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Toonzone Chats with Brad Raymond & Helen Kalafatic on Next "Tinker Bell" DTV Movie

by on June 18, 2010

Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, the next direct-to-video movie in Disney’s Tinker Bell franchise, is due out on September 21, 2010, but Toonzone News was able to sit in on a virtual roundtable session with director Bradley Raymond and producer Helen Kalafatic.

Bradley Raymond’s career began at Don Bluth Productions, where he was a storyboard and visual development artists for movies like A Troll in Central Park and Thumbelina. A brief stint at Walt Disney Television Animation led to a credit on the Aladdin TV series before he moved to Turner Animation to work on Cats Don’t Dance. At this point, Raymond took a detour from animation to play tight end for the California Bandits developmental football team, staying with the team to win a Semi-Pro Championship before returning to Disney to direct Pocahontas II, The Lion King 1 1/2, and the first Tinker Bell movie.

Helen Kalafatic’s career in animation began with an internship at Sunbow Entertainment, which quickly turned into a production manager job on Universal’s direct-to-video Hercules & Xena: The Battle for Mt. Olympus animated feature. From there, she was production supervisor for Sony’s Jumanji TV series, associate producer for Fox’s Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, and associate producer for HBO’s Harold and the Purple Crayon. All these credits led up to a long stint as a producer for Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants, after which she launched an animation studio for Scholastic to produce their bilingual PBS Kids series Maya and Miguel, and also produced the “Moongirl” short film for Henry Selick and Laika Animation Studios. Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue is her first credit for Disney.

The transcript from the virtual roundtable follows, lightly edited to consolidate answers for similar questions and re-arranged slightly to improve flow. Click on any thumbnail image to enlarge.

Helen Kalafatic
Tinker Bell & the Great Fairy Rescue Producer Helen Kalafatic

Q: Helen: How long did it take to create the new Tinker Bell movie, and roughly how many people were involved in the production?

HELEN KALAFATIC: It took several years. Development started when the first Tinker Bell film wrapped and it took us about two years to produce this film.

Q: Where did the idea for this film come from?

HELEN KALAFATIC: The idea came from Brad’s desire to want to tell the story of Tinker Bell meeting a human prior to Peter Pan. Meeting Lizzy is the first time Tink’s ever met a human.

BRADLEY RAYMOND: I absolutely loved Disney’s Peter Pan when I was growing up. I really connected to the idea of Wendy getting to meet Peter and Tink. The idea of an ordinary character that the audience could relate to, getting to experience a magical world was my inspiration for this story. I wanted to tell a story of the first time that Tinker Bell meets a human.

That human is a little girl named Lizzy. She believes in Fairies and when she meets Tinker Bell, she gets to learn about the world of Pixie Hollow. For the audience, they get to see how Tinker Bell learns to communicate with humans. We get to see Lizzy discover that Tinker Bell speaks in jingling bells and how to communicate with her. The most magical moment for me is when Tinker Bell teaches Lizzy how to fly.

Q: Bradley: How does it happen, that Tinker Bell and Lizzy become friends?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: Tinker Bell and Lizzy become friends while they create a field journal about fairies. Imagine having a real fairy helping you with facts about Pixie Hollow as you create a book of fairies! That is one of many wish fulfillments in this story that I hope the audience will enjoy.

Q: Helen: What can Tinker Bell learn from Lizzy and what can Lizzy learn from Tinker Bell?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Both Tinker Bell and Lizzy learn about each other’s worlds. There is a beautiful sequence in the film where Lizzy learns all about the fairy world and it has a great song to accompany it called “How to Believe” written by Adam Iscove. That sequence probably answers this question better than I can.

Q: Helen: What were some of the visual and story inspirations for The Great Fairy Rescue?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Our art director, Fred Warter and his team were inspired by the period and the place. Fred spent time in London and the English countryside and we did extensive research throughout production to make sure that the world we were creating was accurate and magical at the same time.

Q: Bradley: When I chatted with Klay Hall and Sean Lurie about Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, they said that each film is set in a particular season. Is that still true with this film, and how did it influence the movies story and look?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: That is true. This movie takes place in the countryside of England during the summer. This created a beautiful and lush backdrop to the story of Tinker Bell meeting a human for the first time.

Q: Helen: What way does this adventure change the relationship between Tinker Bell, Vidia and the other fairies?

HELEN KALAFATIC: As the movie evolves we see the team work and friendship between the fairies get stronger and each fairy uses their talent to contribute to the rescue. Tinker Bell and Vidia were anything other than friends after the first movie. And Vidia was a willing outsider to the other fairies. She prefers to be alone. But when she witnesses Tinker Bell being captured by a human, Vidia shows Tinker Bell and the other fairies her true colors and leads the Great Fairy Rescue!

Brad Raymond
Tinker Bell & the Great Fairy Rescue Director Bradley Raymond

Q: Bradley: What was your toughest challenge in creating this movie?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: The biggest challenge was to create the feeling of magic for the audience. I believe that the best way to do this is to first create a believable world that the audience can identify with. Then when the magical moments happen, the audience could feel as though it were happening to them as well.

Q: Helen: What’s different about this film as compared to previous Tinker Bell movies?

HELEN KALAFATIC: This is Tinker Bell’s second time on the Mainland, and it’s her first visit to Fairy Camp. During the summer season the fairies go there and you’ll see in the opening of this film how special Fairy Camp is and how the fairies work together to prepare for the season – like painting butterfly wings, gathering berries, and weaving Queen Anne’s Lace.

She’s also interacting with and befriending a human. The fairy world and human world intersect resulting in a true wish fulfillment story – Lizzy finally meets a fairy!

Q: Bradley: What was the most difficult scene to animate and why was it so difficult?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: The scene where Lizzy learns Tinker Bell’s name was a very important scene in the movie. I wanted to capture the first moment that they start their friendship. This was the longest scene in the movie and was very dependent upon both character’s performances. Although it was the most difficult scene to accomplish, it is the one I am most proud of.

Q: Helen: Before you worked on Tinker Bell, you worked on cartoons like SpongeBob SquarePants and Harold and the Purple Crayon. How did your experiences there influence your participation in Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Being able to draw from past experience is valuable in any line of work. Working with large creative teams in a studio environment has been especially helpful. Animation production is very collaborative and this film was the most collaborative production I’ve worked on.

SpongeBob was produced in traditional 2-D animation and on a completely different schedule for television. Tinker Bell is a CG animated film that requires a completely different schedule and creative process and resources.

Q: Bradley Raymond: Does it help in any way that you have a history in animation, now that you direct animated movies?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: Having experience working in animation is a huge help when directing animated movies. It gives the director the understanding of what to ask for from their team. Working in computer generated animation was new to me when directing the first Tinker Bell movie. So I relied heavily on my amazing team to guide me throughout the production.

Q: Bradley: In previous interviews with Disney directors, they’ve mentioned giving their work to Pixar’s infamous Brain Trust for evaluation. Did you consult with the Brain Trust for this film, and who was instrumental in offering advice?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: The key person that I relied on for advice was none other than the Executive Producer, John Lasseter. He has been such a huge inspiration to me during the making of this movie. His influence is everywhere throughout this film. John brought the Pixar philosophy to our division and we have loved how it has benefited our projects immensely.

Q: Which Fairy do you like most?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: My favorite fairy is Tinker Bell. She has been one of my favorite Disney characters of all time. And it has been a huge honor and privilege to tell more stories about her. She is such a great character to work with!

HELEN KALAFATIC: All of the fairies are special so it’s hard to say which one I like the most because I love them all. If I had to choose one then I would say I feel the most nostalgic affection for Tinker Bell. It’s an honor to be working on a film with such an iconic and beloved Disney character.

Q: Bradley Raymond: You also wrote the story for the first Tinker Bell movie and this one. Is it easier and more fun to create a movie coming from your own ideas?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: To me a movie is the visual telling of a story. I think that the story is the most important part of a movie. So when the director is deeply connected to the story it is easier and more fun to direct.

Q: The Tinker Bell franchise has brought in a nice selection of top actors like Anjelica Huston, Lucy Liu, and now Michael Sheen to the series. How did they get into the production and what’s it like working with them?

HELEN KALAFATIC: All of the actors have been wonderful and they are really comfortable with Brad’s direction and sense of humor. Michael Sheen is an amazing actor, he is such a sweet person and I was impressed with how down to earth he is. He told us how his daughter watched Tinker Bell and she even used to make fairy houses herself. I can’t think of anyone else who could have played Dr. Griffiths with such authenticity.

BRADLEY RAYMOND: We do have an amazing cast! One of the most important aspects in voice acting for animation is the ability to act with your voice. In live action or television a lot of the amazing actors in our franchise use their face and eyes to show an emotion. Why we are so lucky is our cast can get those same emotions across with just their voices as well. Once you have that from your cast, then you can sit back and hear how they create their characters.

Q: Bradley: Why was Mae Whitman chosen to play Tinker Bell?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: When we heard Mae Whitman’s voice for the first time we all looked at each other and said, “She’s Tinker Bell!” We wanted someone who could capture the multi-faceted personality of Tinker Bell – all with her voice! She brings Tink’s feistiness and playfulness and sweetness to life. Mae is an amazing talent!

Q: Bradley: What has Mae Whitman brought to Tinker Bell over the course of these, now three, films?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: Mae Whitman has truly become Tinker Bell. Her voice has brought a whole new level to Tinker Bell’s character and at the same time kept the integrity of the character that we already know and love. And the amazing part is that Mae does this all with her voice!

Q: Bradley: How and why did you choose Michael Sheen as the voice of Mr. Griffiths?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: When I was listening for the voice of Dr. Griffiths, Michael Sheen was suggested to me by our head of casting, Jason Henkel. When I heard Michael’s voice, I heard a sense of warmth in his voice. He gives Lizzy’s father a likeability that is so crucial to the story. You want to root for Lizzy and her father to come together. Then when I had the pleasure to work with him, I got to witness his true greatness. Michael has the uncanny ability to act with his voice. That is so important in animation, because the actor’s voice is what inspires the animator’s performance on the screen.

Q: Helen Kalafatic: Can you tell us some funny moments during production?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Getting stuck in London for two weeks under a volcanic ash cloud.

Q: Bradley: We all know (because of different “Making Of” features) how directors work, but can you tell us how you direct an animated movie?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: My method is to be the keeper of the most important part of a movie, the story. Every aspect of the process has to support it so when I work with each department, my job is to allow that aspect of the movie to help tell the story.

Q: Helen: Can we expect Joel McNeely to score The Great Fairy Rescue?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Joel McNeely did score Tinker Bell and The Great Fairy Rescue and what a gorgeous score it is!

Q: Bradley: Is it more difficult to work with animated characters rather than with “real” people?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: You work so closely with so many talented people throughout an animated production, that I would guess it is the same. You work with the amazing voice talent, and then you work with the great animators to inspire the character’s performance.

Q: Bradley: When you were young: did you believe in magic like flying fairies, dwarfs and ghosts?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: Yes I did. And I still do! In fact the belief in fairies is a pre-requisite to work on these films!

Q: Helen: You’ve been producing other projects so different from this one. Was it difficult for you to get involved into the fairies world?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Tinker Bell was part of my childhood and I couldn’t get enough of Disney movies when I was a child so jumping into the fairy world wasn’t difficult at all.

Q: Bradley: Can you describe how Tinker Bell developed over the 3 movies?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: These films take place before Disney’s original Peter Pan. I look at Tinker Bell as a fully developed fairy in Peter Pan. So when Jeff Howard and I started thinking about the story for the first Tinker Bell film, we decided to tell her origin story. So our whole team has set out to give Tinker Bell a character arc that spans across multiple movies. So the audience gets to see how Tinker Bell got to be the amazing character that we’ve all grown to love.

Q: Helen: What is your favorite scene in the movie?

HELEN KALAFATIC: I have lots of favorites. I appreciate the most difficult scenes because of the work that went into them from all of the departments. We have some complex scenes that we are very proud of.

Q: Bradley: Could you talk about your influences and how they may have made their way into the film?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: The biggest influence on me during this movie would have to be John Lasseter. I was a big fan of his movies before I had the pleasure of working with him. And now that I have worked with John for over three years, I realize just how amazing he truly is. Working with him has been like going back to film school!

Q: Bradley: What is your favorite message and your favorite scene from this upcoming release?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: The message in this film is to learn to believe in the ones you love. Vidia learns to believe in Tink, Tink learns to believe in Vidia and most importantly, Dr. Griffiths learns to believe in his daughter Lizzy with a whole lot of help from Tinker Bell!

Q: Helen: The two prior films have grossed nearly $50 million, so is there any pressure when tackling now a third film in a popular franchise?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Our goal was to make a great film and our focus never swayed from that. The pressure that we put on ourselves was to make the best movie we could, it’s a luxury to be able to work in a studio with that mindset.

Q: Bradley: There have been subtle references to the Peter Pan story in the first two Tinker Bell films. Has the overall franchise arc been mapped out so there’s a logical lead-in from the end of this series to the original film, or is it being taken one installment at a time?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: We were all influenced by the great characters and world that Walt Disney brought us in Peter Pan, and in each Tinker Bell movie there were many references to the original. In the first movie, young Wendy has a small cameo. in the second movie, we fly by Skull Rock.

In this movie, the audience gets to see the first interaction Tinker Bell has with a human. We get to see Lizzy learn that Tinker Bell jingles when she talks to humans and we see Tinker Bell sprinkle pixie dust on Lizzy and help a human fly for the first time! We even get to hear the famous words, “Think happy thoughts” for the first time!

Q: Bradley: Which was the most difficult character for you and the animation department and why?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: In order for the audience to feel the same magic that Lizzy feels in the movie, Lizzy needs to be a believable character that we all can relate to. Our animation supervisor, Sheryl Sackett and I worked closely with the animators to make sure that Lizzy’s acting performance was as real as possible. So when the magical moments happened to her the audience feels that it is happening to them as well.

Q: Bradley: What films did you look to for the flying sequences?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: Walt Disney’s Peter Pan was our biggest influence for the flying sequences in this movie. I wanted to capture the same exhilarating feeling that I felt when I first saw Wendy and her brothers fly in the original Peter Pan.

Q: Bradley: Could you talk about the details and backgrounds in this film? What’s involved, for example, in producing Lizzy’s sketch book, which looks photographically real?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: I wanted this world to feel as believable as possible, so that the audience feels like they are seeing something magical in a world that they can relate to. So I turned to our amazing Art Director, Fred Warter, to create a realistic look that still had the feel of Peter Pan. And when you see the final film everybody will be as amazed as I was when I saw what he and our team came up with!

For the sketch book, when one of our amazing artists with years of experience tries to draw like a nine year old, the audience notices. That would make our world less believable. So we decided to have real nine year old girls do Lizzy’s drawings for her. Not only is this extremely cute, but you begin to believe this world is real. Ultimately this makes Lizzy’s first meeting with Tinker Bell more magical.

Q: Bradley: Coming from your work on traditional animated films like Lion King 1/2 and Pocahontas II, and after some issues behind-the-scenes on the first film-a CG production, how have you adapted to the new technology of CG over cel animation?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: The biggest difference between traditional animation and computer generated animation is the use of the camera. In this movie, I was able to move the camera into scenes more like live action. This supported the subconscious element that I wanted to capture. When you watch the scenes in Lizzy’s room, I wanted to give the feeling that the audience was standing in the room with Tink and Lizzy. So a moving camera was essential. Our head cameraman, John Bermudes and his amazing team took that idea and created such a magical use of camera.

Q: Bradley: Are human faces the most difficult to render via computer animation? They seem to have improved over the years. Can you talk about what you did to try to capture the look and texture of flesh?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: One of the reasons humans are so challenging to create in animation is that we know how humans behave. So the first goal was to keep Lizzy and her father’s acting subtle. If we made them too cartoony, we wouldn’t believe the world they live in and all the magic would be lost. I am very proud of how all of our animators accomplished this goal.

Q: Helen: I’m noticing a lot more emphasis on action in this and Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure. Are you trying to make this series more appealing to boys or do the girls want some action too?

HELEN KALAFATIC: The rescue was key to the story we wanted to tell and naturally with a rescue comes action and adventure. We wanted all children to go on this exciting journey with our characters.

Q: Helen: With a few more films already planned, what has been the key to the success of the Tinker Bell franchise for the films and Disney?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Our creative team’s ability to tell great stories and to create multi-faceted and believable characters. The ability to stay true to the world in which the characters live have been important in the success of Tinker Bell.

Q: Bradley & Helen: The animation, in my opinion, has been better with each film, and this film looks no different. Was there a conscious effort to improve or was it a by-product of the team getting comfortable with the technology, time frame, and each other?

HELEN KALAFATIC: We are always striving for the highest quality so yes, there is always a conscious effort to improve. The individuals working on this film have an innate desire to be the best at their craft, the whole crew has a great sense of pride and it shows on the screen.

BRADLEY RAYMOND: I agree that the animation is great in these movies. We have an amazing team of artists who are so dedicated. Our animation supervisor, Sheryl Sackett, works so closely with our animation team and she deserves a huge part of the credit.

Q: Helen: If Tinker Bell met a modern-day teenager, what do you think she would say to her?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Tinker Bell would jingle.

Q: Bradley: Much of the preview we have seen takes place in a room. Where beyond that does this new Tinker Bell adventure take us?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: When Tinker Bell’s friends find that Tink is stuck in the ‘human house,’ they band together to rescue her. Because fairies can’t fly in the rain, we get to see our gang build a boat and travel on the ground to get to Tink. This gives us a great sense of scale as our fairies face all kinds of peril. They face an oncoming car, a waterfall and even a cranky cat!

Q: Helen: What is your favorite animated movie of all time?

HELEN KALAFATIC: My first lunchbox was Pinocchio, I loved that film but Cinderella was another favorite and I was so excited to be the Fairy Godmother in my first grade play. I was around three when my parents started taking me to Radio City to see the Disney films and those memories are with me forever. My favorite contemporary animated films are Ratatouille, Up and The Iron Giant. Wow, that was a long answer!

Q: Bradley: How does this movie fit into the Tinker Bell saga? Do you guys consider the other movies before developing a new story?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: When we start to develop a Tinker Bell movie, we present our ideas to our story trust. As a group we look at the whole franchise and world we created for ideas and try to keep each film consistent.

Q: Helen: Do you feel a special responsibility since you’re dealing with such an iconic character in Tinker Bell?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Absolutely! It’s such an honor to be working on a Tinker Bell film. We all feel a responsibility because Tinker Bell is an integral part of the Disney history and tradition and her character is part of so many people’s childhoods.

Q: Bradley: What is it about Tinker Bell that makes her so appealing to such a mass audience considering her character was never the focal point of a film until the first Tinker Bell film?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: Even though she is from a far away magical world, Tinker Bell is one of the most relatable characters in movie history. She has so many facets to her personality. One of the most memorable moments in Walt Disney’s Peter Pan is when Tinker Bell gets angry and turns red. There are so many stories that could be told with such a multi-dimensional character.

Q: Bradley: Why was the decision taken to base the four sequels around the seasons?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: In the world of Pixie Hollow, fairies bring the magic of nature to our world. They arrive and change the seasons. This is such a magical and relatable idea that it seemed natural to set each movie around the backdrop of the four seasons.

Q: Helen: What were your goals in producing this film? What “stars” did you use to steer by, so to speak?

HELEN KALAFATIC: My goals changed as we moved along and new goals were set but overall I wanted the crew and director to be in an environment where they felt comfortable and happy so that we could all feel at ease with each other. When people feel good about their work they can expand and support each other.

Q: Helen: Was it an active decision to give Tinker Bell’s friends more screen time in this installment after the emphasis was more squarely on Tink herself in the second one?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Screen time wasn’t something that was an active choice. Brad wanted to create a story that was believable and entertaining and timeless. All of the fairies play an important role in the rescue and the amount of screen time just worked out naturally.

Q: Helen, any final thoughts?

HELEN KALAFATIC: Thank you for this opportunity! You had some great questions. I loved working on this film. We had such a wonderful crew, the leads, artists and production management people were amazing. To have John Lasseter as our executive producer was incredible and having Brad as our director was a gift.

Q: Bradley, any final thoughts?

BRADLEY RAYMOND: Thank you all so much for your amazing questions. Helen and I have had such a great time chatting about our experience working on this movie. This has been such a dream come true for me. I love stories about ordinary people who experience extraordinary events. This story is exactly that. I had so much fun telling this story! Hopefully the audience will have as much fun watching the movie as Helen and I had making it! Thanks again everybody.

Toonzone News would like to thank Bradley Raymond and Helen Kalafatic for taking the time to chat with us, and the staff at Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment PR and Dre Birskovich of Click Communications for arranging the virtual roundtable. Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on September 21, 2010; check out Toonzone’s earlier coverage of the movie here.

All images © Disney. All Rights Reserved.

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