The Case of Your Name (2016)

In the summer of 2016, writer and director Makoto Shinkai introduced the world to one of the most beloved anime films of the decade. With several beautiful and successful films under his belt, the animator was already a well-known voice in animation. However, this film would surpass them all commercially, becoming one of the highest-grossing anime films of all time. 

That film was called Your Name. It’s a visual masterpiece from start to finish. It’s a heartfelt love story that will reach any generation. Its unique storyline draws in audiences, as relatable characters face experiences both inherently strange–and somehow–completely familiar, against a backdrop of breathtaking photorealistic animation. 

So, come travel with us to Tokyo, or to the small town of Itomori, and we will try our best to remember Your Name


  • Taki and Mitsuha have never met. One of them lives in the thriving city of Tokyo, while the other resides in a tiny mountain town that doesn’t even have a cafe. Despite their distance, these two teenagers seem to have something in common: on random days of the week, they wake up in each others’ bodies! Because of this strange experience, Taki and Mitsuha form an intense bond. And when they attempt to meet each other in person, their relationship becomes even more complicated. 


  • Makoto Shinkai is an animator, writer, and director. He is one of the most well-known creators of modern anime, having written and directed Your Name along with other incredible films.
    • But when Shinkai began making films, reaching audiences across the world wasn’t his intention. In fact, when he made one of his earliest films, Voices From a Distant Star, he only intended for a few people to see it. He never anticipated creating a film that would be viewed in different countries. Because of this, he believes (rather humbly) that anyone can make a successful animated movie.
    • Shinkai released his first short film in 1998, which showcased his unique art style and talent for visual storytelling. Ever since, Shinkai has incorporated a high level of realism in his films, which includes his use of photorealistic backdrops. This Anime style resonates with audiences because it places the characters firmly in real-world surroundings; places that they live in and see every day.   
    • With the exception of a couple of his films like, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Makoto Shinkai tends to work in Low Science Fiction and Fantasy. This means that his films are grounded in reality, but feature supernatural and fantastical elements.  
  • Shinkai developed the story for Your Name while trying to meet a deadline to pitch a film to Toho, the legendary Japanese studio. During an interview, he explained that he creates stories for adolescents that are similar to the way he was as a younger person. This is how he approached the story for Your Name, even though the film didn’t pull from any specific experience from Shinkai’s teenage years. 
  • Shinkai drew inspiration from a commercial that he animated in 2013, just before he began working on the screenplay for Your Name. The ad was for a test prep company called Z-Kai. It was two minutes long, and centered around two teenagers: a boy in Tokyo and a girl on an island far from Tokyo. The pair had never met but they both were working toward college entrance exams. Shinkai said “And I thought this story about two people who live in different places but may someday meet could be made into a longer film.” The commercial was called “Cross Road.” Here’s a link to it with english subtitles so you can see it!
  • It took him about two weeks to develop the story pitch, which was eventually accepted (as you know, or else we wouldn’t be talking about it!) His idea from the first draft was to create a complex story about the connection between people that have never met. Shinkai himself believes people that know each other solely online can be just as close–if not closer–as people that know each other in “real life.” 
  • Most of Shinkai’s work up until this point was more melancholic, and even though he did not intentionally make Your Name more upbeat and comedic, it turned out that way due to the nature of the story. 
    • Throughout the writing process, Shinkai had several influences. Most notably, the short story called, “The Safe-Deposit Box” by Australian writer Greg Egan. Another inspiration was a short story by Haruki Murakami called “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning.” 
    • In terms of directing, Shinkai credits the popular American TV series Breaking Bad as one of his influences as well. While working on production, he would watch the show on repeat, because he was taken with the artistic style. Breaking Bad is known for its use of classic creative devices in visual storytelling and unique angles, and it’s not a huge stretch to see how that may have affected the framing and imagery in Your Name. 
  • Lighting
    • Lighting is an incredibly important part of Shinkai’s animation, and he goes back to add lighting effects to every frame when needed. The light and background imagery reflect the emotions of the characters and what’s happening in the story. 
    • This is just one of the many visual themes throughout Your Name. Another frequent visual metaphor is the use of lines in the film. There is often a line that separates the screen, whether that line is the path of a sliding door, or the railing of a staircase. Shinkai also uses the same device to connect the main characters. While they are clearly separated, the imagery of the red chord holds them together. 
    • Shinkai expertly utilizes other creative devices like framing, leading lines, negative space, and depth of field. When the film shows the up-close and intricate weavings of the chord, the animation simulates the line of focus from a camera, even though the film is animated.  
  • Matt Alt in The New Yorker praised the film’s success and said, “Although it was produced entirely on computers, like nearly all modern anime, Shinkai and his team seem to have synthesized the best parts of both worlds: the characters emote with a warmth reminiscent of traditional hand-drawn animation.” Throughout the article he discusses how the film shows the mundane in an exquisite way. As you look at the images behind the characters you see that they are so well designed that they seem to be romanticized.  
  • Makoto Shinkai credits his team of animators for making the film the success that it was. In order to clue in the audience as to what’s happening, the body-switching aspect of the film had to be obvious. When Mitsuha is in Taki’s body, we can see that his posture and actions are different. His pupils were animated to be larger, and his shoulders were more narrow. Even if the audience doesn’t realize these physical differences, it still helps them understand when the characters are in each other’s bodies and when they are not. 
  • Shinkai and his team spent about two years creating Your Name. As a director, he felt like the most difficult part of his job was communicating with the animators. He has to look at the film as a composite, but the animators each have their own pieces that they created. Piecing it all together and deciding what will be cut can be very challenging. His favorite part, however, was intertwining the animation with the film’s score. 


  • Music is an essential part of Shinkai’s animation process. Some fans describe his style as the “rhythm of sound.” He uses music as a base for the movement and speech of his characters. There are four theme songs in Your Name, setting a certain tempo for the film that even the characters’ monologues seem to follow. 
  • The music for the film was composed by the Japanese rock group, Radwimps. They also recorded English versions of every song in the film for the English dub! 
  • Yusuke, their bass guitarist explained in a Forbes article, “Makoto Shinkai was a fan of RADWIMPS so he recommended us as soon as the production of movie Your Name was confirmed. It’s such an honor.”
  • It took about a year and a half to finish the score. Shinkai listened to the music over and over, storyboarding ideas for the film. When the music didn’t fit the story, the Radwimps would make changes to the songs. The band didn’t see the animation until the film was in its final stages. 
  • Yojiro, their guitarist, in the Forbes article said of writing the music for the film, “We talked with the director and the producer more times than I can even remember. The songwriting process was moving forward at the same time with the animation so it influenced each other. The music changed the story, the lines, and if the new scene was created, we changed the music. It was a creative process. The two main characters were very attractive. So I concentrated on them. How and when their feelings moved. We weren’t able to see the actual animation until it was all finished so we focused on the script and director’s words. And just kept imagining.”


  • The comet in the movie that hits the town of  Itomori was named Tiamat. Tiamat has a mythological background. The ancient Mesopotamian goddess was known for chaos which fits the role of a comet perfectly. 
  • The town, which is fictional, is named Itomori. In Japanese “ito” means thread and “mori” means forest. 
  • The names of Mitsuha and her family all connect. Her grandmother’s name means “leaf one,” Mitsuha means “leaf three,” and her sister’s name means “leaf four.”
  • The film was so popular that a light novelization of the movie was released the same year by Shinkai. 
  • Makoto Shinkai used metaphors and foreshadowing throughout the film. In one scene, Mistuha’s teacher is giving a lesson about Twilight and “Magic Hour.” This represents Taki and Mitsuha and how they, just like the day and the night, will never meet, except during twilight. Later in the film, Taki and Mitsuha manage to see each other for a few brief moments, as the day becomes night. The teacher in this scene is actually a character from Shinkai’s 2013 film The Garden of Words. 
  • Shinkai also included other characters from The Garden of Words into Your Name. Also, Mitsuha and Taki make short appearances as adults in Shinkai’s recent movie titled Weathering with You.


  • Best Original Score at the Asian Film Critics Awards, Best Music Score and Most Popular Film from Awards of the Japanese Academy, Some Behind the Voice Actors Awards for Best Female Vocal Performances and Vocal Ensemble in an Anime feature film, A Blue Ribbon Award, Crunchyroll Anime Award for Best Film, and more.


  • Shinkai, when asked how he felt the movie was received in the west compared to Japan, expressed that he could not know for certain. He pointed out the fact that even though the film had been translated for English-speaking audiences, there was still a language barrier. He gave an example saying that in Japanese there are different pronouns that girls and boys use. Boys will use “ore” or “boku” and girls will use “watashi.” This can be identified in the scene when Mitsuha is having lunch with Taki’s friends and has to keep correcting how she refers to herself. In English, it doesn’t sound like Mitsuha (as Taki) is misgendering themself. But in Japanese, the correction needs to be made, or Taki’s friends would be confused. 
    • Because of the body switching aspect of the film, audiences noticed the theme of gender tropes, stereotypes, and identity. When Taki and Mitsuha switch places, the physical difficulty of being in the body of the opposit sex is only brought up early on. They generally settle into each other’s bodies fairly quickly, which gives off the impression that their gender is more fluid than binary. But, the people around them comment on the noticeable difference. Taki’s friend thinks he’s acting “cute” and his coworker develops a crush on him after noticing his “feminine side.” 
  • Like the films of Studio Ghibli, Your Name also made a major impact on western audiences. The film introduced a whole new group of people to anime, and opened the door for it to become more accessible in western countries. 
  • Due to Shinkai’s photorealistic animation style, the locations in Your Name essentially became viral, with fans from all over the world visiting the iconic steps where the couple meets at the end of the film. On those steps there is a map to other locations featured in the movie! 
  • At an estimated budget of just under 3 million dollars, according to IMDB, the film made an impressive 358 million dollars worldwide! It’s one of the most successful Japanese films of all time. 
  • The film was so popular that J J Abrams and Marc Webb are making a live-action English-language adaptation of the story. 

Your Name is one of the most beautiful films we have ever seen. Every frame of animation matches the complex beauty of an intricate love story. From start to finish, Makoto Shinkai takes the audience on an incredible journey with a story that is equally unique and fascinating. But, the film doesn’t just succeed in its fantastical elements. It portrays the relationship between two adolescents and how they each help each other grow and become better versions of themselves. Taki and Mitsuha’s relationship begins with an annoyance that evolves into respect. That respect matures into friendship, and eventually, love. 

Whether you are a fan of anime or not, Your Name is definitely worth a watch. It’s a film that resonates with everyone who has ever felt an unending and unbreakable connection to another person. One thing is certain: it’s the kind of movie that you will never forget. 


The Case of Our Studio Ghibli Top 10 (Part 2)

Well, last week we outlined the first half of our Top 10 Studio Ghibli movies! This week, AniMAY continues with the second half, as we count down our top five choices for our favorite Studio G movies. So, let’s just jump right into it with number five!


  • Summary
    • A young woman named Sophie is cursed to age prematurely by the evil Witch of the Waste. Now in the body of an old woman, she is unable to tell anyone what happened, and she must leave her job in her mother’s hat shop. Sophie goes into the waste and finds the gigantic walking castle of the young and beautiful wizard, Howl. After hopping on board, she meets Calcifer, the fire demon who powers the castle and who is bound to Howl. Sophie agrees to help Calcifer break free of Howl as long as he promises to lift her curse as well. When Howl discovers Sophie, he can see through the Witch’s spell. The two of them fall in love and together confront his former teacher about trying to steal away his magic.
  • Making of
    • Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones. Like many other Studio Ghibli films, Miyazaki also wrote the screenplay. Originally, Miyazaki was not planning on directing the movie, but the original director, Mamoru Hosoda, left the project early on. Hosoda is another talented director who went on to helm the animated film Mirai
    • Howl’s Moving Castle is known to be one of the most beautiful Ghibli films ever made, with artwork that mirrors the intricate illustrations of a book. The complex and disorganized castle was meant to represent Howl himself. 
    • After the major success of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, American actors were thrilled to sign on for the English dub of Howl’s Moving Castle. The Disney producers and directors (including Pete Doctor of PIXAR fame) watched the film in Japanese to get an understanding of how Miyazaki directed the characters. 
      • Cindy and Don Hewitt adapted the Japanese script, making the dialogue feel more conversational to American audiences.
      • The actors then watched the animation while delivering their lines to see how much time they had to get the words out before the character stopped talking. This was a challenge because the length of sentences could vary from one language to another.  
    • Christian Bale lent his Batman-like voice to Howl, which he would have been working on around the same time as this film. He actually volunteered to play any role in the film that they would like, and they chose him to play the title character.
    • In the original Japanese version, the same woman, Chieko Baishô, played both young and old Sophie. In the English dub, Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons play the two versions of the same character. 
  • Music
    • Joe Hisaishi once again composed a fantastic and memorable score for Howl’s Moving Castle. The film’s music is one of the reasons that this is one of the most beloved Ghibli films. The stand-out theme is called “Merry-go-Round of Life” which captures the magic of the film and the feeling of falling in love. 


  • Summary
    • Kiki, a teenage witch-in-training, has reached the age of 13. According to tradition, all witches of that age must leave home for one year, so that they can learn how to live on their own. Kiki, along with her talking cat Jiji, flies away to live in the seaside town of Koriko. After starting her own delivery service (using her broom as the delivery vehicle) Kiki must learn how to deal with her new life, especially after she loses the power to fly.
  • Making of
    • This film was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and it was adapted from a children’s novel of the same name written by Eiko Kadono and published in 1985.
      • Miyazaki was originally not set to direct but when production was falling apart he had to step in and take over as director.
    • Miyazaki intentionally made the time period vague. An example of this vagueness is when you see a black and white tv but also a biplane flying in the same scene. 
      • He dreamed of a world where World War II did not happen and what the ’50s would have been like with that timeline. He combined elements from several cities to make a conglomerate for Kiki. He used Ireland, Stockholm, San Francisco, Paris, and somewhere in Italy. Although Miyazaki did not personally visit these places he had his team go, especially to the major influence for Kiki’s town which was Visby in Sweden. He had only been there once but he wanted his team of artists to see it for themselves and make their own memories. 
        • The European audience could tell right away it was a mixture but the Japanese audience thought it was just a town in Europe. He enjoyed tricking them a little. 
    • The most challenging scenes were when Kiki was on a broomstick flying. The trickiest part was making it look like a natural action.
      • Miyazaki considered the fact that if you were to ride a broomstick it would hurt after a while (just think about how much even a bike does lol.) In order to circumvent this, he came up with the idea of the broomstick flying and Kiki floating with it. 
    • When asked about why Jiji could not speak at the end, Miyazaki said “Sometimes we become speechless. When we’re together at the end, there’s nothing to say.” His actions seemed to be more important than what he said. The simple fact that Jiji was there in the end for Kiki was enough. Kiki’s powers increased and she became who she was meant to be. Miyazaki said that “When you gain, you also lose.”
    • At the end of the film Miyazaki wanted to continue the story instead of merely having credits roll. He wanted the audience to see that Kiki was happy. He considered it almost like a little mini sequel. In Japan most people will politely sit through the credits but Miyazaki is aware that it is not customary everywhere. He therefore wanted to entertain the audience that stayed. 
    • There are actually two dubs for the film, and the first non-Disney dubbing is considered to be a more accurate translation of the original film. The Disney dub was done almost 10 years later with Phil Hartman as the voice of Jiji. Unfortunately, Hartman died before the dubbed version was released and it is dedicated in his honor. 
  • Music
    • Joe Hisaishi wrote the upbeat score for the film, giving it a signature Ghibli sound. 
  • Miyazaki said that Kiki’s Delivery Service was the first “hit” that Studio Ghibli had as every single age group went to see it. It was their first box office success. The movie cost just over 6 million dollars and made just over 10 million dollars.


  • Summary
    • Satsuki and her younger sister, Mei, settle into an old country house with their father and wait for their mother to recover from an illness in the local hospital. As the sisters explore their new home, they come across and make friends with many playful spirits in the nearby forest; most notably the massive cuddly creature, Totoro.
    • The film’s title character became a trademark for Studio Ghibli, and the film is regarded as one of the most-loved children’s films of all time.
  • Making of
    • This film was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
    • Kazuo Oga was responsible for the beautiful background art.
    • My Neighbor Totoro started way back in the 1970s while Hayao Miyazaki was working at Telecom Animation. He drew early image boards of a 5-year-old girl who had a similar design to Mei, but the personality of Satsuki. Totoro was originally intended to be published as a children’s picture book, but as proposals for the film slowly developed, the main character was changed to be two sisters.
    • This also meant expanding the runtime of the story to meet feature-length. 
      • Miyazaki knew what he wanted to achieve: a warm story, offering young audiences a film with no conflict or confrontation. 
    • After the release of Castle in the Sky, Miyazaki submitted his proposal for Totoro to Tokuma Shoten (Studio Ghibli’s parent company at the time) in November 1986. However, its post-war setting, lighthearted subject matter, and 60-minute length led to its rejection. Because feature-length animated films were not yet box office hits in Japan, distributors did not believe in the story of two little girls and a monster in modern Japan. A worthwhile animated movie would need to be something more. 
    • But producer Toshio Suzuki was convinced of the allure of seeing Totoro animated on the big screen. He proposed a simultaneous release of Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies; however, the proposal was also rejected. Shinchôsha Publishing, who originally released the novel Grave of the Fireflies, then stepped in and decided to help produce Isao Takahata’s film adaptation. They knew that if a film is adapted from one of their novels, schools would likely see it for educational purposes. Then, this same audience would be able to attend the screening of a second film, included in the price of the ticket. Tokuma finally agreed, establishing a joint partnership. 
      • Thus, the only two-year-old Studio Ghibli, found itself managing and producing two films with seemingly no real commercial appeal at the same time, over a record period of only one year.
      • During a special retrospective program in July 2008, Toshio Suzuki recalls that Grave of the Fireflies was originally planned to be 60 minutes, but was extended to 90 minutes. Because of this, Suzuki then fought to extend Totoro to 80 minutes or longer.
    • Mei and the Kittenbus is a 13-minute sequel to My Neighbor Totoro, also directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is shown exclusively at the Saturn Theater at the Ghibli Museum. It centers around Mei and her misadventures with the Kittenbus. 
    • Miyazaki’s mother suffered from spinal tuberculosis when he was a child, and spent a lot of time in the hospital. The film is said to be semi-autobiographical in that sense, though it never reveals the mother’s condition. He allegedly said that the film would have been too difficult for him to make if the protagonists had been boys like him and his brother.
    • The name Totoro is very similar to the Japanese word for “troll.” In the original version, Mei mispronounces the word “Totoro” and that’s where the name comes from. 
    • Totoro is the name of the species, and the big gray Totoro is called, “Oh-Totoro,” The middle one is, “Chuu-Totoro” and the tiny one is “Chibi-Totoro” 
    • Music
      • For this film Joe Hisaishi kept it upbeat and lighthearted, adding synthesizers. It helped to create a sense of innocence.


  • Summary
    • While protecting his village from rampaging demon boar, Ashitaka is stricken by a deadly curse. To save his life, he must journey to the forests of the west. Once there, he gets tied up in a fierce campaign that humans were waging on the forest. The ambitious Lady Eboshi and her loyal clan use their guns against the gods of the forest and a brave young woman, Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf god. Ashitaka sees the good on both sides and tries to stop the bloodshed. 
  • Making of
    • This film was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, with an adapted English screenplay by Neil Gaiman. 
    • We talked about this film in our Studio Ghibli episode a while ago and one of our favorite stories is about when it was sent to America to release. 
      • When a certain convicted felonious film producer (Harvey Weinstein) obtained the rights to the film, he insisted on a cut version. Miyasaki refused and Studio Ghibli sent his office a Katana sword with the words, “no cuts” etched into the blade. The film was released in its entirety and when Miyasaki was later asked about it, he reportedly just smiled and said, “I defeated him.”  
    • Before our number one pick came onto the scene, Princess Mononke was their first wonderful dive into the Japanese myths and legends.
    • Before premiering the English dub at a film festival, Miyazaki was quoted saying,“With Princess Mononoke, I intentionally threw out all the rules of entertainment movie-making, which is why it will take some time for a true evaluation of this film to emerge. I hope you will enjoy all of the ridiculously long 2 hours and 13 minutes.”
    • Princess Monoke on an approximate budget of 19 million dollars made almost 170 million dollars worldwide. 
  • Music
    • Princess Mononoke is unlike many other Studio Ghibli films in that it has a much darker subject matter with intense visuals. Joe Hisaishi provided an intense score that matched the tone of the film. 


  • Summary
    • Young Chihiro and her parents are riding along during a family outing through the countryside when they stumble across a mysterious tunnel with a seemingly abandoned amusement park on the other side. Despite Chihiro’s hesitations and creepy feelings, her parents explore the area and eventually discover and indulge in an eatery filled with fresh food. As a result of their trespassing and taking of food, they are magically turned into pigs, which scares away Chihiro. She meets the enigmatic Haku, who explains to her that this land is actually a gathering place for spirits, a kind of holiday resort, where these beings seek comfort away from the earthly realm. He tells her that she must work here, as laziness is not permitted, to free both herself and her parents from the mystical land.
  • Making of
    • This film was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
    • Instead of writing scripts, Miyazaki likes to draw storyboards.
      • Because of this, no one knows how the films will be in the end, even Miyazaki himself…
      • Miyazaki commented on this and said, “This may sound ridiculous, but I’ve had staff tell me they have no idea what is going on in my films. When we were making Spirited Away, even I didn’t know.” (The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness) He then likens this lack of understanding to how people do not fully understand the world. “The World isn’t simple enough to understand in words.”
      • It began without a script. It was unstructured and an organic way for the process to begin.
    • The young Chihiro was inspired by Miyazaki’s friend’s 10 year old daughter. Every summer Miyazaki would take the summer off for a sabbatical and one summer (while on one of his many retirement stages) he took inspiration from the young apathetic girl and began on a film that would once again bring him back to the studio.
    • After reading young women’s magazines to get a better understanding of his target demographic, he was saddened by the fact that these manga magazines focused too heavily on love and romance.
    • The most well-known character in the film is probably no-face, the faceless spirit. This character borrows the design of a silkworm both in looks and actions.
    • Each character has meaning behind their name
      • Chihiro- a thousand searches 
      • Yubaba- bathhouse witch
      • Boh- baby or little boy
    • The cleansing of the earth spirit was based on a Miyazaki’s experience of  cleaning a river near his home. There was a bicycle with its wheel out of the water, and he thought it would be easy to pull out but the mud had caked on for years.
    • After winning the 2003 Oscar for Best Animated Film, Miyazaki did not attend the award ceremony. He could not bring himself to visit a country that was bombing Iraq. 
  • Music
    • Joe Hisaishi
    • Many people remember the piece called “One Summer’s Day” when Chihiro is riding in the car to her new home. It is memorable due to its beautiful piano sections that convey a sadness of moving away from a place that you loved. Here’s a link to Joe Hisaishi playing this piece on the piano.
  • Spirited Away was incredibly popular, and was responsible for introducing an entire generation of westerners to Anime. The high profile film convinced actors to lend their voices to English dubs, and even though Studio Ghibli had been making great films for several years, it seemed to become a household name to American audiences. 

Before we wrap up this episode, here are some honorable mentions!

Honorable Mentions:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Porco Rosso

Whisper of the Heart

The Cat Returns

Tales from Earthsea

Grave of the Fireflies

Studio Ghibli is one of the most magical animation studios in existence. Their imagery is breathtaking, and their stories are timeless. Ghibli films have something for every viewer, whether you’re looking for a sweet story full of magic and wonder, or an intense drama. So, if you’re not sure what to watch, pop in a Studio Ghibli film. You aniMAY find exactly what you need. 


Kiki’s Delivery Service

The Case of Our Studio Ghibli Top 10 (Part 1)

Well, Animation April is over, but that doesn’t mean that we have to stop talking about animation! This year, we decided to extend our animation discussion into the next month and celebrate aniMAY! 

A couple of years ago, we did an episode about the history of Studio Ghibli, the animation house responsible for some of the most charming animated films ever made. Back then, we promised to one day come back to the topic and make a list of our Top 10 Studio Ghibli movies! It was difficult because these films are absolutely beautiful and it’s nearly impossible to decide which ones we like the most. But, we did it anyway! 

So, strap in as we break down our favorite Studio Ghibli movies! *Because we have so much to say about these movies, this episode is just the first half of our list. Stay tuned for the second half releasing next week!* 

We’d like to start our episode with a quote from Hayao Miyazaki, the man synonymous with Studio Ghibli films: “Basically our foremost objective here is making good films. No guarantees of lifetime employment here. But companies are just conduits for money. Its success isn’t our priority. What’s important is that you’re doing what you want and that you’re gaining skills. If Ghibli ceases to appeal to you, then just quit. Because I’ll do the same.”

As we go through these movies, there are some names that you will hear us repeat a few times. One of them is the composer Joe Hisaishi. He began working with Hayao Miyazaki pretty much right from the beginning with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. A Pitchfork article by Brady Gerber states that many compare Hisaishi to John Williams as he has written the music for many well-known Anime films, including a few of the highest-grossing Japanese films. These include Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Ponyo

10. CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986)

  • Summary
    • Sheeta, a young orphan girl, is trying to escape two separate groups that are following her. Colonel Muska who had kidnapped her, and Dola and her sons who are after the magical crystal around her neck. As she goes to escape she is rescued by young Pazu who has a goal to find the mysterious floating city of Laputa. The pair seek Laputa together as Muska and Dola pursue them and the treasure rumored to be within.  
  • Making of
    • Both the story and screenplay were written by Hayao Miyazaki, who also directed!
    • In 1984, Hayao Miyazaki directed his first original feature film: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The film was produced by the studio Topcraft and created by the founding members of Studio Ghibli. The film received enough praise and financial success that Miyazaki was able to co-found Studio Ghibli just a year later. Because of this, some consider Nausicaa to be the first Ghibli film, while others believe Castle in the Sky was the first.
    • Miyazaki took the name of the floating castle kingdom ‘Laputa’ from “Gulliver’s Travels.”
      • He took a lot of inspiration from famous authors, including Jonathan Swift and Jules Verne. 
    • In 1984 Miyazaki visited Wales. During his visit, he was able to witness the dying industry of mining within a small village, and how this affected its people. He was inspired by the miner’s strike against the pit closures. 
      • The next biggest influence that Wales had on the film was the medieval castles. Caerphilly, Caernarfon, and Powis Castle are three such castles on which Laputa was based.  
    • The film was originally called, Laputa: Castle in the Sky. However, the name changed to simply Castle in the Sky because in Spanish “La Puta” means “the whore.” 
    • Different dubbed versions exist but now only one can really be found easily. Disney recorded the dub in 1998 with 90s powerhouse voices like James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Anna Paquin, and Mark Hamil. However, it was not released on DVD and video until 2003.
    • The entire film was made with over 69,000 hand-drawn frames!
  • Music
    • The music was composed by Joe Hisaishi. He even re-did the music in 1998 for the Disney dubbed version. 
    • In a 1999 interview with Keyboard Magazine Joe Hisaishi said,  “According to Disney’s staff, foreigners (non-Japanese) feel uncomfortable if there is no music for more than 3 minutes [laughs]. You see this in the Western movies, which have music throughout. Especially, it is the natural state for a (non-Japanese) animated film to have music all the time. However, in the original Laputa, there is only one-hour worth of music in the 2-hour 4 minute movie. There are parts that do not have any music for 7 to 8 minutes. So, we decided to redo the music as the existing soundtrack will not be suitable for the markets outside of Japan. If we just add new music, it won’t go well with the music made 14 years ago. So we completely re-recorded everything. Of course, we cannot demolish the melody of Laputa, so I changed the arrangement of it while keeping its integrity.
    • The main theme is beautiful and we will link to a performance here by West Winds, the Band of the Bukit Batok Community Club.

9. THE WIND RISES (2013)

  • Summary
    • Jiro dreams of flying and designing beautiful airplanes, inspired by the famous Italian designer Caproni. Nearsighted from a young age and unable to be a pilot, Jiro joins a major Japanese engineering company and becomes one of the world’s most innovative and accomplished airplane designers. The film chronicles much of his life, depicting key historical events, including the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, the tuberculosis epidemic, and Japan’s plunge into war.
  • Making of
    • Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
      • The Wind Rises was marketed as his last film but that has now changed as he has decided to come out of retirement for a film called “How Do You Live?” This storyboard took Miyazaki two years to complete.
      • Toshio Suzuki, Miyasaki’s longtime collaborator, also produced the film. Suzuki produced Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and more! 
    • The film is a combination of both fiction and non-fiction. It takes elements from a biopic about the real Japanese airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi and combines it with a few novels and stories.
      • These include the novel The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori. This is a romantic novel in which the main character meets a woman, falls in love, and then she passes away from tuberculosis.
      • Graveyard by the Sea is a poem written by Paul Valéry, which is featured in the film. It poses deep questions about life and death, with the later half of the poem including the line: “The wind is rising!… We must try to live!”
      • Finally, the film draws upon The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann and shows the physical, psychological, and moral growth of the protagonist.
        • Ben Sachs of the Chicago Reader commented on Miyazaki’s use of this source material saying, “During the sanatorium episode, Miyazaki introduces another fictional character, a pacifist German emigre called Castorp. He’s named after the hero of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, another tale about an effete man in a sanatorium who’s seduced by a life of abstract meditation; Mann’s hero falls so in love with a life of contemplation that, despite never being sick, he doesn’t leave the sanatorium for seven years. With this reference, Miyazaki implies that Horikoshi—and by extension, architects of killing machines everywhere—has fallen under a similar spell.”
      • Miyazaki in The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness says, “You know, people who design airplanes and machines… No matter how much they believe that what they do is good, the winds of time eventually turn them into tools of industrial civilization. It’s never unscathed. They’re cursed dreams. Animation too. Today, all of humanity’s dreams are cursed somehow. Beautiful yet cursed dreams.”  
      • Miyazaki struggles with the same kind of balance between fascination with these deadly machines and his anti-war stance. During World War II, his father owned a company that manufactured parts for warplanes named Miyazaki Airplane. Miyazaki believes strongly that Jiro Horikoshi was also non-militant, but was fascinated by the planes. So, the movie is anti-war. 
      • In the original storyboard, Nahoko calls out to Jiro at the end and says “come.” In the finished film, she instead tells him to “live.”
      • After the staff screening, Miyazaki thanked everyone and said (a little embarrassed) that this was the first time he cried at his own film. 
    • Music
      • The Wind Rises was another Miyasaki triumph, in part because of Joe Hisaishi’s intricate score that embodied the historical nature of the movie as well as its dream-like elements. 


  • Summary
    • In 1960s Japan, the country is focused on modernization and leaving behind the painful memory of WWII. For a group of students living in Yokohama, this means the demolishing of their beloved clubhouse during preparations for the 1964 Olympics. While fixing up the building in the hopes that it can be saved, two students, Umi and Shun, gradually grow more and more fond of each other. Even though their love gets stronger every day, a complicated trial keeps them from being together. Even so, they continue to work together without fleeing the difficulties of reality.
  • Making of
    • From Up on Poppy Hill is based on the 1980s shōjo manga of the same name by Tetsuo Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi, with Gorō Miyazaki directing. Gorō Miyazaki is the eldest son of Hayao Miyazaki and he made his directorial debut in the 2006 film Tales from Earthsea. 
      • Much like other Ghibli films, the film is a co-production of many companies with Studio Ghibli, including Walt Disney Japan, Mitsubishi Corporation, and Tōhō.
    • After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the film’s production was affected by rolling blackouts imposed after the disaster. The animators were even forced to work at night to minimize disruptions. However, Hayao Miyazaki assured the public that the film would still be released on July 16, 2011, as previously announced, saying that it was their responsibility to do so. Gorō Miyazaki stated that while most of the staff was not affected by the disaster, there were several who took some time to recover. 
    • For Poppy Hill, Gorō Miyazaki initially researched Yokohama, intending to be faithful to the city’s historical and real-life details. However, after realizing that recreating something of the time may seem real, but may not necessarily be beautiful. Miyazaki decided instead to show the location as “shimmering and bustling with life” from the viewpoint of the characters. 
      • In designing the Latin Quarter, Miyazaki worked with the art directors on the clutter in the house and the architecture of the building. He would think back to his college years and the clutter that he lived through.
    • Gorō explained in The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness that he did not start out wanting to be in animation and a director but loves to do it. If it were not for Studio Ghibli however he would not be in this line of work. He does it for the people there and for the studio. 
  • Music
    • The score for Up on Poppy Hill was provided by Satoshi Takebe. He is a musician and producer from Tokyo and he also composed the score for The Earwig and the Witch


  • Summary
    • Fourteen-year-old Arrietty and the rest of the Clock family live a peaceful life in secret from the outside world. They make their own home from items that they borrow from the houses of human beans. However, life changes dramatically for the Clocks when a visiting human boy discovers Arrietty and the existence of the little people.
  • Making of
    • The Secret World of Arrietty (or Arrietty the Borrower as it’s known in Japan) is based on the novel The Borrowers by the British writer Mary Norton. The novel won the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature in 1953 and had already been adapted into two films and a TV series by the time. However, Studio Ghibli founders Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki had been contemplating making an adaptation of this novel for the past 50 years. 
    • Ghibli announced the film in late 2009 with Hiromasa Yonebayashi making his directorial debut as the youngest director of a Ghibli film. He had been a long-time animator at Studio Ghibli and worked on films like Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, and Spirited Away, and he was also the reserve director for the film Tales from Earthsea.
    • Toshio Suzuki, one of the co-writers for the film, confessed that Miyazaki wrote the initial screenplay without even re-reading the novel and he relied only on his memories of reading it long ago. According to him, Miyazaki has a ‘good memory’ but he nevertheless often makes mistakes and reinterprets things or gives importance to unnecessary details. For example, if there is a garden in the book, as there is in The Borrowers, he will instantly love it. 
      • He explains, “He really loves gardens. And those that are abandoned have even more of his favors. So much so that he first made a plan of the garden before even starting on Arrietty’s screenplay.”
    • Niya the cat looks an awful lot like the Studio Ghibli cat seen in the documentary Kingdom of Dreams and Madness named Ushiko…
    • The English dub of the film included a lot of big names, like Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, and Carol Burnett. 
  • Music
    • French harpist and composer Cécile Corbel provided the light and fantastical score for Arietty. 
    • Bridgit Mendler, who plays Arietty in the English dub, also sang the song Summertime for the soundtrack. 

6. PONYO (2008)

  • Summary
    • Five-year-old Sosuke finds a little goldfish and brings it home with him, naming it Ponyo. Unbeknownst to him, Ponyo is the daughter of the Queen of the Sea, and her father is desperate to bring her home. Sosuke loses Ponyo when her father brings her back to the ocean kingdom and forbids her to interact with the human world. Ponyo cannot let go and yearns to be a part of the surface world. 
  • Making of
    • Hayao Miyazaki directed Ponyo, and he wrote the screenplay as well. Writer Melissa Matheson (the screenwriter behind ET) wrote the English version of the film. 
    • The Japanese title for the film is “Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea.”
    • The biggest influence has been revealed as The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson. 
      • Another influence that has been hypothesized is its similarities to Richard Wagner’s 4 part German opera called Ring Cycle
        • This opera contains one of the most used pieces of classical music in film and TV, The Ride of the Valkyries. In Ponyo, the title character rides a sea of fish during a Tsunami, which brings up similar imagery.
        • One of the characters in Ring Cycle is Brunhilde and in Ponyo, it is revealed that this was the name given to her by her father before Sosuke changed it. 
    • In order for the film to have more of a warmth to it, pencil animators used pencil. Miyazaki even wanted the pencil marks to be seen. In an interview with News Zero Miyazaki said, “You see, when trying to create a realistic film, to create a world with that level of detail, we have tried so many things, even 3D computer graphics. But the more precision we pursued, the more stressed our work became over unimportant details, and the more we felt like we were losing something.” Using computer graphics did not make him happy. 
    • The art director chosen for the film was Noboru Yoshida. He was specifically brought in by Miyazaki because Noboru had impressed him in Spirited Away with the Demon Room that he had been in charge of creating.
      • In this film, there are no perfectly straight lines. Everything has a curve to it to bring warmth and friendliness. Animators also achieved this by using crayons instead of paints.
      • There were 1,139 backgrounds for the film!
    • Animation is the perfect medium for change and metamorphosis. This is clearly shown within the film as Ponyo changes from a goldfish to a girl seamlessly from frame to frame. 
    • Even though we live in a world where water distorts color, Miyazaki chose to not change the color of Ponyo very much between above and below water because he believes goldfish are more beautiful in the water.
    • Miyazaki on the red carpet discussed how the little boy is actually the main character and not Ponyo. 
    • A real baby was used for the sound effects of the baby that Ponyo and Sosuke come across!
    • In order to get the underwater audio, especially near the end when many of the humans are underwater, a vase was used. They placed a speaker with the recordings at the top of the vase and recorded the new audio that resulted in the reverberations from inside the vase.
  • Music
    • The music was done, once again, by Joe Hisaishi. 
    • A loud orchestral soundtrack is used in this film, a little different than many of the other films listed. This reflects the violent nature of the Tsunami that engulfs the area once Ponyo breaks free and flees to the surface. 

In the United States, Japanese anime sits on the edge of mainstream media. But even if some Americans are unfamiliar with most anime, Studio Ghibli has managed to bridge the cultural barrier. There are people all over America and in other western countries that have embraced anime and its incredible storytelling and breathtaking visuals because Studio Ghibli introduced them to a style of animation that they otherwise may have not explored. 

This is just the first half of our Top 10 list, and every one of these films is fantastic in its own way. So, come join us next week when we attempt the impossible task of listing our top 5 favorite films from Studio Ghibli! 


The Case of Blue Sky

Every year during Animation April, we like to highlight the work of a different animation studio. Last year, we talked about the short-lived Amblimation, Steven Spielberg’s defunct animation studio that pre-dated Dreamworks. This year, we’re covering another defunct studio that was responsible for several animation classics over the course of 20 years. 

If you aren’t an animation or movie nerd, you might not recognize the name Blue Sky Studios right away. But animation superfan or not, you will likely remember their first major motion picture: Ice Age. But, even before Manny the Mammoth and Sid the Sloth took the world by storm, Blue Sky had been producing quality computer animation since its founding in 1987, just one year after PIXAR. 

Today, we will tell you the tale of Blue Sky, an underrated studio that told quirky stories about odd and memorable characters, while being bold enough to experiment with different animation styles until its swift and untimely end. So gather up your acorns, your peanuts, or whatever your favorite snack might be, it’s time to learn about Blue Sky Studios!


  • Blue Sky’s story begins with the earliest experiments in CGI. In the mid-1960s, Dr. Philip Mittelman founded Mathematics Applications Group Inc, or MAGI for short. The company actually employed physicists, for the purpose of studying radiation for the US government. The company developed software that was meant to trace radiation from its source to its surroundings. It wasn’t long before they used the software, called SynthaVision, to trace light instead. SynthaVision was one of the first systems that used ray tracing to create and animate images with a computer. By 1972, MAGI had a graphics division which is credited for creating the first CGI commercial for IBM. 
  • In the late 1970s, Chris Wedge joined the team at MAGI as they landed a major project with Disney to use computer animation for sequences in the film TRON. MAGI also performed a CG animation test for Disney based on the Maurice Sendak book, Where the Wild Things Are. It combined 2D character animation with 3D scenes. The test was actually supervised by animator John Lasseter. We will link to the test so you can watch it for yourself!
  • In the mid-1980s, MAGI was sold and its personnel scattered to the winds. While attending the Ohio State University, Chris Wedge produced a  student film called Tuber’s Two-Step, which we will link to in the blog: 
    • The short represents a turning point in animation and was a preview of the work he would do in the next few years. 
  • Two years later in 1987, Chris Wedge, Carl Ludwig, Eugene Troubetzkoy, Alison Brown, Michael Ferraro, and David Brown got together and formed their own Computer Animation company, Blue Sky Studios.
    • Each member of the team brought something unique to the table, and for the next few years, the company produced commercials and provided special effects for major motion pictures. 
      • As the company’s creative director, Chris Wedge was partly responsible for the aesthetic of Blue Sky’s work. The other two people that shaped the unique style of animation at Blue Sky were Eugene Troubetzkoy, a theoretical physicist, and Carl Ludwig, a former NASA engineer. Together, these men created the software and renderer employed by Blue Sky Studios.
      • Troubetzkoy used his knowledge of physics to become an innovator in animation. He and Carl Ludwig developed algorithms and wrote over 50,000 lines of code to mimic the way objects appear in several different lighting conditions. 
      • In a 1997 article for Animation World Magazine, writer Susan Ohmer explains that Blue Sky started each graphics project by shooting a reference object, like a small white sphere, in a similar lighting condition to the one that will appear in the film. Then, the research team would combine the information about light conditions with the texture and properties of the object’s surface. This showed the animators how the surface would look in a specific light. Then, the team’s software would use ray tracing, which was the process of modeling the surface texture onto an animated object. 
    • Dulcolax was Blue Sky’s first big client, using their CGI techniques in commercials for laxatives (no, it’s not as gross as it sounds). Over the next several years, the company produced hundreds of commercials for brands like M&M’s, Texaco, and Chrysler. They even created some of Nickelodeon’s most famous ad bumpers featuring CG orange blobs that took various shapes. 
      • Judges for a computer animation contest once rejected an entry from Blue Sky. The ad was for Braun’s Electric Razor. It was so photorealistic that judges believed they were watching a live-action razor with perfectly fluid movements, so Blue Sky was disqualified. 
      • As PIXAR announced that they were retiring from commercials and focusing solely on feature films, they personally recommended Blue Sky to take over one of their commercials, proving that it was a studio that could go toe to toe with the biggest name in computer animation. 
    • By the mid-1990s, Blue Sky was providing special effects for films, most famously the feature-length version of the MTV short “Joe’s Apartment.” This movie was based on a short following a bachelor in his 20s that lived in a dilapidated apartment with thousands of roaches. While the film used puppets and stop motion for a lot of the scenes, Blue Sky animated portions that would have been too difficult to do with practical effects. 
  • Blue Sky continued to grow throughout the 1990s, moving closer to creating full-length animated films. The company liked giving animators the option to work on both short and full-length features because they could focus on something different when the same characters and stories became monotonous. In 1997, 20th Century Fox’s visual effects studio, VIFX, acquired Blue Sky. The blended company produced visual effects for films like Armageddon and Titanic. 
  • In November of 1998, Blue Sky earned an Oscar nomination for “Bunny,” an animated short about a widowed bunny dealing with an annoying moth. This was the first Oscar nomination for the studio and it added to its status as a new and interesting voice in animation
  • In 1999, VIFX was sold to Rhythm & Hues Studios, allowing Blue Sky (now owned by 20th Century Fox) to focus solely on producing animation. In three years, they would release their first full-length computer-animated movie: Ice Age. 


  • Ice Age Movies (5) (2002-2016)
    • Ice Age, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, IceAge: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Ice Age: Collision Course
    • Synopsis
      • This series of movies begins with a Wooly Mammoth named Manfred, a sloth named Sid, and a saber-toothed tiger named Diego. The unlikely pair must try to return a human baby to his family while the glaciers begin to melt.
    • Production of the First Ice Age Movie
      • Ice Age was originally pitched to 20th Century Fox in 1997 by producer Lori Forte and was envisioned to be a traditionally animated movie. It was also intended to be developed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman’s Fox Animation Studios. With Don Bluth filing for bankruptcy around the same time, Blue Sky Studios, a small visual effects studio, was bought out by Fox and reshaped into a full-fledged CG animation film studio. In light of this, Fox Animation head Chris Meledandri and executive producer Steve Bannerman approached Forte with the proposition of developing the film as a computer-animated movie, which Forte realized was “basically a no-brainer,” according to her.
      • The story began development in 1999, and official production on the film began in 2000. Just one week after the closure of Fox Animation Studios. 150 employees were hired to work on the film with a budget of $58 million.
      • Fox Animation head Chris Meledandri, who helped Blue Sky get their start, would go on to found Illumination which made Despicable Me which is another multi-billion dollar franchise. 
    • Major Cast Members Include
      • Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Chris Wedge (As Scrat), Jane Krakowski, Dennis Leary, Alan Tudyk, and many more
    • Our Thoughts and Reception
      • Ice Age made 383.2 million at the box office worldwide and was a huge movie in our childhood. All the sequels made even more too!
  • Robots (2005)
    • Synopsis
      • Rodney Copperbottom, a young robot in a world populated by machines, wants to make a name for himself. He decides the best way to accomplish this is to travel to the famous Robot City. There he meets his idol, the head of a powerful corporation, Bigweld. When he arrives he discovers that it has been taken over by a new president that leaves old robots in the dust. Along with some new friends, Rodney must rally Bigweld to take back his own company.
    • Production
      • Writers and animators, Chris Wedge and William Joyce decided to develop an original story about a world of robots. In 2001, the duo pitched the concept to then-20th Century Fox. While not initially impressed, president Chris Meledandri agreed to greenlight the film and served as the executive producer. The film began production in 2002, shortly after Ice Age was released.
      • As Blue Sky’s second full-length feature, Robots continued the tradition of hiring big-name actors to fill out the cast. Partly because Ewan McGregor was part of the project, Blue Sky secured exclusive rights to the Star Wars Episode III trailer. Star Wars fans came to see Robots just for the trailer! 
      • It grossed 260 million dollars at the box office, making well over its 75 million dollar budget 
    • Major Cast Members Include
      • Chris Wedge, Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, Mel Brooks, Jennifer Coolidge, Amanda Bynes, and many more
    • Our Thoughts
  • Horton Hears a Who! (2008)
    • Synopsis
      • Based on the Dr. Suess book of the same name, this film follows a friendly elephant named Horton that enjoys living life while teaching the animal children. But when he hears a voice coming from a tiny speck of dust, he discovers that it is actually inhabited by a race of creatures called “The Whos.” Promising the mayor of “Whoville ” to keep the speck safe, Horton must watch out for the other animals of the jungle who are convinced that Horton is crazy and a threat to the safety of the children.
    • Major Cast Members Include
      • Jim Carrey, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Carol Burnett, Jonah Hill, Amy Poehler, Isla Fisher, and more!
    • Our Thoughts and Reception
      • Currently, the movie has a 6.8 on IMDB, 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 71% on Metacritic. 
  • Rio 1 & 2 (2011, 2014) 
    • Synopsis
      • Blu is a blue macaw that was taken from Rio as a young bird. After dropping off the truck and being raised by Linda he is taken to meet a female macaw because he is said to be the last male of his species. After meeting the female named Jewel they are both stolen to be sold at a high price. On the way home to Linda, he discovers what it is like to be a bird in Rio. 
    • Production
      • Director Carlos Saldanha developed his first story concept of Rio in 1995, in which a penguin is washed up on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Then Saldanha learned of the production of the films Happy Feet (2006) and Surf’s Up (2007), and changed the concept to involve macaws and their environments in Rio. He proposed his idea to Chris Wedge in 2006, and the project was set up at Blue Sky. Being a Brazilian from Rio, Saldanha showed the animators maps and books with geographic landmarks and measurements, in order to build a fully digital version of Rio. Later, a group of artists from the company visited Rio to see the various story locations.
    • Major Cast Members Include
      • Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, Leslie Mann, and more
    • Our Thoughts and Reception
      • Rio was a pretty popular movie that was one of the few Blue Sky films that received a sequel. 
  • Epic (2013)
    • Synopsis
      • Teenage Mary Katherine comes to live with her father, who tells her tales of tiny people living in the woods. After repeatedly not believing him suddenly finds herself within their magical realm where she must help to save their Queen from the evil Mandrake and his minions, the Boggans. 
    • Major Cast Members Include
      • Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Beyonce, Colin Farrell, Steven Tyler, and more
    • Reception
      • Epic was also received well, making its budget back. It is reminiscent of movies such as Thumbelina and especially Ferngully. The music was lovely because it was by Danny Elfman. 
  • The Peanuts Movie
    • Synopsis
      • Charlie Brown begins crushing on a little redheaded girl that moves into his neighborhood. His beagle pal, Snoopy, takes off on an imaginary adventure where he faces off against the Red Baron in World War I while simultaneously trying to woo a neighborhood poodle named Fifi.  
    • Production
      • After Charles Schultz passed away several people and studios approached the family for rights to create a Peanuts movie. The family was quite adamant about not tainting the legacy that Charles had built through the years. After a couple of years, Charles’s son Craig was contacted by John Cohen. Cohen at the time was with Fox Animation and had worked with Blue Sky to create a short CG film of the beloved characters. Although a lot of the family did not like the look of the characters Craig saw potential in the backgrounds that Blue Sky had animated. During this time Craig had been working on a Peanuts TV movie. Once he showed it to his son and his fellow screenwriter they all decided that it would be better suited for a theatrical release. Once the three of them had a screenplay they were confident of they took it immediately to Blue Sky instead of searching for a studio. 
        • Since Cohen had left Fox Animation by the time the screenplay was done Craig Schultz had to make a deal that would give him creative control of the project. He and the family would fight tooth and nail to keep things that were essential to keeping the aesthetic of the original. One detail Craig had to fight against was modernizing the story. He made sure that it was set in the original timeline with rotary phones and Lucy’s nickel fee for therapy. When he speaks of fighting for the character voices Craig said, “We were told that you have to have celebrity voices, you have to have hip-hop music — you have to have this stuff to reach the new generation, but we kept fighting back to say if you have a good story with heart and emotion, people will love it. And I think that’s been proven.”
    • Major Cast Members Include
      • Kristin Chenoweth, Noah Schnapp, and many other young actors that are growing in their careers
    • Our Thoughts and Reception
      • We love the Peanuts Movie (we could literally go on about it.) The Hollywood Reporter noted that the film was a “thoroughly engaging result, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the first airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas, should deservedly carry its good cheer well into the holiday season.”
  • Ferdinand (2017)
    • Synopsis
      • Young bull Ferdinand runs away from a Bullfighting Training camp. He finds his way to a kind girl and her farm. He is raised by this kind soul with flowers and no violence. When he is grown a misunderstanding leads him back to the camp where he is scheduled to go up against El Primero, who is the most famous bullfighter around. 
    • Production
      • Ferdinand was the first main character that did not have fur. The team had to create a material for his body that would imitate short hair. It was a balancing act between making sure that he was not too shiny and waxy or too soft and plastic-like. It was the first time that it was necessary to use radiosity in every single shot. Using it in this way they were able to create a more consistent lighting situation throughout the entire movie.
    • Major Cast Members Include
      • John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Jerrod Carmichael, and Bobby Cannavale
    • Reception
      • Ferdinand was received favorably. It is an incredibly cute movie with a timeless message. Jane Horwitz gave it 3.5 stars and said, “The movie widens Ferdinand’s world, allowing him to bring others along with him on his quest to be who he wants to be and to let others do the same. That theme and the anti-bullfighting message, so subtle in the book, are made bolder in the film, but never preachy.”
  • Spies in Disguise
    • Synopsis
      • Lance Sterling is a sophisticated and suave Spy that is inexplicably turned into a pigeon. Sterling and the world must rely on his graceless tech genius, Walter to save the world.
    • Major Cast Members Include
      • Will Smith, Tom Holland, Reba McEntire, and more
    • Reception
      • Spies in Disguise was well-received making its budget back and then some. It also has great reviews on all the platforms IMDB (6.8/10), Rotten Tomatoes (77%), and Common Sense Media (4/5).
      • It’s important to note that this would be the last movie released under the Blue Sky banner.  

The first Ice Age Movie and Ferdinand were both nominated for Best Animated Films at the Oscars and Rio was nominated for Original Song (for ‘Real in Rio’) but sadly none of them won. The Peanuts Movie and Ferdinand were also nominated for Golden Globes but lost those as well.


  • In 2019 The Walt Disney Company acquired 20th Century Fox. Within this acquisition, they also got Blue Sky Studios. The original plans had been to keep the studio and have Pixar assist and watch over them. Unfortunately, things changed when the Pandemic began. Disney closed the studio on April 10, 2021. There were about 450 people that lost their jobs. 
  • Amongst the heartbreak of losing a unique and talented studio, we also acknowledge the possible forever loss of the last project that they had been working on. The newest film that was to come from Blue Sky was to be named Nimona. It was based on a webcomic by N.D. Stevenson that had been made into a Graphic Novel in 2015. The story was inclusive, featuring queer lead characters. Sources had revealed to Collider and others that it was 75% done. Those that led the project are currently still trying to find somewhere that will make it.


Computer-generated effects and animation is so common today that many of us don’t even think twice about seeing photorealistic explosions in movies, or perfectly rendered water in an animated film. Over the past 35 years, computer animation has evolved more than anyone could have imagined. It’s now the most popular type of animation for full-length animated films, so much so that a film in any other style (stop-motion, hand-drawn) stands out. 

Blue Sky played a prominent role in animation history. While most of us think about PIXAR’s groundbreaking achievements, Blue Sky was right there with them, creating CG objects that looked so real, that even experts mistook them for live-action. 

When Blue Sky moved on to make full-length films, they focused on quirky, original stories with a few adult jokes for the grown-ups in the audience. They dared to experiment with different styles, improving with each feature and creating a collection of unique pieces. Blue Sky may not have been the most popular animation studio, and maybe their stories lacked the emotional gut punch that PIXAR became known for. But, they used animation in ways no one had ever seen to tell stories that otherwise would never have been told. They pushed limits, took risks, and were one of the most creative animation houses in the world before being swallowed up by the Disney machine. 

Blue Sky is more than the studio that created Ice Age. They gave the world some incredible art that will be remembered long after their studio has gone extinct. 


The Case of Motion Capture Animation

So far this month we’ve talked about the classical animation of Don Bluth, and the computer-generated animation from Blue Sky Studios. But today, we’re covering one of the most interesting and (and possibly creepiest) animation types out there: Motion Capture!

Over the past several years, Motion Capture (or MoCap) and Performance Capture have been popping up in live-action and animated films. Examples include Andy Serkis’s performance as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings franchise, Andy Serkis as Ceasar in the Planet of the Apes franchise, or Andy Serkis as…oh, well, you get it. But even though Motion Capture has proven to be a valuable tool in live-action films, the technique provides an interesting aesthetic to animated films as well. 

Back in the 2000s, Motion Capture animated movies became somewhat of a fad. Several major animated productions (many of them involving Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis) used the technology within 10 years. This week, we each picked an animated movie from this era that used motion capture technology to transport the physical performances of actors into completely animated productions. 

So slip on your motion capture suits and head into the studio, we’ve got some animated films to learn about!


Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists Trailer

  • Motion capture is a method of recording an actor’s performance so that it can be transferred to a computer-generated character on screen. Instead of a character completely created by an animator, the final result is a collaboration between animators/visual effects artists, and the actor playing the character. 
  • You might be familiar with the concept of motion capture, especially as it increased in popularity over the last 20 years or so. But animated films made with motion capture are rarer than live-action films with motion capture elements, even though you could argue that motion capture as a technique is a form of animation. 
  • In the 1860s, when Edward Muybridge lined up cameras to capture the movement of a running horse, he effectively proved that creating a moving photograph was possible. This technique to record movement was one of the earliest examples of cinematography, and possibly the beginning of motion capture. 
  • Although the modern definition of MoCap involves CGI, some earlier forms of the technique began in the early 20th century. Around 1915, animator Max Fleischer invented Rotoscoping (you can learn more about Fleischer in our history of animation episodes). Rotoscoping is the process of animating over live-action reference footage to capture the exact movement of a subject (sounds a lot like MoCap, right?) 
    • Fleischer noticed that motion in animation wasn’t fluid or realistic, and to solve that problem he created a device that allowed him to animate over frames captured by a film camera.
    • Fleischer had his brother dress in a clown costume and dance on the roof of his house in front of a white sheet. The rotoscope consisted of a film projector hooked up to a car headlamp (to increase brightness). The animator would face the projector with a screen covered in tracing paper. Each image of the dancing clown appeared on the screen, ready for the animator to trace over the movement. 
    • Rotoscoping changed animation, and when the patent expired, other studios began rotoscoping, too. The most famous examples came from Walt Disney. 
  • In the 1950s, animator and pioneer in electronic animation Lee Harrison III created the first Motion Capture suit. He put potentiometers on a suit, which captured and animated motion, recording it on a CRT monitor. This looked no more advanced than a glowing stick figure. The technology continued to develop over the next few decades. By the 1980s, the process involved several cameras and markers on the actors, especially due to advancements in biomechanics at Simon Frasier University and MIT’s development of the “graphical marionette”. This involved LED lights attached to a bodysuit. An optical motion capture system rigged with two cameras then recorded an actors’ movement.  
    • The cameras were large and expensive, and the process of assigning the markers was painstakingly difficult. Because of this, the development of MoCap technology slowed. It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that this technique would start to appear in major film productions. 
  • Whether you hate him or hate him, Jar Jar Binks is an important piece of film history, as The Phantom Menace was the first full-length film to include a completely CGI motion-capture main character. Shortly after, MoCap made its way into animated productions, including Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists from 2000. 
  • But in 2004, Robert Zemeckis turned heads when he directed one of the first films ever made using entirely performance capture: The Polar Express. 


  • Synopsis 
    • Santa Claus does not exist. Or does he? For one doubting boy, an astonishing event occurs late on Christmas Eve night. He lies in bed hoping to hear something like the sound of reindeer bells from Santa’s sleigh. To his surprise, he instead hears a steam engine’s roar and whistles just outside his window. A mysterious conductor invites him on board to take an extraordinary journey to the North Pole with many other pajama-clad children. There, he receives an extraordinary gift only those who still believe in Santa can experience. 
  • The Book
    • The Polar Express was written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg and published in 1985. The book is now widely considered to be a classic Christmas story. It was praised for its detailed illustrations and calm, relaxing storyline. The book is set partially in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the author’s hometown, and was inspired in part by Van Allsburg’s memories of visiting Christmas-filled department stores as a child. 
    • The very next year, The Polar Express was awarded the Caldecott Medal and appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. By 1989, the book had sold a million copies and made the bestseller list four years in a row. Based on a 2007 poll, the National Education Association listed the book as one of its “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” And it was one of the “Top 100 Picture Books” of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal.
  • 2004 Movie Adaptation 
    • The Polar Express was co-written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, with Chris Van Allsburg also serving as one of the executive producers. The film stars Tom Hanks, who was also one of the film’s executive producers. He plays five distinct roles, with Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Jimmy Bennett, and Eddie Deezen in supporting roles.
    • Castle Rock Entertainment produced the film as their first animated movie ever. Its visual effects and performance capture were done at Sony Pictures Imageworks with a budget of about 170 million, which was a record-breaking sum for an animated feature at the time.
  • Motion Capture
    • The Polar Express was the first movie ever made entirely with performance-capture technology. This technological technique had been used before, in movies such as Lord of the Rings and “Star Wars: Episode I” but never for an entire film. 
    • Thanks to this technology, Tom Hanks was able to perform many different roles; including the Hero Boy (Chris), the Conductor, and the Father. The digital artists were able to create multiple vastly different characters in the design process but relied on Hanks to bring them to life using exaggerated facial expressions and movements. 
    • It took 50 minutes every day to strategically glue 152 markers onto Hanks’ face which ensured every nuance of his expressions was recorded. Hanks said: “You forget you have them on until one falls off and someone runs across the room screaming. Suddenly, your ear is hanging on the ground.” All the data from the performance was sent to a computer, where the virtual actor was given a digital wardrobe and placed in a CG set.
    • Despite these unique problems associated with mo-cap, Tom Hanks fondly remembers working on The Polar Express saying in a behind-the-scenes interview, that playing multiple characters felt liberating as an actor. As he acted in one half of the scene, he could add things that were odd, strange, or specific. Then, on the other side of it, he would remember individual moments and could comment on them.
      • Fifteen years ago, the sensors were not as strong, so the motion-captured performers had to be a bit more animated themselves. Nowadays, sensors can record the slightest movement, so these more theatrical performances are no longer necessary. 
      • However, according to Zemeckis, the hardest thing for the mo-cap actors to do in the beginning was avoid the temptation of making an action too broad or pushing it to the extreme. Zemeckis knew the performance he wanted, and his goal was to shoot them with as little interpretation by the animators as possible. One exception to this rule was body dynamics that often had to be animated (or re-animated) if there was some external force acting on a character that was not captured on set. The most common case in this film was the addition of upper body animation to create the illusion of being on a moving train, especially when the characters are on the roof. 
        • If you take a look at some behind-the-scenes footage you will get a taste of Tom Hanks’s overacting skills. The behind the scenes footage is included in the video seen above.
    • The most difficult part of animating was creating realistic-looking hair. You can’t attach motion sensors to hair, so the artists behind the film had to illustrate and create each and every strand from scratch, then animate it to move and fall realistically. This process was extremely difficult and time-consuming, but the creators behind The Polar Express refused to neglect a single detail.
  • Reception
    • The Polar Express was released in theaters in 2004 and grossed $286 million worldwide during its initial run and $314 million with subsequent re-releases. It was then later listed in the 2006 Guinness World Records as the first all-digital capture film.
    • On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie currently sits at 56% from critics and 63% from audiences. The general consensus among most critics being that though the movie is visually stunning overall, the animation for the human characters isn’t lifelike enough, and the story is padded.
      • Roger Ebert gave the film his highest rating of four stars, saying, “There’s a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie”, and “it has a haunting, magical quality”. He also said, acknowledging comments by other reviewers, “It’s a little creepy. Not creepy in an unpleasant way, but in that sneaky, teasing way that lets you know eerie things could happen.”
    • The film was nominated at the 77th Academy Awards in the categories of Best Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, (before they were combined), and Best Original Song for “Believe”. The song was also nominated for a Golden Globe and won a Grammy for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media. The film was also nominated at the 3rd Visual Effects Society Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture.


  • Synopsis
    • Everyone remembers that house in their childhood neighborhood, the one that could scare even the bravest of children. In Mayville, that house belongs to Mr. Nebbercracker, an angry old man ready to chase anyone off of his lawn. One evening just before Halloween, neighborhood kids DJ and Chowder accidentally kick their ball onto his lawn, upsetting the old man, resulting in a heart attack. With Nebbercracker gone, DJ, Chowder, and their new friend Jenny discover that Nebbercracker’s house might be more than a dilapidated, empty structure. 
  • Making of
    • After director Gil Kenan graduated from UCLA, he began searching for the right script for his first film. During his search, he discovered a fascinating original screenplay by Dan Harmon (creator of Community and Rick and Morty), Rob Schrab, and Pamela Pettler. The men had pitched the film to ImageMovers, the studio founded by Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey, and Jack Rapke in the late 90s. 
    • Although the film was originally intended to be live-action, Robert Zemeckis thought that it would be a perfect candidate for motion and performance capture. When Gil Kenan expressed interest in directing the project, he approached the story with a complete understanding of the universe, and the producers knew he was perfect for the job. 
    • Kenan had experience with animation, and even though Monster House would use MoCap, he didn’t think it made sense to design the characters in a hyper-realistic way. He explained that when he closed his eyes and imagined the main character, DJ, he didn’t see the actor that played him. He saw a stylized, animated character with a lanky body, large head, and big eyes.
      • Kenan brought in Chris Appelhans, who used Kenan’s sketches to design and illustrate the main characters. A sculptor referenced these illustrations while creating 3D models of each character. Using a laser scanner, the character designers created a digital, 3D rotation of each character. Then, texture painters smoothed out any imperfections and added the skin color, freckles, and clothing details. 
      • Kenan and his team of animators began work by storyboarding the entire movie. Then, they created an animatic, which is like a moving storyboard that just gives the animators an idea of how the movie will look. The first scene they worked on was the very first scene in the movie. It took the editors four months to cut together a mock-up of the movie even before the actors were brought in. 
      • Once the actors performed their scenes, the director and cinematographer filmed the performances and cut together a performance cut with the motion and performance capture information and the live-action footage of the actors in their MoCap suits. Then came the layout phase, which was essentially the same spirit as the animatic, but with the performances shot from similar angles as the storyboard. There were essentially four full-length versions of the movie before the final product. 
    • When the actors came in to do their takes, the makeup artists placed clear plastic masks on their faces to mark where the dots would be for performance capture. They would then put on skin-tight suits fitted with dots, and wardrobe would glue helmets onto their heads. Each actor had 80 markers on their body, and 72 markers on their face. 
    • The small performance space held 200 motion capture cameras, which picked up only the movement of the sensor dots on each actor. The cast enjoyed working in the minimal space, with very few distractions. The dots form a “marker cloud” that the visual effects artists connect. This creates a skeleton of the character before the skin and other details are added. After the stylized animation is added, the VFX artists make sure the performances of the actors aren’t lost, and they place the characters in a completely digital environment. 
    • This is where the cinematographer and director come back in and place virtual cameras in the animated environment to “film” the animation. They can choose any focal length and any position. Then, they go to the “wheel room” where they use physical wheels to control panning and tilt. For Monster House, they even used some hand-held devices to control the virtual cameras. Their goal was to make the movie look like it was made by people, not computers. They were hoping for imperfection. 
    • For the soundtrack, Gil Kenan brought in Douglas Pipes, a collaborator and friend to score his first full-length film. Pipes has gone on to score many more films like The Babysitter, Krampus, and Trick ‘r Treat. 
    • When developing Monster House, the filmmakers treated the house as its own character. They went out, looking for the scariest houses in suburban neighborhoods, and created a conglomerate of the spookiest ones they saw. The house didn’t just have to look scary, it had to sound scary too. Sound designers set up microphones in a house, and then tore it down! This helped them capture what it would sound like as the Monster House ripped itself apart. Then, they set up speakers in a barn and loudly played monstrous noises. The sounds shook the structure, distorting and bouncing around. They recorded this as well and mixed it with the actual screams of Kathleen Turner, the actor playing the house. 
  • Starring
    • At the start of production, Gil Kenan made a wish list of all the actors he wanted for the movie. In a complete stroke of beginner’s luck, he secured every single person he asked for. Among the list was beloved character actor Steve Buschemi as Mr. Nebbercracker. Legendary comedic actors Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard played DJ’s parents. The police duo of Officer Landers and Officer Lister were played by Kevin James and Nick Cannon. Jason Lee brought Bones to life, the rotten boyfriend of Z, DJ’s babysitter played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Jon Heder played Skull, the arcade guru that joins the kids in their fight against the monster house. Kathleen Turner, who played the infamous Jessica Rabbit, brought Constance and the monster house to life. 
    • Our three main protagonists, DJ, Chowder, and Jenny, were played by Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, and Spencer Locke, respectively. Mitchel Musso went on to star in Hannah Montana, Sam Lerner currently plays Geoff Schwartz on The Goldbergs, and Spencer Locke appeared in Big Time Rush. 
    • Mitchel Musso and Sam Lerner remained friends after production and on the special features, they both declared to be each other’s best friends. 
  • Reception
    • Monster House opened in July of 2006. With a budget of 75 million, it made $141,861,243 worldwide. Domestically, it didn’t make back its budget. 
    • Roger Ebert called Monster House one of the most original and exciting animated movies he had seen in a long time, giving it his highest rating of four stars. 
    • Monster House was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature but lost to Happy Feet. It was nominated for several Annie Awards, and three Saturn Awards. 
    • Overall, it received generally favorable reviews and has a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. There have been complaints from parents that have found the movie too scary for younger children, and lacking in any positive message. 
    • Monster House was the first completely original MoCap animated film, as it was not based on any earlier material. It was scary and strange, but in the same way, that horror has always appealed to offbeat audiences. 

Test with Snowy and Peter Jackson


  • Synopsis
    • Young journalist, Tintin, with his dog Snowy finds an old model ship at a flea market. Tintin notices that it is a model of the famous ship known as The Unicorn. After purchasing it, two different people approach him about buying it from him. He says it is not for sale and heads home. Unbeknownst to him, it contains a secret message that is one of three messages that lead to a treasure. In taking the model he becomes entwined in the mystery and adventure leading him to find Captain Haddock who will be the only one to uncover the truth. 
  • The Original
    • Tintin made his first appearance with Snowy in 1929 by the Belgian cartoonist Herge or known by his real name as Georges Ramis… It was first featured in Le Petit Vingtième where Herge had been commissioned to design, supervise, and illustrate. In French, TinTin is pronounced more like “TenTen.”
    • The compilations are each known as albums and there are a total of 24. 
    • Since the comics, there have been five films made, one stop motion and two in both live-action and animation. There have also been some radio dramas and two different animated shows. 
  • Who Made the Current Adaptation
    • Until around the 1980s, Tintin was pretty much only known amongst the European countries in which it was shared as a pop culture icon. At that time Indiana Jones came out and was quite a hit. Steven Spielberg who had been the director was shown French reviews of The Lost Ark and he couldn’t read most of it but he could pick out his name and a few other words. However, he kept seeing the word Tintin throughout the reviews. He asked his assistant to have them translated and that is when he saw that it referenced Tintin by Herge. He promptly got the books and began to read. 
    • Herge was a fan of Spielberg’s. They had a telephone call in 1983 and scheduled to meet up in two weeks. Unfortunately, Herge passed away before the meet-up. His wife decided to release the rights to Spielberg. A lot happened after that before the movie was finally able to be made. When it was finally made Spielberg put a nice cameo of Herge at the beginning where he paints TinTin as he looks in the comics. 
    • This 2011 adaptation truly had a talented team behind it, especially with John Williams who did the score! The writers that worked on the screenplays were Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), Steven Moffat (Dr. Who), and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). All three of these guys were familiar with TinTin and some of them were pretty big fans.
      • As I began watching the 1991 animated show it is clear that they took a lot of inspiration. These were also based on three of the original books The Crab With the Golden Claws (1941), The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), and Red Rackham’s Treasure (1944)
    • Spielberg immediately knew he wanted the man behind The Lord of the Rings to do his special effects. 
  • The Motion Capture
    • Originally Spielberg had wanted to film it live-action but it would have been greatly stylized to be similar to Herge’s original drawings. This decision was forgone because of the number of prosthetics and make-up it would have taken.
      • Snowy even during the thoughts of live-action was always going to be CGI. This is where Peter Jackson comes in. Spielberg asked him to do a screen test for the pup. Jackson, having been a Tintin fan since childhood, took the chance to join Snowy on the screen as a live-action Captain Haddock. He was even able to use the ship from King Kong on the test. 
      • When talking about his final decision to choose motion capture Spielberg said, “It was based on my respect for the art of Hergé and wanting to get as close to that art as I could… Hergé wrote about fictional people in a real world, not in a fantasy universe. It was the real universe he was working with, and he used National Geographic to research his adventure stories. It just seemed that live-action would be too stylized for an audience to relate to. You’d have to have costumes that are a little outrageous when you see actors wearing them. The costumes seem to fit better when the medium chosen is a digital one.”
    • To help them prepare for a motion capture film Spielberg and Jackson were invited by James Cameron to see the process that was used to create the hit movie Avatar. This gave Spielberg the chance to play around with the technology and see what it was like to control the camera’s view with what looked like a humongous game controller. 
      • This technology was then improved on in time for Tintin and allowed Spielberg to control the camera and direct the shots during the actors’ performances. He could be right next to the actors directing them and the camera would not see him because he did not have the mo-cap suit on.
        • He was even able to watch a monitor that gave a loose creation of the animation. 
      • With all this technology all the locations had to be built digitally first so that the actors could “move” within each of the spaces. 
        • Moving within these spaces also made it easier to have incredible scene transitions. One example is when TinTin is rowing the boat the camera spans out and that boat is shown in a puddle where a character in the next scene then steps through.
  • Starring
    • This movie is jam-packed with talent, from Andy Serkis (a mo-cap pro) to Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and even an appearance of Cary Elwes! 
  • Uncanny Valley?
    • The film was created with motion capture so that the characters could look as similar to Herge’s vision as possible but also bring it into more real space. We get to see them as 3D versions that keep a cartoonish style. It even helps when little details are shown, like birds swirling around the pickpocket’s head after he crashes into someone else. The birds are then shown to be real because a shop owner comes out with a net to collect them.
    • At first glance, this movie looks like live-action (even my brother who came into the room thought so at first.) But with this comes opinions like what Kyle Buchanan in a Vulture article said, “Aside from the swoop in the front of his hair that lends him some cartoonish verve, Tintin looks simultaneously too-human and not human at all, his face weirdly fetal, his eyes glassy and vacant instead of bursting with animated life.”
    • Yet I think that the film does not go too far into the Uncanny Valley. Very few times was I taken out of the film by how a character looked. Roger Ebert even said, “Tintin looked human, if extremely streamlined. His face, as described by an eyewitness to a police artist, would produce a sketch of … Tintin. The other characters are permitted more detail; Thomson and Thompson, in particular, are given noses that would make W.C. Fields weep with envy.”
    • What other film could bring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost together as practically identical-looking characters, Inspectors Thomson and Thompson? That in itself is a joy.
    • It has to be mentioned that although Snowy has talking bubbles in the comics, he luckily does not talk in the film.
  • Reception
    • There are a lot of differing opinions on this movie. There seem to be several die-hard European fans of TinTin that believe this movie does not pay proper tribute to the legacy that Herge built and question the “Hollywood” look of motion capture. Others that grew up with the comics and the movies and tv shows thought that it was a fun film that brought out all the best parts of the stories. Still, others think that it falls into the uncanny valley. In theaters though it did well, with an estimated budget of 135 million dollars, grossing almost 374 million dollars worldwide.
    • The movie had a lot of people working on it that had new and old love for the original content. I think that no matter your thoughts on the movie it brought knowledge of TinTin to more people to enjoy. 

Motion Capture is still a heavily used method in Hollywood, even though the practice of MoCap in full-length animation has fallen to the wayside. Films like The Polar Express, Monster House, and The Adventures of TinTin presented interesting and exciting stories in a unique style that captured the imagination of audiences (or maybe creeped them out a little). 

Although 3D computer animation seems to be the most favored style today, movies that implement different techniques tend to stand out. Who knows, as technology improves, maybe motion capture will MOVE back into theaters again soon. 


The Secret Case of NIMH (1982)

It’s April once again, which means it’s time to talk about animation. We’re thrilled to say that our season premiere is actually in response to a fan request! Yvette Morales suggested that we cover this film, so THANK YOU, Yvette! 

In September 1979, shockwaves rocked the animation giant Walt Disney Animation Studios. Three of their animators, Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy, and Don Bluth, decided to part ways with the company. About a dozen animators followed them in the coming weeks. After several years of attempting to revive the heart and soul of Disney’s animation studio, Goldman, Pomeroy, and Bluth realized that the best way to keep the art alive would be to become pioneers in their own right. So, they set off to create a studio that would–possibly for the first time in history–rival Disney, the so-called King of animation. 

The Disney Exodus, as the event would later be known, was a vital moment in animation history and led to the creation of more studios and projects that otherwise may have never been. Goldman, Pomeroy, and Bluth wasted no time getting started and, by 1982, released their very first full-length feature film: The Secret of NIMH. 

So for our first episode of Animation April, we’re following Mrs. Brisby as she fights to save her family with help from the rats of NIMH. 

The Secret of NIMH has a lot of backstory, some of which we just went over. Before getting into the film, let’s talk a little about the inspiration for the story and the book that came first. 

  • In 1971, author Robert C. O’Brien published his Newberry Award book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The story featured rats with high intelligence due to injections from scientists at NIMH, the National Institute of Mental Health. O’Brien took inspiration from actual experiments performed by scientist John B. Calhoun at the real-life NIMH. 
  • Calhoun’s research concerned the issue of over-population, and he wanted to see the connection between rodents and human society. Much of his work dealt with the Norway Rat. Because this breed of a rat could reproduce at any time of the year, it can over-populate very quickly. 
    • Working for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), he set up experiments in a large barn. He built four connected chambers designed to hold about a dozen rats. He released between 32 and 56 Norway rats and provided them with everything they needed to survive. The rats could do whatever they wanted, and their only limitation was the space. 
    • The adverse mental and physical side effects became apparent as the rodents overpopulated. Infant mortality rates increased to 96%, some rats became hypersexual and antisocial, and some even became cannibals. One of the most distressing results was that the rats were forever scarred by the experience. Even when introduced to healthy populations, they never recovered. 
    • Calhoun continued his research with rodents, and his most famous experiment, universe 25, actually dealt with mice instead of rats. His work was incredibly influential in psychology and other studies related to overpopulation. 
    • Interestingly enough, when Robert C. O’Brien wrote Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, NIMH scientists were not injecting the rats with intelligence-enhancing serum. However, by the time the animated movie hit theaters in the early 1980s, the scientists at NIMH were injecting the rats. Science Fiction really can predict the future! 
    • If you would like to learn more about John B. Calhoun’s experiments, we will link to a fascinating video by The History Guy in our blog


  • As the recently widowed Mrs. Brisby prepares to move her children before the farmer’s plow threatens to destroy their home, her son Timmy falls ill with pneumonia. Because he will be bedridden for weeks, Mrs. Brisby must find a way to save him. She embarks on a dangerous mission to enlist the help of the rats of NIMH. These rats have heightened intelligence due to injections of a special serum they received while subjects of the National Institute of Mental Health. They have formed a society within the farmer’s bushes, relying on his electricity to survive. 


  • When Don Bluth and his renegades broke free from Disney, they had already collaborated on Bluth’s first independent production, Banjo the Woodpile Cat. The team began working on it while still employed at Disney
  • Some accused Bluth of poaching Disney’s animators, convincing them to join him in his garage-turned-studio.
    • Bluth and Goldman’s intentions were to re-discover the secrets of animation that had been lost at Disney. They knew they would be taking on leadership roles in the coming years. When Bluth asked veteran animators how to pull off specific techniques, Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” the creative team responsible for the studios’ golden and silver ages, couldn’t remember.
  • While Bluth had surrounded himself with his group of collaborators at Disney, a fair share of coworkers disagreed with Bluth’s animation philosophy. Among these young animators were future heavy hitters, like Henry Selick and Brad Bird. 
  • It was no secret that Bluth was unhappy at Disney. Jim Stewart, a former Disney executive, reached out to Gary Goldman and told him about Aurora Productions, a new company founded by Stewart and two other ex-Disney Executives. Aurora was interested in funding a new animation studio and a full-length feature film. 
  • As Bluth considered the movie’s subject, he remembered that art director and writer Ken Anderson had brought in a copy of the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH as an idea for a possible Disney adaptation. Disney leadership dismissed the idea, reportedly saying, “We already have a mouse, and we’ve already made a mouse movie.” 
  • Bluth, however, thought it was a great idea. He liked the word “NIMH” and that its meaning wasn’t immediately recognizable. So, he pitched the story to Aurora. Once investors saw Banjo The Woodpile Cat, they recognized the potential of Bluth’s team, and the fledgling studio of Don Bluth Productions secured their funding.
    • Before having the finances in place, Bluth, Goldman, and Pomeroy taught themselves the basics of production. They learned how much completed footage was needed each week in each department and how to build a schedule. The men essentially left Disney, started a studio, and started a film production all around the same time. They didn’t even have a script when they began artwork for The Secret of NIMH.  
  • With input from Goldman and Pomeroy, Don Bluth designed the characters and storyboarded the entire film. He attempted to write two pages of the script a night, bringing it to Goldman and Pomeroy for their insight. 
  • When the time came to begin animating, Bluth and his team approached the process as actors. John Pomeroy even donned a flowing cape with long fingernails to act out the motions of the character Nicodemus. For years, Bluth had been a big supporter of rotoscoping, which is the process of animating over live-action reference footage. So, using reference footage for The Secret of NIMH was incredibly helpful to the animators. 
    • A drama coach came in to hold an acting class for the animators. This class helped them approach their work as actors, adding nuance to the animation. 
  • The Secret of NIMH begins with the sorcerer rat Nicodemus as he recounts the previous day’s events. Writing with enchanted ink, he records that Jonathan Brisby, a mouse, died while trying to poison the farmer’s cat. This scene also introduces The Stone, a magical amulet that Jonathan wanted Nicodemus to give to his wife, Mrs. Brisby. He is voiced by British classical actor Sir Derek Jacobi. Jacobi has played The Master in Doctor Who and recently appeared in Murder on the Orient Express. 
    • Nicodemus’ magic abilities were added to the film. In the book, the rats cannot perform magic but use science and technology to their advantage. The Stone is another component added by the filmmakers. The movie never explains where the Stone came from, but some fans theorize that the Stone is somehow a piece of Jonathan, like his heart or soul. 
    • The producers explained that the amulet was a device to illustrate Mrs. Brisby’s power. Because of the Stone, she can save her children at the film’s climax, instead of the rats saving them for her as they do in the book. 
  • Next, we meet our hero, Mrs. Brisby. You may notice that the name of the main protagonist in The Secret of NIMH is Mrs. Brisby, not Mrs. Frisby. Her name was changed to avoid copyright issues with Wham-O, the owner of the Frisbee at the time. 
    • When Don Bluth designed Mrs. Brisby, she went through several different versions. She went from a happy mouse in a yellow gingham apron to an adorable country mouse in a tattered red cape. Originally he positioned her ears to the side of her head but later decided to push the ears up and back, similar to a 1930s hairstyle. The final Mrs. Brisby looks poor and frail, like an unassuming character seemingly unable to hold her own in the harsh and terrifying world. 
    • Elizabeth Hartman voices Mrs. Brisby. She was known for films like The Beguiled and Full Moon High. The Secret of NIMH was her last film, and she retired from acting. She passed away only a few years later. Because Mrs. Brisby was never given a first name, fans of the film call her Elizabeth in memory of her voice actor. 
    • When Mrs. Brisby first appears on screen, she’s visiting the doctor, Mr. Ages, played by Arthur Malet. We remember Malet as Tootles in the 1991 film Hook.
    • Mrs. Brisby tells Mr. Ages that her son, Timothy, is ill. After hearing the symptoms, Mr. Ages diagnoses him with pneumonia. He gives Mrs. Brisby medicine and suggests that Timothy not go outside. Knowing that she has to move her family to avoid the plow, Mrs. Brisby leaves, unsure of what to do. 
  • On her journey home, she encounters Jeremy the crow, played by comedian Dom DeLuise. 
    • When it came time to start casting, Bluth, Goldman, and Pomeroy were trying to think of actors that could bring a little bit of celebrity and were the best fit for the characters. They were hoping for actors that could appear on talk shows to promote the film. 
    • One night, early in production, Don Bluth, John Pomeroy, and Gary Goldman were all in their homes, watching the same movie on TV. The film was The End, starring Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise. Thinking that DeLuise would be perfect for the part of Jeremy, Goldman called Bluth. The line was busy, so he called Pomeroy instead and received another busy signal. It took 40 minutes to get into contact with each other. It turns out, each one of them was on the phone, trying to call the other two about casting Dom DeLuise! 
    • DeLuise truly brought Jeremy to life, adding his take on the lines and providing comic relief for the film. Jeremy is much less prominent in the book, but he’s incredibly memorable to children watching the movie. 
    • Jeremy was Don Bluth’s favorite character to work on because he was so much fun. DeLuise gave the animators such a clear idea of Jeremy with his voice; they didn’t have to think too much about his development. Don Bluth wanted to make Jeremy more interesting to the audience, so he added elements like the crow searching for a mate. In addition to details like this, DeLuise would also make additions to the sound booth. 
  • After Mrs. Brisby befriends Jeremy, Aunty Shrew stops by the Brisby residence and visits with the children.
    • Character actor Hermione Baddeley plays the brash Aunty Shrew, a nosy neighbor who warns Mrs. Brisby that the frost is off the ground and the plow will be coming soon. Baddeley played Ellen the maid in Mary Poppins and Madame in the Aristocats.
      • Auntie Shrew not only warns the other animals about the plow, but she also joins the fight for Timothy’s life. She jumps on the plow with Mrs. Brisby and helps her cut the fuel line just before it destroys Mrs. Brisby’s home. 
  • Desperate to find a way to save her son, Mrs. Brisby agrees to let Jeremy take her to see The Great Owl, a fearsome predator in the nearby woods. Mrs. Brisby is terrified to see the owl, knowing that he would normally eat her. 
    • Veteran actor John Carradine reportedly seemed out of it when he arrived at the recording session. He suffered from arthritis, and his medicine made him feel loopy. So, Bluth and his team gave him some coffee and chatted him up until he was sharp enough to lend his voice to The Great Owl. After recording his lines, he declared that his delivery was the best he had to offer and did not want to perform retake or alternative options. This agreement worked out just fine because the performance happened to be perfect. 
      • Carradine was a legendary actor that appeared in classics like The Ten Commandments and The Grapes of Wrath. He was also the patriarch of an entire acting family, including David Carradine and Robert Carradine. 
    • The Great Owl was one of the first characters that John Pomeroy worked on for NIMH. He said that Carradine’s delivery helped shape the character and gave the animators an idea of how he should look and act. 
      • If you pay attention, you will notice that The Great Owl and Nicodemus speak and walk similarly. They also both have the same glowing eyes. Pomeroy later said this was meant to show that they were two incarnations of the same spirit. Filmmakers even considered having the same actor portray them both. 
  • The Great Owl tells Mrs. Brisby to visit the rats in the rosebush by the rat house and ask them to move her house to safety. Although she isn’t sure how this could be possible, she does as she’s told and finds her way to Nicodemus. She reunites with Mr. Ages and meets Justin, the captain of the guard. They take her to a council meeting in progress. 
    • Stage actor Peter Strauss voices Justin. He’s starred in series’ like Tender is the Night and Moloney. 
  • During the council meeting, Mrs. Brisby encounters the main antagonist of the story, Jenner, played by Paul Shenar. Shenar appeared in productions like Scarface and Dynasty throughout his career. 
    • After recording his voice for the power-hungry Jenner and seeing his character in action, Shenar requested to record his lines again. He was concerned that his original performance fell short, and he knew he could do better for his character. 
  • Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy, and the rest of their team completed the Secret of NIMH on a budget of roughly 7 million dollars in about 30 months. To put this into perspective, The Fox and the Hound, released in 1981, cost 12 million dollars and four years to make.
    • The men originally estimated that The Secret of NIMH would need about 6.5 million dollars to complete. But, they were only awarded 5.7 million. Goldman and other producers took out more money on their homes to make up the difference. Between them, they raised an extra $700,000. 
    • The team worked in a 5500 square foot building off of Ventura BLVD, with the staff essentially living in the space during production. By the end, people were even working in the hallways. There was no budget for overtime, so most of the animators were donating their free time to the project. Approximately 100 people worked on location, while 45 painters worked from home, stopping by to pick up work. The entire team worked around the clock. They believed that art was its own reward and the ability to inspire through animation. 
    • This work ethic made sense to Don Bluth, who spent his childhood riding to the movie theatre on horseback from his family farm. As a child, animation inspired him. He has made it his life’s mission to give the rest of the world that same experience. In a behind-the-scenes video, Bluth explained, “The money is not anything, the money is what we use to get it to happen, but what you are making is something that could change lives. If you can’t inspire, well, then what are you doing?”


  • Jerry Goldsmith had just finished work on the 1982 classic horror film Poltergeist when he was called about composing for The Secret of NIMH. He had never scored animation before, so he was interested in giving it a try. Usually, a composer has completed footage to watch while writing music for each scene. However, Goldsmith could only see about half of The Secret of NIMH through pencil drawings and ink sketches. He admittedly found it difficult to achieve a flowing line of music because the timing in animation is so different from live-action. 
  • But it was Goldsmith’s experience in live-action that set the score apart from other animated movies. After the first recording session, John Pomeroy reportedly went to Goldsmith and told him that he had made animation history. Goldsmith said, “…as I told the producers, that if they wanted a Disney-like, synchronize-every-cut type of score, I couldn’t do it. I wanted to score it like a live-action film, and they agreed.” 
  • He incorporated eight leitmotifs throughout the score and described the film as an animated “Peter and the Wolf.”
    • Whenever Nicodemus or the amulet was on screen, Goldsmith used a choir.  
  • The animators storyboarded to a radio track instead of a script, so if Don liked a piece of music, he would storyboard to it. In some cases, Goldsmith wrote to the animation, but overall, the animation was completed to the music. He worked with the producers very closely, constantly speaking on the phone or visiting each other at Goldsmith’s house. 
  • Seeing the actual final print was emotional for Goldsmith because he was amazed at how well the visuals and music worked together. 
  • For the songs in the movie, Goldsmith collaborated with Paul Williams! Williams was the lyricist for The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Christmas Carol. 


  • Aldo Ray plays Sullivan, an unsung hero of the movie. Sullivan is Jenner’s lackey that eventually turns on him at a pivotal moment in the film. Sullivan’s name is never mentioned on-screen, and the filmmakers didn’t realize this until after the film had already been released. 
  • Shannen Doherty plays Teresa Brisby, the oldest of Mrs. Brisby’s children. She went on to star in Beverly Hills, 90210, and Charmed. 
  • Actor Will Wheaton plays Martin Brisby, the second oldest of Mrs. Brisby’s children. Wheaton is famous for roles in Stand By Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation, among others. In the straight-to-video sequel, The Secret of NIMH 2, Martin is actually a villain. 
  • Jodi Hicks plays Cynthia, the youngest Brisby child. Hicks only appeared in three productions in her career. 
  • Ina Fried voices Timothy, the bedridden child of Mrs. Brisby. Fried appeared in multiple films and TV shows, including The Wonder Years and St. Elsewhere. She is now the chief technology correspondent at AXIOS.   
  • Tom Hatten plays Farmer Fitzgibbons, and Lucille Bliss voiced Mrs. Fitzgibbons. Hatten appeared in series’ like Hogan’s Heroes and Gomer Pyle: USMC. Lucille Bliss was a prolific voice actor that provided the original voice of Smurfette. 
  • Although uncredited, Frank Welker voices Dragon the Cat. Welker is an iconic voice actor that originated the voice of Fred in Scooby Do. 


  • The production schedule was even tighter than originally planned because the studio was commissioned to animate a sequence for the musical Xanadu! Just by watching the sequence, you will immediately recognize the Bluth fingerprints in the animation. 


  • The Secret of NIMH won the Saturn Award in 1983 for Best Animated Film!
  • It was nominated at the Saturn Awards for Best Fantasy Film, and it was nominated for a young artist award for Best Family Feature, animated, musical, or fantasy. 


  • The Secret of NIMH did not perform well at the box office. This was due, in part to the fact that the owner of United Artists, which originally agreed to distribute the film, sold the company. The new owners merged UA with MGM, and they weren’t as interested in The Secret of NIMH. They moved up the release date, putting the film in direct competition with instant classics like ET, Poltergeist, Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Annie. Not only that, it had a limited release on less than 100 screens and expanded slowly. But, upon video release, The Secret of NIMH was a commercial success!
  • The consensus seems to be, especially when it came out, that it is beautifully made. Many believed, however, that something was missing. Roger Ebert said that “It looks good, moves well, and delights our eyes. It is not quite such a success on the emotional level, however, because it has so many characters and involves them in so many different problems that there’s nobody for the kids in the audience to strongly identify with.” 
  • In a 1982 review in the New York Times, Vincent Canby said, “The backgrounds, the colors, the perspectives, the soft differences in shades of light are extraordinarily lovely. However, something essential is missing, and that is a narrative that effortlessly embodies this style and gives it point.” 

The Secret of NIMH ushered in a new era of animation. Sure, it didn’t break records, but it found a devoted group of fans that would remember it for decades to come. For some, The Secret of NIMH is their favorite childhood movie. For others, it’s an inspirational reminder of the power we can find within ourselves. But on another level, it represents a pivotal moment in animation history. Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, and John Pomeroy broke free from Disney and built a studio from the ground up. They created a product that rivaled Disney in technical skill, and they did it in half the time with a smaller budget. And even more remarkably, they didn’t make something that felt like a Disney movie. They abandoned the tried and true formulas of their former studio and created something completely different. 

Like Mrs. Brisby’s Stone, The Secret of NIMH is a symbol. But instead of characterizing a mother’s inner strength, it illustrated the fact that there was more than one philosophy to creating great animation. In the wake of the Disney Exodus and the studios’ bronze age of animation, new studios, new animators, and new films popped up on the horizon. Bluth, Goldman, and Pomeroy set out to better animation by giving Disney some healthy competition, and it seems they succeeded. They proved to themselves what they could achieve, but they also inspired others to give it a try as well. And once the secret was out, classical animation began thriving again. 


The Case of Evil Dead II

When we considered what our last episode of Frightening February would be, we almost chose to do an episode on The Thing From Another World from 1951 and John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982. But, our goal is not to completely turn Adam off of horror forever by scarring him with that one scene with the Huskies (if you know you know). So we chose a slightly different–and more comedic–route instead. 

Many generations know Sam Raimi for something he directed. If you were a kid in the early 2000s, you might remember his name in the credits of the Tobey McGuire spiderman films. Moviegoers this Spring will recognize him as the man behind the new Doctor Strange film. But if you’re a fan of horror, another film franchise might come to mind when you hear his name. 

The Evil Dead films are unique and imaginative. The stories are wildly original, its main hero is impossibly charming, and best of all, the Evil Dead franchise is a perfect blend of horror and comedy. So today we’re going deep into the woods with Ash to learn the secrets of the groundbreaking horror comedy, Evil Dead II. 


When Ash Williams heads into the woods with his girlfriend for an intimate getaway, things go awry when he discovers a tape recorder with some unusual incantations. The words on the recorder awake the evil dead spirits, possessing Ash’s girlfriend and tormenting him mentally and physically. With the arrival of four strangers, one of which who has knowledge of the Necronomicon (the book of the dead) Ash attempts to fight off the deadites and survive the night. 


  • Now you may be wondering, why would we do an episode on The Evil Dead II before Evil Dead? The answer is quite simple. While Evil Dead is obviously a very important part of the franchise, the story gets ret-conned in the second film. Also, one of us…we won’t name names, isn’t much of a horror fan. So, we decided that covering the more comical Evil Dead II was a better way to introduce Adam–I mean SOMEONE–to the franchise. 
  • But of course it’s completely impossible to talk about Evil Dead II without at least mentioning the first movie from 1981. Written and directed by Sam Raimi, Evil Dead follows five college kids as they take a vacation together in a creepy cabin in the woods. Much like the Evil Dead II, the voice on a tape recorder recites an incantation from the Necronomicon, raising an undead evil that possesses everyone in the cabin except for a lone survivor: Ash Williams. 
  • It was Sam Raimi’s friend Scott Spiegel that got him interested in horror films. Inspired by a college history course and H P Lovecraft, Raimi decided to write his own horror film around the lore of the Necronomicon (the book of the dead.) 
    • Now, there is a lot on the Necronomicon that we wish we could go into, so we highly suggest researching this topic if you are interested to learn more about the HP Lovecraft creation and how it has bled into the real world. 
  • Passionate about the project, Raimi had to secure much of his own funding, even asking family and friends and anyone else to donate to the film’s production. The lead actor, Bruce Campbell also served as an executive producer and helped Raimi gain funds. Raimi and his friends and crew even shot a short film called Within the Woods to show potential investors. Here is the link if you would like to check it out!
  • When The Evil Dead released, it received the dreaded NC-17 rating and according to box office mojo, it made it to 128 theaters. The film made a respectable amount of money, and has a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, likely from the many recent retrospective reviews it has received. However, we weren’t able to find reviews from its initial release. 
  • Audiences were horrified by the film and its use of practical effects and gore. Many people to this day consider The Evil Dead to be one of the greatest horror films ever made and truly haunting. But for some, the original film felt too over-the-top, with cheesy dialogue and unbelievable experiences. Many interpreted this as a blend of comedy and horror, while that was not the filmmakers’ intentions at all. Bruce Campbell said to years later, “The pundits have made it into a comedy, and they’re so wrong. When some of the reviews for the “Evil Dead’’ remake in 2013 were like, ‘This movie has no comedy like the original,’ it’s like, what are you talking about? A woman got raped by a f—–g tree in the original. To me, that’s not funny.”
  • But this begs the question, why did Raimi decide to retcon his original story, and is Evil Dead II a sequel or a remake? 
    • Apparently New Line Cinema owned the rights to the original Evil Dead, meaning that Raimi and co. didn’t have the legal ability to create a clear-cut sequel to their movie with a different company. So, the decision was made to reshoot the beginning story of Ash coming to the cabin and experiencing the horrors of the deadites with new characters. The first portion of Evil Dead II, when Ash drives to the cabin with his girlfriend and up until he becomes possessed himself is the remake. Everything that happens after that, is the sequel. So the movie is both a remake and a sequel, making it incredibly unique. 
    • For The Evil Dead II, Raimi leaned into the comedic possibilities of the story. He incorporated gags from classic Three Stooges shorts, changed up the color of blood to combat the ratings board (didn’t matter, he got NC-17 AGAIN) and had the characters deliver their cheesy dialogue as straight-faced as possible. And the result, of course, was a surreal and outrageous film that performed even better than the first one. 


  • The Evil Dead II was written by Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel, and directed by Raimi. Bruce Campbell was once again a producer on the film and played the main character of Ash Williams. 
    • Some of Bruce’s driving was done by a stunt man, but Raimi liked using Bruce as much as possible because (as he and Bruce both stated) Raimi liked to torture his longtime friend. 
    • For example, when Ash first gets taken by the evil, he is whipped around, spun, and smacked with branches. Campbell was rigged to a mechanism and actually went through this ordeal for the film. 
      • Throughout Evil Dead II, Ash essentially goes through the ringer. In one scene, Campbell smashes plates against his head, and even grabs his hair and flips forward after his own hand becomes possessed by the evil spirit. The plates and bowls were real ceramics that were unfired, meaning they would break easily. 
    • Once Evil Dead II begins, the movie wastes no time getting started. Linda, played by Denise Bixler, gets possessed and killed almost immediately. This was Bixler’s biggest role as she only appeared in two other projects besides this film. Once Linda’s body resurrects, we see a stop-motion animation of her corpse doing a dance. The Dance was actually choreographed by Raimi’s high school teacher!
  • Most of the film focuses on Bruce Campbell as Ash alone, before other characters appear. The studio reportedly had an issue with this, but it allowed for the character to become more acquainted with the evil he was facing before other characters were thrown into the mix. During the scene when Ash is being driven mad by the evil dead, we see an evil version of himself reach through the mirror and choke him out. To achieve this effect, the production crew had to build a reverse version of the set on the opposite side of the wall. 
  • While Ash grapples with the Evil in the woods, four new characters enter the screen. Sarah Berry plays Annie Knowby, whose father discovered the Necronomicon and owns the cabin. This was also Berry’s largest acting role and she is a writer as well. Dan Hicks plays Jake, Bobby Joe’s boyfriend. Hicks continued acting up until his death in 2020. He even played a train passenger in Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Kassie Wesley DePaiva played Bobby Joe, a character that was actually inspired by actress Holly Hunter, who Raimi was living with while writing the film. DePaiva has continued her career as a regular in several soap operas. And finally, the character Ed was played by Richard Domeier who went on to become the host of QVC. 
  • After all five characters are in the cabin, they are soon confronted with the living corpse of Annie’s mother, Henrieta, played by Sam Raimi’s brother, Ted. Ted donned a full-body suit and make-up, complete with dentures and contacts. According to Raimi, his brother had no idea what he was getting into and he was also tortured throughout the filming process. 
    • Annie’s living parents were played by Lou Hancock and John Peakes. 
  • Filming Location
    • In 1986 filming began in Wadesboro, North Carolina at an old highschool called J.R. Faison Junior High School. The sets were built in the gymnasium. 
    • Shooting would take place sometimes at night and the temperature could be extremely hot as well. All of the evening shots were completed first, and the exterior shots were also in North Carolina, on the same location that the film “The Color Purple” was filmed. Many of the trees in the woods were real, but some bigger trees were sculpted and put in, with no tops on them. While filming the tracking shots of the woods, the cameraman could not point it too high, or else the audience would see the fake trees. 
    • Shots of the skies and the shot of the twisted and broken bridge were matte paintings with Bruce composited in where necessary. 
  • Make-up and Special Effects
    • Mark Shostrom led the special effects team. He hired three significant artists: Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, and Robert Kurtzman. 
      • Greg Nicotero worked and learned under Tom Savini in Day of the Dead. This is also where Greg met Howard Berger. In 1988 they would go on to create their own Make-up effects business with Robert Kurtzman called KNB EFX Group, Inc. They have worked on films such as Army of Darkness (which is the next film in the Evil Dead movies), The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Reservoir Dogs, the Kill Bill movies, and many more including the show The Walking Dead.  
    • The team began preparing in South Pasadena at Mark Shostrom’s studio for about three months. Everything that they created had to be shipped to Wadesboro.
      • Several different replicas of the actors heads and various body parts needed to be made for the different scenes. In order to create the casts and dummies of the character Linda, an alginate casting was made of the actress. 
        • After Linda’s head drops into his lap and bites his hand, Ash goes to the shed where he secures Linda’s head in a table clamp. He then looks around for a chainsaw and instead of finding it he sees a chalk outline on the wall where it is supposed to be. Suddenly the rest of Linda’s body bursts into the shed holding a chainsaw up and coming straight for him. 
          • In order to achieve this, Robert Kurtzman laid on his back on a skateboard. He held up the Linda body dummy as he wheeled into the shed. Someone from above held a fishing wire like contraption that held and moved the chainsaw up. Greg Nicotero said it looked like a Kermit muppet bursting through the door moving up and down.
      • Sam really wanted to show the transition of Bruce’s eyes to the white. So, they made a special oversized head of Bruce. They had a liquid-filled eye in the head. In order to simulate white clouding in the eye, they injected milk which created a swirled effect that then becomes just white. 
    • A lot of the effects for the film were achieved with a combination of stop-motion, prosthetics and mechanics. 
      • Doug Beswick performed much of the stop-motion animation for the movie. Animator Yancy Calzada was also credited with armature animation. 
        • Doug Beswick animated the infamous headless Linda dance scene. According to a tweet from Mark Shostrom Beswick re-dressed a piece from the film Aliens for a tree in this scene as well. 
        • Yancy Calzada animated parts of the sequence where Ash’s hand runs and hides from Ash. For some of the hand movement, Greg Nicotero stuck his hand up through the floor. 
        • After Ash’s hand becomes possessed, he must cut it off. In this scene, the hand was actually made of gelatin. It had to be refrigerated because it was so warm in the filming location. 
      • One of the most horrifying parts of the film is Ted Raimi’s portrayal of the dead Henrietta. 
        • For these scenes, he was completely covered in urethane and rubber which made it really hard for his body to “breathe.” Sweat would literally pour out of the suit when they would take it off him at the end of the day. 
        • Fiberglass molds were made of Ted and then from there they made a polyfoam outer skin using those molds. Underneath the polyfoam they made a bean suit which consisted of sacs of lentil beans. These sacs of beans give a nice jiggle to the whole body suit. 
        • Mark Shostrom painted all the different body suits and pieces.
    • Wendy Bell was the head make-up artist that created the looks of most of the characters. The crew had to experiment with different types of blood because they needed blood to stay on Bruce Campbell’s face. 
      • Once each character became possessed, their eyes became white. The team achieved this with opaque white contact lenses that the actors could not see through. The actors had to practice their scenes and perform them blind. Campbell even said he wasn’t sure when his eyes were open or closed while having the lenses in.  
  • Composer Joseph LoDuca provided the haunting score for the film. For some scenes, his music played up the comic effect with Looney Tune-esque sound effects. He is a prolific composer that has scored TV shows like The Librarians and Ash VS The Evil Dead. 


  • The film was nominated for a few things, including one of our favorite awards (The Saturn Award for best horror), but sadly it did not win.
  • Reviews
    • Roger Ebert gave the movie 3 stars in his 1987 review saying, “Evil Dead 2 is a comedy disguised as a blood-soaked shock-a-rama. It looks superficially like a routine horror movie, a vomitorium designed to separate callow teenagers from their lunch. But look a little closer and you’ll realize that the movie is a fairly sophisticated satire. Level One viewers will say it’s in bad taste. Level Two folks like myself will perceive that it is about bad taste.”
  • Sequels
    • The Evil Dead became popular and had such a following, that sequels were made and an upcoming movie is expected.
    • Army of Darkness
      • Army of Darkness from 1993 is considered the third movie in the original Evil Dead Trilogy. Ash is transported, as per the ending of the previous movie, to England in 1300 AD. Although it keeps some horror, it also focuses on Ash’s story with comedy and plot action. 
    • Ash vs. Evil Dead
      • In order to explore the character of Ash more the tv show Ash vs. Evil Dead was created in 2015. It ended its third and final season in 2018. It was not renewed for a fourth season by Starz due to its low ratings in season 3. When the show was canceled Bruce Campbell announced that he would not be returning as the character Ash again.He feels that the franchise will be better for his departure from the character.   
    • Evil Dead Rise
      • The next film, called Evil Dead Rise, is set to release sometime this year. The film has been confirmed to build upon the original trilogy and not the reboot movie that came out in 2013. True to what Bruce Campbell said before, he will not be returning as Ash but he and Sam Raimi will be executive producers with Robert Tapert as producer and Lee Cronin as the writer. The action will take place in an urban area focusing on two sisters. New Line Cinema and HBO Max are set to distribute. 


Greg Nicotero’s example drawing of Sam Raimi’s storyboard panel.
  • Evil Dead II opens with a title card for a fictional company called Rosebud. Apparently, the financier for the film, Dino De Laurentiis, could not release an X-rated film. So, an animator created a stop-motion title card of a rose in front of a cloud background for “Rosebud,” as an almost alias for the real financial backers of the movie. 
  • According to Greg Nicotero, Sam drew his own storyboards for the film. When Greg went on further to explain the storyboards he showed a recreation which was a basic stick drawing. We will include a screenshot of the recreated storyboard on our blog!
  • In 1982 Stephen King wrote a review of The Evil Dead. It was an entire article in The Twilight Zone Magazine! In it he called the film “The most ferociously original horror film of 1982.” This contributed a great deal in helping to make Evil Dead II, as Stephen King often supports smaller artists with great ideas. 
    • Here is a link to a website that has pictures of the article.
  • Freddy Krueger’s claw hand makes a cameo appearance above the door in the tool shed! It was to honor Wes Craven, and is a call-back to the first film being a New Line Cinema property. 
  • Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were childhood friends, and the tape recorder used in the movie belonged to Campbell’s father. Back when Raimi was making super 8 films with his friends, they would record sound effects on the tape recorder for the films. The same recorder was used in both The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II.

It’s probably safe to say that there is no other movie like Evil Dead II. This project, like the entire franchise, was a labor of love from start to finish. Not only is it an imaginative gore-fest with lots of comedic relief, it’s also a testament to the friendship between its creators and the vision they had as a team. 

Evil Dead II is a sequel AND a remake. It’s a horror film AND a dark comedy. This wild ride is one of the most entertaining and fascinating films we’ve ever seen. In summation, it’s pretty fucking groovy to say the least. 


This Case Was Based on a True Story

Has this ever happened to you: you’re sitting in a dark theater about to enjoy the next big summer blockbuster. Then the screen goes dark, and some haunting music alerts you that the next movie trailer is for a horror film. Clutching your popcorn you see flashes of ghosts, demons, jump scares, and shaky cam. You may feel a little creeped until you see the scariest part of all: words flashing on the screen that read, “BASED ON A TRUE STORY.” 

As unbelievable as it seems, many classic horror films were based on actual documented events. Sure, the stories may have changed when they made it to Hollywood, but it’s still creepy to imagine that these horrifying tales were inspired by real experiences. For this week’s episode of Frightening February, we each picked a horror film that was based on or inspired by a true story!

*Some of these stories involve real-life tragedies and violent acts. We do not usually discuss this kind of material on our show, so we wanted to give you a heads up just in case you find the topics of real-life violence and death triggering.* 

JAWS (1975)

  • Movie Synopsis
  • It’s the height of beach season, and the town of Amity Island is terrorized by attacks from a great white shark. As panic threatens to deprive the city of its crucial tourist season, the mayor turns to Martin Brody, the new chief of police, to solve the issue. Brody enlists the help of an oceanographer and a sea-wary fisherman to hunt down the great white menace that has turned the Amity Island shore into a feeding ground.
  • Making of
    • Directed by the one and only Steven Spielberg, Jaws was based on the 1974 novel written by Peter Benchley. Benchley penned the first drafts of the screenplay, and actor-writer Carl Gottlieb, who rewrote the script during principal photography.
    • Before Jaws began filming, Spielberg wanted to direct the film Lucky Lady instead. Studio head Sid Sheinberg basically “ordered” him to make Jaws. If you ask Sheinberg, Spielberg was not happy with the decision and reportedly had the attitude of, “You’re my friend. How can you make me do this fish picture?”
    • Spielberg ultimately agreed to shoot the film. He decided to film on the Atlantic Ocean, hindering production and creating logistical difficulties, equipment issues, and weather-related delays. Because of this, Jaws took more than twice as long to make as planned and cost nearly four times the original budget. The film’s box office success proved that Spielberg’s creative decision was worth the risk. He explained, “Lake water, pond water, tank water … [don’t] have the same texture or violence that the ocean has. This needed to be a convincing story about a great white shark because if it wasn’t, no one would believe it.”
  • The Original Stories
    • Author Peter Benchley had a lifelong fascination with sharks and was inspired to write the novel after reading about an estimated 4,500-pound great white shark caught by Frank Mundus in 1964. Mundus started “Monster Fishing,” an activity that began at the port at Lake Montauk. Mundus caught the enormous great white shark by harpoon. Later in 1986, he and Donnie Braddick caught a 3,427-pound great white about 28 miles off Montauk, which still holds the record (not credited by the International Game Fish Association) for the largest fish of any kind ever caught by rod and reel.
    • The second story is one of, if not the worst maritime disasters in U.S. naval history. On July 29th, 1945, the USS Indianapolis sank due to an explosive chain reaction triggered by a Japanese torpedo. Of the almost 1200 men aboard, 900 made it into the shark-infested water alive. But, their ordeal was just beginning. As the survivors waited for rescue, the sharks fed on the floating bodies. However, the survivors’ struggles in the water attracted more and more sharks. As the days passed, many sailors fell victim to heat and thirst or experienced hallucinations that drew them to drink the seawater around them. This resulted in death by salt poisoning. Without going into too much more gruesome detail of the Indianapolis’ original 1,196-man crew, only 317 remained. The number of men that died from shark attacks ranges from an estimated few dozen to almost 150. It’s impossible to know the actual numbers. Regardless, this event is considered the deadliest shark attack in history. 
    • With the final story, the inspiration for Jaws will finally come into focus. In July of 1916, a 9ft juvenile sea creature, then primarily unknown to scientists, briefly replaced the Great War in newspaper headlines. 
    • From July 1st to the 12th, five swimmers were attacked, and four were killed by a great white shark on the Jersey Shore. The shark’s reign of terror spanned 70 miles along the Atlantic, attacking victims from a beach town north of Atlantic City, all the way to a farm town on an inland creek. The first death occurred in Beach Haven, New Jersey, and involved a recent University of Pennsylvania graduate named Charles Vansant. Unfortunately, people on the beach didn’t realize that he was serious when he screamed for help. Scientists at the time believed that sharks lacked the ‘jaw power’ to bite through human enamel. It was the first recorded fatal shark attack in American history, but no one was aware. Death number two was reported after beachgoers discovered a body bitten in half. Another swimmer was pulled to his death in an estuary as a would-be hero wrestled with the shark and died. Now suddenly, the real-life monster made the front page of The New York Times. Some town mayors denied the attacks, fearful of losing seaside resort income until the horror forced resorts to shutter their doors, and the cities called in scientists for help. 
  • How the Movie was the Same
    • Sound familiar? The 1916 story is almost the spitting image of Jaws. The movie shark has a similar body count, killing four people, including a victim in an estuary. Not only that, but moviegoers watch as a would-be hero wrestles with the shark and dies. True to life, the mayor denies it’s happening to try and protect the tourist dollars. After the fictional ichthyologist struggles to identify the species of the killer, he zeros in on the legendary man-eating monster, Carcharodon carcharias, the great white shark, and even brings up the attacks in 1916. 
    • Even though Peter Benchley says the incident was not the original inspiration for his book, these similarities are undeniable.
  • How the Movie Changed the Story
    • Of course, Hollywood always embellishes stories to make them as entertaining or thrilling as possible. For instance, they attempt to kill the shark with harpoons attached to barrels to keep it from diving. In the movie, Jaws is simply too large and powerful for this to work. A super behemoth of a shark can even pull the fishing boat backward. However, this is how Frank Mundus caught his 4,500-pound monster back in 1964. The movie required a more exciting and explosive way to deal with Jaws.
    • Additionally, in the true story, the scientists and fishermen tasked with catching the shark in 1916 were not killed in the process. The four earlier victims were all the shark got to before meeting its own fate. 
  • What Impact the Movie Had
    • For a film almost 50 years old, Jaws continues to deliver to audiences old and new alike. Jaws is firmly the apex predator when it comes to any other shark film. Jaws inspired many horror films. In fact, the script for Ridley Scott’s 1979 science fiction film Alien was pitched to studio executives as “Jaws in space.” 
    • The film was vital in establishing the benefits of a vast national release backed by heavy television advertising and played a significant part in establishing summer as the prime season for releasing studios’ biggest box-office contenders. Opening a film simultaneously at thousands of theaters and massive media buys are now commonplace for the major Hollywood studios. According to film historian and critic, Peter Biskind, Jaws “diminished the importance of print reviews, making it virtually impossible for a film to build slowly, finding its audience by dint of mere quality. … Moreover, Jaws whet corporate appetites for big profits quickly, which is to say, studios wanted every film to be Jaws.” 
    • Jaws might be the prototypical blockbuster, a feat of studio genius and marketing as well as Spielberg’s filmmaking. Considered one of the greatest films ever made, Jaws was a defining moment in motion picture history.


Whether you’re a fan of horror or not, you likely have heard of the Amityville Horror. The infamous house on Ocean Avenue along the coast of Long Island was the site of an incredibly tragic murder. That much is indisputable. The story that took place beyond that has certainly faced its fair share of skepticism. Multiple films follow the story of the Lutz family, but I am going to focus on the one that premiered in 1979. 

  • George and Kathy Lutz move into a large house on the coast of Long Island, New York, with their three children. Their new home is quite the fixer-upper, and even though the real estate agent has disclosed that the previous family had been murdered, the Lutzes move in anyway. Not long after, their daughter starts playing with an imaginary friend, George starts to act strange, and the house’s past seemingly comes back to haunt them. 
    • Stuart Rosenburg directed the film with a screenplay written by Sandor Stern. After the alleged hauntings in December of 1975, George and Kathy Lutz approached a screenwriter named Jay Anson, who wrote a book about their experiences. It was a best-seller, and he eventually sold the film rights for over $200,000 to American International Pictures. Actor James Brolin was cast as the lead, and the film began shooting sometime in the fall of 1978. 
    • The actual home was not used in the film, as it did not have a good layout for filming and because the current residents and the people of Amityville did not wish for more publicity. In fact, the house owners sued the book publisher for invasion of privacy, claiming that the book was not fact-checked and their home had turned into a tourist attraction. 
  • The Original Story
    • On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents and four siblings around 3:15 in the morning. Initially, he did not report the murders until the next day, when he ran into a bar and declared that his parents had been shot. Shortly after being taken into custody for his protection, DeFeo confessed to committing the homicide. Many facts about the crime didn’t seem to add up. For example, no one in the house seemed to hear the murders, as all victims were found face-down in bed. No neighbors reported hearing shots either. Toxicology reports suggested no sedatives were used, although DeFea claimed otherwise. His story often changed in the subsequent years. 
    • Just about a year later, on December 18, 1975, the Lutz family moved in. The seemingly paranormal experiences that followed for the next 28 days would become the topic of a book written by Jay Anson. It started with the family priest who came to bless the home. After entering the house, he reported that he heard a man’s voice yell to get out. He turned around to find he was alone. Afterward, his car stalled suddenly along the side of the road after the hood and door swung open and the windshield shattered. He called another priest for a ride home. After being dropped off, his friend called to tell him that he was also experiencing strange car trouble after giving him a ride. 
    • Also, on the first day, the family dog somehow jumped over the fence and almost died from strangulation. George and his son were able to rescue the dog in time. Even though the dog is a prominent character in the movie, this scene is not depicted. George Lutz claimed to experience a lot of strange phenomena. He supposedly awoke at 3:15 AM (the approximate time of the murders) for several nights in a row. He witnessed a figure by the boathouse that disrupted the family dog. He also never seemed to feel warm in the home and became obsessed with fueling the fireplace. This detail is another piece of the story featured prominently in the movie. 
    • As the month went on, the family experienced more events like toilets filling with a dark substance, foul-smelling air, nightmares of the murders, and an upside-down crucifix. One of the nights when George went to check the boathouse, he saw his five-year-old daughter standing in the window watching him, with a pig’s face behind her. 
    • The family priest had a bad feeling about one of the rooms in the Lutz’ house, so he called. The phone cut out during the call, but the Lutzes took the warning seriously. When they told the kids, Missy explained that they couldn’t go in that room because her imaginary friend, Jody, was in there. Eventually, the Lutz family had enough. They ran out of their home after 28 days and stayed with Kathy’s mother. But even after leaving the house, they experienced floating above their beds and slime coming up the stairs after them. They reportedly moved to California to get far away from their home. 
    • After the publication of The Amityville Horror, many of these claims were seemingly debunked. In 1979, the attorney for Ron Defeo Jr. claimed that he and the Lutzes created the story together over some wine. He said he wanted to write a book with them, but they cut him out of the deal and found another writer. Furthermore, several publications began investigating all the claims in the book and found a lot of discrepancies. It appeared that the Lutzes had not contacted the Catholic church during their ordeal, which was a big part of the story. 
    • In later years, Daniel Lutz, the oldest of the three children, claimed that the hauntings did happen but were caused by evil spirits drawn to George Lutz and his dabbling of the occult. 
  • How the Movie Changed the Story
    • As you can imagine, the Amityville Horror from 1979 added story elements and visuals to make the story more exciting to viewers. Although many feel that the Lutz’ story is too unbelievable, to begin with, the film and its remakes expanded further. For starters, the film depicts the family priest entering the house, hearing the disembodied “get out!” and receiving boils on his hands. However, the film also shows him locked in a room that immediately fills with flies. No one has ever claimed that this occurred. The priest suffers from several afflictions on screen and is blinded by the spirits. Although a real-life priest claimed to suffer various torments, this was not one of them.
    • Screenwriters completely fabricated one of the most famous scenes in the film. It features the babysitter, Jackie, getting locked in the closet by Jodie, the invisible imaginary friend of the Lutz’s young daughter. She knocks so hard that her hands bleed until the parents come home and let her out. 
    • In their book, both George and Kathy Lutz claimed that the house was built on indigenous land, near a place where the Shinnecock Tribe would leave dying loved ones. The film expresses this information, but the Shinnecock did not live in the Amityville area and did not abandon their sick and elderly loved ones. 
  • Initially, The Amityville Horror was meant to be a made-for-TV film but ended up being the second highest-grossing film of the year and the highest-grossing independent film until 1990. It broke ground as one of the first truly popular haunted house films. It not only inspired several remakes and sequels, but it also inspired a lot of haunted house media. Critics seemingly despised the film, although it was uplifted by over-the-top performances and the draw from basing a horror film on “true events,” no matter how questioned those events may be. 


A Nightmare Before Elm Street

  • Dreams fascinate everyone. They have gripped humanity for years across many religions and cultures. In the Bible, Joseph has dreams that foretell of his future: where his brothers bow down to him. Not only did he have dreams, but he also interpreted the dreams of others. Historically the dreams of Kings, royalty, and Pharaohs tended to be deemed more important, and many ancient civilizations have believed in the powers of dreams. But what happens when those dreams turn sour and become a nightmare?   
  • Movie Synopsis
    • Teens in Springwood, Ohio, have dreams that seem similar. A particular nightmarish character comes after them. When one of the young girls dies after falling asleep and having another nightmare, it is up to the others to find out what is really going on and try to stop it from happening to them.
    • Who directed it, who wrote it?
      • Wes Craven was the director and writer for the film.
      • Fun Fact: Every studio before New Line had rejected it. Wes has since even framed and hung the rejection from Universal on the wall in his office. 
    • Why they made it (if you can find it)
      • The first movie that Wes Craven was able to write and direct was a famous movie called The Last House on the Left. The backers of this movie had wanted a scary movie, and so he and Sean Cunningham (who had hired him) made Last House on the Left.
        • Before this, he had never thought of doing a horror movie; it’s not what he set out to do, especially being raised in a strict Protestant household. However, after the success of two films, he was able to take six months off and focus on the horror genre. 
          • He took this time to write and refine A Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • The Original Story
    • Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome
      • In a 2014 interview with Vulture magazine, Wes Craven recounted the most prominent real-life inspiration for the film. He said, “I’d read an article in the L.A. Times about a family who had escaped the Killing Fields in Cambodia and managed to get to the U.S. Things were fine, and then suddenly the young son was having very disturbing nightmares. He told his parents he was afraid that if he slept, the thing chasing him would get him, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time. When he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over. Then they heard screams in the middle of the night. By the time they got to him, he was dead. He died in the middle of a nightmare. Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying.” 
      • A little background Information
        • The Vietnam War was a brutal conflict. Some people were disrespectful towards those that fought because they disagreed with the war. Our American soldiers were able to come home to the soil with which they were familiar. Unfortunately, some of our Allies did not have the same opportunity. 
          • America fought against Communism in Laos and were limited to bombing from above because the Geneva Accords made it illegal to send troops on land. The CIA made plans to arm civilians in Laos to circumvent this rule. To achieve this, the CIA exploited the unease between the minority Hmong hill dwellers and the lowland Lao majority. They persuaded the minority to help secretly with the promise of good pay and resources. So many of their people perished within the fights, many saying that more lives were lost than American lives. When America pulled out of Vietnam, General Vang Pao, a CIA recruiter and Hmong native himself, knew that swift revenge would be on those who had opposed Communism. He took control and helped the CIA arrange for 3,500 Hmong residents to be evacuated via three airplanes. The rest of the people fled by foot, approximately 40,000 of which not all made it to Thailand. 
          • Those who escaped to America encountered a large culture shock, as they weren’t familiar with 24-hour drive-thrus and other facets of American life.
            • According to, as of 1975, when the war ended, more than 200,000 Hmong refugees that traveled to America. Many settled in Minnesota, Seattle, Portland, Iowa, and Orange County California. 
      • During the 1980’s a strange occurrence began happening. A (usually healthy 20-30 male) Hmong would have loud labored breathing during sleep and then would pass away. Wes Craven read several articles about this happening and was inspired. He thought about different reasons why this could have happened and thought that the dream had killed the men. 
      • Here are just some of the articles that may have influenced Wes.
    • By the end of 1981 the CDC had identified 35 cases of Hmong deaths in the U.S. from this unexplained phenomenon. 
    • We always want to make sense of the unexplained and so one reason many thought that this could be happening was a mixture of culture shock, stress, and PTSD. Still, others believe it could have been delayed effects of the chemical warfare that the North Vietnamese employed.  
  • How the Movie Changed the Story or Stayed the Same
    • A Nightmare on Elm Street did not necessarily change the story. Instead it took a simple idea of dying while screaming or struggling to breathe and expanded it, creating a singular character to fear that turns nightmares to death.    
    • FREDDY is the name of a kid that would often beat up Wes as a kid.
      • The name Krueger reminded him of a German name and the war plants in Nazi Germany.
        • It was also an extension of Krueg, who was a character in Last House on the Left.
      • Freddy’s hat was inspired by a man that Wes knew as a child. He wore a similar cap that scared him. 
      • When trying to decide what weapon Freddy would have he watched his cat at the time stretch out their claws and had that aha moment!
    • Lucid dreaming inspired the fact that Nancy could bring back Freddy’s hat.
  • What Impact the Movie Had
    • New Line Cinema was the house that Freddy built. A Nightmare on Elm Street was the first really successful film for the studio. The ending gross revenue was approximately $24 million. 
      • Rob Zombie (an american singer-songwriter) aptly said in the same Vulture magazine article as before that “Freddy Krueger built New Line the same way Frankenstein built Universal. The same way Saw built Lions Gate.”
      • It made it possible for them to later produce The Conjuring movies, the Blade movies, Seven, Lord of the Rings, Final Destination, and more!
      • When they finally acquired Friday the 13th they spent 10 years working on the Freddy vs. Jason movie which was a huge success due to the loyal fans of both franchises.
    • It had a major impact- people loved it and there were several sequels
      • There were even dolls and other toys made. This was pretty crazy and weird when you think about how he is actually a child killer.

Movies are great at reaching inside our brains and stimulating our deepest fears. It’s always nice to flip on the lights and take a deep breath, remembering it was all just a movie. But what happens when the story is true? Well, thankfully, the true stories that inspire scary films are not usually as terrifying as what you see on screen. But if even parts of these fantastic tales are true, what other strange and terrifying phenomena lurk in the unknown?


The Case of George Romero

Well, friends, it’s February, which means it’s cold and dark. But, the good news is that it’s the perfect time to huddle close and tell some scary stories. Once again, we’re dedicating the entire month of February to the most terrifying genre of all: horror! 

It was the late 1960s in Pittsburg, PA when Fred Rogers went to the hospital for a tonsillectomy. As the host of a children’s TV program, Mr. Rogers realized that showing the children at home his experience might help them face their own fears of doctors, hospitals, and surgery. So, he brought with him a young filmmaker named George Romero. Romero had been shooting one of his independent projects in the Pittsburgh area, a grainy black and white feature about ghouls that ate human flesh, but his work with Mr. Rogers was one of his first paying jobs as a director. He grabbed the little equipment he had, including pin lights from the hardware store, and filmed the beloved TV host as he went in for surgery. He later said it was the most terrifying film he ever directed. 

That was just the beginning. George Romero’s talent and ingenuity took him far, as his films broke new ground and redefined horror. He’s often credited as the person responsible for an entire sub-genre of film: zombies. He was a creative force, passionate about independent filmmaking, and responsible for inspiring–and thrilling–countless people across the globe. So grab some popcorn and turn off the lights, it’s time to get scary with George Romero. 


  • George Romero was born in the Bronx, NY on February 4th, 1940 to his parents Anne and George. His mother was Lithuanian, and his father described himself as Castilian, having moved from Spain to Cuba as a child. 
  • Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, George experienced the fears of WWII, like city-wide blackouts in the case of an air raid, and the subsequent terror of a nuclear attack. He was drawn to horror because it scared him in an entertaining way. Being afraid of monsters from another world was an escape compared to the very real and present fears of everyday life. 
  • When George was 11 years old, he saw the first film that ever scared him: 1951’s The Thing From Another World. It was his favorite horror film. However, his all-time favorite movie wasn’t a horror film at all. It was The Tales of Hoffmann, an opera film that was also released in 1951. 
    • Hoffmann introduced George to the possibility of filmmaking as a career. He could see that it had been made on a budget, which showed him that even if he didn’t live in Hollywood or have a huge budget, he could make films too. 
    • The film also introduced Romero to classical music, another one of his lifelong interests. 
  • By the time he was 14, George Romero was already starting his filmmaking career. Armed with his first camera, an 8 mm (some accounts say it was a gift from his parents while George himself said it was his uncle’s camera) he began making his first independent short called, “The Man From the Meteor” 
  • During the shoot, George threw a flaming dummy from the roof of his building, and of course, someone called the police. Here’s what he told NPR about it years later: 
    • “…the man from the meteor was ultimately shot with his own ray gun and fell flaming off the roof where I lived, in Parkchester. And I set fire to a little dummy and dropped it off the roof, having failed to contact the police and let them know I was going to do this. And so, yeah, I was hauled away by the police, and my parents were called. It wasn’t a serious arrest, I didn’t have to spend the night in jail or anything.”
  • After the flaming dummy incident, George’s parents sent him to Suffield Academy, a college prep school in Connecticut, to finish his education. After graduating high school, he studied art, design, and drama at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now known as Carnegie Mellon University. 
    • He worked for the Pittsburg Motion Picture Laboratory, delivering reels to news stations via bicycle. He was sometimes paid in lunch money, but it was generally unpaid work.  
  • While living in Pittsburg and going to school, he produced several independent short films. He graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1960 and teamed up with John Russo and Russ Streiner and others to form “The Latent Image,” a company that produced industrial films and commercials. Using a $20,000 loan from his uncle to get started, The Latent Image survived by making promotions for companies like Iron City Beer and Heinz Ketchup. George Romero was later quoted saying, “Fresh out of college, all we had was a Bolex and a couple of pin lights, the kind with aluminum shades that could be bought at any local hardware store. Actually, that’s not true. That’s not all we had. We also had balls. Balls enough to advertise ourselves as ‘Producers of Industrial Films and Television Commercials.’
  • By the late 1960s, Romero set his sites on full-length features. Before releasing his first feature film, he worked on a since-destroyed project called, Expostulations, a silent anthology film. The film was once complete, fully shot and edited, and featured five segments written by Romero, Rudy Ricci, and Richard Ricci. One segment was called, “A Door Against the Rain” and followed a boy whose grandfather built him a freestanding door. The boy then walks through it to go on adventures. While the project tried to secure a musical score, the audio recording company went bankrupt. Recently, portions of the film have resurfaced, but most of it has been lost. George Romero considered this project to be the real beginning of his film career, as they built elaborate sets and worked with paid actors for the first time. 
  • Like we said earlier, one of Romero’s first paid jobs as a director was with the classic TV series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood! Fred Rogers was one of the first people to hire George, and he was incredibly supportive of his work. If you aren’t a horror fan, you still have likely seen Romero’s work during Mr. Rogers’ “Picture Picture” segments. These were shorts that taught kids how things were made, like lightbulbs and umbrellas. 
    • The Carnegie Mellon University Library quoted George about the experience, saying: He was the first guy who would hire me. Everyone from Pittsburgh who I know from that period, who is still working in the business in any capacity, started with Fred. Fred was so supportive of people.  He was a beautiful guy.
    • Fred Rogers reportedly saw all of Romero’s work in support of his former employee. 
  • Over the course of his life, George Romero married three times:
    • George married Nancy Romero in 1971. They remained married until 1978. 
    • Christine Forrest was Romero’s second wife and starred in some of his projects. Longtime collaborator Stephen King was even inspired to name one of his novels after Christine! They were married from 1980 to 2010.
    • Suzanne Desrocher and George Romero married in 2011 and were together at the time of his death in 2017. She started the George Romero Foundation in his honor. (2011-2017)


  • So before we get into Romero’s most influential works, let’s talk about the zombie in the room. Today, Romero’s name is synonymous with zombies, but the concept of the walking dead existed before he started filmmaking. 
  • As strange as it sounds, George Romero did not set out to redefine zombies. He took pieces of existing lore about flesh-eating creatures and built a new kind of monster with very clear features and rules. 
    • The Romero Zombie is a re-animated human that craves flesh. They are slow-moving and anyone can become one. They can use tools but are able to be destroyed by a shot or a blow to the head. This clear-cut definition is what audiences grab onto while watching the films. When we see a zombie movie, we can yell out “shoot it in the head” before the characters even understand that it’s the only way to kill them. Romero created a list of tropes that make audience members feel more comfortable. 
  • Romero’s zombies were nothing like the Zombies of Haitian lore, another famous type of flesh-eater. This was because Romero didn’t really consider his creations to be zombies at all. In his first living-dead film, they are only referred to as “ghouls.” He and co-writer John Russo needed a chaotic attack that kept the characters confined to a small space throughout the film. Inspired by the vampire creatures of the novel “I Am Legend,” Romero used the concept of bodies that were once human attacking the living. He only started calling his creations zombies because other people did. 


George Romero made many feature films in his lifetime, not to mention the TV series he produced as well. His work evolved over the decades and he showed audiences again and again that there were no bounds to his technical skill and ingenuity. 

    • While balancing paid jobs, George Romero spent weekends filming his first major feature film. George teamed up with John Russo to write the script and started shooting on 35 mm black and white film about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. The film had about $114,000 to work with, the definition of a shoestring budget.
    • The story follows a small group of people hiding in a farmhouse and defending themselves against a hoard of flesh-eating ghouls. Romero loved the story in “I Am Legend,” but he wanted to see that kind of story from a new perspective. That’s why Night of the Living Dead takes place at the very beginning of a zombie apocalypse, as society has not fallen to ruin just yet. 
    • Night of the Living Dead was groundbreaking for many reasons. It’s one of the most well-known and influential independent films ever made. Not only that, George Romero chose to cast Duane Jones as one of the first black leads in a horror film. The film was released in 1968, a turbulent time in America. As youth counterculture was on the rise, Romero’s zombies illustrated the concept of old ideals being gobbled up by a new generation. Racial tensions continued to rise, and the political climate seemed to heavily influence a film where a black man survives a monstrous hoard of mindless flesh-eaters, only to be killed by other humans. 
      • To George, this connection was coincidental, as the character was reportedly written as white in the script, but he thought Duane Jones was the best actor for the role. Audiences immediately made the connection to racism, which is partly why the film is remembered as a cultural landmark of the 1960s. George Romero explained: “There was all that anger and, you know, race riots coming up. When we were driving it to New York to show it to potential distributors, that night in the car, we heard that Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
    • Although George Romero was a big fan of making statements within his works, Night of the Living Dead was not originally meant to be a commentary on racism. In last year’s episode on the history of horror, we quoted George Romero in the documentary “Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue.” He says, “Why do you do horror? Well you do it to upset the uppercut. But in the end it kind of gets set back up again. We kill the monster, and I didn’t wanna do that.” 
    • Sure, Night of the Living Dead is a classic, but how exactly did it create the modern zombie? Well, the film was originally called Night of the Flesh-Eaters, but that title was too similar to a film that already existed. The name was changed last minute, but for some reason, the copyright had been left off the final print. Because of this, the film immediately entered the public domain, and Romero and Russo’s version of zombies was up for grabs for other filmmakers to use. So, modern cinema got very familiar with the concept of slow-moving zombies that could turn humans with just one bite. These creatures are capable of using tools and are autonomous, meaning they act independently. 
  • MARTIN (1977)
    • Martin is about a young man that has a dark secret. He maintains that he is an 84-year-old vampire. He watches women closely and in order to quench his vampire desires, he sedates, rapes, and kills the women using a razor blade to slit their wrists and drink their blood. 
    • Romero wrote and directed this movie, and it was his fifth feature film. 
    • Why it was influential
      • talked about how Romero once again changed a genre. When he made the vampire a human it changed how we view the monster. They said, “A vampire is no longer just a monster to be feared. Rather, it can be anyone looking to overpower and dominate others. No thirst for blood actually necessary.” Martin has no supernatural powers, the only power he has is that over his victims when he drugs, rapes, and kills them.  
      • The film is now often talked of as an underrated film that deserves a viewing. Comments on the trailers show that many people see it as their favorite Romero film and sites say that it was also a favorite of his. Some now see the character Martin as an original incel. Merriam Webster defines Incel as “a person (usually a man) who regards himself or herself as being involuntarily celibate and typically expresses extreme resentment and hostility toward those who are sexually active.” Martin exhibits this mentallity through his social awkwardness all the way to his belief that he is owed blood and more. 
    • Synopsis
      • As zombies increase in numbers during an epidemic, four people, (two S.W.A.T. members and a couple) escape to an abandoned shopping mall in order to make their stand and try to survive. 
    • Why it was influential
      • In Roger Ebert’s review he talks of how brilliantly Romero blended the satire, gore, and humor saying “But, even so, you may be asking, how can I defend this depraved trash? I do not defend it. I praise it. And it is not depraved, although some reviews have seen it that way. It is about depravity.”
      • It struck audiences with a realistic approach to an apocalypse with new broadcasts relaying misinformation while crewmembers leave and openly question the facts being presented by experts on air. 
      • It was a bold statement of consumerism and how people are zombies when it comes to their mindless obsession with objects. The main characters, as the world is falling apart around them, use fancy clothes, food, and objects as distractions. The survivors become consumers. 
    • In order to keep his film vision intact, he released the film as unrated instead of bowing down to The Motion Pictures Association of America (hell yeah!) Despite there not being an MPAA rating, it was still Romero’s most profitable film. 
    • Synopsis
      • Creepshow is a collection of 5 short stories that combine the macabre with humor. It pays homage to the style of 1950’s comic books. It features monsters, bogeymen, a visitor from outer space, bugs, and a corpse that came back for cake. The five tales are “Father’s Day,” “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” Something to Tide You Over,” “The Crate,” and  “They’re Creeping Up on You.”  
    • Why it was influential
      • Creepshow paved the way for horror on television such as Tales from the Darkside (by Romero and Richard P. Rubenstein who produced Dawn of the Dead), Monsters (by Rubenstein in 1988), Tales from the Crypt, and several others. 
    • Creepshow was the very first George Romero-Stephen King collaboration, and the beginning of a long professional and personal relationship between the two men. 
      • Romero also adapted another Stephen King novel to film a few years later called The Dark Half.
    • Synopsis
      • Tales from the Darkside aired episodes that dealt with science fiction, horror, the occult, and more. At the end of each episode there would be a twist or moral for the viewer to take in, similar to one of its predecessors, The Twilight Zone but with a much creepier vibe.
    • Why it was influential
      • Following the success of Creepshow 
      • For many horror anthology fans, this is the first series that they remember growing up with. It continued to pave the way for more horror anthology series’, even ones like Are You Afraid of the Dark and Goosebumps. 
    • This film was written and directed by Romero and exemplifies his creativity within the horror genre. 
    • Synopsis
      • Based on a novel by Michael Stewart, the film centers around Allan Mann who is a recent quadriplegic who has lost his former life as an athlete and law student. As he becomes quite depressed a friend and scientist, Geoffrey Fisher, gifts him with a monkey. The monkey is meant to help him, but what Geoffrey does not tell Allan is that he has been injecting the monkey, Ella, with a serum containing human brain tissue. As Allan and Ella form a bond, it turns into a telepathic connection that leads Ella to act out harmful actions towards those that have wronged Allan or those that Ella has become jealous of. 
    • Why it was influential
      • Once again Romero experimented with discussions of the human condition through horror. It has been seen as an experiment in fear and is an exploration into the basic animalistic impulses that are within humans. The monkey acts out the hostilities that Allan would normally suppress. The film was also his first foray out of the independent film world. 
      • It inspired television episodes such as “Girly Edition” on The Simpsons where Homer gets a helper monkey, and the episode “Monkey” on Malcolm in the Middle.
    • For the movie “Monkey Shines” they had to wait for the monkey to be in heat so it would respond well and positively to the actor. The main actor had to be the first male that the monkey saw that day. These were the days when the monkey was the most affectionate and conveyed a strong bond.
  • Romero went on to finish his “dead” series over the course of his career with: 
    • Day of the Dead (1985) 
    • Land of the Dead (2005)
    • Diary of the Dead (2007)
      • With each film, Romero would adapt and incorporate new styles. For Diary of the Dead, he used the found-footage style of filmmaking. 
    • Survival of the Dead (2009)
      • This was Romero’s last zombie film. He declared after Zombieland that he was done with the sub-genre, because it was now a major blockbuster kind of film. 


  • George Romero’s third wife, who was married to him when he passed away, began the George A. Romero Foundation. The Foundation aims to keep his legacy alive and to help those who want to pursue film, especially independent film. The Pioneer Award is given every year to a deserving individual and Scholarships and Fellowships are given as well. The foundation also works to restore and preserve Romero’s past work. 
  • Although you may not think of gaming immediately when you hear George Romero’s name, you can’t help but notice that many villains within games are zombies! 
    • He also participated in a few projects such as the 1998 live action Resident Evil 2 trailer and he also appeared in Call of Duty Black Ops–Zombies. His Dead series also was an influence for those that made the original Resident Evil.


  • George Romero is the definition of cult classic. His films were hardly ever critical darlings, but they made a lasting impact on the horror genre. He was responsible for delighting, inspiring, and terrifying generations of people; and that was award enough for him. 
  • At the New York City Horror Film Festival in 2002, George Romero was given the Life Achievement Award
  • He has a plaque in the Monster Kid Hall of Fame, installed in 2010
  • There is also a Horror Host Hall of Fame Plaque in honor of Night of the Living Dead, placed in 2011
  • He earned the Lon Chaney Award for Excellence in Independent Horror in 2017 at the FANtastic Horror Film Festival (aka FANtastic Fest)
  • He has a atar on The Hollywood Walk of Fame since 2017
  • He earned many other smaller awards for individual films such as Monkey Shines and The Dark Half


  • In July of 2017, George Romero died after a brief but intense battle with lung cancer. Directors, producers, writers, actors, and other members of the film community mourned the loss of this living legend. Stephen King tweeted, “Sad to hear my favorite collaborator–and good old friend–George Romero has died. George, there will never be another like you.”
  • In the film “Clapboard Jungle, George Romero is quoted saying, “You can make a wonderful movie and it never gets seen.” This certainly appears to be true, as there are several Romero works that are essentially non-existent. The Amusement Park was a work that Romero directed in 1973 that wasn’t released until after his death. 
    • The Amusement Park was thought to be lost until it was found, restored, and released in 2019. It was not meant to be a full-on horror movie but instead a PSA on elder abuse and ageism. It was funded by a church and a charity organization. Originally it was meant to be on tv but ended up not being released as it was too intense and shocking (what did they expect?) 
    • Since Romero was an independent filmmaker the amusement park used was West View Park in Pittsburgh which closed within a few years after the short 50-minute film was made. 
    • As with any piece of art, many different meanings can be gleaned from the film. The two most prominent are that the park is a visual metaphor for society, or that the park is a sort of purgatory. 
      • In it, the elderly are taken advantage of financially, denied opportunities due to age, neglected in basic medical treatments, and mocked.
    • Even after his death, Romero surprised audiences with his unique approach to storytelling and expert use of visual metaphors. 

When we hear the name George Romero, we think of zombies. But, the Romero Zombie is just one of the many contributions he made to film. He was an artist, a pacifist determined to illustrate the horrors that the human race inflicts and endures every day, through entertaining visuals and fascinating storylines. George Romero was a true independent. He saw a way to make his vision a reality and he went for it. He didn’t have big budgets or high-profile connections to make his art, and he ended up creating something so fascinating, so vivid and understandable to viewers, that he ended up changing horror–and film–forever. 

George Romero may be gone, but his art is very much alive, ready to be devoured. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


Yet Another (Brief) Case Around the Campfire

Recently we braved the cold to gather once again around a campfire to share some spooky stories within its glow…

We begin our Anuual Frightening February with Yet Another (Brief) Case Around the Campfire. It was cold in Ohio and we had snow that had recently fallen and covered the grass around us.

The poem that Adam read called Who’s That can be found HERE

Listen to our episode to hear about spooky forests, haunted houses, rocking chairs, strange object appearances, and more!

Check out the extended episode as a patron on Patreon!

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!