As the Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival deals with the benefits and struggles of going digital, perhaps no American studio has backed 2020’s online version more than Netflix, which will host three highly-anticipated panels for upcoming projects, among them a masterclass from stop-motion master Henry Selick and his composer Bruno Coulais.
An unannounced surprise, the masterclass – focused primarily on the pair’s upcoming “Wendell & Wild” film – features a cameo introduction from Jordan Peele, who leads the voice along with Keegan Michael Key.
“I’ve had an absolute blast working with Henry Selick and the crew for Wendell & Wild,” he says. “I cannot wait for you to discover this film, but until that can happen it’s my pleasure to introduce my idol Henry Selick, and Bruno Coulais.”
In addition to voice acting, Peele also produced and contributed to the film’s screenplay. He was joined in production by Selick and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein from the Gotham Group. Win Rosenfeld from Monkeypaw, Peter Principato and Joel Zadak from Principato-Young, and Lindsay Williams and Eddie Gamarra from The Gotham Group co-produced. Popular Argentinian abstract artist Pablo Lobato handled character design.
In the film, two demon brothers, voiced by Key and Peele, escape the Underworld and find themselves in a town where they must evade demon-duster teenager, Kat, who is trying to destroy them, while the pair attempt to build the world’s greatest amusement part.
Although the brothers are Demons straight from the inferno, they are not, as might be expected, the “bad guys” in the film. According to Selick, humankind fit that bill with aplomb.
“I reached out to him (Peele) and talked about the idea for the project, and meeting and getting to collaborate with him as well as Keegan Michael Key, has been a dream come true for me,” Selick explains in the masterclass, available to stream June 15-30 to accredited Annecy attendees.
“‘Wendel and Wild’ was an old idea for me, and Jordan wanted to come on as more than just voice talent,” he goes on. “He wanted to collaborate, to be a producer, to work on story and writing, and the project has changed in so many good ways as a result of working with him.”
Much has been said and written about animation being one of the most COVID-resistant mediums in the audiovisual industry. And, in terms of writing, storyboarding, editing and music, that might be true. In stop motion animation however, that hasn’t necessarily been the case.
“One reason I love stop motion animation is that it’s very physically collaborative,” Selick explains, responding to a Coulais question about how the director is handling lockdown. “You can’t be with everyone all the time, but you’re using your hands and you are pointing. So, there is this wonderful connection you make, and it has been difficult to maintain that sort of connection.”
“The advantage of a composer is that we are always contained, alone in our studio writing music, so it was not so unusual,” Coulais laughs back.
Coulais is uniquely placed among composers to speak on the animation process. He frequently joins productions for which he composes at a very early stage, and collaborates musically from the very beginning helping to mold the film through music as it develops, rather than writing music to accompany an already-shot scene.
“I love working this way, and most composers you would never get this kind of long-term collaboration,” Selick praises his long-time collaborator. “This is the best way.”
“It’s a dream for a composer,” Coulais adds. “This film needs a lot of music. This is a magic world that allows for a lot of experimentation for the composer.”
While no release date has yet been announced, at a press event in July 2019, Key hinted that the film could be released by the end of 2020. Although that seems optimistic considering delays imposed by the current lockdowns affecting production.