WildBrain’s ‘Lake Erie’ breaks new ground in family horror

Long recognized as one of the world’s leading independent children’s content companies, Halifax-based WildBrain is home to brands such as Peanuts, Teletubbies, Yo Gabba Gabba!, Inspector Gadget, Degrassi, and many more. And, with the advent of their state-of-the-art 75,000 square foot animation studio in Vancouver, BC, they produced a number of popular series, including The Snoopy Show and Carmen Sandiego.

Great, you might say, but what have they been up to lately?

Well, for the very first time, WildBrain Studios produced an animated short, which won Best Animated Short at the Toronto Short Film Festival and the Vancouver Independent Film Festival, and is currently touring the international festival circuit. Written and directed by veteran animator and digital effects artist John Vassallo, lake erie is a family ghost story that follows a boy who, once separated from his dog, must face terrifying supernatural forces to get her back.

The 2D animated short will also serve as the basis for an all-new series produced by WildBrain.

AWN is pleased to present an exclusive preview of the official lake erie trailer, as well as development artwork and stills from the short. And, as if that weren’t enough, we also spoke with Vassallo and Logan McPherson, VP of Creative at WildBrain Studios, about the origins of the project, the impetus behind making the short, and whether if this represents a new model for future productions. .

Check out the tantalizing trailer – if you dare! – so enjoy the interview!

AWN: What inspired WildBrain to produce a short film now?

Logan McPherson: It is above all a beautiful story. John has a unique and clear vision for both the narrative and the visuals. We believe there is a real opportunity to elevate this type of storytelling in animation, and John’s vision extends far beyond the short into a world and cast of characters that could be explored for many years. many seasons.

It was also an amazing opportunity for us to support a local creator and help bring their vision to life. We thought it was a unique story with great characters, providing a family horror vibe, which isn’t often the case. John’s artwork reflects a nostalgic, hand-drawn style, but is also rich in atmosphere, mood, tone and lighting. So from a studio perspective, we saw this as an opportunity to push what we’re already doing in Harmony and incorporate CG elements and lighting in a holistic way that really serves the narrative.

Finally, with the depth of John’s cinematic experience, it was an ideal opportunity to bring that sensibility to the studio and train our team in that style and execution, with John’s vision driving it.

AWN: What was the genesis of the film? Is this something you’ve been thinking about for a while?

John Vassallo: Yes! lake erie started as a passion project of mine in 2015 – I worked on it nights and weekends, something I was lucky my wife Melissa supported. I fell in love with the characters and just couldn’t let go of them over the years, although I almost gave up a few times. I had always wanted to make it something bigger, and when WildBrain got involved, I started to think it was possible.

AWN: Can you cite any specific influences regarding narrative and/or visual style?

JV: Narratively, Stephen King is a big influence for me (you might notice a few references in the short), as well as movies from the 80s, such as support me and HEY We developed the long story with writer Josh Saltzman in tandem with the short, so everything evolved organically.

Visually, I was very inspired by Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo The keeper of the dam. I come from a CG feature background, but I wanted lake erie to feel more illustrative, gritty, and of course spooky. My goal was to do something that resembled my initial concept artwork, which included a layer of light and shadow. Our studio’s technical director, Josh Dresner, did an amazing job of finding the look I was looking for.

AWN: How long did it take to manufacture and what was your production pipeline like?

JV: The whole production took about nine months, with a few gaps here and there because we were relying mostly on people from other projects to build the team – which was a unique challenge for our producer Devon Cody and the production manager Jenn Korba-Gill. Our pipeline incorporated 3D assets and Harmony builds overseen by Bob Etchingham, along with traditionally 2D animated shots to create the look.

AWN: Did any of the other creative contributors have a significant influence on the final product?

JV: Our voice cast, assembled by Adrienne Lindsay, was amazing. They all gave great performances, despite being isolated in the recoding booth during the Covid. Concept artists Isaac Orloff, Charles Hilton and Jenn Jackson did an amazing job on the initial ideas that really raised the bar for the whole film, and the character design team of Armando Castellanos, Tor Aunet and Alex Picar worked hard to get my first character designs ready for production.

Background Supervisor John Hill and his team created the beautiful backgrounds, and our animation lead on the project, Flavia Guttler, worked her magic to get the stylized animation on point. Our lead special effects artist, Jeremy Rillorta, helped define the look of the ghost fire and stylized waves, which was a huge challenge. Ari Utria composed the entire short by himself to a high standard, which is amazing. CG technical directors Jason Julich and Stefan Bekolay led the 3D side of things, with 3D modeler Woong Park and CG layout manager Jeff Burt designing the 3D assets. Our composer, Peter Ricq, provided the superb original music and editor Ryan Smith put all the pieces together. The entire cast and crew really came together around this project.

AWN: Who is the audience for this film and how would you characterize the narration?

ML: lake erie creatively explores the “family horror” genre, which we believe is a unique opportunity in animation today. John does it with elegance and respect, giving our audience an appropriate level of fear, without being obnoxious or gory. (Kids won’t end up having nightmares.) At the same time, he’s not afraid to be bold and edgy, with lots of twists and turns. The narrative is designed to inspire viewers to put the pieces together as Kip goes through his journey, not only to make sense of his current storyline, but also to understand his past and family history.

AWN: Is this a model for the future and will other in-house talents be called upon to make more short films?

ML: While we don’t officially have a short film program in place per se, we’re always keen to explore opportunities to bring new voices and unique ideas to the table, especially where we can expand our capabilities. studio and develop our internal talents at the same time.

Jon Hofferman's photo

Jon Hofferman is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. He is also the creator of the Classical Composers Poster, an educational and decorative music timeline that makes a wonderful gift.

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