Animation in Nashville: Bigfott Studios at Belcourt This Saturday

I Want My Hat BackFor many decades American animation studios were Hollywood workshops where such artistic luminaries as Disney’s Nine Old Men and the no-less-legendary figures at Warner Bros. Cartoons created magic. Modern technology has changed the industry in more than just its methods: whether it’s computer-based, free-hand, 2D, 3D or a mixture of styles, lively and engaging animation can be produced anywhere.

Want proof? Then buy tickets ($5) for this Saturday’s 10 a.m. screening of I Want My Hat Back and Other Weston Woods Classics at Belcourt Theatre. Nashville’s Bigfott Studios will screen eight short films aimed at the younger set highlighted by a world premiere of author/illustrator Jon Klassen’s “I Want My Hat Back” that even features Klassen’s voice (as a deer). That piece and others based on such books as Laurie Keller’s “Do Unto Otters – A Book About Manners”, Liz Garton Scanlon’s “All the World”, Nina Laden’s “Roberto the Insect Architect”, Mélanie Watt’s “Scaredy Squirrel” and Mike Thaler’s “The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon” were produced for Connecticut-based Scholastic subsidiary Weston Woods.

Galen FottNashville resident Galen Fott runs that studio out of the picturesque log cabin home in North Nashville that he shares with wife Laura and son Burton. From there he can coordinate the efforts of several animators/digital artists to make these and other movies. And from film festivals to schools, libraries to DVD retail racks the animation Fott oversees is literally going everywhere.

“I can do this anywhere with anyone, that’s what’s so neat about it now,” Fott says. “Animation is truly global now, and you can work with people through the Internet, Skype and other resources literally without leaving home.”

The films often feature prominent actors’ voices – Stanley Tucci, Joanne Woodward, Paul Giamatti, Sean Hayes and Steve Buscemi to mention a few – and are animated adaptations that faithfully follow the illustration style of each book. Voices are pre-recorded in sessions over the phone or Skype that allow Fott to direct the actors in New York or elsewhere from here.

The musical scoring is largely home-grown – Poco stalwarts Rusty Young and Jack Sundrud, Scotty Huff and Jerry Hunt, whom Fott has known since high school, are Music City-based musicians-composers that have contributed their talents to these films. Hunt actually sent Weston Woods the “Roberto” film when it was a work-in-progress, and that led to the ongoing collaboration between it and Bigfott Studios.

“It’s great to be able to use the talents of some of Nashville’s finest and really plan what we’re going to do with the music,” he says. “That way it can be an integrated element to help set the proper mood, and drive the story forward.” In addition to Fott and the aforementioned musical contributors fellow Nashvillian creative multitasker Brian Hull has collaborated on several of the animated films as well.

All of those involved are working to, as Fott puts it, “bring kids back to the book,” and so every element of the shorts is created with that axiom in mind. “I fit in really well with them, because of their emphasis on fidelity to the book,” he says. “The formats (books and animation) are different, but the goal is the same.”

Fott’s eclectic background includes acting – the BFA in Theater Performance University of Memphis grad will be in Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company – and puppetry with the Jim Henson Company. He has also written eight books on digital imaging with Deke McClelland, reviewed graphics software for Macworld, and been a contributing editor to PCMag.

The Clarksville native has lived in several places, including Vancouver, B.C. where he studied animation at the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts, New York City where he worked with friend Brian Maffitt and his MAFF/x company as they created spots for AT&T and the Jon Stewart Show, and Orlando while he and his wife worked for the Walt Disney Company as performers. Fott has enjoyed his sojourn around North America, but he’s happy to once again call this area home. “I can’t think of a better place to be,” he says.

In addition to his work for Weston Woods Fott recently worked on the Nashville Public Library/Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum String City show and is developing an animated app called Cosmo Swazzle and the Perfect Hat. These and other projects are fulfillments of a lifelong dream for the 49-year-old, whose imagination and creativity were greatly inspired by the kind of storytelling Bigfott Studios now brings to the silver screen and elsewhere.

“It’s great to be keeping that dream alive,” he says. “It’s wonderful to stay busy doing something you love.”

 

*Images from “I Want My Hat Back” and of Galen Fott courtesy Bigfott Studios.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).