Darin McDaniel and Daren Smith
Blending Technology and Talent
Janine S. Creager
March 9, 2009
Around Lumenas Animation Studios, they are affectionately known as Little D and Big D, due to a simple height differential. But, when it comes to producing animated films, Darin McDaniel and Daren Smith are creative equals who complement each other in every way.
When Pixar’s computer-generated (CG) film “Toy Story” hit the theaters in 1995, “people were ready for a change [from two-dimensional animation],” says McDaniel. “It carved out their brand.”
More than a decade later, however, the “wow” of CG is waning somewhat, says McDaniel. Lumenas Animation Studios is, therefore, not just another CG film studio. By blending the technical versatility of computer-generated animation, with the visually rich detail of stop-action motion and physical miniatures, Lumenas brings together the best of both worlds to create something truly unique.
Going into this new arena, however, “We didn’t know if we were stupid or on the cutting edge. Maybe a little of both,” says McDaniel. “Our focus has always been: How do we create something new and fresh? How do we create a look or medium that stands out?”
McDaniel and Smith met years ago while working at a Utah-based film company where McDaniel was the vice-president of production and distribution, and Smith headed up the visual effects department. After going their separate ways for a time, they came back together in 2005 to form Lumenas, with McDaniel as producer and CEO and Smith as the visual effects supervisor.
“Daren [Smith] is an interesting combo,” says McDaniel. “He can [create] art, he can animate, but then he can also write a program or create some unique technology. [His creativity] comes across on both sides.”
In response, Smith says of McDaniel, “Darin is kind of a genius in putting this stuff together. He takes all these different contacts and just connects them all together in a way that’s meaningful to everyone involved. And that’s where he and I really dovetail together is on the creative side. I get the creative/technical and he gets the creative/distribution, so between the two of us, we can make a movie and get the distribution and the funding. And, that really is an incredible feeling.”
This combined creative genius resulted in a 45-minute, proof-of-concept film “Davie and Golimyr,” a visually stunning retelling of the Biblical story of David and Goliath. The team is now working on a trilogy, “The Legend of Santa Claus,” with part one currently in production and scheduled for release in December 2010, and parts two and three in development. A live-action feature film based on the best-selling children’s book “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” is also in pre-production.
Whether enlarging on a traditional holiday theme or a well-known story, in the end, McDaniel and Smith are committed to the company’s mission: “To entertain, engage and enrich the lives of families through film.”
“What we do here is tell stories,” says Smith. “[The film industry] does have kind of a unique place, especially in the American culture, but also the world. [The idea of] boy meets girl, falls in love, it all works out in the end, becomes more and more important the tougher the economy gets.”