Phil Lord and Chris Miller win Creative Impact in Animation Award
When it comes to animation, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more creative duo than writers-directors-producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who have provided groundbreaking animation for nearly two decades.
Their credit list is huge, covering both film and television as well as animation and live action, including the production of the groundbreaking “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, which won the award. ‘Oscar and Golden Globe for Animated Feature, among many other accolades. They also produced this year’s hit “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”, from Sony Pictures Animation and Netflix, and are involved in a revival of their acclaimed, albeit short-lived, animated series “Clone High”. They also wrote and directed the critical favorites “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “The Lego Movie”. Their IMDB pages are full of a myriad of projects they write, produce, or complete. Sometimes all three.
Long-standing successful partnerships like theirs are hard to come by in Hollywood. Perhaps theirs has stood the test of time because it was literally forged by fire after they met as students at Dartmouth College. They were first introduced to each other by an elementary school friend of Miller’s. “But there is a more colorful story that we used to tell in meetings, which is also true, but not technically how we met, but that’s how we became the closest friends. “, explains Lord. “It was when Chris set my girlfriend’s hair on fire.”
“By accident, but yes,” Miller admits. “Her hair smelled bad, and then Phil thought it was funny so…”
“We all had a good laugh,” Lord concludes.
Lord, an art history student, and Miller, who studied government and art in the studio, took a lot of animation classes and “skipped most of our classes to draw our short films for a while. practically all [senior] year, ”Lord remembers. It was hot in their little studio “so we drew in our boxers,” he adds. “Our friends would come [to visit] of an interview with Morgan Stanley in a beautiful suit and we knew then that our lives would differ from theirs.
“We made the decision to go to Hollywood and try to be successful in show business,” says Miller. “It sounded like a crazy idea, but we thought we were going to give it a shot” even though they didn’t know anyone. And by mistake, they claim, they got a development job at Disney Animation.
Miller explains that a Dartmouth alumni magazine “wrote an article about me and it contained inaccurate exaggerations on some of the things I had done, such as interning at ILM, the George Lucas effects company. He said I helped design the dinosaurs for the new “Star Wars” prequels and I was like “Dinosaurs?” And I didn’t. I used to bring coffee to people who did this sort of thing. Somehow, through a series of coincidences, it fell into the hands of Michael Eisner, who then passed the article on to his subordinate, to that person’s subordinate, to another underlying. , who called me and they said they wanted to meet.
As a college student, Miller told them, “I’m busy with semesters right now, but my friend Phil and I are planning to move to LA. What if we won you a flight and met you together? We sent them a VHS copy of our student movies, moved to LA, and took this reunion. It was really the only meeting we had. And luckily, they liked the movies and offered us a deal. It was an unexpected opportunity that we took advantage of. We realize how lucky and privileged we were to be able to have it.
This meeting solidified their partnership. “It was sort of an accident,” Lord recalls. “Because we ran the meeting together, everyone assumed we were a team and wanted a job, so we kind of took it on. “
“We had to learn to be a team the first year we were developing cartoon shows on Saturday mornings,” Miller adds. “In college, we were friends, we helped each other on each other’s films, but Phil’s films were his and my films were mine, and we had never been in an equal partnership where neither neither was the boss. It was a lot to figure out how to be in a partnership, which was really difficult. It’s like a wedding, and luckily we held on because we weren’t very good at first.
They’ve definitely gotten the hang of it now. And with so many projects on their plate, it helps that they’ve built a strong team. “Luckily we’ve worked with a lot of really great people, and we’re working on projects with some really smart and creative filmmakers, all talented people, so that helps,” Miller says.
Animation holds a special place in their hearts because of its unique brand of collaboration. “You are constantly inspired by the artists you collaborate with every day,” says Lord. When you’re working on an animated film, “You guys are together for years. You are a part of each other’s life in a truly meaningful way, ”he says.
The medium is a very special art form, they say. “You spend so much time trying to tell a story through behavior and movement and trying to express someone’s personality through the way they walk, and it makes you really an observer of the way people. show themselves to you, ”says Lord. “Every detail counts. The way someone runs their coffee matters, and it’s a chance to expose the character and the story and really see your characters and have them show off. I find this attention to detail to be something that has been a hallmark of our working style. We sweat the details. All the little things matter.
Miller adds, “One thing that’s really amazing about animation is that it can visually be anything you imagine. You’re not limited by the realities of how the real world looks, or gravity, or physics, or anything. You are only bound by your imagination, and that means tonally, it means stylistically, it means in every way possible. Each movie can be its own unique work of art.
Lord and Miller approach every project as an opportunity to create something new, whether as writers, directors or producers. “When we jump on something, we think, ‘What’s an interesting way to represent this visually that matches what we’re trying to say thematically? “, Says Miller.
“Every movie or show is an opportunity to get away with something,” adds Lord. “These opportunities are so unique that when you go back you want to do something that no one has done before.”
With “The Lego Movie”, they wanted to make it look like a stop-motion brick movie, but on a large scale. “It seemed like a great opportunity to try out some of these filmmaking techniques, with all the tricks and intelligence it takes,” says Miller. With “Spider-Verse”, “the idea at the very beginning was to make a comic book movie that really feels like you are inside a comic with all the different kinds of art styles that you have. there is in the history of comics. “
In all of their work, says Miller, “It’s not just about ‘Let’s do a fun, crazy, random thing that nobody’s ever done.’ It’s always: ‘How does the story want to be told?’ And what’s the coolest, coolest way we can tell her. “
Although they write and perform backstage gigs, Lord and Miller are producing a lot these days.
“It’s an outgrowth of our partnership,” says Lord. “We’re especially well trained to work with each other and learn to celebrate what each brings to a project and to try to support it. It’s natural to do that with other filmmakers and collaborators. On “Spider-Verse”, we worked with three great directors and a multitude of filmmakers who were on that team, and that’s the joy, because you’re getting smarter and smarter, and our ideas, they’re amplified. and catalyzed by the ideas of our employees. This is what is so fun. You can see the world through their eyes and add that to your quiver.
“We’re not big supporters of author’s theory,” Miller says. “It’s fun when we can get a bunch of people who are trying to do something new together and get excited about it. It’s rewarding to find people who have interesting voices and try to help amplify them and make them better. It was awesome. Every version of it.
The secret to their success is to give themselves space. “We’re very opinionated, and so what we’ve learned to do over the years is give ourselves the ability to try things out and experiment with things,” Miller says. “When we started out, we were very picky about every little detail early on in the process, even if it was going to change a hundred times. Now, especially because there is so much that we are involved in, if one of us has a definite idea about it, the other will kind of say, ‘Okay, let’s go. Let’s see.’ And then know that if it does not work, this is not the last time that we will have to make a change on it.
“The magic is when you find yourself in a bind and we can’t agree on something or a problem pops up and seems unsolvable, then we hang around and discuss it,” Lord said. “We’re going to say, ‘Well, what about that? And we try to “yes, and …” on each other. You end up finding a solution that neither of you would have thought of on your own. And that often unblocks these problems. Usually what you need is an elbow in the ribs from someone else’s point of view because it really is a team sport.
Lord and Miller see a bright future for animation. “The public understands the idea that animation is a medium and not a genre, that any type of film can be animated, that any animated film can be anything, and therefore any year it seems to get more and more exciting, ”Miller said. said.
Lord adds: “I think we are on the cusp of a golden age. We’ve been in this for quite a while, where there is so much demand, and at the same time, more young people are interested in careers in our art, and the access is so amazing because you can learn. to do this work on YouTube. And besides, there are many great schools and animation programs, and enrollments in these programs are, by order of magnitude, more diverse and more feminine than ever before. You’re so excited about the quality of the work people do, the vibrancy, and the different ways people tell stories, that it gives you so much enthusiasm for the direction a medium is going.
“When you go to an art museum, you can see pointillists and abstract expressionists and all kinds of different arts,” says Miller. “This level of variety is possible in animation, now more than ever, even when we first started. But it’s such an exciting medium because so much is possible, and we really only started scratching the surface. the surface of what can be done.