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Chat Transcript: James Baxter

EquiSearch readers talk with James Baxter, the lead animator for Dreamworks. His latest project is "Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron."

EquisearchStaff - Welcome to tonight's chat!

EquisearchStaff - Tonight we will be joined by DreamWorks lead animator James Baxter

chimprider - Great!!!

EquisearchStaff - James Baxter is a veteran animator. His numerous credits include the characters of Tulio (The Road to El Dorado), Moses (The Prince of Egypt), and Belle (Beauty and the Beast). His latest project was the horse, Spirit, a wild mustang.

chimprider - Welcome James.

Slappy Perkavac - WELCOME SIR...welcome

Julie - Does anyone know how long the movie Spirit will be? I am taking my daughters class to see it on Saturday and needed to let the parents know.

Lugia - Hi James

JamesBaxter - Hi everyone!

boh - What advice could you give a Calarts student who is interested in 2d while so much of 2d is being downsized?

chimprider - 122 mins,48 sec.

chimprider - I checked it in VARIETY.

Julie - Thank you chimp!

JamesBaxter - Boh--I would say definitely keep going on the 2D path. It's not dead. But, you might want to be prepared for a tougher ride than 2 years ago.

boh - Do you recommend doing 3d, I don't want to but I have to be realistic

HauteEcole - The movie was excellent. Despite the light bulb problem our theatre had.. Hello, Washu.

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JamesBaxter - For anyone who is unfamiliar with 2D, most of Spirit is done with traditionally, as opposed to CG (Computer Generated)--like Toy Story or Ice Age.

Lauren - What research did you do to get the horses' anatomy as correct as possible?

JamesBaxter - Spirit has a blend of both.

Slappy Perkavac - I like CG...

JamesBaxter - They are just different techniques.

chimprider - Is not CGI?

JamesBaxter - Lauren, I spent about 2 months studying horses up close--and also anatomy books and videos. I watched Rodeo Bloopers--and other things. I wallpapered my office with photos of Donner--who is the mustang Dreamworks purchased as a model.

Julie - Would you say Mr. Baxter that this movie is intended more for girls or boys or both?

boh - James do you about other studios besides Dreamworks and Disney who are working on 2d features?

JamesBaxter - This was pretty new for me. My sister rides, but I don't.

JamesBaxter - Julie, I think it's for both. Now that we're done, though, it seems girls like it. We didn't start out to make it just for girls.

Lauren - Who is the director of Spirit? How does the process work between the director and the animators?

boh - James are you aware of any other studios besides Dreamworks and Disney that are currently in production

Washu - Mr. Baxter, how exactly was the background for Spirit done? It is so realistic!

Lugia - Well, I might as well get this done: Jicin, a who is a person obsessed (well, anyone who makes a site over something they like has to more than just like it...anyway...) with Spirit, could not be here tonite. Like I said, Jicin owns a Spirit fansite (http://www.simbaskingdom.org/spirit) and wanted me to tell you that. :) Anywho time for my own questions... and by the way James, I really admire the animation in the movie Spirit. It's very smooth and a great comeback for forgotten 2D.

chimprider - Spirit Rules.

JamesBaxter - Boh, no, I'm under contract for Dreamworks for at least another 2 years.

QH_Lover89 - How long did it take to make the movie??

JamesBaxter - Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook are co-directors. It works a lot like live action--as if I were the actor.

Ruffian - Why did you decide to go with 2D rather than later techniques?

chimprider - I heard if you put all the drawings back to back you can walk to mars? Have you been to mars Mr. Baxter?

Lugia - What, and how long, did it take for you to get into animation. It's the path I would like to take as well, so I'm just wondering.

JamesBaxter - The backgrounds are hand painted backgrounds--flat pieces of artwork. Some of them are hand painted textures like rocks or dirt which are mapped onto 3D surfaces.

Spirit The Stallion - What gave you the idea for the story

JamesBaxter - You wrap a painting around on the computer.

JamesBaxter - The movie took about 4 years to make--I was on it for about 2 years.

Washu - that is awesome! The backgrounds turned out quite lovely, I must say, along with the horses

JamesBaxter - After I'm done, they do the color and sound effects.

JamesBaxter - My total time on the movie was 2 years.

Ruffian - Two years is a lot of commitment to a project. Why did you feel so strongly about it?

chimprider - This is the best Horse movie next to Pharlap.

chimprider - How many animators were on your team?

JamesBaxter - We went with 2D because it was suitable for this subject--it gives a timeless, romantic feeling. It's just how you want the audience to feel.

Washu - I was wondering if you could tell me as we've had a bit of debate over this- why is it that Rain's face is a bit rounder? Is it gender, breed, or something else?

Slappy Perkavac - Mr. Baxter who is your favorite animator

QH_Lover89 - why did it take 4 years to finish?

Maleah - Hellow Washu. :) Yes, the backgrounds were absolutely stunning!

JamesBaxter - Lugia, I've been drawing since I was a kid, but I seriously started animation when I was 16--it took me about 4 years to become an animator. That's pretty quick and I was lucky.

chimprider - I liked the apples. who did those?

JamesBaxter - My first job was on Roger Rabbit--I got that job when I was 19.

Lugia - Did you enjoy animating horses merely performing different expressions rather than talking?

Spirit The Stallion - If you could be any of the characters who would you be? I'd be Spirit or Rain!

JamesBaxter - Ruffian, I was intrigued to show the beauty of nature and horses. That was something I'd never done before. This was way more research.

Maleah - 19, really? Wow...

Lugia - So, again, how did you get into animation as a career?

chimprider - Come back Spirit.

JamesBaxter - I'm actually flattered by any little inaccuracies that horse people pick up on. That means at the heart of it, we created something that's realistic.

JamesBaxter - There were 26 animators on our team.

Ruffian - Thank you , James. A great mission. Is the target children?

QH_Lover89 - why did it take 4 years to finish?

JamesBaxter - Lugia, I have been on your Yahoo website.

boh - Mr. Baxter have you ever considered creating your own studio

Lugia - Really? It's not mine, It's Jicin's (who again, could not be here, and is the only reason I'm here, other than the fact that animation is the career I want to go into... and horses are my favorite thing to draw since I created a dumb storyline with them years ago)

Slappy Perkavac - me to ... i love home video .

JamesBaxter - Rainface--it wasn't gender, it was more breed, and to be able to distinguish Rain and Spirit.

JamesBaxter - Rain is a Paint/ Pinto.

Ruffian - James, if mice talkin Stuart Little and lions talk in the The Lion King, why did you avoid horses talking?

JamesBaxter - If I could be any character, I think I'd be the eagle.

JamesBaxter - That looks pretty cool.

chimprider - Shoot, stallion.

Lugia - Hah! That settles the dispute at the message board! She's both!

Maleah - I'm here for the same reason Lugia is. I'd really love to know how to know how to prepare or know what to look forward to.

Slappy Perkavac - the mice in Stuart don't talk very well.

Maleah - Lol, Lugia! \;) It's a TIE!

Washu - lol. I remember that little dispute!

JamesBaxter - Chimprider--no home video that I know of.

Spirit The Stallion - How come all the General's horses look the same?

QH_Lover89 - why did it take 4 years to finish?

Lugia - I'd be an eagle too. Screw horses. With eagles you get flight!

HauteEcole - I'm in but I have this horrible feeling that now everyone wants in to the animation field.

Washu - I would like to have this kind of job also...I would really enjoy it

HauteEcole - What the- Augh.. I'm interested in animation!

chimprider - Lugia what is your problem with Horses?

JamesBaxter - Maleah, draw til your hand falls off! It would be good to get started with some simple computer animation programs. The secret in the coming years will be to be a jack of all trades.

Lugia - Just everyone here, Haute

Washu - Maleah, you are a wonderful horse drawer. I might have to get you to draw my new horse.

HauteEcole - Like I said, though, so many people are wanting to be an animator these days. Well, everyone here and everyone on the online boards I go to- I'm afraid there won't be enough demand to put dinner on the table..

Maleah - Well people with common interested kinda group together, Jess. No wonder everyone around you wants to be one?

Maleah - Aw, thanks Washu.

EquisearchStaff - Spirit, would you mind asking your question again?

Spirit The Stallion - How come all the Generals horses look the same?

JamesBaxter - It's just technique, animation is animation. The best books I know of are Richard Williams' Survival Guide for Animators and the Illusion of Life.

Spirit The Stallion - Do you think Dreamworks will ever make another horse movie?

chimprider - Mr. Baxter is it true that it is not about moving drawings, it's about MOVING THE AUDIENCE?

JamesBaxter - I'm saving my money. There's a lot of competition.

JamesBaxter - The generals' horses--we wanted to make it simple. There are subtle differences. There is no character singled out in the cavalry.

Lugia - Did you take a lot of art classes in high school, James? And did you want to be an artist/animator when you were little?

JamesBaxter - Spirit the Stallion--if this one makes a bazillion dollars, probably!

boh - So James I never got my question answered: Have you ever considered creating your own studio

Lugia - Lol, here's a question - Do you know how much a bazillion is?

chimprider - Is ac cantor as hard to animate as a trot?

JamesBaxter - Lugia--I wanted to be an artist, but I wasn't sure about the animator part.

Ruffian - James, I'll ask again:

JamesBaxter - Roger Rabbit was done in London, then I moved to CA to work on The Little Mermaid.

HauteEcole - Aye- 'there's a lot of competition.' I meant not only online. I even know an animator at the farm I board my horse. He's the one who said that some months are feasts, others are saving every cent. I'd like a job that I can build up to owning a ranch. I'm unsure it'll be the best for me, but art and writing is my life.

Lauren - What was James Fusco's role in this movie, James? A friend of mine went to college with him.

Washu - So, if we worked hard, does that mean that we'd have a chance to become an animator? I have been practicing a lot!

Mosa - How do you like working at DreamWorks compared to Disney?

JamesBaxter - Boh--not seriously.

chimprider - Disney Rules!!!

JamesBaxter - A canter is harder to animate. The trot is more symmetrical.

boh - Why not you're one of the greatest animators out there (Dick Willaims did it!)

Ruffian - Again, if mice talk (Stuart Little) and lions (Lion King) did you avoid horses talking?

chimprider - Dick Williams is crazy.

JamesBaxter - DreamWorks has been better--It's a little less corporate.

chimprider - Stuart Little rules.

Mosa - cool.

JamesBaxter - It makes the process less frustrating.

JamesBaxter - He was the screenwriter.

Ruffian - Why did you avoid horse talking?

SonDeePaint2004 - This movie is gonna rock

boh - Most animators are crazy aren't they

JamesBaxter - Boh--want to give me a loan? And I'll think about it.

Lugia - Was it hard to draw the running scene we see against the stripes (which looks like an American flagish thing... is it?) and did you draw that early on or later on during production?

chimprider - MOVING THE AUDIENCE, or MOVING DRAWINGS?

Mosa - James, what software did you use in production? Do you guys have proprietary stuff like deep canvas or off the shelf software?

JamesBaxter - Ruffian, horses talking looked too comical. It slides into comedy more easily.

JamesBaxter - Boh, certifiable.

chimprider - SPACING or TIMING?

EquisearchStaff - James, what involvement did John Fusco have in Spirit?

Spirit The Stallion - Do you think they'd ever make a game for the pc or play station and stuff like that?

SonDeePaint2004 - I still don't understand why the horses have eyebrows???

Maleah - To give them more expression.

JamesBaxter - Chimprider--do you want to hear me say both?

Washu - doesn't it help give them expression and tell their mood?

EquisearchStaff - What was your interaction with screen-writer Fusco?

JamesBaxter - John Fusco--my interaction was pretty minimal.

JamesBaxter - I dealt with Kelly and Lorna--the directors.

Washu - Mr Baxter, what would you say is the hardest part of animating horses?

SonDeePaint2004 - I've been drawing horses for a long time now, Their legs in my opinion are hardest to get in proportion.

Lugia - Was it difficult to draw the running Spirit we see in front of the red stripes on the movie posters (which reminds me of an American flag... is it?) and was it drawn early on it production or later?

JamesBaxter - Mosa--we did most of the CG Maya.

Mosa - rock on, I'm in Maya here at school

JamesBaxter - Dreamworks also has a special version of Animo--with lots of bells and whistles.

SonDeePaint2004 - Rain is a Palomino tovero isn't she?

Mosa - why did you pick Maya?

chimprider - Toonshooter?

Spirit The Stallion - I would think the expressions and joint movements would be hardest!

Mosa - very cool

JamesBaxter - Why eyebrows? It ended up being essential to convey the range of emotions that were in the story.

SonDeePaint2004 - I know Spirit is a buckskin, in which I don't understand, he should be a dun, seeing how he has a line on his back

Lugia - Pah, what was that (I got kicked out!)

JamesBaxter - People have to remember I'm trying to do a lot of human emotions through a horse's body.

chimprider - Softimage rules!!!

JamesBaxter - The hardest part of animating horses? The physicality. All the ways they move--and the balance.

Mosa - lol. chimp, where do u work?

SonDeePaint2004 - James, why isn't Spirit a dun, instead of a buckskin? He has the line down his back

JamesBaxter - About the movie poster--yes, I spent years on that

Lugia - Where the sound effects tedious (I know your not part of that department, but I'm curious) with all the hoof beats and such?

chimprider - I work at alias.

JamesBaxter - I think he is a dun.

lindalou - Can we get a chance to talk to you again after we see the movie?

SonDeePaint2004 - James, it says in the book that he's a buckskin

chimprider - Dun?

chimprider - Buckskin?

SonDeePaint2004 - Colors, chimp

lindalou - Can we get a chance to talk to you again after we see the movie?

SonDeePaint2004 - horse colors, like sorrel, dun, bay, dapple, ect

chimprider - Colors?

Lugia - Here's another color question: What, specifically, is the brown color on Rain?

Mosa - yeah, whoever thought I'd be in a chatroom in a website about horses so I could hear a great animator speak?

SonDeePaint2004 - coat colors

chimprider - Animators are dapple in color.

James Baxter - Lugia--Tim Chau recorded real horses and he separated all those hoof beats and matched them up. I'm sure it was laborious.

lindalou - Can we get a chance to talk to you again after we see the movie?

Mosa - with a hint of tan from the monitor.

SonDeePaint2004 - James, is Rain a palomino? or a flaxen sorrel or chestnut?

Lugia - Lol, I'd assume it was.

JamesBaxter - Lindalou--sure, I'm up for it.

The Last Ride In - Aw, man! I'm an hour late!

Maleah - Rain is a Paint/Pinto..

Mosa - James, are most of the characters traditional 2d and the environments CG? Did you do secondary characters in CG like in Atlantis?

Lugia - "Spirit is actually the most technically complex animated movie to date" ... hehehe, I'm watching the special on Animal Planet.

SonDeePaint2004 - She looks palomino to me, but she might be a flaxen sorrel.

Maleah - Then why did you ask if she was a palomino?

Washu - oh shoot, Lugia! That was today!

HauteEcole - Maleah- Paints come in different colors.

SonDeePaint2004 - Palomino is a color

Lugia - Yep! I didn't know until Haut told me

JamesBaxter - No, Rain is a pinto

Washu - Sondeepaint... a paint is a breed I'm pretty sure with a pinto coloring

SonDeePaint2004 - you got your sorrel paints, your chestnuts, palominos, buckskins, bays, grays, dapples

QH_Lover89 - ya there was a show on it just on Nickeloden

SonDeePaint2004 - Washu, paint and pinto are both considered breeds and colors

Washu - I thought pinto was color and paint was breed

SonDeePaint2004 - You can register a paint in APHA and Pinto associations

chimprider - The chimprider is galloping away. Thanks.

The Last Ride In - The site says she's a paint.

JamesBaxter - Rain is mostly brown with white spots.

lindalou - Do we log on the same way or will it say when you'll be on line again?

Caligula - Did anyone see the special showing on Sunday of Spirit?

grommit - Hi James, you are one of my favorite animators!

Lugia - Perfect answer, James!

EquisearchStaff - When was the first time, James, that you saw the movie in its entirety?

JamesBaxter - I got to see the whole movie for the first time Saturday.

Washu - oh wow. I can't wait to see it!

SonDeePaint2004 - Yes, James, she's tovero, but she is kind of sorrel with a white mane and tail, meaning she's either a sooty palomino or a flaxen chestnut(dark sorrel)

Caligula - It's fantastic!

JamesBaxter - I always like hearing the final music. That's the bit I don't get to work with until it's all done.

Mosa - Were you lead over all of animation, or did they separate into a traditional team and a CG team?

SonDeePaint2004 - My friend Carol was wondering

PAEquine - Congratulations to Dreamworks in creating an extremely well done 2D feature. It is refreshing to view an original rather than a mediocre version of a classic.

Lugia - Were you on the Spirit Animal Planet special, James?

EquisearchStaff - Horse707, this is a top notch chat room!

princess - James, you have captured the spirit of the horse with your drawings!

JamesBaxter - I'm working on Sinbad right now.

Mosa - rock on.

Caligula - James, what school did you go to learn animation?

grommit - james, are you going to be switching to 3d like keene did?

JamesBaxter - I was the lead on Spirit's character. That meant supervising 2D and 3D animators.

Lugia - Speaking of music, did you meet Bryan Adams?

Washu - I think I will like this movie because it is more original than many others...you don't get many horse movies (that I know of)

Mosa - ok cool.

JamesBaxter - It's more difficult to get the audiences to go to an original.

JamesBaxter - I didn't get to see the Animal Planet special.

Mosa - get tech!

Lugia - I'm seeing this movie because it has animated horses... if it were deer or buffalos I could care less

Horse707 - I wish I could have seen it maybe they will show it again, they usually do

JamesBaxter - I went to West Surrey College of Art and Design--south of London, but I quit after a year.

The Last Ride In - You've probably already covered this, but how do the horses communicate if they don't speak to one another?

Mosa - James, what do you look for in new CG animators?

JamesBaxter - I was in an animation track--then got the job for Roger Rabbit.

Mosa - Roger Rabbit rocks.

Horse707 - WITH BODY MOVEMENT

JamesBaxter - I got a lot of on the job experience.

grommit - James, what's up after Sinbad for you?

Lugia - neighing and body language

JamesBaxter - Mosa--A good understanding of mechanics and acting ability.

Lugia - I saw this special about stallions before I knew about Spirit, and some guy who bought a stallion said he trained it using horse body language he learned

JamesBaxter - After Sinbad? I don't know. . . .

JamesBaxter - I'll stay in California.

Lugia - How a human does horse body language, I'll never know

Caligula - Now that you're a professional, are there any schools that you'd recommend? _

grommit - is Dreamworks going CG like Disney?

Horse707 - you have to learn language, you just watch the horses and then you know it

Mosa - any advice on how to achieve good understanding of mechanics and improve acting skills.

chimprider - Sharkslayer.

princess - James, do you have a horse of your own?

SonDeePaint2004 - The best horse movie before spirit, I'd say The Horse Whisperer

JamesBaxter - I was impressed by the Spirit crew. They all rose to the occasion.

Lugia - Me and my sister are going to start an animation company in the future. You could set that in your plans, James.

Mosa - Sharkslayer?

JamesBaxter - If everyone goes to see it, I might get a bonus.

EquisearchStaff - Thank you all for coming tonight. Be sure to get to the theatre this weekend to support and enjoy Spirit - animation and horse fans alike!

QH_Lover89 - how much money do you think the movie will make??

JamesBaxter - Lugia--I'm there.

Washu - I'll come work for you, Lugia

chimprider - The next movie at Dreamworks

Mosa - thanks for your time James!

Lugia - woo!

JamesBaxter - QH--Domestically, I HOPE it breaks 100. . . .

Lugia - I'll hire you, Washu

Mosa - sharkslayer...traditional or CG?

Washu - yay!

chimprider - CGi.

EquisearchStaff - Check Equisearch.com for more information and news regarding this new feature film! Goodnight and thank you, James!

JamesBaxter - Thanks and goodnight!

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