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The Animation in “He Named Me Malala”: Five Questions For Jason Carpenter

The Animation in "He Named Me Malala": Five Questions For Jason Carpenter

Davis Guggenheim’s critically acclaimed portrait of Malala Yousafzai contains several outstanding animation sequences that enhance telling the story of the Nobel Peace Prize winner. These sequences were designed by Jason Carpenter, a Cal Arts alum who won acclaim for his thesis film, The Renter. 

Since 2011, Carpenter has worked at various studio around town, including a stint developing theme park attractions at Walt Disney Imagineering. We asked him five questions about his outstanding work on He Named Me Malala.

How did you get
involved with the MALALA project?

I was working downtown on a project and I got a call from
Davis’ office, from production supervisor Sara Regan. They were interested in seeing me about my doing
animation for the film. They were looking at all kinds of people for the right
style, the right feel. They had seen The Renter and liked my technique.

How did you start the

I called Irene Kotlarz because I needed animation
producer. Irene was at Cal Arts and is a fantastic producer. Her husband,
animator Paul Vester, was my mentor there.  It built from there. We assembled a team – I
told Davis at my initial meeting that I had the right people to pull this off with the style he had in mind. The fact that my team were all classmates at Cal
Arts, that we knew each other and how we worked 
– we were able to hit the ground running.

Your credit is
“Animation Design”… but it sounds like you were the director of animation.

I am credited as Animation Designer and Animation
Supervisor.  In the animation world, I
would probably get an animation director credit.  The DGA assigns the credits. Davis Guggenheim
clearly directed the film and the animation falls under his vision for the
piece. The film looks the way it does because of my conversations with Davis,
and finding the right look, a storybook feeling,  the view of a young girl from Pakistan

We had about 15 people working on it, managing the
storyboards, the background painters, designers, all the things that go with
supporting a team like that.

The art has an
intentionally painterly look. What was the thinking behind the style?

Davis had an idea that the art should look like something
out of a storybook. It couldn’t be a cartoon. To capture the feel and
atmosphere of being a young girl in Pakistan. It took about two or three months
to get the look. Getting it right was the trickiest detail. It was a balance to
get detail, yet keep it sparse enough to feel like a distant memory.  If this had been an animated feature, there
would have been more definition on the characters, the settings, but because it
was part of a live action film we wanted there to be contrast.  But not too much to be jarring. A lot of the
animation design work went into making sure the animation and live action fit
together into one unified film.

What was the
technique used here?

While we did some thumbnails on paper, everything was done
digitally. We worked in Davis’ office on iMacs and Cintiq tablets – all the
design, paintings , color studies in Photoshop. The animation was done in
Flash. A lot of heavy compositing in After Effects.  We added a luminous quality.

As for the color, we did a lot of research to create a
vision of Swat Valley that was true to Malala’s memories. The cool parts of
night, the sunrises,  the battle
sequences  were darker.

It’s a beautiful film – and your work does indeed make it a richer experience. Thanks Jason.  

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