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Ruminations: DNA Productions goes ape

Ruminations: DNA Productions goes ape

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The world of animation certainly does not stand still. And it is also not limited to just the Los Angeles basin, either. One of the better known examples of just how well that works is Pixar. But even further afield, things are happening that portend good times ahead for audiences of animated films.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit an up and coming production facility slightly east of the usual suspects. Okay so, it happened to be more than fourteen hundred miles east. And if you didn't know it was located there, you might have suspected that it was just another corporate occupant in one of many office buildings.

DNA Productions is the name of the company and they've been in the business of animation since 1987 in both the 2D and 3D mediums. You might have seen one of their earlier efforts, "Santa vs. the Snowman" at an Imax theater. Or perhaps you tuned in last week as Cartoon Network aired "Olive, The Other Reindeer" (their second production) as part of their Christmas programming. (Olive had an interesting bit of parentage as it was produced by Matt Groening's The Curiosity Company, Drew Barrymore's Flower Films and Fox Television Studios. The show premiered Friday, December 17, 1999, on Fox Network.)

"Olive, The Other Reindeer"
Image courtesy DNA Productions

But the studio may best be know for a little project they did for Nickelodeon, "The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius." Thanks to Jimmy, they've been nominated for a number of awards (including Emmys and Oscars) and even won a pair of Annies in 2004!

Jimmy and parents at Christmas
Image courtesy of DNA Productions

Now if you have ever watched an episode of Jimmy and stayed tuned in until the last few seconds (three, to be exact) you might have seen something looking like this...

The logo shot
Image courtesy of DNA Productions

Okay. So it's not all that unusual for an animation studio to have a mascot. Disney has it's mouse. Warner Brothers has it's rabbit. Pixar has it's lamp. But a three-eyed chimpanzee? That's a bit, well... it's just different. So when I was visiting, I got the chance to learn a bit about how Paul came to be.

Keith Alcorn (who owns DNA along with John Davis) filled me in on his origins:

"The studio had a mascot for years. Helix The Cat. He had two tails intertwined like a DNA strand helix. John had the idea to change the mascot to a mutant monkey. At that time there was no name for him. He was just the three-eyed monkey. John gave the design to Tom Jordan in our modeling department and Tom came up with the monkey you see today.

John was about to go to Japan for about a month. It was right after Jimmy Neutron the movie, and he just had to get away for a while. About a day or so before he was to leave, we were talking about things to have this monkey do. We were going to use this monkey on the end of the "Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius" TV series. So we had to come up with something had to be three seconds long, not a frame over. And so we were talking about what we could have him do for three seconds. John had created this world, there's a bush in the foreground made of DNA strands, the palm trees framing the image that looked like DNA strands, with the ocean in the background, it was a really great image. But we just couldn't figure out what we could have him do for just three seconds. He can't just stand there.

This was our chance to do something really cool and everyone that watches the show will see it. John didn't have any ideas and I didn't have any. Well, what would a three-eyed monkey do? What if a cocoanut hit him in the head? What if this happened or what if that happened? So I told John, I have an idea. Let me play with it.

Months before I had recorded some audio for a radio play, that I never animated. It was some characters that we have called "Nana and Little Puss Puss" (as seen at the Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation Festival series), and they were being interviewed by John and myself and Paul Claerhout. In it, one of these characters, Nana, was asking me questions, asking John questions. And in it, every time she would ask Paul a question, all he would say is, "Hi! I'm Paul!" Every time someone talks to him, that's all he says.

So, I said, "You know, that is great audio." I needed to do something with that. And it just so happened to fit very nicely in that three-second slot. John got back from Japan and had no idea. He came in the room and I said "Hit play." I remember his face as he watched it, all of three seconds long. It just started turning into this smile. He said, "Do that again." Played it one more time and he said "I love it!" And that was the birth of Paul, the three-eyed monkey."

So there is the classic Paul, the bilingual (Senor Paul), double your pleasure Paul, backwards masking Paul, bloopers (1 and 2) Paul, and my personal favorite, coffee break Paul.

One of the halls in the offices has a gallery display of "what if's" for Paul with a variety of cinematic appearances including "King Paul" (instead of Kong), Paul on a "Tron" light cycle, Paul as Scarlet O'Hara receiving the attentions of many beau's, Paul in the opening sequences of Kubrick's "2001" (with Paul as the chimpanzee who discovers the use of the jawbone as a weapon) and many more.

My personal favorite, "Steamboat Paul"

The good folks at DNA are hard at work on their next project for Warner Brothers. "The Ant Bully" is based on the Newberry Award winning children's book by John Nickle. Check this link for a trailer for the film, due in theaters this coming summer.

My visit at DNA was a short one, but it reminded me greatly of the earlier days at Pixar back during the production of "A Bugs Life" and "Toy Story 2". A lot of the same kind of fun, enthusiasm and spirit from a lot of good people is being infused into what should be a very entertaining family film.

And who knows? Maybe we'll even see Paul...

This year, the Christmas holiday is a difficult time for many people across the country. If you can find a way, do what you can to share with those in need. A donation to a charity in your community (such as your local food bank) will go a very long way right now. Everything from the United Way to the Salvation Army to Toys for Tots and more will appreciate your help.

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