Monday, 1 July 2013

Regurgitated Animation

By Todd  Shaffer and Lon Vining
Regurgitation is a word that is generally associated with something undesirable, to say the least.  Even something wonderful and exciting in its original form can take on less than desirable traits when it makes an unexpected re-visit.  In this week’s post, we’re going to look at the short history of animation and discover how modern animators have often fallen into the regurgitation rut.  This was originally posted by Creative Director Todd Shaffer to Glorious’ internal blog for our animators.  Todd is serious about animation, and he is serious about building into our already world-class animation staff to create a studio that produces faith-based products that are second to none. The animator’s blog is one way he does that.  I hope you enjoy this insider’s view of the history of the animation industry and what Glorious Films is striving to change to bring fresh, unique animation to new audiences.

Regurgitated Animation

by Todd Shaffer
Have you noticed that many animated movies feel like they have the same kind of acting? It’s because they do, and it’s something that’s endemic with our art form beginning in the 2D era.
Animators are called upon to imitate and mimic one another. 2D animators have to conform to the same drawing styles that have been set by the designers and leads.  It’s a requirement. Same is true for our acting choices. When you have 20 animators animating the same character there has to be consistency.
The point is that to be an animator you have to exchange part of your individuality for imitation.
As artists we also know the value of learning our art forms by imitation. In learning to animate we study other animation that inspires us, and we adopt same practices, and our “animation voice” is heavily influenced by animation that has come before.  And when you have hundreds of animators who are all influenced by the same animation repertoire you can’t help be feel that the new animation is little more than a regurgitation of the old.  
Disney's "Nine Old Men"
The telling irony in our short history of the animated art form (still less than 100 years old) is that Disney’s nine old men, who defined the maturity of the animated art form, have not yet seen their equal.  They set the bar for character animation performance and we’ve been struggling to match it ever since. They have been imitated over and over. Their great poses, succession of poses and facial expressions have been carefully studied and repeated to death. But we have not seen animation mature beyond their work.
A significant part of the problem is that animators are “monolingual” in their animation study. We only study animation. And because there is so little great animation in this medium’s repertoire we’re all studying the same material, and we all begin to look like one another.
When I was learning to animate I began by studying old animation. But then one of my mentors, Stan Sommers, told me something that stopped me in my tracks. “Stop studying animation,” he said. “You will only look like everyone else. Study life. Study good acting performances in  movies. That’s what the nine old men did.”
What an irony.  The nine old men who took the animated art form to such a high level never had a repertoire of animation to study.  They studied life. They studied good acting. Their work is fresh because they had not filled their bellies with all the animation cliches and performances of other animators.
Don’t study animation. Study life. Study good acting. Most of you are good enough animators to throw off the training wheels of studying animation and take our art form to the next level. If you do, I think you will be surprised at how quickly your work will mature.

Todd’s fresh point of view is taking form in the original, beautiful 3D animation being created at Glorious Films. Look for our first release, The Promise: Birth of the Messiah, the animated musical, due out in fall 2013. For more info, visit

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Why Luke's Nativity Screams "Musical" (and Why That’s Biblical)

By Lon Vining
Glorious Films’ Director of Outreach
Internationally acclaimed boys choir Les Petite Chanteur du Montreal were
part of the world-class music team that brought The Promise musical to life
I love musicals.  I like watching them live, on TV, or listening to their songs on my iPhone. I have performed in a few, and I even wrote one once (don’t ask). Musicals like The Sound of Music are some of the most beloved and enduring art forms in popular culture.  But when Glorious Films’ Creative Director Todd Shaffer told me he wanted to make a Broadway-style animated movie about the birth of the Lord Jesus, I was concerned. For some reason I imagined a South-Pacific-esque mash-up of donkeys, sheep and oxen gathered around Mary, singing, “There is Nothin’ Like a (Notre) Dame.” Don’t get me wrong - I love South Pacific - but I didn’t want anything to do with a campy version of the nativity story. "Count me out," I thought to myself.

Happy to be Miserables
To my great relief, that’s not at all what he had in mind. Todd explained that what he envisioned was a no-holds-barred recounting of Luke’s birth narrative set to powerful music in the tradition of dramatic works like Les Miserables. That got my attention, because frankly, that’s never really been done before. But I was still wondering to myself, “why a musical?”  I asked him if it was because a musical would be a great match with the Christmas season and all its attendant music.

“That’s not the reason at all,” said Todd. “In a nutshell, when God sent His Son to earth, He put on a musical to proclaim it.”

Musical to my Ears
A musical?  Despite a couple of decades in ministry, I couldn't recall a musical in the New Testament.  I asked Todd to refresh my memory.

“When you read the birth narrative in Luke, you realize that it’s filled with celebrative passages like Mary’s Magnificat that are essentially Hebrew poetry.1 They lend themselves to song -- in fact, they are songs,” he told me.

Once he said Hebrew poetry, I knew exactly where he was going. Biblical scholars tell us that Luke 1-2 contains as many as eight passages that are in the mold of Old Testament poetry. Mary’s Magnificat, the angelic birth announcement (of John the Baptist) to Zechariah, Zechariah’s prophecy, Elizabeth's prophesy, Gabriel's birth announcements to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, and Simeon’s prophecy.2  That’s a lot of music in two chapters!

God Turns Up the Volume
So, what’s with all the poetry stuffed into Jesus' birth story?  Think about this: for 400 years there was no prophet in Israel. Then, all of a sudden, in the first century we see an explosion of angelic visitation and men and women giving prophetic utterances in the advent of the Messiah. His servants - human and angelic - broke out in song. God was shining a big light on what was taking place.

“I can't imagine Mary, Zechariah or Simeon expressing these things in straight voice -- they are explosions of praise,” said Shaffer.  

He also said he has major concerns with the omission of these passages in most re-tellings of the story today. "Why would those divinely inspired messages, recorded by Luke, be something that we would be comfortable to overlook and allow to remain in obscurity, especially given that this is one of the few celebrations that we return to year after year?"

The Empty Manger
Todd explained that the music is the story, and the story is the music.  He said, “I'm not talking about the musical form, I'm talking about the content of the songs -- they are the story.  Which would lead me to say that, for the most part, the nativity story has historically been emptied of much of its drama and meaning.”

That was a pretty big statement, so I asked him to clarify what he meant.  “The key themes of this story are given to us in Luke’s poetry, in the praise and prophecy of the songs.  They are found in the words of Mary's "Magnificat," in Zechariah's song of praise and prophecy, and in Simeon's song at Jesus' presentation of at the Temple.  As much as we celebrate this story at Christmas, these songs remain in almost complete obscurity. And that’s a tragedy. To skip these prophecy-songs is to skip much of the significant gospel material.”

Todd said he saw in the musical nature of Luke an opportunity to bring to life the full story – the real story – of God’s Messiah coming to earth and fulfilling eons of prophecy. “Rather than glossing over these deep theological aspects of the story of Jesus’ birth, we seized the opportunity to include all of these details in a dramatic and artistically beautiful way through animation and song."
A Difficult Posture
However, finding appropriate ways to turn poetic prophecy into lyrics proved to be a big challenge.  “I studied these songs in depth, line by line, word for word. And when we were writing the lyrics, one of the challenges we found was that our Christian culture does not even have the language or imagery to access these songs. How do you easily explain, "He has raised up a horn of salvation for us?" So where the songs were very obscure, we thought long and hard about how we could pull them from obscurity and attempt to posture the meaning of those parts so that they would be understood immediately in the song.  This was a difficult challenge in writing the music.”

Who Needs Jesus?
But the challenge was worth the effort.  “I believe every person needs to contemplate and be changed by the deep words Luke recorded for us,” said Todd. “They tell us that people need God, but our sins separate us from Him. The coming of Jesus, the Messiah, and His life, death and resurrection was God's way of saving His people from their sins, and from every enemy we face. I was personally challenged by digging into these themes in Luke's nativity, and I can’t wait until others get a chance to engage in this story through The Promise."

Glorious Films is excited that God has allowed us to produce The Promise: Birth of the Messiah. Watch for its release in fall 2013. And we promise -- no singing sheep or crooning donkeys - only God's glorious musical celebration of His Son's birth, just as Luke recorded it.

For more info, visit


1 F. E. Gaebelein, "Poetry in the New Testament," Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Olive Tree Bible software electronic version, accessed June 17, 2013.  Gaebelein defines poetry thusly:  " accord with most literary criticism, poetry is defined as the expression of intense experience or thought in creative and connotative language (with or without rhyme or meter) ...Much more of the NT is poetical than most readers realize."

2.  Ibid. Gaebelein comments, "The first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke contain eight passages that are akin to OT poetry: Lk. 1:14–17, 32–33, 35, 46–55, 68–79; 2:14, 29–32, 34–35. Four of these—the Magnificat (1:46–55), the Benedictus (1:68–79), the Gloria in Excelsis (2:14), and the Nunc Dimittis (2:29–32)—are widely known for their liturgical use."

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Animating Faith

by Lon Vining
Glorious Films Director of Outreach

Where’s the Passion?
A few years ago when a well-known Bible story was tackled by a large animation studio, film critic Ron Wells of Film Critic wrote, "Much of the animation is stunning and all of the vocal performances are's just that much of the passion seems to be [dedicated to] not stepping on anyone's beliefs or interpretations, instead of in telling the story in the most compelling way possible (Dec 6, 2005).” In trying to make the movie palatable to the widest possible audience, moviemakers actually cut the heart out of the biblical story.
Glorious Films is taking the completely opposite approach. We have a penchant for telling stories that are faithful to the Bible and spread a passion for Jesus Christ.  Rather than glossing over the biblical stories, our job is to bring them to life, as Ron Wells suggests, “in the most compelling way possible,” through beautiful animation, strong writing and powerful music.

Mary's real-to-life character is drawn carefully from the Scriptures.
Restoring the Glory to the Story
The first of these compelling Bible stories we’ve turned into film is the birth of Jesus, entitled, The Promise: Birth of the Messiah. You may think this is a pretty well known tale, but we found that the story from the New Testament has been replaced in popular culture by a very simplified, sentimentalized and politically-correct version of the original.  Its heart has been cut out. We want to restore the story to its original glory, and present it completely, accurately and faithfully.

The “voice” of The Promise may be its most distinctive trait. Not the voices of the professional actors, which are fabulous, but the point of view of the movie. The Promise is true to the Bible without being wooden, and realistically humorous without being trite.  We believe the story has the chops to delight - and transform - audiences today just as it has for millennia.

Just What the Dr. (Luke) Ordered
Creative Director Todd Shaffer says he found the voice of The Promise by simply following the story straight out of Luke’s Gospel.  “I didn’t bring an agenda to The Promise. I just opened the Bible and drew from the well of Luke’s Gospel. We made no substantive additions or subtractions to the story, we just let Luke tell the story.”

The Promise contains real-to-life characters and themes like difficult relationships, love and romance, unexpected joy, and troubling sorrow.  It also contains that other element of great stories - the unexpected, the impossible, the extraordinary.  Add to that ancient prophecy, political intrigue and God’s miraculous intervention in the affairs of earth, and you have a rich, complex story that inspires and entertains even as it challenges your faith and stretches your imagination.

More than Shepherds, Angels and Mangers
This is not just another baby-in-a-manger rewind. The Promise’s script includes scriptural teachings and nuances that will engage even serious Bible students.  The story begins around 4 BC in the painstakingly re-created splendor of the holy place within Herod’s temple where a priest asks God when He will fulfill His long-foretold promise to send a Messiah to save His people. The action then erupts onto the tumultuous streets of Jerusalem where hope, fear, insurrection and power vie for the hearts of the people. These aspirations are heard through the voices of Romans, Zealots, Herodians, Pharisees, Sadducees and common, everyday Jews like a young woman named Mary, her cousin Elizabeth, and a carpenter named Joseph. And so the story begins...  

Wired to be Inspired
Glorious Films is creating quality animated entertainment like The Promise from a biblical worldview to help families thrive in today's world.  Shaffer says, “We want the musical to challenge and equip individuals and families on a faith level, and to entertain and inspire them on an artistic level. God has wired us for both, and I am excited to be able to combine faith and artistry to present His ancient story to modern audiences in this unique and exciting way.”

Watch for the release of The Promise in the Fall of 2013, and for other trusted entertainment from the Glorious Films brand in 2014.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Glorious Promises

Thank you for visiting the Glorious Films blog. Here we'll be blogging regularly about our first film, The Promise: Birth of the Messiah, which will be released in October 2013 just in time for the Christmas season. The Promise is a beautifully crafted 3D animated musical of the birth narrative of Jesus Christ from the Gospel of Luke. It has been faithfully adapted from the Biblical text in both story and song. From the busy streets of Jerusalem, to the awe-inspiring Herod's temple to the quietness of the fields outside of Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus is celebrated unlike any other in this unique production of animation and music.

The Promise animation style leverages new optical motion technology to blend traditional animation techniques with the performance talents of ballet dancers and dramatic stage actors. The result is a unique and worshipful story experience.

For more, see