Animation to soar to new heights with 'Astro Boy'



LOS ANGELES, Paula Bustamante - Astro Boy, the mythical Japanese cartoon character that has captivated generations of young people worldwide, will come out this year as an animated film by British director David Bowers.
"Without a doubt, this experience has been one of greater creative freedom. A lot of my robots, for example, were inspired by pre-Colombian characters," said Luis Grane, the film's Argentine character designer.



Animation to soar to new heights with 'Astro Boy'
The animated feature is based on the popular Japanese cartoon series by Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), known as the "god of manga" in its heyday in the 1960s.
"The biggest challenge with recreating Astro Boy was the protagonist, because he had to meet the approval of not only the director, but also Tezuka's son," said Grane, who worked for six years at US film studio DreamWorks before collaborating on "Spider-Man 2," "The Matrix" and animation powerhouse Pixar's "Ratatouille."
"Without a doubt, Astro Boy required more time. We had to negotiate with Tezuca's people, the size, the clothes, everything," added Grane, who jokingly did not rule out creating a cartoon in the future on Argentine football star Diego Maradona, known as the "Hand of God."
The Astro Boy film is being crafted at Imagi Animation studios on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where a few scenes were shown to reporters from the project, the largest animated feature undertaking since "TMNT," the 2007 Ninja Turtles blockbuster.
Bowers, of "Flushed Away" fame, said the feature, which debuts on October 23 in the United States and between January and February 2010 in Argentina and Brazil, follows the original story.
"With Astro Boy we're being really faithful to the story, we're working with Macoto Tezuka, Osamu Tezuka's son, who we brought on to make sure we're doing everything right," Bowers said.
"To me it's a family film and like a lot of family films has darker elements, because the story of Astro Boy is pretty sad and dark.
"We worked very, very hard to make sure that it was emotionally, dramatically terrific and as well to be respectful with this important Icon for the Japanese culture."
While Bowers and Timothy Harris took just six weeks to complete the screenplay, production has been underway since 2007 in co-operation with hundreds of animators in Hong Kong, who help the team work 24 hours a day.
Like Grane, Spain's Pepe Valencia joined Imagi Animation in 2007 to work exclusively on "Astro Boy," for which he serves as director of photography.
"With fewer technological resources than the major studios, 'Astro Boy' allowed me to create my own style, my own visual language to help bring the same rhythm as an action film, said Valencia, who headed digital design for "The Polar Express," "Monster House" and "Superman."
The cinematographer's technical acumen is on display in "Astro Boy," with scenes showing the protagonist flying at full speed, facing villains or disappearing in the skies, all executed with camera movements often facilitated by meticulous computer work.
"I have not been inspired by anything or anyone in particular. I just wanted to test my new experiences and techniques learned on the job," said Valencia, who is launching his own preview film studio.
The film recounts the beginnings of the boy robot with human feelings who undertakes a journey in search of his identity before returning to futuristic Metro City to reconcile with his estranged creator, genius scientist Tenma, who is voiced by Nicolas Cage.
Joining Cage in the cast are Kirsten Bell (Cora), Nathan Lane (Ham Egg), Donald Sutherland (General Stone) and 17-year-old Freddie Highmore, known for his title role in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," as Astro Boy.
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Monday, June 22nd 2009
Paula Bustamante
           


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