PENCILS VS PIXELS is a new 72-minute documentary that showcases the animators who bring your favorite characters to life and celebrates the unique magic of 2D hand-drawn animation while exploring the revolution behind 3D computer animation over the years.
INTERVIEW: Bay Dariz and Phil Earnest Talk PENCILS VS PIXELS
Bay Dariz (Writer, Director, Producer) and Phil Earnest (Director) sat down to chat with me about the Strikeback Studios release of the animation documentary PENCILS VS PIXELS out November 7.
Thanks so much for taking time to talk with me today about the animation documentary PENCILS VS PIXELS. So what made you guys most excited to collaborate on this documentary?
Bay Dariz: Well, Phil [Earnest] started this project before I got involved. And it was really so when it came to me, it was already partially done. And I got to see some of the footage they had already filmed. And for me, it was like, “Yes, yes, yes, yes! Yes! Yes, this is exactly the kind of movie I want to see. The kind of I’d be honored to help make.” I was making this action movie in Canada at the time, which was very stressful, and complex, complicated. And this just felt like a warm, like sinking into a warm bath of creativity and loveliness. So it just really helped lift my spirits, and it was very easy getting involved.
Phil Earnest: I know John Pomeroy, he’s an animator, a really big animator; he and I, we’ve done a lot of projects together. A friend and friend of mine and I were working on his bio. So we were kind of interviewing him and kind of taking down his story. And basically, he told so many amazing things that it just had to be a movie.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was like, “Man, there’s stuff I’ve never heard before.” I’ve seen almost every documentary there is on animation. I’ve never heard this depth to it before, and so I called Tom [Bancroft] and I told him, “Hey, this is the idea for a movie I got, what do you think about it?” I wanted him to be a producer. And so that’s how it got started, we just wanted to tell a story of the passion behind the animation, the journey, the hardship, and where it’s going.
And that’s kind of how it gets started. And making a movie has its hardships and stuff, we definitely hit COVID. We needed an amazing, bigger team, and was so Bay came to our rescue. And so that’s how we kind of got connected, and we worked remotely through Zoom and you know, all the technology that we’re using right now to make it work. I’m just so thankful for him and his group and his team. And it’s just been such an awesome journey and getting to see this thing actually finalized. And out there. It’s just a dream come true.
There’s so much great information in the documentary. Was there anything in particular that you learned in the process of creating PENCILS VS PIXELS that surprised you?
Phil Earnest: I’ve said this, the whole journey, but just being blown away by, the hardship of animators, what they went through whenever the industry did change, and how much that affected their life and their family, and, also like learning the truth behind it. It’s easy, from a consumer perspective and looking at the news and stuff, to blame 3D and blame 2D for putting them out of business.
But when you see the inside, you see that everybody was trying to be on the same team, even Pixar was trying to work with 2D, and it was one of those things where it just evolved into the tragedy it was, and that was really hard for me. Especially knowing Tom [Bancroft] and what he went through and just knowing that they went from going to work at Disney to working at the grocery store or selling merch at Disney World or, whatever. It is not saying that’s a bad thing at all. But that to have your whole life driven to be an animator, and think that’s where you’re retiring eventually, and for it to just kind of disappear.
That was really hard for me, because like, you can either look at it as a discouraging thing, or you can look at it as like, “Hey, they never gave up, they kept going, doing what they loved.” And now it’s back. And now it’s stronger than ever. And now it’s gonna be it’s the opportunity is just gonna blow up pretty soon. And so like, you know, I read an interview that said, it’s like, when you break a bone, sometimes breaking the bone makes it stronger. And sometimes the hardship with being broken, allows it to be better. So some things have to be shaken up a little bit. But it also paves the road for a different avenue. more interesting, more accessible avenue for people to do that art form. So hardships are hard, but sometimes it’s a good thing, you know. So that was very impactful for me. Just knowing like, what they went through.
Bay Dariz: When I was a kid, I wanted to be an animator. And so I learned a lot about the animation process, I knew who some of these animators were already, but I learned so much making this film that it’s just too much, I learned too much. But one thing that was really surprising to me was how technology was brought in to save money and keep the Disney Studios afloat during some really hard times. That if they didn’t bring computers in, to color the films, to paint them to do xerography, to make them, to ink them much faster, and more economically then the studio would have probably folded before we even got to this point. So technology saved them. And then also was like this sort of a poison pill so much, but it was this thing that grew and eventually overtook 2D animation as the preferred theatrical medium.
How did you decide which animators and films to include in the documentary?
Phil Earnest: At first, it was anybody and everybody we can get a hold of because at first, anybody, the people we were reaching out to were already a part of that history.
When you’re starting any documentary, you kind of have an idea where it’s going. So you don’t really know where you know, everything until you start filming. And you start learning about what every, you know, what, what’s going on, and what happened. And, and so, like, that’s kind of, you know, Tom [Bancroft] obviously has a lot of connections. So he just started reaching out to people, I told him, people I wanted to have, he tried to, you know, he would communicate to those people. And, you know, every time we would talk to somebody, they were, like, super excited to be a part of it. Because, you know, a lot of these people other than the animation community, a lot of these people don’t, you know, know who they are, or don’t really know their story. And so they were super pumped to get on board because they’re, they’re all about inspiring others to do the same thing. You know, that’s there’s so passionate about everybody, you know, them wanting to encourage other people to do what they love and stuff. So like, finding the people wasn’t super hard. It was how to get their interview. That was the complicated thing, you know. And so yeah, that’s kind of we just, the more we started interviewing, like, the connections we had, wasn’t allowing us to complete the story. The whole time, we were talking about certain female animators we needed to get and we didn’t know how to get a whole tone. We didn’t you know, or we didn’t have the connection, whatever it was. And so like it baked in, our team that was built was in this necessary part in this completed project.
Bay Dariz: My first call was to Mindy Johnson, who literally wrote the book on women in animation, and I called her and I said, we need some we need some very talented gals in this and she I’d met Jane Baer before. It’s like I’ve been at some of these parties and met some of these folks, but she just said, “You call this person this person, this person.”
Since she really helped rally the team out here and being in LA, we had access to so many other people. For me, too, is important to get people like Seth MacFarlane involved who wasn’t part of that, but was like the next generation that was inspired by those things and had his success in the 2000s. And to bring different points of view from people outside of the Disney, Disney World, or Disney ecosystem.
Phil Earnest: And this is just the perspective, you know, of Disney North America. There’s there’s a whole world of animation that we are sure we wish we could have put in there. But like what we did right now, was vast as it is, you know, it could have been a it could have been a docu-series.
So you both wanted to do animation growing up. What was your favorite animated feature film from your childhood?
Phil Earnest: Very hard, but to nail it down. The Lion King. The music, art form colors, you know everything about it, which is so fun.
Bay Dariz: And I’m going to go with the obscure The Secret of NIMH. The Secret of NIMH was just a solid, very weird time in my childhood when I didn’t really know what I was watching, but I was just completely captivated by the world of it.
About PENCILS VS PIXELS
PENCILS VS PIXELS is a celebration of the unique magic of 2D hand-drawn animation and an exploration of how the Disney Renaissance of the late 1980s and early 1990s led to an animation boom that was quickly upended by the computer animation revolution that followed. Narrated by Ming-Na Wen, PENCILS VS PIXELS features many of the legendary artists who brought these now-classic films to life as they guide us through the last few decades of animation and into the future that’s yet to come.
Runtime: 72 minutes
Directors: Bay Dariz, Phil Earnest
Producers: Tom Bancroft, Bay Dariz
Writer: Bay Dariz
Editor: Mike Hugo
Cinematography: Dustin Supencheck, Michael Delano, Chris Haggerty
Executive Producers: Shannon Houchins, Noor Ahmed, Christopher Joe
Narrator: Ming-Na Wen
PENCILS VS PIXELS is out November 7.
- INTERVIEW Ming-Na Wen Talks Animation for Pencils vs. Pixels - November 23, 2023
- INTERVIEW: Bay Dariz and Phil Earnest Talk Pencils vs Pixels - November 1, 2023
- REVIEW: Pain Hustlers on Netflix - October 28, 2023