Animator-turned-director and producer Glen Keane remembers when basketball legend Kobe Bryant sat next to him as he prepared to animate the Oscar-winning short, “Dear Basketball.” The 2017 movie influenced his animation experience, which came in handy when working on his latest creation, “Over the Moon,” the Oscar animated film nominee about an adventurous Chinese girl who builds a rocket ship.
“Dear Basketball” was a love letter to the sport about a young man who lives out his dream of becoming a basketball player.
Keane says, “I told him he had the worst basketball player on earth animating him. He laughed and said ‘That’s good because everything you learn about basketball will come through studying me.’”
He had pulled together 20 greatest moments from Bryant’s career to watch and said he needed to understand what the player had been feeling in each of those moments.
Keane recalls, ”We watched his greatest plays as Kobe began to describe in detail his thoughts and feelings for each clip. He relived each incredible layup, 3 pointer and his signature fadeaway shot. I began to experience what I call in animation “living in the skin of the character.”
He used hand-drawn animation filled with fine pencil strokes to bring the story to life. Keane, who directed, produced and animated “Over the Moon,” experienced a similar feeling when it came to guiding the animation of the lead character in the film.
With very little knowledge of what life in China was like and having to live inside the skin of a 12-year-old girl, Keane says, “The first step in understanding Fei Fei was to go to China and discover her world. We visited a little water town similar to one Fei Fei lives in, we made mooncakes together, we visited a middle school classroom which we replicated in the movie and we ate dinner together in the home of one of our Shanghai artist’s family, which became the source of inspiration for the family dinner scenes in ‘Over The Moon.’”
It was important to Keane to accurately represent Netflix’s first “princess.” For that, he turned to producers Gennie Rim and Peilin Chou to ensure the Asian perspective was portrayed with careful insight.
“As we animated I learned about the deep cultural and generational roots that affect how Fei Fei would react in each circumstance. At Sony Imageworks, Gennie made sure we included as many Asian female animators as possible to bring their authentic perspective to each moment in the movie.”
Fei Fei, he underlines, is not a typical princess who lives in a castle — she is a princess for a new generation. He says, “She is a wonderful blend of intelligence, creativity, determination and love. We experience Fei Fei through the lens of her own Chinese culture and yet, no matter what culture we are born into we see our better selves through her.”