Nickelodeon debuts a new, original animated movie titled Lucky on Friday, March 8 at 7 p.m. The movie centers on an unlucky leprechaun named Hap McSweeney. After a dragon stole his grandfather’s pot of gold, the McSweeneys have been cursed with horrible luck. However, Hap doesn’t let all the misfortune get him down. One day, on a field trip to visit the mansion of the luckiest man in Fortune City, Hap stumbles upon a particularly familiar pot of gold…
The film is directed by Casey Leonard whose credits include storyboard artist and director on Breadwinners and animator on Out of Jimmy’s Head. He is also the showrunner for the new Nickelodeon series based on next month’s Wonder Park feature. He was kind enough to answer some of our questions about his work and influences (and share an exclusive clip, which you can catch below the interview!):
OK, let’s go back to Casey’s early years! When did you know you wanted to work in animation?
As a kid, I consumed as much animation as possible, filled sketch books with comics. I couldn’t stop drawing. However, growing up so far away from where animation is produced, it really didn’t occur to me that it being an animator was an actual job until I was 18. Then it was decided. I didn’t know how to get there, but figured the first step was art school. So I went. I got my degree in SIM (Studio for Interrelated Media) from Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
What were some of your favorite animated shows or movies growing up?
I grew up on the hits! DuckTales, Inspector Gadget, Transformers — they had the best animated intros! Then Dragon Ball came to the states. I watch a lot of that and Batman: The Animated Series.
How did you get your first job in animation?
My first job in animation was out of pure luck, perfect timing, a studio on a hiring frenzy, and a buddy who was about to start but then broke his arm snowboarding, so he recommended me – it was at Soup2nuts in Boston, MA, as a character animator. To this day, it’s still one of the most challenging gigs of my career.
Who would you say are your animation idols?
All of Mamoru Hosoda’s films completely blow me away. Every shot, moment and character is pouring with sincerity and specificity. His character relationships and stories are incredibly relatable and genuine and really funny too!
Tell us a little bit about your new Nick movie, Lucky, and your work on the upcoming Wonder Park series.
Lucky is about an unlucky leprechaun and his best friends on a mission to retrieve his family’s stolen lucky pot of gold, thus restoring his luck. The first act is comedy, the second act is heist and the third act is all action. It’s really fun! At its core, Lucky is about friendship. All the luck in the world’s got nothing on love.
Wonder Park is great, too. It’s really exciting to inherit this great group of characters and a giant amusement park to tell stories in. The CG department at Nick is doing really exciting, cutting-edge work that is truly bridging the gap between TV and feature quality animation. It is quite the honor to be along for the ride.
What do you love about each? What have been the biggest challenges?
Lucky was enormously challenging in every way. Learning to tell stories in a new, longer format and in a new medium was so exciting! And we made it really fast. At one point in production I was launching animators up at Bardel on the second act of the movie, while rewriting and reboarding massive sections of the final act, and doing pose by pose animation revisions on shots from the first act. Intense!
One thing I never anticipated falling in love with while working in CG is live-action style cameras and lenses. It’s probably my favorite thing about making the Wonder Park series as well.
Tell us about how you got involved with the project?
I really had no business directing a CG movie. I had zero experience in CG or movies. But when David Steinberg showed me the original draft of the Lucky script, I fell in love with the potential of the characters, their relationships, and their story. So I spent a week thumbnailing my vision for the intro to the movie, pitched it to David, he got on board. Then I pitched it to the head of movies, Mike Sammaciccia, and then I was in. From there, I spent six months putting together rough designs and a five-minute test animatic, got the official greenlight, then went into full production.
Where was the animation produced and how long did it take to complete?
The movie took about 14 months from greenlight to final lock. In house at Nick, we did everything from boards to design to character and set modeling, texture, rigging, etc. Then the animation was handled at Bardel in Vancouver, which took roughly four months. Then the lighting, rendering and comp were done in house.
How many people worked on the movie?
Around 30 people at Nick and 25 animators at Bardel.
Tell us a little bit about the look of the movie and how it was achieved.
My goal for the look of the movie was to be able to watch it 10 years from now, and for it to still hold up. So, I knew we needed to create something that felt as timeless as possible. Coupled with that, I needed to be able push poses and expressions in a really broad cartoony way. So we landed with a look that feels really tactile with a classic stop-motion vibe, while fully embracing the amazing tech and toolsets of CG.
Give us your best advice for newbies!
We animators tend to be introverts and fully focus on our assignments. My advice is: Do more! Reach out to animators you look up to, seek advice, network, learn to enthusiastically communicate your ideas. And most importantly, when you get notes, drop the ego, seek the note behind the note, and address said notes with the confidence your work will be stronger and smarter as a result.
What are your plans for the next few years?
I plan to keep striving to tell stronger, more engaging stories. I’m itching to make another movie. Maybe I’ll do that!
Lucky premieres Friday, March 8, at 7 p.m. (ET/PT).