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"This was around the same time that Toy Story came out," says Maurer. "I had this idea in college about an ant named Randolph who got in this big conflict with a caterpillar over an olive in a picnic basket."
Maurer used motion-capture software to link the image of his pony-tailed, spear-carrying ant character to a film clip of a person doing kung fu moves. "It was just a simple jump-spin-kick, to make sure the ant could move," Maurer says. "Marc came in and looked over my shoulder, as he would often do, and he was really excited. 'We can do things like that? We really can?'"
Adler couldn't get Maurer's dancing ant out of his mind. At 10:30 that night, he phoned Maurer.
"So," Adler said, "have you ever thought about making a movie?"
Maurer paused. "It's crossed my mind. Is that what you want to do?"
"It's always been a goal of mine, ever since I was a kid."
"Funny you should mention it," said Maurer, "because it's always been a dream of mine, too."
Computer-animated films like Ice Age and Shrek are box office staples now, and even live action movies boast digital characters, such as Lord of the Rings' astonishing Gollum and Star Wars' annoying Jar-Jar Binks. But when Pixar Animation Studios released Toy Story in 1995, computer animation was still a high-tech curio, appearing only in TV commercials and in the background of Disney films like Beauty and the Beast.
Toy Story proved that audiences could embrace a computer-animated feature: It earned almost $200 million and established Pixar as some of the hippest filmmakers in animation or live action. With their gorgeous graphics and savvy sense of humor, the Toy Story films, A Bug's Life and Monsters Inc. have grossed almost $1 billion.
Maurer and Adler took heart from the example of Pixar -- which cast an even longer shadow than they expected. Initially they decided to expand Maurer's idea of competing insects into a feature-length story. The working title? Bugz. Work had barely begun on the project when Toy Story creators Pixar announced that the concept for their next film was going to be Bugs, subsequently called A Bug's Life. "We joked that they were tapping our phones," said Adler.
Beaten to the punch, they rolled with it. "We said, 'OK, we can recover. Let's take the premise of what Bugz was going to be, and change it up. We were like, all right, what hasn't been done yet? What gives us the most freedom?'" recalls Maurer, who reads The Lord of the Rings every year at his birthday. "I'm a big fantasy fan, Marc likes fantasy, so we sat down and started brainstorming with the guys and gals on staff."
The end result was Delgo, a title concocted from an amalgam of names found in baby books. Delgo comes from Diego -- and, coincidentally, happens to be the name of a city on the Nile.
The setting for Delgo is the planet of Jhamora, populated by two vying humanoid races, the winged, pink-tinted Nohrin and the land-dwelling, greenish Lockni. "I'm kind of a closet anthropologist, and I've always wanted to create new weird cultures and strange things like that," Maurer says. "For our film, we decided to create our own world."
The film takes its title from a Lockni teenager who finds himself the unwitting catalyst for a civil war. A power-hungry Nohrin named Sedessa exacerbates tensions between Jhamora's rival races by kidnapping Nohrin princess Kyla, and framing young Delgo for the deed. It falls on Delgo to rescue his beloved princess, clear his good name and prevent the races from destroying each other, with Delgo's clumsy sidekick Filo providing comic relief.
To Maurer, the most important issue the movie could address was racism.
"I wanted to address the conflict and struggle that everyone has in our society, and illustrate that in a positive light."
To learn if such a sweeping story was even technically and commercially feasible, Adler and Maurer produced a 90-second piece of computer animation called a "proof of concept." The clip was designed in the form of a movie trailer and used software originally developed to animate automobiles, not living characters. It proved to Fathom that Delgo was more than a pipe dream. "The proof-of-concept illustrated the story we wanted to tell, the boy-meets-girl aspects, the villain, the struggles and the theme of unity," Maurer says. "But I think the people we showed it to were most attracted by the look of the film."
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