ANIMATION – MORE FOR LESS
By Dick Rolfe
Family-friendly movies come in all shapes and sizes. The most recognizable are major theatrical titles released by the mega studios. Occasionally, we review a rare gem from a small independent filmmaker who produces a top notch direct-to-video movie that is as good as or better than the big budget titles.
Nearly all the wholesome family-oriented films we see from independents are low budget, live action movies. Many of them are wonderful stories with compelling acting and cinematography, producing an enjoyable entertainment experience for the entire family. Animation, on the other hand, has typically been too expensive for any but the biggest players like Disney, DreamWorks or Twentieth Century Fox.
Computerized animation technology is moving to new levels, making it possible to produce high quality, colorful, animated movies equal to “Veggie Tales” or “A Bug’s Life” for a fraction of the original price tag.
When cooking a gourmet meal, you can have all the necessary ingredients to make a mouth-watering, award-winning treat. But, without the right recipe and a skilled cook, your meal can be a real flop. It’s the same with a good animated film. Technology, while necessary, must be merged with a clever script and a talented cast and crew.
Recently, we reviewed a new animated children’s series called “The Roach Approach” created by Bruce Barry. Bruce and his team use just the right combination of all the above ingredients to produce a wonderful, clever series that’s going to become a family classic.
Dove Foundation Associate Editor, Bradley Klinge recently interviewed Bruce Barry.
Don’t “Bug Out” Over These Roaches
By Bradley B. Klinge
“It’s been so much fun!” exclaims Bruce Barry, creator of “The Roach Approach,” an animated series which tells classic Bible stories. This series follows a family of cockroaches—Grandpa Lou, Grandma Nan, and Squiggz, who are all from Miami. Lessons are taught through various adventures as Squiggz tries to understand the complexities of the Roach World.
You may be wondering about the same question I did—“Of all the creatures in the world, why did Bruce Barry decide to use roaches?” One day while he was waiting in line at a convenience store, he observed kids eating candy that resembled gross things like brain matter. This reminded him about how much he enjoyed being grossed out as a kid. When he arrived at home a huge palmetto bug crossed his path. The palmetto bug resembles a cockroach to all of us who categorize bugs into three categories: spiders, ants, and “gross, what are those?” The palmetto bug stopped and seemed to look directly at him. At that moment “The Roach Approach” was born.
I was very impressed with the quality of animation in the movie and would compare it to DreamWorks’ “Antz” and Disney’s “A Bug’s Life.” That quality is exactly what Barry seeks for in his films. “I take a lot of pride in the quality of the animation,” says Barry. “I want people to see the similarity to those movies. When I first came up with the idea I told my partners, ‘Guys, we’re opening up an animation company and we’re going to start a 3-D film.’ They kind of looked at me like I was nuts and said, ‘Okay.’”
Barry recalls the beginning of Wacky World Studios: “We started with only one computer and I created my first animation guy, and my wife and I just built it from there,” he says. “After we brought on our partners and animators I told them, ‘I can’t afford to be the Lamborghini or Rolls Royce, but I don’t want to be the Volkswagen.’ There is a middle of the road for quality which is where I want to be. We all strived for that, and I think we’ve hit it.”
Of all the stories in the Bible, Barry chose to tell of Noah and the Ark in his first video. “I thought to myself, ‘Where am I going to start the roaches out?’ Then it hit me. There’s no better place than where it all began—on the ark.” The two roaches were the last two creatures to make it on board. That wasn’t good news for the unicorns who found out exactly how long they could tread water.
With his first two videos done (including “The Mane Event,” a story of Daniel and the Lion’s den to be released on August 23), ideas for future productions continued to pour out of Barry’s mind. He has ten more currently in the works, including two separate series for telling Bible stories.
“The Roach Approach: The Mane Event” will be hitting all Wal-Marts and Targets in late August. Barry recently signed on with Twentieth Century Fox which further fueled his excitement. “We’re going to be up there with “Garfield,” “Strawberry Shortcake,” “The Passion of the Christ,” and all those guys. I’m still pinching myself!” he asserted. Barry also has two Roach Approach books—Crossing Panic Pier and Squiggz and the Big Storm, to be released with Zondervan soon.
Barry has included several extras in “The Mane Event” including interviews, behind the scenes footage, and an interactive drawing lesson. “I don’t just want to talk about the movie [in the extras]; I also want to expand kids’ imaginations. I want them to learn creativity, to think ‘outside the box.’ Just wait until you see it,” explains Barry.
Thinking outside the box has been significant in the development of his characters. The goofy buck-toothed fish and mosquitoes from “Don’t Miss the Boat” stick out as examples. Bruce elaborates, “I wanted [the fish] to be a goofy Jackie Gleeson. One of my favorite characters is Goofy, and I love Jackie Gleeson. For the mosquitoes we were playing around with different voices and the actor did a Mexican voice. I yelled ‘Yes! That’s it!’” All three of those characters appear in “The Mane Event.”
While creativity brought Barry many of his characters, the three main ones—Squiggz, Grandpa Lou, and Grandma Nan—are all designed after his family. Squiggz’ personality resembles that of Barry while Grandpa Lou and Grandma Nan were named after his surrogate grandparents. Grandma Nan exhibits traits of his mother who, in fact, is Grandma Nan’s voice. “My mom can’t say ‘Squiggz,’ so she is always calling him ‘Squiggy’ which has become his nickname.”
So how exactly did Squiggz get his name? “I was sitting here and I couldn’t come up with a name,” says Barry. “His name was going to be Rudy but that just didn’t sit right with me. We were at the attorney’s office finishing up our trademark and one of my partners turned to me and said, ‘Okay Bruce, what’s his name going to be?’ I said, ‘Rrrr…’ to say ‘Rudy’ and it came out ‘Squiggz.’ I think he looks like a Squiggz.”
Barry’s plan is to produce a new movie every six months. After “The Mane Event,” a new film about David and Goliath called “Slingshot Slugger” is scheduled. In the movie, Squiggz is constantly challenged by an exterminator who has the personality of Bill Murray’s character in ‘Caddyshack.’ “It’s going to be huge!” Barry shouts.
Barry should have no problem turning out a new movie every six months as long as he doesn’t encounter what he believes is the biggest challenge to an animated film—computer trouble. “Our biggest issue has been dealing with computers,” he says. “When they’re working they’re great, but when they’re not you just want to take it and throw it out. Such as after you’ve been rendering a bunch of frames, and in the middle of the night it just crashes. Then you come in the next morning and you’re missing six frames.”
Barry recalls his drama of making “Don’t Miss the Boat.” “It’s so ironic,” he says. “We’re doing our first movie about the biggest storm in history and what happens down here? We got hit by four hurricanes, and we were under a strict deadline. We’d have to break down all the computers and shut everything off. It was an absolute nightmare.”
Good thing he wasn’t telling the story of Daniel and the lion’s den. I think Barry would have had a little more to worry about than his computers. You can visit his website at www.wackyworld.tv to purchase any Wacky World products, check on future productions, and learn more about Bruce Barry. While visiting his website be sure to open up Wacky Wackles where the entire family can enjoy interactive games and activities.
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