This month, an animation studio in Atlanta is celebrating the nationwide release of its first CG film, Delgo (see “Efficiency Experts,” pg. 40), a true indie production from start to finish. In fact, this animated feature is atypical on a number of fronts, and that’s what director Marc Adler intended. Delgo is independently created by Fathom Studios and independently distributed through various companies according to territories and channels. For instance, in the US, Fox is handling the DVD release, Freestyle the theatrical release, and Turner the cable release.
That kind of independent spirit started at the doors of Fathom. Over the course of the production, more than 300 people worked on the film. Some were off-site, but only after spending months at the studio in Georgia to get a full understanding of the project, their coworkers, and the production pipeline. While the pipeline is based on Autodesk’s Maya, there were a number of homegrown solutions as well, including what Adler, president/executive producer of Fathom Studios, and Warren Grubb, animation director/VFX supervisor, believe to be the cornerstone of the production process: Fathom’s Storyline Web-based asset management system and collaboration tool.
Fathom used Storyline to post digital dailies of the film online throughout production. “Most studios lock down their projects due to piracy issues and just add some behind-the-scenes information on the DVD. We were showing the making-of in the making,” says Adler. This revolutionary revelation was well received: The site was getting a half-million visitors a month. Yet, as Adler discovered, there is such a thing as too much information. When some of the film’s artists were being lured away by big studios impressed by the work they had posted, Adler had everyone use fake names based on Victorian parlance—for instance, Adler’s moniker became Sublime Patron of Dreams, and Grubb’s, Master Artisan of Kinematic Wonders. When the movie debuts, the end credits will connect the artists with their “stage” names. “A lot of them had a big following,” notes Adler.
As far as the film itself goes, Fathom was determined to make something different, to distinguish itself. For instance, the movie is an action-adventure set in a fantasy world, the characters are not human, nor are they cute, furry animals. And, the color palette is darker, with pure blacks for shadows. “When we started, there was a formula in Hollywood: Take a known story, add talking animals, and make it a comedy. Delgo has none of that,” says Adler. Risky? Absolutely. But it was a gamble he was willing to take. “I just don’t see the point of doing the same thing that everyone else is doing. The film is different, and it feels different.”
“We wanted to create something that we would have enjoyed when we were kids. The Secret of NIMH, The Dark Crystal, The NeverEnding Story, those are movies that had an impact on our childhood,” says Grubb. They also looked for something that had mass appeal—a universal story albeit shown in a unique way. “This is our first film, not just as a studio, but also as individuals, and we came in with a clean slate.” Hopefully audiences will find this approach refreshing.