It can be easy to get lost when watching Internet videos especially ones that review movies. In most cases, these are a snarky or nostalgic look back on films widely deemed to be terrible. Ultra Mega Death Ray had the pleasure to speak with David Rose of Happy Dragon Pictures who looks to introduce a different take on this popular trend.
David is an illustrator and animator at heart who turned his love for movies into a series of videos. He is well-known for reviewing his own collection of movies in a segment called “The DVD Shelf Movie Reviews” as well as creating HD makeovers of the intros for animated shows.
(UMDR) What initially got you interested in the world of illustration and animation?
(David) It’s a funny thing to think about what actually got me into drawing since it’s always been a part of who I am. My parents always said that I was three when I picked up my first pencil and never looked back. At that age, I can safely say that I was all about Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Being born in the mid-80’s, the Ninja Turtles were everything to me. I watched the cartoons, read comics, collected the toys, repeatedly relived the movies, and even ate my fair share of Ninja Turtle cereal Puddin’ Pies. “Batmania” was all over the place as well. Thanks to the popularity of the phenomenal 1989 Tim Burton movie, there were always reruns of the light-hearted 1960’s Batman TV series. Much like with the Ninja Turtles, I just had to have everything Batman related. Being so young and impressionable, these two storms collided and laid the foundation on who I am today.
Little kids would just sit down in front of the TV while my artistic brain was already in overdrive. Some of the things I remember loving at the time were the different colors of the Ninja Turtles’ masks combined with the green skin, the Joker’s makeup, the mechanics of the puppetry in the Ninja Turtle movies, the purplish-blue satin of Adam West’s cape and cowl, and of course that iconic Bat logo. Visual touches like that were what got my pencil to go on paper.
Being an artist, I’ve always loved animation. Growing up during the height of the Disney renaissance didn’t hurt either. Of course, being a Batman fan, you can’t go without mentioning Batman: The Animated Series. It was this mind-blowing force of nature that forever changed the way I, and many other people, looked at cartoons.
(UMDR) Were there any particular shows or movies you grew up watching that had an effect on your art style?
(David) Asides from the TV I was watching, plenty of movies fascinated me when I was young too. What sticks out most in my mind are classics like Beetlejuice or Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. I just found them to be so visually rich and would always catch something new each time I watched them. Once I got a little older, my head nearly exploded when I realized that Beetlejuice, Batman, and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure were all the responsibility of one man, Tim Burton. I dedicated entire illustration collages to his films and considered them a genre all on their own. I guess you could say that Burton’s style had an influence on me.
On the other end of the spectrum, there were also films by Kevin Smith that had an impact on me. My older sister showed me Clerks for the first time when I was in high school. I just couldn’t get over the fact that I was watching this little independent black and white feature made by such a small group of people that put all its emphasis on the writing and dialogue. I was completely sucked in. It was my exposure to that and the rest of Smith’s filmography that introduced me to the wonders of independent film.
(UMDR) Your company name, Happy Dragon Pictures, begs the question. Who is the happy dragon character that represents it?
(David) While going through art school, every video/animation major seemed to have a name for their own “production company”. It was just one of those creative little additions to your projects that didn’t really mean anything but was still fun to do. I originally came up with a couple of different names that didn’t really stick. Once I graduated college, I knew I needed a really good name to use for my videos and animations as well as encompass my drawn art. I then remembered thinking how cool it was that every Martin Scorsese movie said “A Martin Scorsese Picture”. He typically refers to movies as “pictures” in interviews and I just always thought that was so awesomely old school. That and I wasn’t looking to steal “Joint” from Spike Lee.
“Pictures” sounded better and better the more I thought about it but there was still the dreaded name. I started looking back at my college days and remembered this little Chinese restaurant called Happy Dragon. The more I thought about it, the more it stuck. I was afraid that it was going to sound too much like a Chinese restaurant so I designed a logo of a smiling dragon. Keeping in mind that Mickey Mouse was Disney’s mascot and Bugs Bunny was Warner Bros.’, having a mascot for my own company just seemed like a good fit.
(UMDR) You have made some amazing HD remakes of title sequences including one of the 60’s Batman show redone in the style of The Dark Knight Rises. What is your usual process in making these?
(David) I’d typically take a video file of the original, break each shot down one by one, literally redraw every frame in Photoshop, and then animate it in Adobe After Effects while adding my own little creative touches. It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience.
The first one of this group of videos was my reimagining of the 1960’s Batman title sequence done with characters from The Dark Knight. I was lying in bed one night and it just hit me. I thought, “What a perfect stunt”.
I began to think of stunt videos that could grab views where people would like what I did and would want to see my other work. That’s usually how I surf YouTube myself so I assumed a lot of people were like this as well. I came up with the idea for that first video which lead to my idea of reanimating the original TMNT theme and the Batman animated series opening theme frame by frame. Due to the love and nostalgia people have for these title sequences, they worked well in getting others to watch the stuff I really wanted them to watch.
When The Dark Knight Rises was close to release, I decided to seize the moment and create another version of my previous video where I now touch on the entire trilogy. Since I kept a lot of the raw files from the previous video, it took very little time to make the newer version. So far, it’s grabbing views a lot quicker than even my first attempt at mashing The Dark Knight with 60’s Batman.
(UMDR) The DVD Shelf Movie Reviews obviously requires a healthy collection of films. How many movies do you personally own?
(David) Part of the fun in all this is keeping the number a mystery. Let’s just say it would be impossible for me to run out of films to feature in future episodes.
(UMDR) Was there a reason you chose a more positive approach to reviewing movies as opposed to bashing terrible ones like the Nostalgia Critic for example?
(David) I am actually extremely cynical of today’s pop culture and entertainment. Sure, there are some really good movies and TV shows out there but there just seems to be an endless barrage of pure crap at the same time.
Over the years, I’ve become a big fan of The Angry Video Game Nerd and Nostalgia Critic. Just when I want to watch another one of their videos, I realize I’ve already gone through their entire back catalogue. It’s such a strange and interesting phenomena that the Internet can turn any normal person into a sensation like that.
There’s a heavy influence from Mystery Science Theater 3000 going on here where it’s become the norm to create a comedy show based around making fun of something that is typically considered bad. I’m a huge fan of MST as well but watching a bunch of bad movies, whether or not someone is making fun of them, gets exhausting. On the other hand, I could watch good movies all day long.
Obviously, I’m not the only one who’s been seduced by this idea of creating online video reviews. There are more reviewers these days than I can count. What I’ve noticed, however, is that many of them base their own shows heavily on the Nostalgia Critic or Angry Video Game Nerd videos. They will create a character and spend the entire video bashing something. That’s cool and all but seriously, it’s what everybody is doing!
The last thing I wanted to do was piggyback off the concepts of others. That and the idea of subjecting myself to bad movies all the time just sounds like one big chore. You sacrifice a lot of good jokes when talking about something you actually like but my show isn’t really meant to be completely hilarious, just honest. Any good stand-up comedian will say that their comedy comes from honesty. My show is just fun and honest talk from a guy who has honed in on his passion for film. Anything that has touched my own DVD shelf is fair game. You may not agree with me but you can still enjoy the show. There really is nothing in life like a good movie.
(UMDR) What do you generally look for in a “good movie”?
(David) The number of reasons why I consider a movie to be good are as endless as the choices of films that are out there. What I love about my web series is that it gives me the opportunity to look at every movie on a case by case basis. An American Werewolf in London is a great movie but for so many different reasons than why Fright Night is a great movie. Both are terrific contributions to the horror/comedy genre but they’re like comparing apples to oranges.
If a movie works, it has made you emotionally invested in its characters. If something not so good happens to them, then you feel a little bad. The movie was successful at generating a response from you as the viewer.
A great ending is key. Movies like The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight both have fantastically bittersweet endings where there is a sense of victory but also a sense of hopelessness. I believe both films are held in such high regard partly because both endings, despite being bleak, perfectly wrap up their respective stories.
Reoccurring things that I like to touch on when recommending a film may include the acting, story, effects, direction, cinematography, etc. Of course, that’s all Film Reviewing 101. I like to go a bit deeper below the surface and adhere those basic filmmaking aspects to the overall intention of each separate movie. There could be movies out there where the acting might not be so great or the story is a little lacking but I’ll still like the movie. In my most recent review for the original Total Recall, I talk a little about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance not being the best ever. When I watch something like Total Recall, however, I’m not really looking for any Oscar-worthy performances. The story was so great that it made the acting inconsequential.
(UMDR) It’s Thanksgiving at your place and you can only invite five movie characters as guests. Who gets an RSVP?
(David) Remy the Rat from Ratatouille He may be an unconventional guest but you can bet that dinner will be amazing if he’s in the kitchen helping out.
Albert Finney/Ewan McGregor’s Ed Bloom from Big Fish He would be the perfect conversation-starter with all his great stories and anecdotes. They might not all be 100% true but entertaining none-the-less.
Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark from Iron Man It would be easy to fly him in plus he could show off the suit if the party is getting slow. He can be fully engaged in a conversation when he wants to be and you can bet that he’ll bring a couple of nice, expensive bottles of wine (oh, and maybe another one to share with others). At the very least, he could at least provide us with some authentic New York-style turkey shawarma. Come on, the dude is loaded!
Rodney Dangerfield’s Al Czervik from Caddyshack Talk about the life of the party despite getting no respect! This guy would be the one-liner machine. When rich boy Tony Stark is starting to sound a little too full of himself, Al could quickly pull him back down to Earth with the rest of us.
Kristin Wiig’s Annie Walker from Bridesmaids Come on, we gotta invite a chick! Annie’s pretty cool and down-to-earth just as long as she gets to arrange the party. She can also make cupcakes for dessert.
I want to thank David for taking the time to speak with us! You can check out his site which doubles as his online portfolio at HappyDragonPictures.com. You can also follow Happy Dragon Pictures on both Facebook and Twitter as well as watch videos on YouTube.