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Characters Engage Showcase

May 22nd, 2012

An interview with Ken Duncan

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© Copyright Characters Engage Ltd, 2011-2012. All Rights Reserved. Materials used by consent of the copyright holders or their representatives.

Joseph Feinsilver



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"Characters are triggers. They trigger deep emotions such as empathy, fear, revulsion, elation and even love. Characters are powerful weapons in the arsenal of the storyteller"

An interview with Ken Duncan

Character showcase: Joseph Feinsilver


With over two decades of experience animating and working as Supervising Animator on major productions such as "Beauty and the Beast", "Aladdin", "The Lion King", "Hercules", "Tarzan", "Pocahontas", "Treasure Planet" and "Shark Tale", Ken Duncan finally fulfilled his life-long dream of owning his own animation studio when he opened Duncan Studio in 2007.


Since then, his studio has provided animation for large scale features such as Tim Burton’s “9", development on projects such as Alpine Pictures’ “Dorothy of Oz”, and Tom Hanks’ “Electric City", and was honored with the Animation industry’s prestigious Annie Award to DreamWorks for “Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters” featurette.










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CE:  So, Ken, you’ve been running your own 2D/CG animation company, Duncan Studio, for 5 years.  What made you decide to try something different like creating your own app?


KD:  My dream had always been to open up my own studio, which I was finally fortunate enough to achieve in 2007.  I wanted to build a facility that would not only house talented artists, but where I could also have the freedom to be innovative and take on challenges I otherwise would never be given the opportunity to attempt.  The app market is ripe with all kinds of possibilities.  There seems to be a need for high quality, original app content that would be appreciated on an artistic, technological and emotional level.  Something that would be a kind of cross between an animated short and an interactive storybook.  The idea of doing something so unique, without having to partner with another bigger studio to get our project made and out into the world, was a very exciting prospect to me.

CE:  Tell us more about “My Beastly ABC’s” and what makes it different from other apps currently on the market?


KE:  Many of the higher quality interactive apps out there are either based on public domain stories or designs.  We wanted to create something original that felt like a classic rhyming storybook brought to life.  It had to be a fun experience for adults and children alike, and we really wanted to make all aspects of the experience top-notch.  From the story, to the designs, to the programmed interactivity and music, we were aiming for feature quality.  Each scene will contain different aspects of interactivity... some will be more game-like, while others will contain a type of “chipmunk physics.”

We also wanted to have the ABC element in there as a fun educational component, along with the introduction of creatures from many different cultures.  The story is about a boy who harbors many fears and dreads facing his daily routine.  One day, he ends up rising on the “wrong” side of his bed only to discover that his fears have manifested into actual creatures he now has no choice but to confront.  At first, he is very wary of these monsters but, as the story unfolds, he soon learns to face and even befriend them.  There are 26 creatures in total, each represented by a different letter of the alphabet.  We will also provide an interactive menu, which will offer up further information about each creature’s cultural background and folkloric information.  I myself learned all sorts of new things about mythical creatures I never even knew existed!      

Joseph grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, and studied illustration at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.  After graduating he found it very difficult to get hired, but never gave up on his dream of a career as an artist.  Joseph simply continued to paint until, one day, he was contacted by Aardman Animations, who were working in partnership with Sony Pictures Animation.  They flew him out to Los Angeles because the art director liked his work and that's how his career began.




























CE:  How were you able to put this great team together?


KD:  “My Beastly ABC’s” has been a passion project for everyone involved.  The team was built primarily with people either currently working at my studio or that had worked with us in the past.  As soon as we committed to making this project a reality and started planning things out, the pieces just started coming together.  People stepped up to express their interest in different aspects of its creation and we very quickly had a first rate crew in place.  Taylor Krahenbuhl, for instance, was our main designer.  I had admired his work for quite a while and we knew we wanted to work together... we just could never figure out what on.  When this opportunity came up, I knew he’d be the perfect fit.  With Jim Dale (narrator of all the Harry Potter audio books), we knew we wanted a voice just like his to narrate our story.  We sat for days trying to figure out who we could get that could hold a candle to Jim, with no luck.  But then we thought, why not just try and get Jim Dale himself?  We tracked down his agent, gave him our passionate pitch, and were somehow able to get Jim excited enough to perform our narration.  When we got into that recording booth, we knew it was the perfect fit.




CE:  How far along are you and what is your plan for release?


KD:  We recently completed all the design work on each scene.  The story and voice over narration has all been locked.  We are now focusing on finishing the programming, and we have a wonderful composer working on the final music score.  We are pushing our hardest for a release in the late summer of 2012.  However, we’ve found the biggest challenge to be finding the right marketing strategy plan for such a new medium.  Because “My Beastly ABC’s” is 100% self-financed, I recently launched a campaign on Kickstater (http://kck.st/JvTmvR) to raise the remainder of the funds needed to complete and market the project.  We could only get so many discounts and pull so many favors, and now we really need the marketing help to get the word out there.  Our campaign expires on the morning of Thursday, May 24th.  We’ve set it up so backers can get great rewards like artwork, graphic t-shirts, or even star as a monster voice in exchange.  I’m just crossing my fingers we get the support we need to bring our goal to fruition.


CE:  What are your plans for the future if this project is successful?


KD:  The current release plan is to initially launch “My Beastly ABC’s” on the iPhone/iPad platform.  If it does well enough, the next step is to also release it for Android and other popular platforms.  We would then love to create versions of the app in different languages for people around the world to enjoy.  Our ultimate goal is to create other even more robust apps so that we can continue to push the envelope in animation and technology.  We are already developing other ideas for future projects. The app world is still really the Wild West when it comes to exploration, and I’m excited to take on this adventure!  


CE:  Thank you Ken.  We love this project and would like to ask our readers to check out Ken's Kickstarter page and help the people at Duncan Studio to get “My Beastly ABC’s” done.



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More recently Joseph has worked on “Arthur Christmas” by Sony Pictures, where he was responsible for creating model packs.  These packs are a blueprint for creating props and it was his job to texture and color these props and to organize them on a page with other related material.  This was then given to another artist who transfered it all to 3D.  Joseph says that the key to doing this successfully is to be very clear and organized with your painting.   He is really proud of the finished product, and of the fact that they worked very well together as a team.

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For the last year, Joseph has worked on "Tron: Uprising" as a background painter and layout artist.  Because his schedule was fairly relaxed, he had to stay more focused and disciplined, as it was his responsibility to deliver a certain quality of work.  He was either given a layout by his art director, or he chose his own, based on the storyboard.  The art director would then give him direction regarding the mood, lighting and design, and when the paintings were nearly finished, he would submit them for any necessary changes, before finalizing them.  Joseph tells us that he learned how to develop his ideas and grow as an artist during this production, because his art director always pushed him to create better artwork.


Because he likes genre paintings, Joseph is particularly interested in the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  With a penchant for history and artists who depict scenes from everyday life, Bruegel’s epic paintings inspire him. These pictures are a window into an engaging past, filled with stories.

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In the future Joseph hopes to work on productions that engage and challenge him, and in the meantime, he wants to continue to expand his knowledge of art and develop his skills.  Joseph is inspired by life and enjoys experiencing the world around him.  He says that an artist needs to keep his eyes and ears open and to be curious about his environment.  He also thinks that it is important to paint for fun and to stay in touch with the basics of painting, and so, he has recently started to paint in oil again.  In addition to all this, Joseph is currently immersing himself in the world of George Orwell’s "1984", and hopes to put some character oriented work up on his blog soon.


For more of his wonderful elegant art, please check out Joseph's blog... here.