technical issues.

The participants were from a wide range of different sectors –  at my table alone,  there was a woman whose company distributes organic honey, a man whose company sells equipment for masonry, another who sells attachments for construction vehicles and a web designer.

This is not a course designed for web developers though they may find some food for thought. A number of people in the room were there to attain a basic understanding of internationalising websites so they would be able to have a useful conversation with their web people.

If you are looking to grow existing international markets or target new markets for your business in 2014, this course is being held again in Durham on March 26th.

More details: http://www.ukti.gov.uk/export/event/697860.html

Register online: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ukti-ne-international-website-masterclass-tickets-9630385743

Website Masterclass

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Kei Kamara Supports Sierra Leone Charity Appeal

Last week Kei Kamara met a charity representative from his home town in Sierra Leone who is trying to improve life for the Boro striker’s fellow countrymen and women.

Kei fled his homeland with his family as a youngster as the West African country exploded in a bloody civil war that killed 50,000 people, successfully building new lives in the United States.

“War started when I was 6. The first experience I was at school and an explosion happened just outside school,” Kei revealed.

Now he is keen to support an aid project being pioneered by CAFOD to help the 2.6m people who were left homeless – equivalent to the population of North-East England – by the conflict.

Kei met Patrick Jamiru, Director of Caritas Kenema, a CAFOD partner organisation, at Rockliffe Park to highlight the need to support the “Dig Deep” campaign for those living in poverty in Sierra Leone.

Carol Cross from CAFOD Middlesbrough said: “Access to food is such a basic human right but all kinds of factors and issues can mean people go hungry – whether it’s the climate, conflict, or lack of training on the most effective farming techniques.”

“CAFOD is helping people to feed their own families by training them in alternative farming methods, thus securing vial food supplies in what is known as the annual ‘hungry season’.  We are asking Boro fans to stand side-by-side with people in Kei’s homeland by digging deep, ensuring that more children in the poorest countries grow up healthy and free from hunger.”

Kei added: “It’s amazing that they’re doing this work. I always like to meet people involved in helping Sierra Leone and the fact that it’s not just my country, also but my birth town, Kenema, makes it even more special.”

Boro fans can donate to CAFOD’s Dig Deep campaign and learn more about the fight against poverty at www.cafod.org.uk

I spoke with Patrick Jamiru, Director of Caritas Kenema as he waited to meet Kei Kamara

Q: Patrick could you tell me a little about the background of your work in Sierra Leone, please.

PJ:  I am actually the director of Director of Caritas Kenema, Caritas Kenema is the Development and Relief office for the entire diocese. It is the social wing of the church because it can bring people to church and preach the gospels but you have to be seen to be putting that into action. An empty stomach cannot stand and if they are sick they will not come to church at all. So, this is a way of practicalising the faith really. We work with very desperate, poor communities. We don’t like to work very close to open areas. We like to go a little beyond that, we like to go to places where other organisations do not like to go at all. Because that is where the reality is really and that is where you have the poorest of the poor. The Bishop says to me, Patrick, you have to go to places where other organisations don’t want to go at all and reach out to the people and talk to then about the social teachings of the catholic church. In a very practical way.

Q: How you can help them?

PJ: Yes, how you can help them. So we go out and we meet people and we ask them how they want us to help out and to go about addressing those problems. And so that is what I have been doing over the years. And CAFOD has been very instrumental and supportive of a lot of work we have done with communities to make a difference in the lives. Because much of the funding has come from CAFOD, which is the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development.

Q: And today you are raising awareness of your work.

PJ: Oh absolutely that is why I am here. Just to come and witness what CAFOD has been doing and to say to their supporters that CAFOD has been doing an incredibly powerful job out in Sierra Leone and been very supportive of our work and they have made a huge difference in the lives of the communities in which we have worked.

Q: It is important that there is long term benefit. People are in desperate straights but you want to give them the means to be able to go forward in their lives.

PJ: Yes and we have been able to succeed with that because for example when I did a disaster risk reduction project CAFOD gave the funding support and we were able to reach out to the people with that and out of that they were able to eke out a living and if you go to the communities today you will see evidence of that. You will see it on the ground that it is making difference in their lives. It is going on and on and on.

Q:  You are able to go to different villages then and not just continue to work with the same communities.

PJ: We move to new villages but we don’t abandon them entirely. From time to time we go there on visits to see how things are flourishing. From time to time we go there and have discussions with them with a view to evaluate what differences the work we did here made to your life. You listen to some wonderful stories about their communities.

Q: It must be great for you to work with Kei Kamara.

PJ: Oh absolutely. When I learned that Kei Kamara was here from Sierra Leone and Kenema I was extremely delighted and I wanted to come over to see him and to have discussions with a view to how we can get back home and reach out to especially the young people because they constitute the workforce. Life is not, I have to say I’m afraid, not very rosy for them at the moment. So they are looking forward to some assistance, some push.

Q: Of course Kei Kamara is an international player with that profile.

PJ: Yes and I will be talking to them about that because football is the passion in Kenema. Every person in Kenema belongs to some football club in Europe.

Kei and Patrick then talked to each other in their native Mende tongue, something that clearly delighted Patrick as he thought the footballer who had lived away from Sierra Leone since the age of 16 would not still be so fluent. They then played football outside and the two sons of Kenema, Sierra Leone greatly enjoyed their meeting.

Kei said, “The thing about war when it happens, people don’t really know what they are doing to their country but you are destroying the whole country. Burning down buildings, destroyed the electricity. It has taken years and years for all those things to come back but that is what it is going through now. I reckon ten years from now it will be paradise.”

Kei revealed that his film Kei shot back in the USA is benefiting the people of his homeland.

“It was a sit down interview like this that ended up being a film and it is still going. People pay a pound or dollar to watch it online and all the proceeds go towards Schools for Salone which are building an orphanage for kids in a little town in Sierra Leone too.”

Kei Kamara was asked about the importance of the CAFOD Dig Deep appeal and gave this eloquent reply.

We have the opportunity really to put a smile on people’s faces. For me playing football is just a gift and if I am given this gift then I am able to pass it along and I can put more smiles on more people’s faces, it’s good.”

He then went on to say, “And it doesn’t just have to be Sierra Leone, to me it could be anywhere helping kids or just helping other people in Third World countries I just feel like its amazing. Carol from CAFOD is not from Sierra Leone but goes all the way out there and working with the church programme to help out there is amazing. I am muslim. But I will be with them 100% anytime that they come out here. It doesn’t matter if you are a catholic or Christian we are helping and I am willing to help because the kids don’t really know what the religions really are. They just want to be happy.

You can donate to CAFOD’s Dig Deep campaign and learn more about the fight against poverty at www.cafod.org.uk

Photos Tracy Hyman

http://www.tracyhymanphotography.co.uk

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Dance Double Feature

Last Monday Middlesbrough Theatre was the venue for a dance double bill. Normally my appreciation of dance does not stretch far beyond a Saturday night TV dose of Strictly Come Dancing, but Southpaw Dance Company and MYSTERY SKIN certainly expanded my horizons.

Middlesbrough Theatre is such a lovely venue and last Monday it was crowded with young students eager to watch the dance companies that had led workshops the week before at both Macmillan Academy and Kings Academy.

The two dance pieces could hardly have been more contrasting. The lights dimmed for Southpaw and eerie silhouettes of the troupe danced across the walls before a hectic, energetic, frenzy of hip hop and almost balletic movement set to equally fast paced and energising music.

The young dancer from Mystery Skin was on stage as we entered, looking out over the audience, observing us as we took our seats.  As we settled to watch, the performance started with the dancer onstage; her movements were carried out in almost complete silence, only broken by the almost whispered, gentle noises of her partner through the microphone. Those movements and sounds reflected the stop, start, jerk, get up, get down of modern day existence. Road Postures is the title of the work and is the result of research and observation of a local community.  The way people interact and move through shared public spaces. Movement that we might see peripherally or else ignore completely brought into sharp focus on stage.

Southpaw Dance Company’s piece was centred around the global phenomenon of riot and protest. Anarchic on the one level, but it was also poetic, balletic, graceful in form and shape. Dancers creating disordered yet beautiful shapes, with the clever use of torches and spotlights in almost total darkness, playing with light and shadow. The thrill of the chase, the fear of capture and maybe those enforcing order hunting the rioters, trying to capture them in their torch light.

 “Anger is an energy”, John Lydon once sung, and here was the anger and violence of rioting channelled into a maelstrom of movement and sound.

Robert Nichols/Tracy Hyman

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Songlines

Back in December the Middlesbrough streets were all a hustle and bustle of people busily shopping before Christmas. Opening a door at the busiest crossroads in town, that of the Crossroads Community café at the junction of Borough Road and Linthorpe Road there was a haven of peace and calm. Exiting the mayhem of downtown December I enter instead inside the minds eyes of a group of women who had travelled many miles to reach a new home in the north east.

Twenty six women from ethnic minorities, asylum seekers, refugees, those refuse asylum and economic migrants all told their own personal stories. The starting point for each to open up their world apart was the old familiar lapping waves of the sea.

On a big screen was film of the soothing sight and sound of the sea, waves breaking gently along a beach. Sitting down for a minute on the comfortable settee and donning a pair of earphones you could immerse yourself into the lives of a group of women from far beyond our shores. The sea was their favourite place where they could talk candidly about their lives and broken homes they had left far behind and their hopes for the future.

“The sea has two faces,” said one women, “one is love and one is fear.”

The sea divides but can be calming on a beach. It could be a reminder of a traumatic escape on a vulnerable open boat across an unforgiving ocean. Or it could it be a calming, familiar influence. “The sea is always the same but the surroundings are different and the people are different.”

Escape along the sea shore could be a real pleasure, a refreshing walks on dunes, to escape from troubles.

I talked with Creative Producer Jill Heslop about some background to the project and the women’s lives opening up to the viewer of the waves.

I am Jill Heslop and I work for Open Clasp Theatre Company who produced the piece and I am the Creative Producer at Open Clasp.

Q: How did the project come about?

Jill: The project came about with us working with two groups of women. Open Door, North East, which is based in Middlesbrough and Byker Sands Centre based in Byker in Newcastle. We worked with 26 women from minority communities. They were asylum seekers, refugees, women who had been refused asylum and also just economic migrants. So lots of different women from different communities who were all born outside of the north east and now live in the north east.

Really we just wanted to find out about them and about their lives and their hopes and their personal lives. We just started from a very simple thing which was just tell us about your favourite place, where would you like to be. From that they came out with the sea and water and how that makes them feel. In lots of different ways it can make you feel very reflective. A peaceful and calm place watching the sea but also because of their journeys over here, sometimes especially with asylum seekers and refugees that can sometimes be a very dangerous place. As we have seen on the news with the open top boats they have been risking their lives to get here.

It is also to give a perspective on these women who are represented quite badly in the media, done down by the media, a lot of the time at the moment. It is trying to say look they are just human like you and me and they like to go to the seaside like we all they like to go to the seaside like we all like to go the seaside. It is like a general humanity I suppose.

Q: Asylum seekers is a very impersonal phrase but the women in the recoding are very real people with human stories.

J: With human stories, yes. And I think the stories themselves that come out are that some of these women have been through difficult and hard situations that we couldn’t even try and understand but they are really strong and really resilient and also they laugh and they have humour. They are just human beings and I think that really comes out in the installation. They are brilliant women to have worked with.

Q: Can I ask you about Songlines Installation itself.

J: About the installation itself. We worked with three artists, a visual artist Taryn Edmonds, who put together the whole piece. A film maker called Kate Sweeney and a photographer called Phyllis Christopher. They worked with the groups of women for around two to three months and they went in every week and did lots and lots of sessions with them. They made recordings of songs and talked to them and did lots of interviews. And it came into this piece which is very powerful and thought provoking and great.

I put the headphones back on and listened to more testimonials as all the time the waves were breaking on the shoreline in the film. It was very calming and soothing in there far from the madding crowd.

“The sea unifying and dividing,” said a lady from Zimbabwe looking into the waves that tell her that her homeland is all too far away. She was thinking back to views of the Victoria Falls and now looking at the waves of Saltburn and wondering about a hasty escape from an arranged marriage.

There are all sorts of stories flowing in on the tide. One woman from Albania stooped to look at the pebbles on the shore. She had no help at home when she tried to escape domestic violence. She likes it here she reflects, the kids are happy in school now. She doesn’t miss Albania but she does miss her mum.

Songlines was a production by Open Clasp Theatre based on Tyneside working here with 26 women from minority communities through Open Door, North East in Middlesbrough and Byker Sands Centre, Byker in Newcastle.

http://openclasp.org.uk/our_work/detail/Songlines/83

 

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