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Hoyt Yeatman’s Whamaphram Productions

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By Henry Turner
A couple years ago a little kangaroo gave Hoyt Yeatman a great idea. At the time, Yeatman, a two-time Academy Award–winning visual effects supervisor, was working on a film called Down and Under for Jerry Bruckheimer. “Down and Under was like City Slickers in Australia,” Yeatman recalls, “and when it was test-screened it didn’t do very well. But when the audience saw the digital kangaroo we created they kind of lit up. Jerry Bruckheimer, being a visionary, saw what worked for the crowd and said, ‘Guess what guys, we’ve got a movie about a kangaroo.’”
At around the same time, Yeatman’s employer, Disney, was closing down its Secret Lab visual effects unit, where Yeatman worked as a visual effects supervisor on Kangaroo Jack and movies such as Mighty Joe Young and Armageddon. He considered this a wake-up call, showing him where things would ultimately go in the visual effects market.
“Disney felt we were more of a postproduction facility as opposed to an idea-generation or digital studio,” says Yeatman. “When you look at the evolution of visual effects, digital artists are playing major roles, creating major characters, creating environments, but still we’re viewed as post.”
Conjoint to this idea was Yeatman’s observation that the once separate realms of visual effects and animation were becoming similar in terms of technology. “When you’re talking about Harry Potter or Spider-Man, where main characters are often computer generated, or The Polar Express—is that animation or visual effects? What’s happened is that the worlds of animation, gaming, and live action are all verging. I think labels have to be put aside and you have to look at the storytelling for what it is and then choose the appropriate technique.”
These events, plus a desire to express himself, led Yeatman to form Whamaphram, his own production company with fellow Secret Lab effects supervisor David James. The first project developed by the pair is G Force, an animated CG film, with components of live action. “We were very fortunate that Jerry Bruckheimer’s group was looking for family entertainment. I‘ve known him for many years and he was willing to take the chance with us and has now optioned the project and will be producing it, developing it, along with Disney, with the intent of making it,” says Yeatman. “That’s a big step in the right direction, and very exciting for us.” He has several other similar projects in the pipeline, he adds.
Instead of simply a visual effects post house, Yeatman’s vision for Whamaphram is to see it grow as a creative idea company. “The emphasis at Whamaphram is in storytelling and the characters,” he explains. “Character creation is really what we’re focusing on, with good story, and we want to go out there and make family entertainment. We’re leaving open building our own studios. I’d love to do it. But in the same breath I would be just as happy working with another group. That could be in-country, out of country, or a combination thereof. Our emphasis is less on tech as on creative.”
Yeatman, who came up on the live-action side of filmmaking, is a DP and member of the American Society of Cinematographers, as well as a visual effects supervisor. Yet it is his experience in visual effects that, in his opinion, has prepared him to develop G-Force, which he also intends to direct. “The trend you may find is that more directors are coming up through visual effects, because of the homework we’ve done through the years, and all the production phases we’ve been exposed to.”
Because studios are downsizing their digital departments and VFX supervisors are going freelance, Yeatman humorously refers to himself as a digital migrant film worker. “I need to have a day job too, because a lot of development doesn’t really pay, but it’s an exciting future, it’s where I think films are going. I have ideas and I’d like to be able to express them.”

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