Mer-May #rescuesirensfanart Contest May 22, 2017 00:00

From Chris: 

My wife and "Rescue Sirens" co-author Jessica Steele-Sanders and I first heard the term "Mer-May" back in 2015. I loved the idea of a whole month devoted to all things mermaid -- but we couldn't celebrate or participate in it that year because "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" was still being finalized, and we didn't want to let the cat(fish) out of the bag just yet.

Then, in 2016, fellow Disney artist Tom Bancroft debuted his swell #MerMay drawing challenge on Instagram. There's nothing more fun than drawing mermaids, and it's been great seeing mermaid artwork all over the place last year and this year. Inevitably I'm swamped with other assignments and don't usually have the time to participate in the mermaid fun, but this year I did scrounge up a few hours to draw and ink something! So to celebrate getting an actual mermaid drawing done in Mer-May, I'm offering up something VERY rare this month: the original inked drawing, depicting one of our "Rescue Sirens" characters. I almost never part with my drawings, so if you've ever wanted one, this is your chance!

How do you go about acquiring such a thing? Well, Jess and I are running a "Rescue Sirens" fan art contest, with this 11"x14" chibi-style drawing of Rescue Siren Nim as the prize.

Here are the rules to enter:

    1. Follow our @rescuesirens Instagram account.
    2. Draw one (or more!) of our five main "Rescue Sirens" lifeguard mermaid characters.
    3. Include the words "Rescue Sirens" somewhere in the image (drawn into the illustration, superimposed digitally, written on a separate piece of paper placed atop your drawing if you photograph it -- however you prefer).
    4. Post to your PUBLIC Instagram account with the hashtag #rescuesirensfanart so we can find your entry!
    5. Tag/mention @rescuesirens in your post.
That's it! A winner will be announced next Monday, May 29th Wednesday, May 31st. (We extended the deadline.)

Have you already shared "Rescue Sirens" fan art on Instagram in the past? You don't have to draw something new if you don't want to: just go back and add the hashtag #rescuesirensfanart to your original post so we know that you want to be counted amongst the contest entrants.

Best of luck, everyone, and happy drawing!

(Obligatory disclaimer: this contest is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Instagram.)

Credit Where Credit Is Due (Or, don’t fear telling people you didn’t do something.) October 24, 2016 06:00

From Chris: 

Today I want to talk about something that has been on my mind almost from the day I started work at Disney over twenty years ago – well, actually, from before that, all the way back to art class at Foster Elementary School in Arvada, Colorado. And that is the subject of crediting artists fairly. That is, being open to telling people who did what.

I’ll begin with a story. When I was a youngster in the fourth grade, we were all of us making clay pots in art class. Rather than make another clay pot, which we had all done before, I decided to do something different. I made a little blob of a figure, just a head, with a gaping open mouth and lolling tongue on which I placed a big vitamin capsule. It was bold, fun, and colorful. It was pop art and it stood out. It stood out right up until the kid next to me saw mine and made the very same thing that I made only not at all as nice-looking as mine and he got his placed in the case in the school’s lobby and mine wasn’t. He never said a word about where he got such a nifty idea and I’m sure never wondered later about what that all felt like to me as I walked into the front door of the school every day for the rest of the year and saw my fine idea with someone else’s name on it.

That stayed with me.

I’ve had and continue to have the wonderful privilege of working in feature animation. I’ve worked hard to get here – countless hours of storyboarding, pitching, rejection, notes; moments of despair, terror, elation, and pride. At the end of the process, we take press tours. If you like the sound of your own voice, this is your big chance to hear it. In a single day you might talk to a hundred or more reporters in almost as many interviews.

One of the things that I have learned is that many times different reporters are asking very similar questions. Sometimes identical questions. Needless to say, on questions you struggled to answer on your first stop in Denver, you are a whiz at answering by the time you land in Japan. And in many, many cities and many hours in a folding chair, I have noticed something: there is a decided tendency to want to boil a massive collaborative process down into a simple, singular droplet of credit. People will ask how in the world Dean Deblois and I made “How To Train Your Dragon,” or how we made “Lilo & Stitch,” etc. I used to think it was just a question, but as time passed I began to realize that sometimes they were actually wondering how we two did it. That is, just us.

What I learned from my press tours is that even if you do list off particular artists, animators, painters, engineers, producers, and the like that were the true muscle that got a movie made, their names rarely (if ever) make it into print. It’s either too tedious or perceived to be uninteresting, and the people I credited and the stories I told about them tended to vanish. So I made it a point in interviews to spend as much time as needed redirecting credit for particular moments, lines, designs, and story turns to the people that really deserved it. Again, it never really stuck. But that doesn’t mean I stopped doing it. I make it a full-time job.

This all comes to mind because, in this age of the internet, misinformation and the omission of information is widespread. And I came here to talk to not only artists, but to anyone who loves art, literature, film, etc. Recently it became clear that in a preponderance of internet chatter, and even several instances of meeting people in person, a book that I had the privilege to contribute to, “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist,” has wrongly been credited entirely to me. Not a couple of times, but in many of the posts about it. This isn’t just careless – at best it’s pretty hurtful – but, at worst, it actually changes the history of something that someone else worked hard to create. In the case of “Rescue Sirens,” I neither crafted the world and the story, nor drew the interior illustrations. Those credits belong, respectively, to my wife, Jessica Steele-Sanders, and to artist Genevieve Tsai.

Now, you might think this sort of thing is limited to casual postings on the internet. But it’s not. I was surprised recently to see that an “Art of” book somehow forgot that I worked on a film. And it was a film I actually co-wrote and co-directed. Reading about my non-self was like seeing me fade out of one of those photographs in a movie about a time-travel accident. This still wouldn’t be super-odd except when you consider that the book was actually published by the actual studio that I directed the film for. It is here that I must note that this sort of thing never happened at Disney. To contrast that, Pixar included me in a book about story even though I didn’t work there but was part of a punch-up session for “Toy Story.” They remembered something that happened twenty years ago and followed up with me. That’s class. And that’s what happens when artists look out for one another.

I should add that when someone does something for the first time, I think it’s especially important to get the story straight, and to do it right away. It was Jessica who invented “Rescue Sirens.” She first imagined the world, then created and wrote the mythology and the characters. After that, she outlined a strong story and wrote it. This is where I came in as a second writer. She and I wrote “Rescue Sirens” in tandem, just as Dean Deblois and I wrote “Lilo & Stitch” together. As for the interior illustrations, Genevieve Tsai created those based on a world that Jess saw very clearly and was able to transmit to Genevieve and myself. (And since I’m giving credit here, I must also note that my drawings on the front and back cover were colored by Edgar Delgado, while the Ocean Drive skyline was drawn by Teresa Martinez.) So if “Rescue Sirens” is anyone’s book, it is Jess’s book, indeed.

I seldom get on a soapbox, especially on the internet. But I’m not here to scold anyone; rather, I’m here to assure all of us who create things, and love things that someone else created, that it’s worth all our whiles to take the time and energy to credit people where it is due.

I’ve worked in cultures at Disney and Pixar where collaboration is celebrated. If you are young, just starting out, and something you did is getting attention, I can assure you that you can credit anyone that partnered with you till you’re blue in the face and it won’t detract a bit from your own accomplishment. It will do quite the opposite. We recently met with James Cameron at DreamWorks and one of the things I was impressed by was the sheer number of names he spilled as he discussed everything from camera rigs to animation to software development. He not only knew what everyone did, he spent a lot of time letting us know who did what.

As filmmakers and artists, we owe it to each other to get the story straight. If there are two or three or more writers’ names, don’t boil it down to one. The real story of how things like movies and books are made is far more interesting when the collaborations are revealed and individual talents celebrated. I have been quite fortunate to have worked with people who were confident in their own talents and never hesitated to throw credit and attention my way. Directors like Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff took the time to mention my contributions on “The Lion King” and made sure the illustrations in the “Art of” book were credited properly – that helped me immensely as I went forward.

Books, interviews, and articles become a history. We owe it to each other to not leave people behind.

Introducing Jessica Steele-Sanders' and Chris Sanders' "Rescue Sirens." July 1, 2015 08:37

From Chris: 

To introduce this blog post, I have to go back a couple of weeks to when I was in Colorado -- Boulder, to be exact. This is a place I return to every now and then, for varying reasons. In this particular instance, my wife Jess and I were both there for my brother's wedding. But that's not what this is about. It concerns the morning after the wedding, when Jess and I were up early, having oatmeal and coffee at our favorite breakfast place on the Pearl Street Mall.

We were the first people there, sitting out on a patio. As the sun rose, a few scant people drifted past, taking advantage of the warm Colorado morning. A couple passed by with two little girls in tow. Sisters, we're sure. And those two little girls were having an argument. About something very specific. Something not unusual to little girls.

Not unusual to older ones either.

Jess and I smiled at each other as they passed -- the subject of those girls' argument had been very much on our own minds for a while now. Years, in fact.

If you’ve spent any time looking through my sketchbooks, you’ll be familiar with my fondness for mermaids. A couple of years ago we even partnered with Anders Ehrenborg to introduce a mermaid figurine unlike any ever made. Fact is, I’ve long been interested in going beyond designing mermaids; I’ve wanted to build a home for them. Create a world that they could live in. I tried to crack the code for years without finding anything that had the right energy, spirit, and scope. I didn’t want a pond; I wanted an ocean. I wanted depth, if you will.

It was my wife Jess who kicked in the door. In 2013, she pitched a concept that I went crazy for. To be fair, I think she cheated a little by becoming a lifeguard when she lived in Florida. Her concept was simple, unbreakable, and limitless. She started with the title: “Rescue Sirens.” In solving the problem, Jess combined several things, all of which I love. Mermaids, Miami, beaches, old hotels, and vast underwater realms. Her pitch, in short: mermaid lifeguards. I signed up immediately.

Since then, we’ve been very quietly working on it. There were a lot of things to do, and this is where my time at animation studios came in handy. The first thing was to build the mythology, the landscape, and the characters. Jess handled that while I wrestled with finding the right designs — harder than I expected. Many nights and weekends were spent drawing, inking, and then throwing it all out and starting again from scratch. We worked in parallel, and I adjusted my characters as their descriptions came into focus. I even storyboarded the opening title sequence for the show. At this point we had compiled a complete bible for the world. Then we made the biggest decision of all: we chose to actually write the first book.

For Nim, lifeguarding is more than just a summer job. She and her friends are Rescue Sirens, mermaids sworn to an ancient vow to watch over and protect humans — and the best way to do that in today's world is by hiding in plain sight as lifeguards. When the Rescue Sirens receive word that a special human — unwittingly possessing the rare power to turn into a mermaid — has made her way to Miami Beach, it's up to them to find her before she transforms on her own and is either discovered... or lost forever.

How long would it take to write? Jess and I weren’t sure. We set the deadline at the end of June so we could bring the finished book to San Diego. We divided the chapters and dove in.

Now, oddly, this was a very welcome extracurricular activity for me. I spend quite a lot of time writing, entire screenplays in fact. And believe it or not, some of them I don't even get paid for. So why would I want to do even more writing in my precious free time? As many of you may already know, when it's something you want to do, you find the time. And "Rescue Sirens," I really wanted to do. So I wrote every chance I had. Mornings, evenings, weekends. And every time I opened a chapter I lost myself in it. George R.R. Martin has said that writers are either gardeners or architects. You either lose yourself inside the writer's equivalent of a narrative rabbit warren, following characters down tunnels and digging new ones for them till they find where they want to go, or you build an orderly structure and then send the characters to work within it. Jess is the architect; I’m most decidedly a gardener.

Most things I have written, I swear the characters either said or did all by themselves. I'm just reporting on it all. At one point, I was so focused on following one of them I forgot that that particular chapter wasn't even about them, and I got quite a ways into it before realizing my mistake. I had to start that one over again, but I found an angle into the chapter nonetheless. Writing is never really wasted. I loved the characters and the world in this story, and actually felt let down whenever I had to leave it. Usually I’m thinking about mermaids from the outside in; this time I was working on them from the inside out. Jess and I were on target to finish the words by our deadline, but there was no way I’d be able to get the illustrations done as well. For that we'd need a power hitter. Enter Genevieve Tsai.

We were familiar with Genevieve’s work from the prints and books I'd found at Comic Con, and I immediately suggested her for the task of visualizing key moments from the story. I felt her strong draftsmanship and inherent appeal would match the vibe of the book perfectly. Jess was in agreement, so we located Genevieve, pitched the idea, and in no time she was on the job. Genevieve worked while we wrote, so she didn’t have the completed manuscript to refer to. Just the character designs, and verbal descriptions of the scenes she’d be visualizing. She immediately went above and beyond expectations, delivering what seemed like thirty roughs for every single finished image! From the first set of roughs she sent in, we knew we’d found the right artist. Genevieve's drawings glowed with the youth, energy, and optimism that Jess and I had labored to infuse the story with. With time short, we opted to leave the illustrations in this first edition in black and white, and after seeing Genevieve's finished shading, I can’t imagine them any other way.

With the book complete, we still had to color the drawings I'd done for the front and back covers, but we needed to go to press soon and we were nearly out of time. That's when Jess suggested Edgar Delgado, who we knew from "Ultraduck" and from his fine work as a colorist in the world of comic books. He colored each girl in both their mermaid and lifeguard forms, and it's those colors that you'll see on the covers as well as in the full-color gallery/sketchbook section in the back of the book. His vivid but subtle color captured the feel we were hoping for, and created the beautiful,  smooth volumes of their tails in a way I could never do.

So as it is with these things, after long months and even years of brainstorming, sketching, writing and re-sketching and writing, gathering a small team and watching them do their magic, all the pieces suddenly fell together. "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" was done. The hardest part this whole time may have been keeping it all quiet until we received the books from our printer. Which we did yesterday. We're really thrilled with how they came out -- Maskell Graphics, whose precision work you've seen in our sketchbooks, did the printing, while Roswell Bookbinding bound each book in Arizona.

Oh, and what were those sisters arguing about outside the cafe in Boulder? Both insisted to the other that they were the real mermaid. Apparently in their family, there can be only one.

So there it is, or rather here it comes! The first place "Rescue Sirens" lands is San Diego, specifically next Wednesday for Preview Night at Comic-Con. Jess and I will be there, of course, but we also expect Genevieve Tsai to drop by on Thursday to say hi and sign the "Rescue Sirens" merchandise that we'll be bringing with us. We'll have hardcover books -- 8.5"x5.5" in size and 185 pages long -- as well as one-sheet posters, limited edition prints, and other goodies. Until then, we'll be sharing more images and details from "Rescue Sirens" so you can finally meet our mermaids. We hope you enjoy diving into their world as much as we have.

-Chris Sanders