Director inspired by teacher

It was definitely a journalist’s dream – I put on my pencil skirt, polka dot suit vest and pointed heels. (Later to find out I was overdressed.)  I jumped into the car. This was one event I could not be fashionably late to.

I was off to the AMC movie theater. 

I was not going to go to the movies like one would normally do for pleasure. No, I was there to get the chance to interview my cousin, Eric Darnell, the co-director of “Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa,” after watching the premiere of the sequel at the theater with other family, friends and reporters. 

The dream came true. I was fortunate enough to interview cousin Eric, writer/director.

His dream came true, too, although Darnell did not know this dream existed until he met his inspiration: Stan Brakhage.

Brakhage is nationally known for his avant-garde films, making almost 400 films in his lifetime. Brakhage taught at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Co., beginning in 1981, during which Darnell had Brakhage as a professor in a couple of film classes.

“He was a really inspiring teacher,” Darnell said. “He was the guy that gave me courage.  He had an artistic point of view, and he was doing it because he loved it.”

Darnell began majoring in biology at the University of Colorado but then switched to journalism and received his undergraduate degree in broadcast journalism.

“I always tell kids you don’t have to go into the exact field you majored in,” he said. 

Inspired by Brakhage, Darnell went on to the California Institute of the Arts where he studied animation and got his MFA. After assisting with the computer animation for DreamWorks’ film “The Prince of Egypt,” he took on the position of director of “Antz.”  From there, he went on to direct “Madagascar,” the top family comedy of 2005 earning more than $500 million with actors including Ben Stiller, Chris Rock and Cedric “The Entertainer” and, now, “Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa,” which comes to theaters Nov. 7.

Academy Award-winning cinematographer Guillermo Navarro brought live action cinematography to the scene for this movie. Darnell was excited and honored to work with Navarro. 

“Everything that you could do with a real camera in the real world, you can do with our virtual cameras: zoom in, zoom out, incorporate different lenses, move the camera in any way you want,” Darnell said. “And we can do that even more because we don’t have to pay for a helicopter or an expensive dolly, if that’s what we need. And, since cinematography was so critical, especially for this movie – with all the scope and the size of the environments, as well as the action – we needed someone with a live action frame of mind.”

Darnell said “Madagascar 2” took several years to complete but each day he goes to work is a different one.

“There’s no typical day,” he said. “I work with so many different people. It’s never boring. It helps that I have had a wide range of education classes. It helps to have a broad interest set when starting out, too.”

As a student at a liberal arts college like Baker University, I was excited to hear the part about a variety of classes, as students know it’s sometimes hard to enroll in the classes we think will have no impact whatsoever on our lives. Who knows? Maybe you should take those classes seriously. Someday, you may be the next Eric Darnell.