Fresno State graduate Brad Lewis was a youngster living in San Mateo when he heard stories about storks delivering babies. He learned more with the passing years, but he still embraces the stork story wholeheartedly.
Lewis is the producer of the new feature film “Storks,” the new animated feature from the Warner Bros. Studios that deals with what happens when the storks stop delivering babies and become the chief delivery system for a big-box company. That new line of work is threatened when a baby needs delivery.
Since graduating from Fresno State, Lewis has worked on a variety of animated projects, including being the writer and director of “Cars 2” and producing “Antz” and “Ratatouille.” For the past 3 1/2 years, he’s been working on “Storks.”
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As the producer of “Storks,” Lewis – along with co-directors Nick Stoller and Doug Sweetland – was involved on everything from the selection of voice talents to the music. Lewis credits his days involved with theater at Fresno State for helping him be ready for all the challenges.
Lewis earned a bachelor of arts degree in theater when he attended Fresno State in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The San Mateo native transferred from Humboldt State University in Arcata after his freshman year because his family had friends living in Fresno. He also came to Fresno because of the strong reputation of the university’s theater program. Lewis performed in several college productions with actor Robert Beltran (“Star Trek: Voyager”) while they were at the school together.
“The theater arts major is the most underrated in the college game,” Lewis says. “Most people think theater majors are just kids running around and acting, but you have to be able to weld, be a carpenter and do all sorts of jobs. In combination with the singing and dancing classes I took at Fresno State, I use every aspect of that education in making my movies.”
He looks at the theater screen as his proscenium, where he must create the backdrops, select the right lighting, find just the right actors and deliver a story that is compelling. He just takes the route of animation for his presentation.
Selecting the right voices meant sometimes selecting well-known actors and going with some unknowns. “Storks” stars Andy Samberg (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”), Katie Crown (“Clarence”), Kelsey Grammer (“Toy Story 2”), Jennifer Aniston (“We’re the Millers”), Ty Burrell (“Finding Dory”), Keegan-Michael Key (“The Angry Birds Movie”), Jordan Peele (“Keanu”) and Danny Trejo (“The Book of Life”).
Lewis has seen over the years what a well-known actor brings to a speaking part.
“The only thing we think about when casting is whether the actor can bring life to this character,” he says. “I have worked with Peter O’Toole and Gene Hackman. What they bring is some sort of archetypical character that everyone relates to and that translates to their voice.”
Then there are cases like Crown, a stand-up comedian who was hired as a temporary voice actor until the right person to voice Tulip could be found. After several early test screenings, it became clear that no one could bring more energy or life to the role than Crown.
Lewis is particularly proud of “Storks” because he has pushed the look beyond typical animated films. There are darker scenes, with the team managing to pull off some film noir moments.
Producing with the Warner Animation Group (WAG) is an all-encompassing position. Lewis joined the team in February 2013, a month after the division was formed.
Before WAG, Lewis worked at Pixar and Digital Domain. “Storks” is scheduled for release Friday, Sept. 23.
Lewis has already started working on his next project. There’s no time to waste because animated movies take years to produce. Lewis worked 5 1/2 years on “Ratatouille.”
Over the final few weeks before a movie is released, Lewis admits to getting emotional: “It’s like a baby being born, and you become so emotional that you break down.”