Director Jon Binkowski on his animation-inspired indie-feature “CharacterZ” – Animation Scoop

Director Jon Binkowski on his animation-inspired indie-feature “CharacterZ”

A movie in which the protagonist’s goal is getting to CalArts is unique, as is one about life as a costumed theme park character. Either makes CharacterZ worth a look.

The indie comedy, which premieres this week on various digital platforms, stars former teen star Mitchel Musso as an aspiring animator whose parents’ bankruptcy keeps him in Central Florida, where he gets a job as a costumed character at a modest theme park on 192 (most of the film was shot at the venerable Old Town park on Highway 192 in Kissimmee.)

What follows has the oddball feel of Napoleon Dynamite with the animated daydreams of the classic series My World and Welcome To It. Hand-drawn animation was created to punctuate the artist’s experiences.

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“Our animator was Jeffrey James, who had worked at Disney and Bluth,” he told us. “He helped develop the look of the characters. I told him we needed animation that looked like a kid did it, and he helped me out, along with Huhu Studios in New Zealand and Shanghai.

“Everything was digital coming back and forth. We would shoot the plates, send those to them and they would animate over the plates. They would send those back in a rough form so we would see how it would layer on to the plates. If I had to, I would doodle on something to show what I was looking for. Jeffrey and [producer] David Townsend were very instrumental. There was only one that didn’t make it into the final cut, just because of editing, no other reason.

“We wanted the animation to that would make the kid’s talent show through, but a little amateurish because he didn’t have the tools yet. We wanted him to be a young Lasseter. He has animation chops and wants to get into the theme park industry. He wants to go to CalArts.

“They went with 12 frames a second, but it didn’t match the 24 frames when we moved the camera around, so they had to switch it to compensate. They were very accommodating in that regard, because I told them one thing, and then said “It’s not matching!” and they worked it out great.”

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Surprisingly, animation did not command the lion’s share of the film’s modest budget. “The biggest, most expensive part of the budget, by far, was feeding everyone,” Jon laughs. “You get all these people to do all these things for free–or not for very much, but we did provide food. We had a lot of extras. And man, that adds up really fast. We always underestimated our food budget. We negotiated at the restaurants at Old Town so each catered on a different day. They made money, we got everyone fed, and it worked out well.”

To baby boomers, some of the cast members are of special note. Ken Osmond of Leave it to Beaver essentially plays Eddie Haskell in a retirement facility. Sid & Marty Krofft veteran Felix Silla (who also played robot Twiki on the NBC series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) portrays a longtime character performer and curmudgeon.

CharacterZ is billed as a family comedy, but parents note that it’s of the PG-13 or TV-14 variety. It premiered this week on iTunes, Vudu, Uverse with plans for wider release in the future.

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar

Greg Ehrbar is a two-time Grammy-nominated and Addy-winning writer/editor/producer, celebrating 30 years with The Walt Disney Company. Greg’s projects include national advertising, network TV, commercials, magazines and thousands of print ads and publications. Greg’s books include Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records; Jimmy Johnson’s Inside the Whimsy Works: My Life with Walt Disney Productions; as well as Disney Parks merchandise; movie adaptations and records. Greg also appears on TV, home video, radio’s TV Confidential, Disney Parks Blog, cartoonresearch.com, Greg-O-Vision.blogspot.com and disneymusicemporium.com.
Greg Ehrbar
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