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Different Tracks

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By Jennifer St. Germain

Published Jan 1, 2012 12:00 AM


art

Courtesy of Shane Acker

How do you follow your mega-successful animated feature about a rag doll battling a machine called Cat Beast on post-apocalyptic Earth? Why, with a live-action film about a smiling anthropomorphic train, of course.

That's next on the list for Shane Acker M.Arch. '98, M.F.A. '04, best known for creating and directing 9, the 2005 Academy Award-nominated short that was expanded into a 2009 feature produced by Tim Burton. Acker has agreed to direct an upcoming live-action feature based on Thomas the Tank Engine.

"It probably isn't something you imagine me being immediately attracted to, this material," Acker says of the still-untitled Thomas feature, slated to hit theaters in 2013. But a compelling script about a preteen boy longing to reconnect with his father drew Acker in.

"It centers on this father-son reunification story," he says of the film, which will be a hybrid of live-action and animated elements and will have a darker, more grown-up feel than the Thomas programs preschoolers watch.

It's not easy to do, but certainly Acker is up for the job.

"I think it's really fun. A world of just trains, a train-centric world — what would that world be like? A world of trains without people."

Acker is one of the hottest young animators on the scene, but if all had gone to plan, he would have been an architect.

"I originally came to UCLA to do a graduate program in architecture," he recalls, "and it wasn't until the tail end of that degree that I started taking a couple of classes in the animation department as electives. I just really fell in love with it."

Looking back, though, animation was always in Acker's blood. "I always was a cartoonist and illustrator — you know, the kid that's always drawing during class," he recalls. "I was a big skateboarder and doing these little sequences of skate tricks, which was basically animation, although I didn't really realize it at the time."

Acker maintains an unbelievably packed schedule, but there's one thing that keeps him motivated.

"Hopefully, you inspire," he says. "That's always the best compliment I get as an artist or as a teacher — that I've been able to inspire somebody to try to create."

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