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