This week, director David Bowers brought his latest project, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, the third installment in the Wimpy Kid franchise, to screen at the New York Film Academy – Los Angeles Campus. Flanked by NYFA Cinematography Chair Tony Richmond and moderator Eric Conner, Bowers spoke about his long career in animation, working his way up the ladder, and navigating big Hollywood studios.
Students from the popular NYFA Summer High School Program were in attendance for the screening and were excited for the opportunity to speak with him about his successful career. Bowers had an illustrious career that began as a kid making Super 8 Claymation films. When he was twenty he began working as an animation artist on Who Framed Rodger Rabbit. Bowers said in the Q & A he was only hired because, “…they were desperate for anyone who could hold a pencil.” He went on to explain that this stroke of luck set him on a challenging and rewarding career path. Since the work on Rodger Rabbit was so new and complicated he was learning as the technology was being created. With the knowledge gained he was able to launch his career.
Bowers continued to ascend the ladder as an animator in American Tale: Fievel Goes West and the 90’s revival of Danger Mouse. Other works include FernGully: The Last Rainforest, We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story (produced by Steven Spielberg), and The Prince of Egypt.
But it wasn’t until he began work at the legendary production company, Aardman, that Bowers began his foray into storyboarding. First he worked on Balto and then The Road to Eldorado. Bowers recommended every film professional practice storyboarding, stating, “It’s an opportunity to make mistakes before you shoot.“
When Aardman and DreamWorks teamed up to do joint features Bowers was the obvious choice to direct. Students erupted when Flushed Away, Bowers directorial debut, was brought up. The director broke down his time on the nearly four-and-a- half-year project.
After the massive success of Shrek, DreamWorks’ first tentpole project, the expectations of Flushed Away skyrocketed. The American based DreamWorks wanted to push for a universal project. They wanted less British and more standard American English. However, Aardman, the UK based company, felt the cultural touches made the film distinct. In the end, the British cultural touches gave the film a certain truth of character that made it a favorite of children on both sides of the Atlantic.
Through the trying process of filming Flushed Away, Bowers learned what he liked and what he didn’t like about the animation process. The yearlong wait between storyboarding and viewable animation always felt too long. The teamwork and collaboration, on the other hand, were invigorating. Bowers shot one final animated feature film, Astro Boy, before moving to live-action properties.
When asked if there was one thing he could go back and change about his career, Bowers stated, “I’d launch into live-action sooner.” Later adding, “Live action is thrilling because you’re making things all the time.” Within just 8 months Bowers had shot and released the second Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules. “Even on your worst day when everything’s gone wrong… it (film) is still fun.”
Richmond, who shot the film, remarked at the onset movie magic they were able to create as a team. The luxurious country club is actually a very old community pool. Richmond described it as being “…rather dirty.” But with fabulous set dressing and a carefully placed camera they were able to convince the audience they were at a ritzy club.
A student asked the pair if they ever had trouble working with a director or cinematographer. Tony stated that a cinematographer’s job is to make the director’s vision come to life. He’s never had a problem working with a director.
Bowers said his greatest challenge was learning that there are times when your confidence will be knocked or you believe in yourself and other don’t. “Astonishingly,” he added with a laugh. “It’s not that you get knocked down. It’s that you get back up.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Bowers for taking time out of his schedule to sit down and discuss his cinematic career with student. He did inform the audience that he was working on a fourth film in Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise. We look forward to seeing where Greg Heffley’s adventures take him next.