Hi everyone! Aaron Blaise here. For those that don’t know who I am… I’ve been in the animation industry for almost 25 years now with 21 of those years spent at Walt Disney Feature Animation. I was lucky enough to have contributed to many of Disney’s latest classics including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, and Mulan. I also co-directed Brother Bear. In the last few years I’ve been developing several films for various companies by way of story development and visual development/concept design. I’ve been a guest on Photoshop User TV a couple of times and will be an instructor at the upcoming Photoshop World event in Las Vegas! (That WILL be fun!)

There…now that I got the intro out of the way, I’d like to share with you the latest project my directing partner, Chuck Williams and myself have been working on, Art Story. First I’d like to give you a little background on this project.

A few years back, Chuck and myself were presented with an amazing opportunity. Leave Disney in California, and move back to our home state of Florida to head up the creative development of a brand new animation studio being created in Port Saint Lucie. The studio was to be a division of the then visual effects giant, Digital Domain.  It was a big gamble for us, but ultimately we couldn’t resist the opportunity.

We started in April of 2010. Chuck and I were tasked with creating content for animated feature films and hiring the staff to make them. Over the next year we, along with a great story team, developed four original ideas. One was a fantasy piece (Art Story), another was a comedy, another was a sci-fi piece, and the last one was a big epic adventure called The Legend of Tembo.

After looking closely at all four projects we decided to go with The Legend of Tembo as our first film. It was a big story and one we thought would be perfect as a first film for our young company.

It was the story of a gentle, young African elephant named Tembo, taken from his savannah home and shipped over seas where he is forced to become a battle elephant. It’s here that he must fight for his freedom and make his way back home.

Tragedy struck though 13 months into making Tembo. After over a year of preproduction and development and literally 3 weeks from the start of actual production we came to work on a Friday to learn that the company had gone bankrupt and everything was shutting down. We had two hours to clean out our desks. Just like that the dream was crushed.

Over the next 6 months or so Chuck and I worked on trying to get Tembo out of bankruptcy with no luck.  It was then though that our ex-boss, John Textor was able to get Art Story out of bankruptcy.

Art Story was going to be our follow up to Tembo, a completely different film from our big elephant adventure. It’s a story about an 11-year-old, meticulous boy, WALT, and his crazy, loopy GRANDPA — two complete opposites — who get stuck in a vast, imaginative WORLD OF PAINTINGS.  Inside, they cross paths with a ruthless painted character determined to make it into our world. In order to get home and stop the villain, Walt and Grandpa have to set aside their differences, work together and navigate worlds where the rules can change around every corner.

It’s a big visual undertaking in that every time Walt and Grandpa enter a different painted world they take on the look of that world. It’ll be like having 7 or 8 completely different art directed little films in one!

It was at this time that we decided we wanted to try and create something from the ashes of what we once were. We decided we wanted to make this film. We didn’t have a studio anymore though and all of the staff we had once hired had moved on to other jobs.

Chuck and I had used up almost all of our savings and parts of our retirements just to get by over that year. We needed to figure out how we were going to get at least the start of this film funded. That’s when we decided we wanted to give Kickstarter a try.

For those that don’t know, Kickstarter is a crowd funding website owned by Amazon where you can present a project to the masses and they can decide if they want to donate to it or not. In return for their donations they receive different rewards that we come up with at different monetary amounts given. It’s a simple idea really but one that’s really taken off.

After figuring out what key work we would need done over the next year or so, we came up with an amount of $350,000 that we would try and raise to get the film seeded. Chuck and I then put together a short video explaining our story and process and attached it to our new Kickstarter home page and launched it July 7th. Kickstarter has a finite number of days for you to raise the funds. If you don’t do it within the days allotted then you get nothing. We had 47 days. We had until August 23rd to raise the $350,000 needed to get started. This is where we got our lesson in social media! We plastered ourselves and Art Story everywhere we could, several times a day. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram…and it worked!! By August 23rd we had exceeded our goal and raised $365,670 donated by 1,785 backers!!! We couldn’t believe it! You can see our Kickstarter page right here.

And now here we are. Chuck and I are in the early stages of utilizing the funds (we aren’t taking salaries) and getting Art Story to next stages of development. We intend to get our script finished and very tight, create all new visual development/concept pieces, create a new story reel of the film, and we also want to do something a little different. We want to create both a children’s book and an e-book telling the entire story and release them before the film. Where the big studios like to keep there original content secret up until their release dates, we thought we would get the story out there ahead of time and get the public behind it. Get them excited for the film version!

All of these pieces you see here were done in Photoshop CS6 on my 21″ Wacom Cintiq. I have to say that it is an incredible amount of fun for me to put our characters into these great pieces of art and try to emulate the various styles. (Keep in mind I’m painting our characters into existing high res pieces)

Creating animated features is a marathon process, taking up to 5 years to complete. We are just now in the beginning stages of Art Story and we have a long road ahead of us, but I hope you’ll keep up with our progress over the coming few years on our website.

Thanks so much to Scott for allowing me to share with you all our little movie and thank you readers for taking the time to read my ramblings. If you happen to be in Vegas for Photoshop World and you see me, please come up and say hi. I’ll also be teaching classes on Digital Character creation, Wildlife painting in Photoshop, and Character design.  You can see more of my work at CreatureArtTeacher.com. Hope to see you there!!   -Aaron

You can see more of Aaron’s work at CreatureArtTeacher.comAaronBlaiseArt.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter and Google+