Creating a movie buzz

The buzz word behind the making of “Bee Movie” was collaboration.

Filmmakers at DreamWorks Animation SKG took the bees’ mantra in the film, “thinking bee,” and put it into motion, as they created the new animated film starring Jerry Seinfeld.

The concept of “thinking bee” is everyone working together and doing a job well. It seemed to carry over into making the film, as the core group — Seinfeld, directors Simon Smith and Steve Hickner, producer Christina Steinberg and editor Nick Fletcher — blended wonderfully, Hickner said.

While this was Seinfeld’s first animation project, he was easy to work with, Hickner said.

“Working with Jerry, it’s hard not to get along with him, he’s such an easygoing guy — and just like he is on the TV show, laid back and lots of fun to be around,” the Glendale resident said. “He’s the straw that stirs the drink. He creates the environment so that it’s fun.”

And the rest, save Steinberg, had worked together on other animation projects, he said.

“None of us have ever worked with her, but she’s a delight,” Hickner said. “She’s the den mother of us all.”

This project started in 2004, when Seinfeld was having dinner with Steven Spielberg in the Hamptons, Hickner said.

In a lull in the conversation, Seinfeld blurted out an idea he had for a movie, “Bee Movie,” and SpieIberg called and ran the title by Jeffrey Katzenberg, who called Seinfeld the next morning to tell him they wanted to go ahead with the movie.

Seinfeld recruited writers, some from his “Seinfeld” TV show, and they wrote a story about a bee, Barry B. Benson, who discovers humans are stealing their honey and making a profit from it, Hickner said.

“He files a lawsuit to sue the humans for stealing the honey and brings them to trial and beats them, and it has unexpected results,” he said.

And so the collaboration began.

To bring the bee to life in an animated film, a crew of artists translated the script into pictures or storyboards. The storyboards were made into a story reel, which Hickner called a moving comic book. Then temporary voices, sound effects and music were added.

“It’s a blueprint of what the movie will look like,” he said.

Hickner and Smith oversaw the transformation along with Seinfeld, Steinberg and Fletcher.

“We fine-tuned the story constantly for 2 1/2 years,” Hickner said.

The story reel is a mockup of what will become the final version of the film, he said.

“Animation is expensive,” Hickner said. “Each frame is done by hand. It’s very labor intensive. You have to make sure it works before you make it into production animation.”

Managing the film’s budget was associate producer Cameron Stevning of Glendale.

“I worked with the directors to make sure every penny of the budget got onto the screen,” he said. “I can’t say no all the time but get them what they want without feeling they are compromising.”

One of the challenges was how to create the different locations in the film, said visual effects supervisor Doug Cooper of Glendale. They had to design three worlds — the hive, the factory and the human world.

“I love a challenge,” he said. “Jerry had a clear vision, and he didn’t want the locations to be constrained. It was a challenge to find ways to get it done.”

Another challenge was how to get the color yellow among the characters the right shade under different lighting, Cooper said.

“We set the color right here in our own facilities,” he said. “That’s what I did, worked with the color correction. We had to make sure it fit the mood and tone of the story.”

Seinfeld had a strong commitment to the film, Hickner said. Although he lives in New York, Seinfeld spent about a week each month during the 3 1/2 years of work on the film at DreamWorks’ Glendale campus.

One thing Hickner said he’ll always remember about working with Seinfeld was all the fun they had trying the restaurants in town.

What most people don’t know about Seinfeld is that he is a food connoisseur. To break up the days, Seinfeld would order in cupcakes, searching for the best in Los Angeles, Hickner said.

“We tried Sprinkles in Los Angeles,” he said. “The very famous Susie’s Cakes and Yummy Cupcakes in Burbank. We had them all. And everybody had their personal preferences. Simon and Nick are British and they liked the spongy ones best. The Americans liked the sweet frosting best.”


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