1. How did you get the idea for Pigeon: Impossible?
Originally it started out as about a 60 second, single-shot story about a guy who gets the wrong briefcase, and it turns out to be a spy’s briefcase, which goes nuts and wreaks havoc. It was so long ago that I honestly can’t remember where it changed from that super simple idea to something bigger, but it was probably just scope creep. I do recall that the pigeons were just side characters for the longest time, and then at one point there were story issues and the idea occurred to put the pigeon inside the briefcase, and make that the thing that causes things to go awry. That opened up so much more that could be done, and it was really funny for there to be this incredibly mundane thing like a pigeon wanting a bagel that triggers all this mayhem and (nearly) world-ending destruction.
2. What was your writing process like for Pigeon: Impossible?
I think calling it a process makes it sound more organized than it was. The film itself went through at least 5 or 6 complete ground-up rewrites. Part of that was because I was very inexperienced as a storyteller at the time, and part of it was because I had started the project more as a technical exercise than a proper film. It was also done almost entirely in animatic, which is common in animation, but means there wasn’t really much in the way of a script. Just an outline/beat sheet. Whenever there were new ideas, we’d do some rough animation and put them into the edit to try things out.
3. What research did you do when you made Pigeon: Impossible?
I watched a lot of pigeons. I’m sure they think I’m a real creep. Other than that I was mostly watching a lot of other animated films at the time, because I had never done animation before and was also teaching myself through this process.
4. Were there other titles you came up with before Pigeon: Impossible? If so, what were they?
Originally it was called The Switch because the story was that much simpler scenario I mentioned earlier. Once we knew we were going to change the title we played with a few others, but it was Pigeon: Impossible that stuck pretty quickly.
5. What was the most surprising thing you learned when making Pigeon: Impossible?
Hm… surprising is tough. I think probably just how long and difficult it was, but again, a lot of that came down more to my inexperience at the time, as well as lack of resources. Pigeon took about 5 years to make, and I did roughly 80% of the work on it… somewhere around 10,000 hours. If I were doing that now, especially with Mighty Coconut, the animation studio I co-own it would probably only take 3-4 months.
6. What did you do to promote Pigeon: Impossible when it reached various festivals?
The biggest thing was a series of behind-the-scenes YouTube videos about the making-of process. You can still find them on pigeonimpossible.com. The info in them is somewhat outdated, but they can be a good resource for people wanting a quick intro to how it all works. It was also a very different time, because the film was released in 2009. There was surprisingly little “high-end” stuff on YouTube, and quality animation was particularly hard to do at the time. So a big part of the success was just that it hit a quality bar for both story and execution that most people couldn’t distinguish from the big studios. It was by no means the first film to do that, but it was definitely one of the first of those indie-animated shorts that went toe-to-toe with the big guys.
7. When you’re an aspiring animator, who did you look up to most?
When I was making Pigeon I was mostly looking at Pixar, Dreamworks, Blue Sky… I still love stuff from those studios, Brad Bird was and still probably is my favorite director working in animation. But now it’s much less about the studio and more that the director has a unique vision for the film. I don’t like things that are designed by committee.
8. What was your reaction when you first watched the trailer of Spies in Disguise?
Pretty surreal, but that’s partially just because this film/world has been with me for pretty much all of my adult life. It’s just kind of wild to see it finally blossom into something so much bigger than I had ever imagined.
10. How did your animated short film Pigeon: Impossible get discovered by Hollywood Studio?
Basically when the film went online a few people started knocking and I got my manager, agent, etc. We did a round of general meetings and then pitched the feature version around town. Peter Chernin had just started his own company so they picked it up and took it into Fox.
11. Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?
I fancy myself a bit of a jack of all trades. I was a music major in college and still play (saxophone) occasionally. I split my professional time between writing, making video games, directing, and then just the day to day of helping run the studio. It actually helps a lot to have several different skills and interests. They influence each other and it really helps to be able to talk to the various people working on a project. They’re always better than me at the piece of the puzzle that they’re focused on, but I’m fluent enough to speak the language and make sure everyone is working towards the same end-goal.
12. If you could write and animate a film-adaptation of any novel/novella/short story, which one would you like to do?
I’m going to go with Mort by Terry Pratchett.
13. What do you wish you had known when you were starting your career?
I don’t know… there’s a lot of things that you can only learn by having gone through it, and the things I wish I had known are way too nuanced for me to sum them up. A lot of it comes down to just a general sense of how the film industry works. It’s a little like the Matrix. No one can be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself.
14. In one word how would you sum up your overall experience with Pigeon: Impossible?
15. Have any of your animated short films got distributed internationally?
Yes the other big short film I’ve done is called The OceanMaker. Tonally it’s very different from Pigeon Impossible, but it also did very well on the festival circuit, got distribution and is now online.
16. Could you give a sneak peek on your next project?
I just delivered a draft of a new animated feature which will hopefully be my next big project. Can’t say anything about that now, but I’m also working on a feature version of The OceanMaker and have several other ideas that are in various states of development.
17. What piece of advice do you have for aspiring animators starting out?
Just start. The technology is so accessible that there’s no reason to not be in there actually doing the work. I’m also a big believer in school, but it’s not a requirement for working in the industry. If you have the opportunity to get actual industry experience, that’s far more important than any class.
18. Last question, what type of snack (or food) do you plan to get while watching Spies in Disguise for the first time?
My stomach will probably be in knots, so since this is all hypothetical, I’m going to go with an Old Fashioned just to help me relax.
And with that I just want to give my appreciation to Mr. Lucas Martell for his time. Spies in Disguise is a definite must-watch movie this year so don't miss out. Again, It arrives in theaters on September13th, 2019. If you want to know more about Mr. Martell's latest project just visit his website: www.mightycoconut.com. Take care and thanks for stopping by to read this post.