"Ladies Knight" aired as part of the 2013 edition of "Fine Cut." A summary: In this mini-musical, the dweebish Sir Knightly sets off to rescue the Princess from a dragon. Unfortunately, the Princess thinks the dragon is way "hotter" than Sir Knightly.
Here, we speak with Joe Rothenberg, the director of "Ladies Knight," about animation technology, voice-over casting, tap-dancing horses, and dragons.
There's a retro feel to your animation style, but you use modern technology to accomplish this feat. What draws you to use such programs as After Effects and Flash?
I've been using Flash for over 10 years, since I was 12 years old. It feels natural to me now. I love the look of clean, bright vector animation, and it was a great way to pay tribute to old cartoons like "Rocky & Bullwinkle" while still feeling modern and fresh.
Animation is often a collaborative process, but you drew every frame of this film yourself. How does this process compare to working with a team?
The advantage of working solo is that every detail of the film can look exactly the way I want it to, and the style can remain consistent. There is also a very rewarding sense of ownership. I felt like "Ladies Knight" might be my last chance to animate a film 100% solo, and I really wanted to have that. The disadvantage was that it was an excruciating amount of work and a tremendous load of stress, and I finished and turned in the film exactly two minutes before the final deadline.
The voice-over work in this film is particularly great. Could you describe the process of casting voice actors for such a project?
I did a casting call using a web service called L.A. Casting. Then Ryan (my music director) and I held auditions in one of the USC classrooms. We heard some fantastic auditions, but there was always a perfect choice for each role, and we were lucky enough to get our first choice for every character. My own performance as the Singing Sword was Ryan's idea. We had trouble finding someone with the right baritone, and I kept demonstrating what we wanted for the actors until Ryan said, "Joe, why don't you just do it?"
What does animation allow you to accomplish that you couldn't with live action?
It gives you license to be silly, and it challenges you to be imaginative and go beyond what can be done in real life. During Doofus' tap dance number in particular, I wanted to do things that you'd never see in a live action tap dance number, so I had him tap up the side of a tree as it falls over, get lifted into the sky by birds, perform a duet with a bear, and so on.
Who do you consider some of your greatest artistic inspirations?
In the animation world, my heroes are folks like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Walt Disney, and Jay Ward. While working on "Ladies Knight," I found the number "Friend Like Me" from "Aladdin" immensely inspiring -- one of the most entertaining animated song-and-dance numbers of all time (featuring animation by Eric Goldberg). I've also been greatly influenced by the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes" by Bill Watterson and video games like "Pajama Sam" (Humongous Entertainment) and "Yoshi's Island" (Nintendo).
If you could create the perfect name for a dragon, what would it be?
Dragon is quite effective -- it's descriptive, iconic, and to the point. My second choice would be Plaggawhak.
What's next for you?
I do a bit of programming and game design, and right now I am very excited to be working on my first real video game, "Ping." It's like the classic arcade game "Pong," but with missiles. It's a very silly spoof, but it's tons of fun, and I'm hoping to have it ready for release to the public in a few months. Aside from "Ping," I won't be away from animation for long -- I've got about a half-dozen ideas for short films in development which could, hopefully, turn into series down the road, and I'm dabbling in web comics. Here's the link to the Ping development blog: www.pingthegame.com/blog