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Q&A CHRIS DIGIOVANNI

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR ON "FREE BIRDS"
Chris DiGiovanni
Chris DiGiovanni has played a key role in the production of some of the most successful and highly-acclaimed animated films of the last 15 years. He started his career working for MTV Studios in NYC before segueing to a career in animation. In 1994 he moved to California to work at Pixar on such hit films as Toy Story 2, Monster, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. He also worked on many of the studios beloved short films while there, such as the Oscar(r)-winning, Geri's Game and For the Birds, among others. He then went moved back to the East Coast to work at Blue Sky Studios on Horton Hears a Who!, and then went on to work at Starz Animation on the animated features, 9 and Gnomeo and Juliet.

From Relativity Media and Reel FX Animation Studios, Free Birds is the first theatrical full-length computer-animated film to be made at the award-winning Reel FX studios in Dallas, Texas. Free Birds tells the story of two turkeys from opposite sides of the tracks who much put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to change the course of history -- and get turkey off the Thanksgiving menu for good. The film opens nationwide on November 1st.

Q: What made you want to work on Free Birds?
A: About 18 years ago I met Jimmy Hayward on the set of a film he was directing out in the desert outside of Los Angeles, which then led me to join him at Pixar on such films Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. He then called me to join him on Horton Hears a Who! at Blue Sky, so we really have developed a great working relationship over a lot of years.  Of course, when he asked me to come onto this show I couldn't say no.

Q: What is unique about your position on Free Birds?
A: What's interesting is that I think I'm actually the first ever AD on a CG-animated film. It's usually a live-action position, and it's never really existed in animation before. I'm basically the grout between the tiles, I hold the wall up.





Q: What are those walls, or who are those tiles?
A: Pretty much our director, Jimmy Hayward. They call me the Jimmy Whisperer.

Q: What does the Jimmy Whisperer have to deal with on a daily basis?
A: Well, I've known Jimmy for a number of years, and he's a pretty verbose guy. We have a real shorthand when it comes to work, so I'd stay two steps ahead of him the whole time and make sure everything got done. I spent the majority of my time on the film living in the world between commerce and art.

Q: What kind of experience did you bring to your role on the movie?
A: I am an artist first and foremost, but I have spent the latter part of my career running shows. I have worked with a lot of very talented directors, from Jimmy to John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Pete Doctor and Andrew Stanton, just to name a few. In those 20 years I have learned a lot about the creative side of CG filmmaking. I think bringing all of that experience to the table and collaborating with Jimmy on a daily basis put him at ease. He was able to focus fully on creative and I was there to take care of everything else.

Q: What was it like working with Reel FX to launch their first feature production?
A: Working on Free Birds was unique in that Reel FX had a team in place that's used to a very fast-paced, quick-working environment and are almost guerilla style in their work. We've been able to teach them to slow down and be a bit more patient and we've learned from them how work more on the fly. It's really been a great experience overall.

Q: What was unique about the team of people assembled to make this film?
A: As I was saying, we had some extremely agile in-house talent working at Reel FX who have been here along time working on short format projects but never on an original feature film so they were really excited and eager to work on Free Birds. In addition to that core crew, Jimmy and I called up some super talented people we had worked with before and, as he said, "put the band back together." So we called up Rich McKain to supervise the animation, he was at Pixar at the time. And we called up Monika Sawyer over at Blue Sky and asked her to supervise the feather team and also Dave Esneault from Blue Sky to head up the lighting department as a digital supervisor. We were lucky in that everyone we asked were more than happy to jump on board.

Q: What was the most exciting thing about telling the story of Free Birds?
A: The unique thing about the story of Free Birds is that there's something in it for everyone. I've worked on a lot of these movies, and they have tended to be more boy-centric. We have a female hero in our movie and I'm very excited about that. I think there are great messages in this movie about staying involved with your family or "flock," and I think that's really important for parents and kids.

Q: From a technology standpoint, what do you think will most impress moviegoers?
A: Definitely the quality of the image considering what it took to put that image on screen. Times have really changed. When I first started at Pixar, you needed an entire hallway of double PhD's from MIT to build the software. And those tools have come a long way, some of them off the shelf, some of them can be bought and modified. The bottom line is, you're going to see a movie that looks like a big budget movie that we've managed to do for much, much less.

Q: What's your favorite scene in the film?    
A: My favorite scene in the movie is the funeral scene after Jenny's father dies. That scene makes me cry every time I watch it. It is the perfect combination of animation, production design, music and emotion. It's a beautiful scene, and I'm very proud of it. It's the kind of scene that touches you inside as a human being...pretty powerful stuff for an animated film.

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Related Keywords:Free Birds, 3D Animation, 3D Modeling, 3D Rigging, CG, Computer Graphics, Autodesk Maya

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  • Q&A CHRIS DIGIOVANNI by DMN Editorial at Oct. 31, 2013 5:51 pm gmt

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