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Interview: Curtis Augspurger – Co-Producer on Valiant

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Curtis Augspurger (left) was hired by John Williams and made responsible for architecting the production paradigm and budget, building the studio and staffing the production team.  Curtis and his team managed the entire film to an on-time, on-budget schedule while maintaining the highest industry standard quality.

How did you come up with the idea to produce this story?

George Webster, our screen writer, saw an article in his morning paper about animals in war, and the carrier pigeon’s role. This got him to put pen to page, and we ended up with Valiant. Eric Bennett, working with John Williams at Vanguard Films, found the story and brought it to John, who immediately recognized its merits as a digital feature.

Have you been influenced by other artists or movies during your career or particularly for this movie?

For Valiant, the war films from 20 years ago like The Bridge On The River Kwai, A Bridge Too Far, Stalag 13, Force Ten from Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, etc, played a big role in the background of this film. British sitcoms like Dad’s Army also stood as a foundation…but the slapstick kind of play that we have came from our director Gary Chapman’s love of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

Where does Vanguard see themselves compared to big production houses like Pixar, PDI, BlueSky etc.?

Humbly in their shadows, aspiring to their light.

Do you consider yourselves as competitive compared to those ‘big names’?

Our film will stand well against most, both visually and creatively.  We’ll soon see how it does respectively in the box office. Ultimately we are proud to even be considered a competitor in the world of digital filmmaking that they have created.

Would you say that you have your own visual style compared to companies such as Pixar?

Our visual style is definitely unique, and has been derived from a very strong visual effects background and a very broad use of texture. The tools are the same, but the look is quite new, and our subject, pigeons, have definitely not been seen in this light before.

How did you convince Ewan McGregor to speak the part of Valiant?

John Williams stepped up to help bring in our talent. We were advised that many of the actors we were going after were already being spoken to by other shows, but we stayed with them as they fit our character roles perfectly. Ewan recognized how fun this film could be, and its historic significance, and dove in head-first.

Was that before or after Robots?

We signed Ewan, and then a couple of weeks later saw that he was the lead in Robots, so it must have been on or about the same time. He’s got a really good agent….keeping him very busy.


The Flying Heroes (A True Story)

In reality, fiction is fact – thousands of pigeons were used to carry messages in war situations during World War I and World War II. Many of them saved human lives, and large numbers of them died while doing it. Some were awarded the Dickin Medal, the Victoria Cross for Animals, to recognize their bravery and the contribution of animals in war time. Two animal organisations, The Amalgamation of Racing Pigeons and The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, were instrumental in providing support and reference to Vanguard Productions during the creation of Valiant.

They also retold stories of the activities of pigeons in war and provided the opportunity for the animators to visit pigeon lofts, where they got to examine the birds and study their behaviour and do essential reference filming.  Jake Partridge, co-founder member of the Amalgamation of Racing Pigeons, which is attached to the National Pigeon Service and which did such an outstanding job in war said: “We were keen to help the production by giving them a true reflection of what pigeons achieved in war time. Many people today who have not been to war know nothing about how pigeons were instrumental in saving so many lives”.

The Army, the Air Force and the Navy all had pigeons with them so that when in difficulty, they could attach a message to a bird, and the released pigeon would return where it came from, thereby delivering the message. The PDSA presented the film makers with a copy of a Dickin Medal.  It was given pride of place in the studio, so that all the animators could feel that the story of Valiant really did happen and to remind them that during the war, pigeons really did take those brave and amazing journeys.

Items mentioned in this article:

Valiant [DVD]

Valiant [DVD]


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