Today Disney Interactive released a brand new animated short film that was over a year in the making. It’s called Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story, and it’s a 38 minute stop-motion adventure and love story, just in time for Valentine’s Day. The film is currently available exclusively on Google Play, Google’s online store offering digital movies, books, music, apps, games and more.
Based on the popular Disney Parks Vinylmation collectibles, Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story follows a pair of unpainted Vinylmation, Blank and Bow, who fall in love but are quickly torn apart. Blank must make a daring escape and traverse a wild and colorful landscape on a quest to save Bow, who has been whisked away in a train car over the horizon.
We recently attended the premiere of the film on The Walt Disney Studios lot and got to see the entire film, introduced by the small creative team who made it. Executive Producer Margaret Gilmore set up the film with the following:
“At its core, Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story is a story about individuality, self expression, and making a difference in the world. And in this world, where most of us are bombarded every day with tweets and texts and newsfeeds and e-mails and people talking at us with words, words, and more words, I am inviting you for the next forty minutes to experience a story with no words. We hope that Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story will bypass everyone’s busy brains and go right to your heart.”
It’s an earnest and sensitive story, told without dialogue or narration. The world on screen is entirely hand-crafted, and the result is a look and style that is not simply unique, looking like nothing else being offered throughout the world of Disney, but uniquely expressive. It’s hard to imagine that a pair of blank figures could express so much until you’ve seen it for yourself.
After the screening, we spoke to producer Matt Wyatt about the past year spent working on Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story.
The project’s origin goes back to 2012, when the creators put together a short presentation exploring a story they had been tossing around with each other. “The creators of Blank are fans of Vinylmation and got their hands on some of the figurines. They started thinking that Vinylmation figures might be a cool possibility for stop motion. So they started doing some early initial tests with the figurines. From those tests, a two-and-a-half-minute short film came to be,” explained Matt. “From there we started showing that to people. It had so much heart and creativity, and people were really into it, that it became a much bigger venture at that point. From there the creators got together and started brainstorming, and breaking the story into the pieces it would ultimately become: a much more epic adventure and love story.”
The core production team behind Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story is extremely small, made up of five writer/directors, Mike Ambs, Paul Foyder, Regino Roy III, Whitfield Scheidegger, and Greg Shewchuk, with just a handful of additional crew. Writing and directing was a collaborative effort, as was the creation of the sets and props used throughout the film, which fit into a single small studio space in Burbank, CA. Even the score was also produced inhouse by composer Alfred Montejano. “And that was the core team,” Matt told us, looking back with amazement on what they accomplished together. “At various points in the project, we had one or two animators assisting us, and then depending on the need we would occasionally bring in a gaffer, or an animation and character design technical consultant. It is a remarkably small team to achieve something of this size.”
Knowing how few hands were around throughout the making of Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story, it’s no surprise that it took over a year to produce the 54,874 photos that make up the film. (Give or take a couple hundred frames,” they’ve approximated.) But the creators don’t sweat that length of time, because the result of their efforts is a film that is bursting with detail, creativity, and life. “The most important thing about the film’s handmade quality is that it imbues it with heart, and the attention to detail is where the magic comes from,” Matt told us. “The characters and the locations and the props were all hand-crafted under the direction of the directors and production designer. The attention to detail was incredible and all of the guys are really amazing about taking raw materials and making them into things that really come to life. There’s some incredible instances of taking everyday objects and turning them into these mystical worlds. “
There were a number of instances where they had to think quick and take risks, trying out ideas that were completely experimental in order to achieve the final shots you see. “One of the intricacies of stop-motion is that you can’t use normal film lights because they’re way too powerful when you’re working on a miniature set, so you have to make your own lights. Our cinematographers went out and got mini lights and LEDs and, in some cases, even took paper cups and used them as snoots for the lights. There’s a scene where Blank and the giant are sitting around a fire. In order to get that fire to look right, we used a computer program called Dragonframe to take our stop-motion photographs in time with a vacuum so that the vacuum would blow air out in the exact right instance to make that fire move for each shot. There’s another shot at the very end that is a wide shot with lots of flowers in it, and to show the flowers at a distance, the guys used little colored candies to make those flowers. It’s that level of creative ingenuity that goes into all of the shots that you’re looking at in the final film.”
They even took advantage of some fun new tech, in the form of a MakerBot 3D printer, to help tackle one especially challenging part of the film. Blank and Bow travel throughout the world by train, on a route that might look familiar to visitors of Disneyland who have ridden the Monorail. “MakerBot was super cool because we were able to get the trains printed for us in three different sizes, and then our guys went to work decorating them and painted them to look exactly how we wanted,” Matt told us. “What that allowed us to do was interchange those trains seamlessly from one shot to another–when you’re working with stop-motion, you change the scale depending on the scope of the shot–so our different sized MakerBot printed trains allowed us to do that easily. We also made an exclusive short film to go along with the release of the film, Cranes in Love, and we also used MakerBot printers to print a bunch of the props that are in that film.”
Now that Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story is available to watch online, Matt and the rest of the team are excited for everyone to see what they’ve been up to for so long. “A lot of the guys on the team are fathers and [co-writer/director] Greg always talks about wanting this to be something he could show to his son and have it be a film that they could experience together.” said Matt. “The idea was creating an exciting and fun and beautiful story that kids could watch, that wasn’t too scary but was still really engaging for adults too. It’s about creativity and self expression and imagination and individuality.”
See for yourself right now by downloading Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story for free from Google Play, Google’s online store offering digital movies, books, music, apps, games and more. Viewers will also find a digital Valentine’s experience as well as additional video clips and the “Love Theme” song from the film.
To celebrate the premiere, Google is also inviting fans to share frames from the film with friends and family as digital Valentine’s greetings at blankmovie.withgoogle.com. After sharing a frame, Guests can unlock a second special film, “Cranes in Love,” created especially for Google users.
Beginning on February 14, Blank: A Vinylmation Love Story will also be screened for a limited time at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park in Florida. Tickets to the El Capitan Theatre are available at www.elcapitantickets.com or by calling 1-800-DISNEY6.