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Ellen Sterling

Ellen Sterling

Posted: June 23, 2010 04:50 PM

Take Your Basic Dream, Add A Good Story, Animation, Sir Sean Connery -- It's A Sure Recipe For Success

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2010-06-23-2SirSeanConneryTessaHartmannandSaschaHartmanninSirBilliTartan.JPG Lots of people have a dream. But how many get to not only see their dream come true, but to see it make history? Two such people are Sascha and Tessa Hartmann. On the phone from Glasgow, Tessa Hartmann tells the story of how a simple children's tale has, in a decade, morphed into an industry.

"We have two daughters, now 11 and 13, who were into Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder," she recalls. "We thought it would be fun to create something else for them."

As it happens, her husband, a clinical neuropsychologist, is also an illustrator and her father, she says, "looks like Sean Connery." Those two facts, together with her ability to create the story, got them started with what began as "very much a sideline but we learned that when you work as a couple, you never sleep."

The Hartmanns developed the story of Sir Billi, ("It's very common in Scotland to put an 'i' at the end of a name.") a skateboarding grandfather, and set it in a fictional village on the northwest coast of Scotland where, she notes, "palm trees grow and subtropical plants, too, because of the Gulf Stream."

"We were fairly organized because we thought thought this could be something. Sascha hand- drew the entire short film script and we produced a three-minute demo of what it would look like in using CGI."

With a background in marketing, she got it funded. Then, "as one businessperson to another, in 2004, I approached someone in Scotland whom I knew was a friend of Sir Sean Connery and he agreed to send information to Sir Sean."

Connery had firmly announced his retirement from films but he was the person the Hartmanns wanted so they decided it wouldn't hurt to try. He was sent the demo at his home in the Bahamas.

"Three weeks went by without a word," Tessa Hartmann says. "Then, I got a call on my mobile from Sir Sean explaining that his grandson had picked up the DVD and taken it back to Los Angeles. But, he said, 'If it's good enough for my grandchildren it's good enough for me.' and he signed on."

He explains why in this video:

Next up, in 2005, was a just-over 20-minute version of Sir Billi that was completed in 2006. "We got about 15 minutes into production and we shipped it to Sir Sean to do the voice over. He and his wife, Lady Micheline, liked what we had. They said if we can produce this level of quality in Scotland the film should be extended to full-length and we should make it in Scotland."

"It sounds very exciting," she agrees, "but we had to go out and raise the money."

They did so and, in the last four years, "animators have come from all over the world. We call it the House of Nations. Because of the software involved, we needed people with knowledge -- Americans, Italians, Germans -- as well as Scots. It's very well to have Sean Connery, but it still has to be top quality. "

As word about the project spread, Tessa Hartmann says, "We've had a lot of interest along the way. There was a very exciting offer awhile ago to complete the project in America. But, really, the whole point for us is to deliver this project from Scotland and Sir Sean was keen to keep it in Scotland."

Sir Billi even has his own tartan. (Of course, the photo above is of the Hartmanns with Sir Sean.) "We created it and registered it at the tartan authority. We chose green, red and white as the colors. It was woven over a period of 10 weeks."

Today, the Hartmanns and Sir Billi stand on the brink of worldwide recognition. As Tessa Hatmann says, "Sir Billi is so iconic" and, with that in mind, she's thinking of a second adventure. "We spent a lot of time creating our environment. The land is a character in it's own right. For a second film we have background and characters ready."

For this first film, they also secured the talents of another Scot, Alan Cumming, and wrote songs for the soundtrack -- Sascha the music; Tessa, the lyrics. Although they are no longer signing songwriters, Universal Music did sign the Hartmanns. And, to sing the title song, they enlisted Dame Shirley Bassey. Thus, they have neatly reunited James Bond and the woman who sang Goldfinger.

About to screen Sir Billi for potential distributors, the Hartmanns and their companies, Billi Productions Ltd and Glasgow Animation Ltd. have already made entertainment history in Scotland by producing the first, full-length animated feature ever in that country.

Learning the Hartmann's story, one cannot help feeling that it does, indeed, pay to dream.

Check out a preview of Sir Billi