New Production Studios
Many generations of Americans grew up on the magic of Disney. Since 1928 when Mickey Mouse was cast in the lead role in “Steamboat Willie,” an animated short film directed by Walt Disney, animated movies have carved out a distinctive place in motion picture history.
The animated film industry has come a long way since Mickey and friends took command of the big screen in the early days of cartoons. Advancements in computer technology during the final decade of the 20th century helped make animated feature films a mainstay of the nation’s movie diet. In 1995, Pixar (which is now a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company) produced “Toy Story,” the first-ever computer animated feature film, setting in motion a wave of animated offerings that are beloved by children and adults alike. DreamWorks got in on the action when it introduced “Antz” and “The Prince of Egypt” in 1998. Since then, dozens of animation studios have sprung up around the world…including in South Carolina.
The Charleston Lowcountry is the new home to Moondog Animation Studio, a feature film company currently working out of offices located on Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant. Studio founders, Bryan Ransom, Jean-Marc Khayat and Ben Davis, moved Moondog from France two years ago. Ransom, the company’s CEO and producer, believes the move was a good one for the company, and the founders plan to stay in the area. “It’s like coming back home for me,” states Ransom, a native of Georgetown, South Carolina. “We believe Charleston will allow us to build what we want to build and that Charleston, which has historically embraced the arts, has a place for us because we are unique…we’re equal parts film, art and technology. When you combine that with the fact that we’re seeing a surge in filmmaking here, I think we’re in a great place to fulfill our dreams. Also, the tech scene is growing and evolving into what we need as a basis for our work.”
The passion and drive of this three-man creative team is obvious in the high-tech, high-energy open environment of the studio. That, combined with their extensive experience in the animation industry, position Moondog as a force to be reckoned with in the future of animated feature films.
Ransom, who earned his degree in engineering from North Carolina State University, worked in Paris as a producer for the development of over 15 different products, from television series to feature-length films for various television outlets in France. Khayat, who serves as Moondog’s COO and studio director, has worked in the animation field for over 19 years, and in the image-making business for over 27 years. He has successfully managed the fabrication and delivery of multiple animated television series and publicities for clients as prestigious and demanding as France Television, Nickelodeon, Canal+, Eurosport and McCann Erickson. CTO and technology strategist Davis is an artist, team leader and all-around 3D expert, with over 14 years experience. Since earning his bachelors degree in fine arts from Ecole Supérieure d’Art in Annecy, France, Davis discovered his true calling in the animation industry, growing from lead modeler to senior 3D generalist to respected high-tech guru. Using his extraordinary abilities, he has brought to life many short and long-term projects, television series and advertising for clients including France Television, Nickelodeon and Canal+.
“Moondog Animation was created to do feature films,” explains Ransom. “That’s our main vision and goal. In a market saturated with shallow and disposable entertainment, our dream here is to offer a positive alternative to a demanding audience by creating substantial and life-changing animation content that is highly entertaining.”
“In other words,” Ransom continues, “we want to create films that actually have great values and really say something at the end of the day. Whether they pose a question or whether they develop moral values…whatever it is, we actually want our films to stand for something.”
According to Ransom, Moondog is currently working on its first feature film in the background. In the foreground, the team is working on commercial/industrial projects. In addition to creating two characters for the South Carolina Aquarium, located in downtown Charleston, Moondog is helping Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum complete a marketing makeover. “Part of the work we’re doing for Patriots Point is creating three five-minute virtual reality pieces using Oculus Rift technology which will allow visitors to be completely immersed in the experience,” explains Ransom. “For example, by putting on a headset, visitors can experience blasting off and traveling through our galaxy all the way to Pluto, then jumping through hyperspace to another galaxy. When they look around it’s all there. We’re creating the content for videos like this for Patriots Point.”
Commercial works helps keep the company going as they work toward their dream of creating full-length feature films. “Animated feature films are all about manpower,” says Ransom. “During phase one in the development of a film, we will run a crew of 10 to 25 people. In phase two, which is pre-production, that ramps up to 30 to 75 people. When we’re in full production, a phase that will last for a year to 18 months, we’ll employ 150 total. Ideally, when we’re ramping back down to post-production, we’ll be able to overlap projects and keep our team members working.”
“It’s an exciting time to be part of animated feature filmmaking,” he concludes. “Moondog is happy to be part of the Charleston community.”
Headset for a virtual tour of the universe using Oculus Rift technology.
Young Miles and Bob the dolphin; characters created for SC Aquarium.
“Scrappy” created by Moondog for commercial project.
Black Bear Studios
In September 2014, the process of transforming an old industrial park into a state-of-the-art movie studio began. According to Warren Ostergard, the studio located on Belgrade Avenue in Charleston was born out of need. “The whole concept of creating a studio was spawned by our necessity to have a usable space in Charleston for two movies for which we already had the financing,” explains Ostergard, who is president of Vitamin A Films, a motion picture finance and production company focused on producing commercial, elevated genre and art house cinema. “When we couldn’t find a turn-key production office space to use, we decided to build one.”
By the time production began on “Enclosure” and “Faceless,” both thrillers for which Ostergard served as producer, the three-building complex was up and running. Owned by Ostergard and his partners, including co-founder Blair Hahn, Black Bear Studios is equipped with everything needed to run a movie or television series.
According to Ostergard, Black Bear Studio’s amenities include a 1,000-square-foot creative bullpen outfitted with ten workstations, high speed broadband internet, T1 lines, wireless copy and print center, comfortable lounge, and 50-inch LCD screen TV with cable. The studio’s client lounge provides a live feed to the production process which helps put executives at ease.
“Black Bear is equipped with five private executive offices with workstations to suit, a three-bay hair and make-up room, studio kitchen, and men’s and women’s restrooms,” Ostergard continues. “We wanted to create a turn-key facility, so we are fully-equipped.”
As an established DGA unit production manager and one of the more prolific independent producers in the business, Ostergard knew exactly what equipment was necessary to produce a motion picture and made certain that Black Bear Studios had it all, from a complete American Grip & Arri and Kino Electric Stage Package down to directors’ chairs and traffic cones. “We also have a variety of location support equipment, as well as over 4,000-square-feet of suitable set construction space to meet a project’s production needs,” he adds.
“We also built out a shooting stage, which is sound stage,” notes Ostergard. “It features a 45-foot by 22-foot Cyclorama, the largest in South Carolina. We also have a 16-foot by 14-foot green screen that is used for interviews. For example, a popular Charleston reality show uses our facilities for their interviews that are all shot on green screen. They use the hair and make-up bays, the kitchen, the restrooms and the lounge. It’s very comfortable for the actors and production crew to come here to work.”
Ostergard notes that about half of the movie, “Enclosure,” was filmed on the stage. “Our actors and crew didn’t have to go out into a real forest and deal with all the critters because we built a forest right here using a little movie magic,” he says.
The facility is available to production companies coming into Charleston to shoot movies, television and commercials. Black Bear Studio also includes a number of permanent offices that are leased to media-related businesses.
“We ultimately want this facility to be a media campus for the arts in Charleston. Whether you’re a composer, an editor, a filmmaker, a videographer, a cinematographer, a photographer, or other media, we’d like Black Bear to be THE place people go.”
Currently, the creative collective located in the Black Bear complex includes a video production company, talent agency, television and documentary film company, and video editor.
Black Bear’s head of Television and Documentaries, Mike Kirk, is overseeing multiple projects including two new television travel series, an historic multi-part series and three feature length documentaries showcasing various topics ranging from music, adventure and epic history.
Since opening Black Bear Studios in 2015, Ostergard has stayed busy with a number of film projects that are currently in various stages of production. They include: “Gentlemen Smugglers,” a docudrama; “Enclosure” and “Faceless” which are thrillers; and “Remedy Kitchen” and “The Supper Club,” two television series created at Black Bear.
“We are also working on a documentary on Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at the Lincoln Center,” notes Ostergard. “We’ve already shot 165 hours that includes interviews with Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Tony Bennett and others talking about Wynton. We’re very close to completing this project.”
Crew gears up for offsite political shoot.
Behind the scenes with Studio’s 2 Canon C300s.
Camera department preps for a documentary.
Crew/Talent brainstorm in Hampton Park.