The modest flow of feature-film animators from the Valley of the Sun to Hollywood can’t accurately be called a “pipeline” — not yet — but a handful of homegrown artists are thriving at the very top of the CGI food chain.
In fact, several former Valley residents — including character animators Chris Capel (Mesa) and Michael Kelly (Scottsdale), lighting animator Marc Scott (Phoenix) and special-effects specialist Julie Brame (Phoenix) — played roles in Dreamworks’ “Bee Movie,” opening this Friday. Featuring the voice-over talents of Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger and Matthew Broderick, the movie follows the adventures of Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld).
The Valley animators took varied paths in reaching their goals. Capel, a Thatcher native who moved to Mesa after graduating from high school, had no formal training as an animator when he purchased a top-of-the-line Dell and decided to teach himself the art of computer-generated imagery.
“I always liked to draw,” says Capel, who animated several of the characters in “Bee Movie.” “I had a knack for it. But I always thought of myself as theater guy — I was into acting. As I got older, I lost the theater bug, but realized that animation combined drawing and acting. So I devoted myself to animation.”
Capel’s first paying job as an animator entailed generating special effects for a Cox Communications in-house film in the Valley. Emboldened, he moved to Los Angeles and quickly scored work in commercials (including one for M&M’s). Ultimately, a connection he made at art school paid off with a job at DreamWorks.
Valley native Brame took a more classical route to “Bee Movie.” After graduating from Arcadia High School, the mathematics-inclined Brame enrolled in the computer science program at the University of Michigan, landing several coveted summer internships.
She was recruited by DreamWorks directly, and promptly went to work on “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” (2003).
“I always wanted to be in movies, and I’ve always been good at math,” says Brame, who specializes in noncharacter special effects. “So I majored in computer science, and it gave me the chance to do both things that I love.”
Brame — who, like Capel, will next work on the animated sci-fi epic “Monsters vs. Aliens” (due in 2009) — picked a fortuitous time to enter the Dreamworks fold. Just days after joining the company in 2001, she witnessed the release of “Shrek,” the multibillion-dollar franchise that put Dreamworks on the map as a feature-animation force.
Specialty: Character animation
Valley connection: Lived in Mesa and Tempe after graduating from high school in Thatcher.
First gig: Worked on an in-house film for local Cox Communications branch.
Essential CGI text: “The Animator’s Survival Kit,” by Richard Williams.
“Bee Movie” handiwork: Animated a bee modeled after “Police” frontman Sting.
Specialty: Special effects
Valley connection: Born and bred. Graduated from Arcadia High School in Phoenix.
First gig: A Dodge commercial while working as a University of Michigan intern.
Essential CGI text: “Terminator 2.”
“Bee Movie” handiwork: “Basically anything that moves that isn’t a main character.” Worked on the bee mob in the courtroom scene.