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"The Ballad of Nessie" : Why it took Disney such a long, long time to produce this short

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"The Ballad of Nessie" : Why it took Disney such a long, long time to produce this short

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Did you hear that there was a Loch Ness Monster sighting yesterday in France?

Well, not a sighting exactly. More like a screening. With Walt Disney Animation Studios' latest short, "The Ballad of Nessie," being shown to attendees of the 51st Annecy International Animation Festival and Conference as part of that fest's Screening on the Lake series.

And later today, Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton (i.e. the directors of "Nessie") and Dorothy McKim (i.e. the producer of this charming hand-drawn short) will be appearing in the Petite Salle at Annecy's Bonlieu Theatre to discuss "Nessie" 's long, long journey to the big screen.

"How long?," you ask. "The Ballad of Nessie" 's roots can actually be traced to a student film that Stevie did back in 1994 while she was still at CalArts.

Stevie Wermers- Skelton draws the title character from Walt Disney
Animation Studios' new short, "The Ballad of Nessie." Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"It was something that I did in my second year," Wermers-Skelton recalled when we spoke on the phone last month. "And because I really liked this idea, I always kept 'Nessie' tucked away in my back pocket. With the hope that - further on down the line - I might get the chance to revisit this story. Make 'Nessie' into a more fully-realized film."

Now jump ahead to January of 2006, when The Walt Disney Company purchased Pixar Animation Studios. When John Lasseter and Ed Catmull came on board as the new heads of Walt Disney Animation Studios, these two announced that they were looking to revive the Studio's shorts program. What's more, John & Ed then invited WDAS staffers to come pitch them story ideas for some new Disney animated shorts.

"I actually wound up pitching 'Nessie' on the exact same day that I pitched 'How to Hook Up Your Home Theater.' And John and Ed loved both ideas," Stevie laughed. "So we wound up making 'Home Stereo' first and then segued into making 'Nessie.' "

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which turned out to be a lucky break for Wermers-Skelton and her co-director Deters. Given that "Home Studio" gave the team at WDAS (which was kind of out of practice at this point. Since Disney's last hand-drawn animated feature, "Home on the Range," had been released back in March of 2004) a chance to get back in the hand-drawn groove.

"Plus we had a very specific look in mind for 'The Ballad of Nessie,' " Stevie explained. "We wanted this short to look timeless, like it was something that the animation department had produced back in the 1940s & 1950s. Which is why our art director Andy Harkness carefully studied Disney films like 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' & 'Johnny Appleseed' and shorts like 'Pigs is Pigs.' So that he'd be able to replicate that timeless stylization that Disney animation had back then."

So the team at WDAS comes rolling off of working on "How to Hook Your Home Theater" and then immediately begins rough animation on "The Ballad of Nessie." But before they could get too far into working on this new animated short, it was time for the crew at WDAS to start working on "The Princess and The Frog."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"Which - I'll admit - was somewhat frustrating. But since I'd been waiting since 1994 to see a fully formed version of 'Nessie,' I was willing to wait another year or two to see this short finally done right," Wermers-Skelton continued.

Besides - while "Nessie" was sitting on the shelf, waiting for Studio veterans like Ruben Aquino, Dale Baer, Andreas Deja, Randy Haycock and Mark Henn to finish up working on 'Frog' so that they'd have the chance to get back to work on this short - Stevie, Kevin & Dorothy did have their hands full. They'd been assigned to work on Walt Disney Animation Studios' first-ever holiday special, "Prep and Landing."

"So it wasn't like we were just sitting around, waiting to work on 'Nessie.' 'Prep' kept us very busy," Wermers-Skelton said. "But the upside was - by waiting 'til work was finally done on 'Frog' - everyone really brought their A game when they began working on 'Nessie' again. Which is why this short turned out so much better than any of us ever expected."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So why then - if "The Ballad of Nessie" turned out so well - did this short, once it was completed, sit on the shelf for a year or so at Walt Disney Feature Animation? The way I heard it, the Studio was just waiting for the perfect animated feature to pair this short with. Which turned out to be "Winnie the Pooh." But that's not the way that Stevie heard this story.

"I just think that it's just a happy coincidence that 'Nessie' wound up being paired with 'Pooh,' " Wermers-Skelton stated. "I mean, it is kind of a natural pairing. But I doubt that the Studio deliberately held this short back while they looked for just the right film to release 'Nessie' with."

Whatever the case, "The Ballad of Nessie" has been getting a strong reaction from overseas audiences (i.e. "Winnie the Pooh" was released theatrically in the UK & France back in early April). Which is why Stevie, Kevin and Dorothy are at Annecy this week. So that they can talk with their animation peers about all the years & effort that went into the creation of this charming new animated short from Disney.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"I'm just relieved that 'Nessie' turned out as well as it did. It took a really long time. But we were kind of the engine that could. This production just kept chugging along. And finally - after all these years - - the public and our peers get to see the finished product," Wermers-Skelton smiled.

Of course, what's kind of ironic about this whole situation is that Stevie, Kevin and Dorothy are in France this week when they really can't afford to be away from the Studio. Why For? Because they're still hard at work on a "Prep and Landing" sequel -- "Disney Prep and Landing: Naughty Vs. Nice" -- which is due to debut on ABC this holiday season.

"We've still got another two or three months of work left to do on 'Naughty Vs. Nice,' " Wermers-Skelton admitted. "We hope to wrap animation by July. And then we'll need to record the score and do post production. By the way, just like we did with the first 'Prep and Landing' back in 2009, we're talking about screening 'Naughty Vs. Nice' for  D23 members in August at the D23 Expo."

(L to R) Stevie Wermers-Skelton, Chris Williams, Dorothy McKim and  Kevin Deters with
the 2010 Emmy Awards that they won for "Disney Prep and Landing." Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But all that hard work can wait 'til this trio gets back to Burbank. For now, it's all about enjoying the accolades at Annecy. By the way: If you're attending this year's animation festival and managed to miss today's "The Making of the Ballad of Nessie" talk, not to worry. Stevie, Kevin and Dorothy will be giving the exact same presentation on Friday between 10 - 11 a.m. at MIFA B.2011. So if you'd like to learn more about this sweet but highly stylized Disney short, be sure and check that panel out later this week.

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  • This short is excellent, I had the opportunity to see it with Winnie the Pooh here in Guatemala.  I hope that these guys get at least one Oscar nomination for it.   Great animation and a  great message delivered by this cartoon.

  • Looks cute - can't wait to see it!

  • Nessie looks like she could be Figment's little sister...so much so that perhaps she could cameo in whatever show will take over the Magic Eye theatre after Captain EO's run.

  • I seem to remember an episode of "Wonderful World of Disney" that had Nessie as its subject, with a little bit of animation and Sterling Holloway as the voice of Nessie. Anybody else remember that episode, or am I just imagining things?

  • beautiful short! i hope it gets an oscar nomination and maybe win for best animated short subject!

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