Overhauling the traditional family film with a whimsically macabre satire in Netflix's "The Willoughbys" was both a creative feat and technical achievement for independent studio BRON Animation.
Based on the parody children's book by Lois Lowry, BRON was tasked with balancing tone and story to resonate with today's young audiences, while also staying true to the source material. Boasting a robust animation pipeline, a talented team of artists, and rights to the book, BRON offered Netflix an appealing partnership to produce the studio's second original animated feature.
To adapt "The Willoughbys" for film, Director Kris Pearn presented several story iterations that were fleshed out among the creative team to capture the essence of the book's comedically dark tone. Crafting an unconventional narrative that connected with family audiences was key to the success of the project. "In the story, the parents aren't great parents, but they sure do love each other. Unfortunately, their love comes to the detriment of their children," said VFX Supervisor Russ Smith. "The director had several iterations as he led the story team through versions until we go to where the final version was resolved. Tone is everything. I remember suggesting that some of the mean aspects be toned down or removed, and I was very happy to see that happen. I wanted something suitable to show my own son, who was 12 at the time."
Maya was one of the primary tools used throughout pre-production to final delivery. Following initial concept art, the early development of the project in 3D previsualization was completed in Maya, in addition to all modeling, rigging, and animation during production. At the back end of the pipeline, Maya was also the primary tool used to deliver the final cleaned animation and cameras.
Despite encountering the typical production challenges that animation studios face, including technical, art, story, performance, and scheduling hurdles, BRON's tight-knit team prevailed through a streamlined animation pipeline, collaboration, and creative ingenuity. "The best part of working on a project like ‘The Willoughbys' is always the team. Not one person on any show can make a movie by themselves, and the results of our collaborative efforts truly speak for themselves," noted Smith.
Looking to the future, BRON is currently shifting from a traditional feature animation timeline to focus on episodic animation with a new pipeline. Following a temporary halt in operations at the beginning of the pandemic, BRON seamlessly transitioned to a remote workforce and was one of the first facilities to greenlight a project a month after the initial shutdown. With strong organization on the production side of the business, and video conferencing and PCoIP remote desktop tools in place, BRON's animation division is continuing to work efficiently from home. "With our film and television divisions scaled back, all eyes are now on animation," said Smith. "Our second project is now underway, with a third close behind, and we're now working and delivering faster than ever."
For more information about BRON and the studio's slate of animated work, visit: https://bronstudios.com/divisions/animation