Magicians Do More Than Magic in Taylor Meacham’s ‘To: Gerard’

Premiering today on NBC’s Peacock streaming platform, Taylor Meacham’s To: Gerard is the latest entry in the DreamWorks Shorts program launched in November 2017. Meacham’s (making his directorial debut) love letter to his father, the CG animated short brings together both his love for animation and the art of illusion.

In the film, we meet Gérard who, although he has worked in a post office all his life, dreams of one day finding his audience as a famous magician, like his childhood hero. With effortless dexterity that accompanies mastery, this delightfully overgrown kid practices magic every day with a special piece… a gift from the Grand Vivonti.

When a curious young girl named Jules wanders into her practiced routine, she is blown away by her talents. With the help of his beloved coin, Gerard charms his very first spectator with an impromptu magic show. Right now, two artists – separated by decades – unknowingly set off a chain reaction that will forever change both of their lives.

While the idea for the story had percolated for a while, Meacham put pen to paper and released his original script in a single weekend. “When I was a kid, I went to magic camp because I wanted to grow up and become a magician, just like Gerard in this movie,” he shares. “And the dramatic inspiration, the emotional core of the story, came from all the people in my life and in the lives of others, who went out of their way to inspire us and encourage us to pursue our dreams.”

For the director, this emotional core is also quite personal. “The film also evokes my love for my father, who has been a huge inspiration in my life,” he says. “And as we both got older, I saw that he couldn’t really afford to follow his own dreams, even though he was someone who constantly stood up for me. So that’s where those two ideas come together. A script came out and that’s what you see.

To: Gerard is produced by Jeff Hermann, who recently produced the studio’s animated shorts bird karma, Billy and Abandonedand is currently producing the studio’s next feature, The Boss Baby: Family Business, which is slated for release on March 26, 2021. When Hermann first heard the pitch, he was immediately struck by not only Meacham’s emotional story, but also how well he took on the film. “Taylor’s pitch hit us all immediately,” he says. “The first time the development people and I heard from him, we were blown away because he was so well formed in the sense of his personal attachment to his father, his views on his father’s life and his his father’s contribution to Taylor’s life. meant to him.

“I couldn’t be happier that Taylor got this opportunity,” Hermann continues. “He did an incredible job of communicating his vision, not just on the pitch, but to all the departments that were then needed to bring his vision to life.” “We were both surprised at how many people really enjoyed the story, but also had a secret love for magic,” notes Meacham. “And a lot of people who worked on our movie are magicians or like to go to the Magic Castle.”

Due to the happy coincidence that some of the studio’s most experienced artists were between projects, Meacham was able to bring in four-time Annie Award winner Nico Marlet as character designer, as well as Pierre Perifel. (Billy) as head of character animation and Raymond Zibach as production designer. “The mix of people available in that window of time was part of the magic formula that allowed us to succeed,” Hermann reveals. “It allowed Taylor to direct for the first time, surrounded by people with decades of experience in their fields, whether it was Raymond for production design, Pierre for animation or Nico for character design. “

Developing the look for the short, Zibach quickly developed Meacham’s desire to incorporate art deco into the design of the venue. “I had a bunch of random design ideas, one of which was art deco, because I wanted there to be that antique feel to the post office,” says Meacham. “It laid the initial foundation for the post office centerpiece, but really, the design of the world.” With Zibach working from Meacham’s initial inspiration, art deco permeates the film – from the metal inlays in Gerard’s postal floor to the design of the tubes that carry mail throughout the room. Even the treadmills that slide into the walls, when viewed from top to bottom, are arranged in an art-deco pattern.

“And for Nico’s character designs, I don’t think we ever even discussed the art deco idea with him,” the director continues. “I had given him one-page descriptions of each character and their backgrounds, so he could get a sense of the story, and he ended up turning that paper over and doing initial drawings right on the back. “

The film’s animators managed to duplicate Gérard’s “magic” to give the impression that a real person is playing. They shot a reference of Meacham demonstrating the Vivonti illusion and studied numerous videos online, to better visualize the movement needed to make the illusion as magical as possible.

When asked if the final short stayed close to its original story, Meacham replied, “Absolutely, although the finale has changed. Originally, the film ends with Gerard on stage bowing to loud applause. And then we would just cut to black. But in discussions with studio execs at the time, we talked about a bigger finale, something unexpected… that showed him moving on without the thing he needed forever. .

While production had to halt at some point for six months, for Meacham an even bigger challenge than getting things back on track was finishing the film after moving on to a new feature project. “At the same time, we were finishing the short film, I was also storyboarding on The Croods [The Croods: A New Age]. Obviously we know that the role of director is very demanding, but a completely different job, for another director on a feature film, constantly changing hats throughout the day, running between different meetings, it was definitely a challenge .

Having now produced all four films in the DreamWorks Shorts program, Hermann notes that he and the team were particularly taken with To: Gerardthe emotional message of , which made working on the film particularly enjoyable. “It was all just a joy,” he says. “It was fun. Everyone believed in the message and the inspiration they felt from the short, and what Taylor brought to the project. We all wanted to see it succeed.

Mission accomplished.

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Dan Sarto is the publisher and editor of Animation World Network.

Brian L. Hartfield