Monday, December 18, 2006

Chris Sanders Removed from American Dog

It now seems to be confirmed that Chris Sanders is no longer directing the Disney feature American Dog. Cartoon Brew reports
Sanders had apparently been informed before last Wednesday that he was no longer going to be the director, and according to this source, was deeply disappointed, hurt and angered. The source also writes, "Chris felt like his heart had been ripped out, and he didn't expect if from someone (Lasseter) who always talks about a director-driven studio model. This was totally Chris' project from the start, he was pouring himself into it, and now he's fired."
I know nothing about this beyond what I'm reading on the web, but it brings to mind several things.

Creators have an emotional connection to their creations; business people do not. Creators love their characters and stories the way parents love their children. Business people see ideas, scripts, films, etc. as raw materials to be manipulated for maximum profit.

Richard Williams says that the Golden Rule is that the person with the gold makes the rules. Artists who take a paycheque in exchange for creating always serve at the pleasure of those who pay them. Reputation and track record can provide a creator with some leverage, but never enough to fully control a creation.

Right now, the Disney money is backing Lasseter and Catmull and not Chris Sanders. Eventually, Disney will back someone else. That's the nature of the system.

The high cost of creating animation is one of its artistic tragedies. Creators in other media who can afford to self-finance their work (authors, painters, composers, etc.) are far luckier than animators.

This is the second time that Pixar's management has replaced a director who originated a story. Jan Pinkava was taken off Ratatouille, which is now being directed by Brad Bird. I do not expect Pixar to make any public statements about this, but I think they should. If they don't, Pixar's reputation within the business may be seriously damaged. Those already working for Pixar will think twice about offering ideas to the company. Those aspiring to work for Pixar may think twice about applying.

Finally, a reminder about the wonders of the web. Never before in history has an animation artist had the opportunity to create and own a film and make it available to a potential audience of billions. True, at this time you've got to lower your expectations in terms of budget and box office, but I'm betting that all over the world today animators are looking at Chris Sanders and thinking twice about working for big studios.


Chris P said...

Oh my god! I read the same post over at CartoonBrew. It's very unfortunate that Chris Sanders was removed from his project.
And I agree with you about Pixar's reputation for that matter.
I actually was looking forward to seeing the animation solely because Chris Sanders was the one creating it. That's why I loved Lilo & Stitch.
However reading about the movie itself, it doesn't seem like something that Disney could market like they did with Lilo & Stitch. Stitch has become probably one of the most liked characters of Disney; I couldn't see that happening with American Dog.
It's an unfortunate reality.
I wonder what Chris will come up next, it's something i definitely look forward to.

Boris Hiestand said...

Chris Sanders is an amazing artist and this news does sound like a real shame. On the other hand, we don't know what happened behind the scenes.
Maybe he went over time, over budget, couldn't make important choices fast enough etc.
One of the big problems is exactly the fact that you either get the artist, or the businessman, and there seems to be nothing inbetween.
The true artist should stick to making independent shorts; those of us who want to work in Hollywood and earn some money, have to compromise.
Artists tend to be chaotic, unbiassed towards money matters and unorganised in general. No wonder the suits don't want them to have full control. After all we're talking about millions here.

Last thing I heard Jan Pinkava IS actually co-directing 'Ratatouille' with Bird, whatever that means.. it's so hard to know what the role of the director is in some of the recent animated films...

Please take a look at these clips, I would very much like your opinion on them. thanks for the nice post!

Anonymous said...

Did anyone see this as a surprise? Not me. I always felt that Pixar would scuttle WDFA to remove competition. At least on the digital side.

Now with Pixar supplying stories to WDFA, why in the world would they want them to continue to make 3D films. With the threat of doing 1 better than Pixar?

So in order to start those gears turning, you have to start ending the CG productions now in the system. American Dog was the first casualty.

Say goodbye to CG at WDFA

Anonymous said...

I would'nt be too quick to vilfify John Lasseter and Pixar just yet. There is a lot going on and there are 2 sides to this story. Chances are, we will never know the entire story.
Just know that this was not an easy decision.

Michael Dedrick said...

Hey Mark,
Thanks for the update, I found this article that elaborates on this issue about the future of Disney:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Chris Sanders had the audacity to create a film with a "point of view". American movies MUST be created by a commitee. Do Miyazaki, Chomet, or Aardman work that way? I think not.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: Neither does John Lassiter or the others at Pixar--who are making these decisions being in charge of the Disney feature department now.

In any event, Chris Sanders wasn't going to be making some kind of purely "personal", one-man's-vision-only film--and he knew that.

btw you have NO idea how films are made at Aardman. If a "committee" is more than one guy then yes, as a matter of fact they DO make flms that way.

warykitty said...

I saw your blog link on cartoon brew!
yeah, it's really unfortunate about Sanders being fired from his own movie, and you're right, it makes me think twice about pixar.
but, I do love pixar and have admired it for so long, I'm too quick to judge this, because i agree with the other comments, that we don't know what really went on, and etc.

duep said...

I'm an 18 year old animation student, and I'm slowly becoming more informed on these sorts of topics (So I'm sorry if I sound like a total idiot in the following paragraph). I'm such a big fan of Chris Sander's work, and when I heard about this, it made me very sad.

I can't imagine that Pixar would do something so horrible; like everyone else has said, maybe we just need to know the whole story?

Why would artists whom have themselves worked so hard to bring quality animation to the world, try to sabotauge a fellow artist's creations? Have we really become that corporate?

If this is what competition in america means, than I'm worried what I'm getting myself into.

Zek said...

It's been some time since this was written, so the view here may have changed.

But having seen the 3rd or 4th pass animatic for the film when it was screened at Pixar back before Sanders was let go, I can tell you that besides the Sanders-esque boards (which looked good), the story and pacing were pretty bad.

Jokes were schmaltzy, on par with what you'd find on more of the lower-end Flash animated shows that bill themselves as edgy adult; to the point where someone who's not even a Disney fan would feel insulted at the apparent change in character/demographic the studio seemed to be aiming for.

Can only guess at the costs at that point, since they had the voice actors (Travolta, etc) during this iteration of the animatic. Not having seen Bolt, I have no clue if the Fear and Loathing references or the Man-Show style jokes survived to the final version, but I was told the script was totally rewritten after Sanders was ousted, which means - among other things - rerecording of the dialog once more. Again, more monies.

Whether this was a case of Sanders being saddled with a horrible script or indecisive mercurial higher echelon betters feeling a need to make a Spike-TV friendly release (both likely), or whether this was purely Sanders obliviously riding the wave until it crashed, I can't say. All I can say is that I walked out of that screening about halfway through. And I wasn't the only one.

Anonymous said...

That's unfortunate but I think Sander's ideas fit better with DreamWorks than Disney. And recently he's made a few movies with DreamWorks instead.