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Share your views on the state of the Animation Industry.
15 posts • Page 1 of 1
Way back in November 2003, when the late Roy Disney went to war with then Disney CEO Michael Eisner, the news sent a seismic wave throughout animation and the entertainment industry.
Out of the midst of it all there appeared a new member to AnimationNation and a noble effort to keep traditional hand drawn animation alive and thriving.
From the state of Wisconsin came Tom Hignite.
Tom was a real estate developer and home builder. He was also an avid Disney enthusiast and unknown to most people even today, an exception artist. His home designs reflect his skill and his love of animation, and his artwork is good enough to find professional employment in the animation industry if he decided to go that route.
Here's Tom's inspiring story of how he formed an animation studio in Wisconsin and the progress he's made with his project, the 'Miracle Mouse' property...
Traditional Indie 2D Miracle Mouse Feature Project Comes To Hollywood!
In some quarters of the animation world, Wisconsinite Tom Hignite's efforts to create a traditional 2D Disneyesque feature film is very old news. He made quite a few headlines inside the industry when Hignite, an artist and home builder, decided it was a worthy effort to attempt to re-create an animated feature film using the Disney great animated classics for his inspiration.
Hignite had a thriving home designing and building business in 2003, when he took a family vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida. He had spent a lifetime drawing, painting, woodworking, and sculpting. He attended 5 different Wisconsin art schools, with the full intentions to become a graphic artist. He was a political cartoonist in a small local newspaper. He never imagined that he would become a home builder but , as Hignite says, "a series of unique opportunities came my way through my Father's bartering for a vacant lot in a business deal. My wife Jacquie and I had just finished designing and building our first home and, while the building process was frustrating, I loved the aspect of designing homes, and my wife was a great business person. I saw the opportunity to start building homes as the ultimate version of doing really large sculptures. I had no interest in building anything that anyone else had ever seen before. To me, it was just another really big, creative art project on steroids."
Back in Orlando, the Hignite family had gone to the Disney MGM Studios animation tour. That Disney animation studio, back then, was an actual working Disney animation studio. That studio staff had just finished production on Disney's Brother Bear. To the tour group's surprise, all of the animation artist's desks behind the glass walls were empty. The tour guide told the group that the artists had all done such a good job on Brother Bear, that they had all been given a hiatus until the next production would be started. "The hair raised up on my neck as I smelled something was not quite right. I could not believe that Disney would stop their long heritage as the World leader of 2D animation. What about Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin? My kids and I had memories of these being some of our first family movie experiences." said Hignite. Then Hignite made a few phone calls to see what was really happening at Disney animation.
After finding that Disney was in fact closing their Orlando studio and had laid-off much of it's Burbank California's animation staff, Hignite decided that the timing might be right to gather some top "fresh out-of-work" animation artists. It might be time to try to create another Disney/non-Disney 2D classic. "I figured that Walt Disney was long dead, and apparently no one( in power) was left who cared enough to carry-on his legacy unless their were suitable box-office dollars attached to doing so. I thought it was shameful not to try to do something about that", continued Hignite. He traveled to Southern California and Orlando Florida to interview artists and slowly brought 13 artists to the Milwaukee area to begin his film. Hignite's Home designing/building company ,Miracle Home Builders, had been dabbling in small bits of animation for the closing taglines on his local television commercials. His mascot character was named Miracle Mouse and , to many, bore a striking resemblance to Mickey Mouse. At that time in their history, this resemblance was not a coincident. He wanted to capture the essence of Mickey, without being a direct copy. Even with the character's differences, if a feature were to be made, that mouse-to-mouse similarity would have have to evolve even more. Production began and the first main section of a animated musical revue number was the immediate first phase of the project. Everything seemed to be moving forward in producing the feature. A few short years later in 2006/07, the housing market, which was the sole lifeblood of the animated feature, took a sudden down-turn. The economy hit what many consider to be the worst recession in housing history.
The animation staff was given a three month warning that unless the home sales improved, the artists should all start looking for other work. Meanwhile Hignite began advertising the animation studio, going out to try to sell 2D projects to anyone who could use some animation work. Home sales did not turn-around and the staff was largely laid-off and given a few weeks of severance pay. One staffer remained to keep the project on a slow simmer. Disgruntled , the re-located animation staff, were again out of work and their opinions came out in articles and on animation websites to bemoan their unexpected loss of employment. The project still continued it's snail's crawl , ever-towards the finishing line. That line now looked many years away.
Fast forward to late 2008. Hignite received a phone call from an out- of -work, and now, out of his home , animation artist who was now living on the streets. This accomplished 18 year veteran Disney artist had once enjoyed a 6 -figure salary. He had once been interviewed by Hignite but they never came together on a financial package that would work for them. This artist was now asking for any kind of job, even sweeping floors, just to get off the streets. During a phone call with the artist, Hignite offered encouragement and casually mentioned that while he was in no position to hire anyone(his home building business had just had many lay-offs of their own), if the artist would be in Wisconsin, Hignite would at least be able to offer him a room until he could find gainful work. A month later, the artist took Hignite up on his offer. hignite and the Hollywood actors union funded the re-location and at Christmas 2008 the artist arrived in Wisconsin. Animation work on Miracle Mouse and a small wage was traded for room and board .
In 2011, after 2.5 years more work on the feature, Hignite finally had his first version of the film. It was a very elaborate series of what looked like fully illustrated film frames. Such a thing might normally be called an animatic but in this case, it was much more. This condensed 27 minute version had a good portion of custom, fully orchestrated music, and a few professional Hollywood voice actors doing the main parts.The pacing was brisk and the 27 minute high-end animatic version played in front of test audiences of various local school children as well as in front of the Milwaukee animation club, of students and professionals. The project received instantaneous applause and mainly high praise. Critiques for ways to improve the story were offered and considered to improve the film.
"It was a huge benchmark and the fulfillment of part of the dream but more importantly, this was a fantastic shakedown for tweaking and improving the story,"said Hignite. With new printed promotional materials in hand, Hignite traveled to a media buyers convention in Miami Florida in January of this year. A television producer had attended one of the test screenings and wanted to represent the film , present it to potential buyers/investors, and try to turn it into a television series. While that idea did not get a taker(yet), the feed-back was supportive of the feature and the expansion of the short 27 minute lushly illustrated animatic, into the the same quality,full length 115 minute animatic version feature film. The notion was also floated to try to get a few "name" stars involved to replace the bulk of the voice-over actors.
2 weeks ago, Tom brought the next big step of his Miracle Mouse project to Hollywood. After months of searching for the right character voices and names, Hignite decided to find a way to afford to bring major lead male actor and a female actors to the project. Through a series of twists and turns and negotiating, the male actor was confirmed. Oscar winning, 95 year young iconic actor Ernest Borgnine recorded the voice for the protagonist scrooge-like character, Cranky Crane. The female lead of Mrs. Gander was voiced by the red-hot , Emmy ,and Golden Globe award winner,(and star of Glee) Jane Lynch. A special brief appearance of Mrs. Mole was voiced by long-time Hollywood actor(Alien, Witches Of Eastwick, The Birds)Veronica Cartwright. Industry voice-over Hollywood veterans Jeannie Elias(Miracle Mouse) and Danny Mann(Okey Doky the beaver) fully re-recorded the re-vamped and updated full feature script.
2 California artists that came to work on Miracle mouse in Wisconsin, and still have a good hand in the production, also went on to teach animation at a Milwaukee art college, Milwaukee Institute of Art And Design(MIAD). 3 of their most promising students were just brought aboard this week to work as interns on Miracle Mouse for the next 3 months. New additional music was just recorded to augment the film, including a brief opera song to be sung(clucked) by a rooster. Hignite is busy in the audio studio preparing the features' "final" sound track. Last week, in response to an animation Guild newsletter ad, over 80 background animation artist applied for a job with Miracle Studios doing freelance backgrounds.
Hignite expounds, "I never grew up with a worship of Walt Disney. Our family never went to any Disney theme park until I was in college. I most remember Walt from his hosting The Wonderful World Of Color Sunday television shows. I first really became interested in Walt when I was looking for another similar company to my own home building company. I saw my homes as the most creative and innovative homes being offered in our market. I wanted to use the mental link to Disney to associate my company with a name that instantly brings thoughts of creativity to the masses. Years later, when we began the Miracle Mouse feature, the hardest thing for me to get across to the animation staff was that I wanted my own style, not Disney's. I have no issue with taking "inspiration" from Walt's films, but I want to do something in a new style so it does not look like a poor re-tread of what has already been put on film before. For one example, I wanted to embrace tangents (background items touching other items, not overlapping them)while the staff was accustomed to shun this new idea. When an artist would draw a tree that looked like a tree, I wanted to make it a tree that had never been seen before, yet looked familiar. I wanted to create a plausible fantasy world unto itself. To get our style set, we first produced a very nice hardcover illustrated book for Miracle Mouse. That has become our style guide of sorts'
The aspect of good story telling is crucial and paramount to any good film. Hignite feels strongly that he has a message to tell that kids and adults need to hear or be reminded of. The film is decidedly 1950's old-fashioned. The story has no blue humor, farts, or burps. At it's core, the central messages read like a stack of fortune cookies. Optimism tops pessimism, friendship is worth sacrifices, helping others to succeed is with the effort, do unto others as you would wish them to do to you. politeness always wins out over harsh anger. Patience will pay-off in the end, happiness is infectious -so is anger, believing that great things can happen is the start of great things happening, we all can create our own destiny, we all have the ability to make our dreams come true. As for those last few lessons, Hignite appropriately places his feature's future in these exact hopeful sentiments.
Here's a poster for Tom Hignite's cartoon.
Miracle Mouse in 'Cranky's Miracle' featuring the voice of the great Ernest Borgnine among other notable actors.
And here's video about Tom's project...
The link to Tom's Miracle Studios in Wisconsin...
Thank you so much for the visibility on Animation Nation for my film project. Charles, you are a scolar and a gentleman!
I also took your advice and the website wwwTraditionalAnimation.com is running a fairly long article about Miracle Mouse and it's journey on their site in a few business days. They asked for copies of a lot of our visual development work. We just sent them our biggest package of(over 35 pieces of artwork) art we have yet sent-out on Miracle Mouse, so thanks for heading me in that direction Charles!
In the last 2 weeks, I have recieved over 100 inquiries and support e-mails from animators around the world(but mostly in southern California).
We still have a very long road to go until we will be seeing our feature on the silver screen or gracing the shelves of Walmart on the cover of a DVD box, but adding a few star names to voice the production, axcellerating our production on our full-length animatic, and a lot of new press is helping us get to the ultimate goal a little faster.
Congratulations to Mr. Hignite for closing in towards the finish line on his dream.
This appeared to be a very long and painful ride, as I have been following this project for the past seven years. It seems that this film is extremely close to seeing the light of day, and all involved, as well as all who WERE involved can be thankful for that, I hope.
Still here, Charles, and still reading!
Congratulations, and my best wishes to Mr Hignite and the whole team at Miracle Studios. This film is looking very nice. I enjoyed watching the artwork and animation a lot.
I too would like to share your feelings that this film is extremely close to seeing the light of day. I and my very small team have sure put a whole lot of time and effort into taking it to this stage. I would not however be surprised if this film takes many more years to complete. We are just now in the full animatic stage. We are doing this a little oddly as we are producing the full painted production backgrounds as we prepare an animatic(hopefully good enough to be entered into film competitions as a new "experimental" form of film), unlike anyone may be used to seeing. Then after audience testing, we will either go forward with the full animation process or re-tool the story and try all over again with a re-vamp. I think oru story is working but it makes no sense to animate a poorly told story. that is what got 2D in this mess to begin with. My original fire to do this project was to show that 2D can succeed. To do that we MUST first have a wonderful story or we will be another Home On The Range. At this time, I am seeking expert story people from the animation world to act as a brain-trust and see what we really have here. I have already been given some very helpful notes from a few such "animation angels".
I am glad you got joy from seeing our art and animation. It has been a labor of love in the most sincere form and it seems to be showing. Thank goodness! If you wish to see more art/vis-dev from the production, check-in on www.traditionalanimation.com sometime this coming week. Thanks all.
Hello Animation Nationers,
Today, the website www.tradtionalanimation.com posted a group of artwork from Miracle Mouse on their main headline article. They also posted a few very short video clips of Ernest Borgnine and Jane Lynch doing their audio sessions in Hollywood a few weeks ago.
It is hard to believe that Ernest is 95 years old! Both were sheer joys to work with and , as you might expect, consumate professionals. We are still busy editing the soundtrack for the full feature animatic and it is turning out wonderfully.
P.S. Thanks Charles for connecting Lavelle at Traditional Animation's site to Miracle Mouse.
That's a good write up Tom and a good website. The link doesn't work cuz it's misspelled. Let's try this...
Just a few seconds of Ernest Borgnine? Is there a way to get more footage of him online? He looks great for 95 years old. One of my favorite actors of all time. Academy Award winner!
Hello Charles. I composed a reply about a few interesting stories on Ernest Brgine's session. but it seemed to disappear. Did you get it? Tom
No I didn't. Could you try again? If it's a lot of text try typing it out in a word program first then copy it over to the reply box.
Interesting story about my audio session with Ernest Borgnine last month in Hollywood. He showed-up EARLY by about 15 minutes. He did not argue or have any sort of an additude whatsoever. He did not demand any special treatment or certain goodies be present at the session. When we were doing a little back-and-forth over the agreed price, he was logical and accomodating.
His part as the main antagonist-tuned-protagonist saw lines for him on most of our 97 page script. It took him only about 2 hours to do all of his lines and many of his lines were read in a manner that was better than we might have envisioned the lines being read. He was gentleman enough to allow us to do a short video interview afterwards(perhaps to be released on the DVD edition some day), and he even signed 20 posters over his character's image just before departing.
When he came to the studio, there were several steps to go up to get to the doorway. He went up those stairs like a man 20 or 30 years younger than he. He has won an Oscar for best actor in the Academy Awards nad has appeared aling with most every major Hollywood star in so many famous movies and starred in a hit television series, McCales Navy.
Ernest is still a working actor and is in demand. He has the age and experience to simply "phone-it-in" for doing an animated independent movie( if he so wished). Instead he came tot he session and first wanted to sit down and discuss some special ideas he had envisioned for the character. Since his Cranky Crane character was a crane(the bird kind, not the machine type) he suggested we try to use a mix of his voice and an actual cranes noise when he says his catchline "Humpth!"
His speaking was as down to earth as if he was an unacomplised no-name blue-collar factory worker. When anyone tried to tell him what a living legend he is, he dismissed it with a smile and moved onto other subjects.
If you can not tell, I was impressed beyond words by this man's simple honesty and sincere additude.
I am coming back to Hollywood in the next several weeks to do some pick-up lines with Mr. Borgine. I will enjoy seeing him again even moreso in light of my first experiences with him.
By the way, did I mention he is 95 years old?
Dear Animation Nationers,
I was busy "working" today having a Sunday client meeting when my lead animation artist Philo called me on my two-way phone. I brushed him off and quickly told him I was busy but would call him back. Then my wife called me a minute later insisting I talk to her. Both called to tell me that one of Hollywood's biggest stars, and the star of our 2D animated production , Mr. Ernest Borgnine had passed-away. With-in an our two television stations were interviewing me because our Miracle Mouse animated production may very well have been the last professional acting(voice-over) work Mr. Borgnine did before he passed. I was about to fly out to do another audio session with this "living legend".
He apparently died of natural causes with his family at his hospital bedside. I lost my own father a few months ago and while, for me, this is not in that league of personal loss, this has affected me more than I might have thought.I keep replaying my talks with Ernest(I was honored that he told me to call him Ernie). Ernest was such a strong and memorable personality. He summed up the essence of the word "nice". He was also gentle, polite, professional, and a beloved GIANT of a man. I will miss him very much.
Our foyer white board now has a drawing of his character ,Cranky Crane ,crying drawn on it. Funny timing, Philo had been working, this very Sunday(at home) on a very sincere and caring scene in our film where Cranky has to say good-bye(forever) to a dear friend. Philo just felt moved to work on this scene then he heard the sad news.
Life is short. He would have been 96 in October but he seemd like a man of 60.
Here ya go Tom...
Oscar-winning film star Ernest Borgnine dies
July 8, 2012
4:13 PM EST
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ernest Borgnine, the beefy screen star known for blustery, often villainous roles, but who won the best-actor Oscar for playing against type as a lovesick butcher in "Marty" in 1955, died Sunday. He was 95.
His longtime spokesman, Harry Flynn, told The Associated Press that Borgnine died of renal failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with his wife and children at his side.
15 posts • Page 1 of 1