In this article we have an interview with Kory Martin Juul, who over the past 4 years has been working on “White Tiger Legend“, a 1 hour and 40 minutes fully animated feature film. So far he has done most of the work himself, but now is looking to setup a team and get properly funded to finish the movie up. Dive into the exciting history and challenges of the movie and see what it takes to make a dream become reality.
Can you tell us a little about your history and background?
Yes, I first picked up a handicam while growing up in Spain. I couldn’t understand the television, so I just started making my own shorts. When I was 15 I was flown to LA to receive a “Young Speilberg” Award at a non-linear editing festival. My desire to tell fantastic stories has only grown in size and scope since then!
My first VFX job was on the CG film Final Fantasy. We used node based compositing on SGIs and I learned lighting and scuba diving as well. I began learning martial arts shortly thereafter while working on the Matrix sequels. Those initial companies closed so I moved on to Weta and ILM, finishing Return of the King, Starwars III, Avatar, King Kong, and the Hobbit films to name a few. I’ve found a niche as an “emergency compositor,” helping to finish shows under tight deadlines, and working crazy hours. By embracing the transient and crazy side of our industry, I’ve been able to take long periods of time off between projects and do “White Tiger Legend.”
Can you please explain a bit about “White Tiger Legend”. What is it and what makes it stand out?
It’s the answer to all things! The deepest teachings of the martial arts packaged into a CG animated film! Unlike Kung Fu Panda, this animated tale is a pretty serious. A young Shaolin monk named Zi loses his entire family and sets off on a quest to answer some of life’s deepest questions.
The story is a culmination of years of intense martial arts training. All the teachings came to a head during travels to China, Tibet, and the Amazon jungle. There was a moment when everything clicked. At that moment I understood my function as a storyteller in society, and I knew I absolutely had to finish this one story, “White Tiger Legend.”
I’ve also nearly singlehandedly animated the hour and forty minute feature! It’s taken me 4 years.
What inspired you to undertake this big challenge?
Sharing this story with the world. That’s the driving factor. But I never intended to do a solo mission! I was only going to finish a screenplay.
Fox/Blue Sky almost bought the idea in 2006. As they researched their investment they discovered Dreamworks was creating Kung Fu Panda, and they didn’t want to go toe to toe.
In 2010, after working on Avatar, I bit the bullet and took things into my own hands. I needed to show people how we weren’t like every other Kung Fu movie out there, so I prevized the entire film. Four years of production later and we’re so close to finishing!
Can you explain the methods you have used from pre to post-productions so far?
Yes, being just one person, every decision was based on efficiency. Hand animation went out the window, and motion capture was used instead. The storyboard process was skipped and I went straight into previs. Pretty dangerous, but I can viz faster than I can draw, and I had the boards in my head.
The next step was to record the voice actors. We captured their facial movements as well as their dialog setting up a Phasespace motion capture system inside a sound booth! I then cut the audio tracks together and played them over speakers on the motion capture stage. As their voices played I would reinact the body performances – playing over 30 characters for 2200 shots. There are also 9 choreographed fight scenes.
From there all the data was combined with the sets and cameras and edited into an hour and forty minute previs.
3 weeks of rehearsal with the actors, 7 days of voice recording, 20 weekends of body capture, and 16 months of editing the first cut.
After the previs edit was locked, and every shot were known, I flew to China for 30 days to photograph all the backgrounds sets for the film! That was a hell of a trip, as I didn’t speak any Mandarin except for “Hello” and “Thank you” – a proper tourist!
Which software and hardware do you use?
Motionbuilder was used for motion capture, Maya for animation, lighting, and fx, Vray for rendering, and Nuke for compositing. Photoshop took care of texturing and matte painting. Those are pretty industry standard. Vray’s implementation of spherical harmonics was perfect for caching sets and speeding up our rendertimes.
We also used Agisoft Photoscan for photomodeling sets. We built a lot of complex background geometry quickly using this software. HDRshop was used to assemble chromeball images for lighting. I often say “We” but it’s a royal we. It was me.
How do you find people to work with and how do you persuade them to come on board?
The simple answer is having a great project that people want to be a part of – easier said than done!
The actors responded to casting calls on local film hotlines as well as craigslist listings. When the film is finished we will play in festivals, so it’s tremendous exposure for an actor. Some theatrical actors did it simply to experience voice over.
Another factor is time commitment. Live action films require weeks of work, but a voice over actor can deliver an entire focused performance in a day. This makes it worth their time.
Visual effects wise, I referred to friends I had worked with in the past. People are busy. Without a budget, it was easier to do things on my own. I knew exactly what I wanted and just did it.
Concept art wise I turned to my good friend Mikhail Kathkaart. We’ve been friends since grade school. It was an easy decision!
What have been and are the biggest challenges to overcome?
Each part of this process has been challenging. I had to continue performing stunts and fight scenes on a hyperextended ankle. I also hiked up ten thousand steps in Wudang China to reach certain locations, all while wearing camera gear. That was equally rough. Walking through Tibet during the first stages of altitude sickness in order to get certain shots. I had travelled so far I wasn’t about to turn around, but it was borderline stupid. Also pushing myself to continue editing month after month when certain scenes weren’t working yet, was also mentally difficult. I learned to not listen to myself.
But having said all that, each of those steps was successful. The most difficult challenge was actually breaking into Hollywood. I still haven’t done that yet. Doing an entire film solo has been easier than getting an agent, or getting through to people on the phone. I wasted more than a year of my life trying to get through. Friends had scripts bought that ended up in development hell. It was equally frustrating for them.
Besides Fox, I did get another really close break without an agent. The producer of the Airbender Movie watched the first ten minutes. She loved it, but had just traveled to Singapore the week prior and accepted the job as the CEO of Lucasfilm. It just wasn’t meant to be. Still she loved it though, more reason not to give up!
What is the best part of working on this project and what keeps you going?
Again the story. Also the time the actors put into the film. I need to cross the finish line and repay everyone for giving such great performances. Recently the influx of indiegogo contributors has given me another boost. I’ve been making a great film, but it’s becoming our film. It’s really very cool. We definitely feel like we’re paving new roads.
What is the status of the project right now and what hurdles do you now need to overcome to complete the movie?
Our biggest hurdle remaining is the funding.
I need to bring on more artists to finish this. I can continue on my own time, but other people cannot. I’ve taken this as far as I can on my own. All the artists, vfx pipeline, composer, symphony, and sound design is set. We just need to reach enough people – ask them to preorder the DVD or BluRay, and put the final polish on this thing!
What are the biggest creative challenges from now on?
The creative challenges are done! When previzing the film, I specifically create something that I could take anywhere and put through a pipeline of artists to crank out. That was the idea. There are minor fun decisions to be made constantly, but the major creative decisions, what’s happening in each shot, are sorted.
With more artists we can spend time finessing – fixing lip sync, and all the minor tweaks that would take one artist forever.
How do you see the project progress over the next few months?
The next few months will determine how we finish the film. Will we reach enough people in time to fund through Indiegogo? Will another studio pick us up before then? Either way we will begin working on scenes again in December, once I’m finished with the last Hobbit film.
Once complete, how will you market and distribute the film?
It would be a dream to premiere at either Cannes or Sundance! I have no doubts “White Tiger Legend” will get picked up through festival showings. We’ve targeted the story for the teenage market, with broad appeal in both Europe, US, and Asia. You’ve got to make those kind of focused decisions – even if the film is for everyone.
Graphics wise, we’re leaps and bounds better than we were last year. It’s only going to get better. If I had any doubts over the story, I would go back to the drawing board until it was ready. We’re ready. We’re so ready.
Go and be part of the movie and give your support here.