“The Blue & The Beyond” | Interview with Youri Dekker

| March 4, 2016

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In a mundane society where everyone only reads red books, young and imaginative Charlie hangs tightly onto his blue prize. When he discovers a timid librarian reading the same blue book, he realizes why it’s important to sometimes stand out from the crowd. Hailing from San Jose State University, director Youri Dekker gives insight to the animation process for The Blue & The Beyond.

The Blue & The Beyond will screen as part of Cinequest’s Short Program 9B – College – American Voices.

Production Still for the film.

The main character, Charlie, on the bridge: The Blue & The Beyond.

What got you into film?

I always had a love for movies and stories. When I was in high school, I always found myself not being too interested in the typical topics of school like math or science but I really enjoyed doing creative things. In a nutshell, I loved Pixar and movies, so I kind of put the two together and decided animation might be the route for me.

Tell us about The Blue and the Beyond and how it came to be.

I had to pitch a film for my final year of school. There were a couple of other stories being pitched as well for class, and mine ultimately didn’t get selected. So after some thought I decided to gather up some of my friends and rework the story to try and make it into a film anyways.

Charlie confronts the red book readers.

Charlie confronts the red book readers.

Can you walk us through how long it took you to make the short film and the challenges?

From the time I had gotten the story team together, the film took exactly one year and one day to make. Developing the story and rest of the pre-production took about 5 months, and then animation took 8 months, with some overlapping between pre-production and production. The project was done entirely outside of class and on our own time, and so it was a huge challenge for all of us to have to work on our classwork and this film simultaneously.

Producer and Supervising Animator Kimberly Mucha introduces the character of Charlie to the crew.

Producer & Supervising Animator Kimberly Mucha introduces the character of Charlie to the crew.

What influenced the character designs?

Our Lead Character Designer Ryan Eways looked a lot at the work of Disney animators and Laika artists, as well as individual artists including Dean Heezen, James Woods, and Nicolas Sammarco. The goal was to create appealing characters that worked from every angle, and so Ryan and many other artists created multiple different iterations of all the characters to try and find the most fitting design for each.

Character Design iterations of Charlie by Ryan Eways.

Character Design iterations of Charlie by Ryan Eways.

Colors are huge in this film. What do they say about conformity?

The colors used were a great way to showcase our storytelling. We open the film with a lot of blues, but then take that away almost immediately to help establish that our main character Charlie is incredibly alone and isolated from the other members in the society. Barren, our antagonist, controls this society with all the red books, and so the more control and power he has, the more reds we see overtake the compositions. Penelope, our secondary character, is caught back and forth between these two worlds and struggles with deciding on whether or not to conform, and so she is a mix between those two colors and has a purple pallet surrounding her.

Production still for the film (2)

Penelope’s library.

You had a big team. How was it working with so many people? Any tips on communication?

It was certainly a challenge as our team− or The Blue Crew, as we called ourselves− had a total of 117 crew members. But that’s really where the leads of each department came in. To have me as the director try and oversee every member of the crew would be impossible, so we had our two producers Kimberly Mucha and Samia Khalaf managing all the teams. And then we had specific leads for each department as well, whether it was Backgrounds, Compositing, Ink & Color, etc. And so by having that hierarchy set up we were able to communicate with one another in order to have production run as smoothly as possible.

Members of the crew animating during production on the project.

Members of the crew animating during production on the project.


The Blue Crew at the World Premiere of the film.

The Blue Crew at the World Premiere of the film.

What inspired the urban environments? Did you have specific streets in mind?

We looked a lot at European towns for the design of the city. Our primary influence was Dutch architecture, and then we looked a lot at French streets and shops, as well as canals and bridges in Italy and Amsterdam. We weren’t trying to embody any specific city, but rather create a set that could fit the story we we’re trying to tell.

Visual Development piece of some of the city's building designs by Jasmine Truong.

Visual Development piece of some of the city’s building designs by Jasmine Truong.

Who do you cite as influences?

The French 2D animated film L’Illusionist from Sylvian Chomet was a huge influence for us. We really tried to study the designs and background from that film. We were also influenced by multiple Disney animators and films too, primarily The Lion King and Tarzan. And honestly I think some of the biggest influences were ourselves. Especially in the beginning as we were developing the story because we all pitched in so many ideas and images and films that we loved that it became very inspiring to see all this passion come forth for developing the film.

Visual Development piece of the city by Diem Doan.

Visual Development piece of the city by Diem Doan.

Tell us about your SJSU experience.

I came to SJSU in the Fall of 2009 right out of high school. I didn’t know how to draw or know anything about animation. But the program and the Shrunkenheadman Club (the Animation/Illustration club at our school) were a very welcoming and gracious group of people that I could connect with immediately. I was lucky enough to be President of that club for a year, and then I graduated back in May.

Do you have any advice for student filmmakers?

Keep making films! So many times do students want to start something but never seem to finish it. But without a doubt they all are very eager and have great ideas and passion. We were in that exact same boat, and we did everything we could to be able to finish this film. So it’s possible, you just have to believe!

Youri Dekker is a recent graduate of San Jose State’s Animation/Illustration program. It was there that he studied character animation and storytelling. During the summer of 2014 he received an Animation Internship at Pixar Animation Studios, and then the following summer was brought back as a Fix Animation Intern on The Good Dinosaur. It was in his final year at school that he directed The Blue & the Beyond, which was completed in this past summer with a crew of over 100 students. He is currently an Animation Intern at Sony Playstation. 

Learn more about Youri’s work on his website: theblueandthebeyond.com

Like The Blue & The Beyond on Facebook: facebook.com/theblueandthebeyond

Follow Jason: @blue_and_beyond | #believeinyourbeyond

Watch the trailer:

The Blue & The Beyond screens as part of Cinequest’s Short Program 9B – College – American Voices showcase on Friday, March 11 @ 9:30pm, and Saturday, March 12 @ 3:45pm.

All screenings are at Camera 12 Cinemas in San Jose, CA.

Click to read more Cinequest interviews.

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Film School Shorts is made possible by a grant from Maurice Kanbar, celebrating the vitality and power of the moving image, and by the members of KQED.

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