Chapman and Lima share their journey to animated film direction

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[October 17, 2016]  LINCOLN - On Saturday morning, the Lincoln Film Festival opened with a few free events, including a two-hour discussion by Kevin Lima and Brenda Chapman. The two gave a tag-team talk, switching from one to the other as they went through their lives from early childhood to current day, talking about their journey into animated movie direction.

Both have had great careers, which they credit in no small part to the support of their parents, as well as some key members of their extended family.

Lima began, talking about his early years and his interest in puppetry. He noted that it was his grandmother who supported his interest and helped him as he created his own puppets and performed shows on his own.

Chapman noted that her parents supported her dreams, and it was an aunt who gave her particular encouragement. Early in her youth, drawing and art were key components of her life. She showed slides of her childhood drawings including her entries in Logan County 4-H programs.

Both came from working class families, with not a great deal to offer the youngsters financially when it came to education. Lima noted that at an early age his parents separated and divorced. He would later learn that his father had a drug addiction that led to the dissolution of the marriage. Therefore, at the age of twelve, he began doing puppet shows for money so that he could help out his struggling mother.

Chapman grew up in Beason and attended Lincoln High School. It was then that she met and befriended David Lanterman, and they became lifetime friends. She noted that she was drawing all of the time, and she enjoyed animated films. She said that she would attend movies at the Lincoln Theater with Lanterman and other friends. It was at one such animated film that she had an epiphany. The group of young people had attended a movie and had sat through the credits. She said as she looked at the credits, she came to realize the number of people who were involved in the making of the film. She said before that it had not really dawned on her that there were people who made a career of making animated art. It was then that she knew, this was to be her future.

Chapman also noted that in high school, her art teacher was a great supporter and influencer of her career. She said Mrs. Martha Wyneken took an interest in Chapman because Chapman had a great interest in art, and Wyneken realized Chapman had a talent.

Lima grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and began his college career at Emerson College. He would later earn a full scholarship to CalArts, The California Institute of the Arts.

Chapman did not earn a scholarship, and couldn’t afford to go to CalArts right away. Instead, she attended Lincoln College in Lincoln, where she said she took every art and art related class offered. She also worked in Lincoln at the Kmart. She would later take a job as an envelope stuffer for a new insurance company in town, and leave college for a time. She continued to take night courses at LC.

As time progressed, her father passed away, and there was a sum of money left to her mother, who in turn, gave the money to Chapman so that she could apply for CalArts.

Chapman and Lima talked about their training at CalArts and explained that as students there, they were expected to make a short animated film. In 1984, Lima produced his film “Let’s Misbehave.” The film featured a bird and worm and was set to the music of Cole Porter.

Chapman created her film in 1987. Entitled “A Birthday,” her film was dark and kind of sad, as it depicted an elderly grandmother anxiously awaiting family to come and acknowledge her birthday. It didn’t happen. As she lit the single candle on her own cake, her mind traveled back to her childhood when she had young friends who came for a birthday party.

Chapman went on to explain that this was the film that ultimately started her on her professional career. She had applied for a job with a motion picture company as a “cleaner” but had included her story boards from this film in her portfolio with a note that her ultimate goal was to work in “story.” In the end, she did get a job in story, which was very satisfying until she found out that she had only been hired because she was a female, and the filmmaker had been taking heat for not having women in prominent roles in the film industry.

Chapman's first job was working on a cartoon feature called “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.” She noted that she was not at CalArts on a scholarship, so she worked her way through school, with Hulk Hogan being one means of supporting herself.

Chapman and Lima met at CalArts and were married in 1988. Lima laughed and said that their first collaboration was their daughter Emma, who is now 17.

Lima has a long list of films he has worked on including his first full-length movie, “The Chipmunk Adventure.” Chapman worked on a number of projects for DIC Productions, with her first full-length movie being “The Little Mermaid.”

Lima said throughout their careers they have been more fortunate than a lot of others who work to get into this industry. He learned to ask for what he wanted and keep asking until someone hears. He said that in the industry, no one sees you until they are looking for someone. If you are there telling them what you want, eventually they see you, and when they see you, they will then hear you.

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Lima said there was also a point when he veered away from his original track and moved to theater and some acting. He said it was a great experience that would later serve him when he was asked to work on the production “102 Dalmatians,” his first film that mixed live actors with animation. He also worked on the movie “Eloise at the Plaza.” Lima said the movie was a great experience that led him to meet and form a working relationship with Julie Andrews. He said that was a big moment in his life as he greatly admired “Mary Poppins.”

Lima also talked about the production of “Enchanted,” another film mixing live actors with animation. He said when he took on the project, the movie was a bit raunchier than when it was finished. He said he worked to clean up the story line and was very well pleased with how it turned out in the end.

Chapman talked about her experiences with the Lion King. She shared a scene from the movie that she had written. She said as she was drafting the dialogue, she intended to refer back to an earlier scene where Simba and his father had a conversation about Simba’s heritage. As she wrote, she made the note “remember,” and intended to go back to the original scene to grab words, but in the end that didn’t happen. She showed the clip, where Simba was on his own and dejected, his father came to him in a vision in a pool of water, and urged him to “remember” who he was and his intended role in life.

Mufasa: You have forgotten who you are and so forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.
Simba: How can I go back? I'm not who I used to be.
Mufasa: Remember who you are. You are my son and the one true king.

Chapman also shared her story about “Brave,” the movie she wrote and directed, based on her struggles with a strong willed daughter who tested her daily. She said the movie took years to complete as it was an on again, off again production. She also shared that 18 months from completion she was taken off the movie as its director because the film makers wanted to make the story less about the mother-daughter relationship and more about a father-daughter relationship. However, in the end, the changes didn’t work, and Chapman was very pleased to find that when the movie came out the message was still true to the original script.

Lima explained that while much of what had been disused on Saturday morning was about success, there were plenty of failures. He said he worked on a total of 18 films across a seven year period, and not one of them ever made it to the screen.

As they began to wind down their presentation, Lima shared that currently he and Chapman are collaborating in writing a new film, something they really haven’t done a lot of until now.

When they were finished, the couple took questions from the audience. One question was how they escape from their careers. The two agreed that the best escape was to get away from all things film related, trips, or adventures like hiking. Lima said it was a little difficult, because his escape usually involves activity, while Chapman was content to do something quieter.

One young guest asked about education, and could the couple recommend good starting schools that would boost her opportunities. The Chapman told the young woman that she and Lima would talk with her personally after the presentation, and try to give her some insight to moving forward with her career goals.

The couple was asked about their daughter, was she interested in going into the same line of work. Lima said that she would surely be involved in the film industry but not in this area. She has a keen interest in theater and music. Chapman added that she has an incredible voice, and is working toward the performing arts.

Questions were asked about surviving financially as they struggled to build their careers. The two responded that they have indeed been more fortunate than most, because, at any given time, there was always at least one of them working. They also talked about planning ahead and laying money aside for the future. Lima said it was one of their goals to have enough money that they could both spend time on their collaboration. Chapman said they were able to stop working so they could work on the collaboration without distraction for a bit, but she has now returned to work.

For the pair, the best advice they had to give was to do what you have to do to keep working toward your goals. They said it was not an easy job, not an easy field to get into, especially for women, which offered a great segway into the next speaker of the day. Esther Pearl, would talk about Camp Reel Stories, and introduce a new program that will be available in Logan County, hopefully, the summer of 2017.

[Nila Smith]

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