Animation whiz Alex Orrelle in front of a colleague-autopgraphed poster of Mr. Incredible – I have all the confidence that the animation industry in Israel is going to grow.
Alex Orrelle couldn’t believe his ears when, 26 years ago, his mother told him the cute brown deer he had seen skip across the silver screen was drawn by people. “When my mom told me Bambi was made by people who can draw really well, that’s when I decided I have to be part of this,” the now 31-year-old recalls, as to when his interest in animation began.
Fast forward to today and this Israeli’s name sits aloft the credit list in this year’s biggest animation venture: The Incredibles.
Orrelle, who grew up in the central town of Ramat Hasharon, has come a long way from his days as an entry-level artist at the now-defunct Israeli Pixall multimedia computer animation studio. He and his wife, Michelle – also a Pixall artist – moved to San Francisco in 1996 so Orrelle could study at the Academy of Art College there. There the charming Israeli quickly moved up the drawing ladder.
After working for a number of years at a special effects company which was doing effects for the Matrix films, he joined the Pixar team in 2001, when the company was working on A Bug’s Life.
Around the same time, he won the Online Film Festival Viewers Award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, with his student film, Freeware.
“At first, I worked in the shorts department as a story artist, drawing storyboards and as an animator on a variety of short projects, commercials and promotional pieces affiliated with Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo. After working on Finding Nemo itself as a fix animator, I got to work as an animator on The Incredibles,” the modest Orrelle told ISRAEL21c.
“It was very exciting [to be one of the animators],” Orrelle said. “This was really gearing up to be the best film for Pixar animators to work on… dealing with superheroes which is always fun for boys and dealing with really hard challenges like animating human characters. It’s different than animating toys (Toy Story) or fish (Finding Nemo) because we, as viewers, have a very good perception of what stuff is supposed to look like, how people move and talk.”
Despite working for perhaps the best animation studio in the world today, Orrelle decided to return to Israel five months ago.
“My initial dream was to become an animator for Disney – the spirit of which today is at Pixar. Once that dream was fulfilled and when missing Israel, missing home was starting to bother me, I decided my new dream was joining these two loves and trying to do what I did over there in Israel,” says Orrelle, a father of three.
“Once I had a number of recognized successes, my friends and family in Israel, assumed I would stay in America. But I had always intended to return. The idea of coming back to Israel was always in the back of my mind and it was always a question of when? Starting to raise children there made me want to return to Israel much more. I didn’t want to do it in San Francisco, far away from family.”
He and his family chose Ra’anana as their new home because of the Tali community there. “As a secular Jewish Israeli, my instinctive reaction was initially to be allergic to anything religious – and that caused me to really struggle with my Jewish identity when I lived outside of Israel. Tali (which offers supplemented Jewish content and ritual in the framework of a mainstream Israeli education and an emphasis on community) is a way to add Jewish content to my children’s education without the political baggage.”
While still settling back in Israel, Orrelle has wasted no time in reacquainting himself with the local animation scene. Initially, he planned to set up a small studio which would produce animation for overseas clients. Upon arrival, DPSI Digital Production Solutions Israel offered him a position as their animation director.
“DPSI has a vision very similar to mine,” he says. “That they had the resources to get this dream started was what made me decide to join them. Now I’m working with the best computer animators in Israel and wonderful professional managers to start on the long journey of putting Israel on the animation map of the world. We are developing the processes and ability to make animated features in Israel.”
The road is not going to be easy, however, as last month the company’s US-based overseers DPS slashed Israeli activity at DPSI by firing 100 of its 160 employees.
“DPSI’s round of firings is an unfortunate development, but in the long run it will strengthen the animation industry. The vision of a unified world class animation crew in Israel has been planted, and now there’s a great opportunity for more experienced entrepreneurs to pick up where IDT left off,” Orrelle said.
And while Israel is not among the top animation makers in the world at the moment, Orrelle says the talent is here and it won’t be long before other Israelis make it to Pixar and beyond.
“While I was doing what I loved doing at Pixar I wasn’t where I wanted to be,” he said, regarding his move back to Israel. “I have all the confidence that the animation industry in Israel is going to grow and I’m really excited about being a part of it.”
He adds: “My first dream was to become an animator. My next dream was to put Israel on the animation map in the larger world.”