Artist Spotlight, Pro Tips

‘Action Movie Dad’ Daniel Hashimoto on Bringing Imagination to Life

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Most new parents would happily admit to indulging in an excess of photo and video documentation of their kids. (Most pet owners too, for that matter.) But few have taken this compulsive pastime and turned it into a fantastical excursion — or a career. That’s precisely what Daniel Hashimoto did, however, in creating the phenomenon that is Action Movie Kid. A former DreamWorks animator, Hashimoto (or Hashi, as he prefers) originally started combining his knowledge of VFX with his videos of his son, James, as a fun side project and a way to bond with his family.

The resulting whimsical clips captured the imagination of more than just James, though, gaining Hashi millions of views and hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers. Fast-forward a few years, and Hashi has a book deal, a movie deal, a second YouTube channel, and a second child — daughter Sophia, who is now also having onscreen adventures. He was able to leave his full-time studio job and make Action Movie Kid his prime focus. We caught up with Hashi to talk about the wild ride, tips on working with kids, and how Pond5 plays an invaluable role in his work.
 

 

Childhood Revisited

For Hashi, the success of Action Movie Kid is a childhood dream come true, only made better by the fact that he’s helping his own kids live out their dreams in the process. “The Action Movie Kid videos are basically taking what I used to do when I was a kid and running with it,” he explains. “I started in visual effects, special effects, and goofy movie-making when I was 8, maybe. I’ve specialized in visual effects since then. And one of the hardest things starting out in the visual-effects realm was acquiring footage that I couldn’t do myself because I was in junior high or high school — my first version of these videos.”

Given the time-consuming nature of building effects and scenes from the ground up, discovering Pond5 was like magic for the man now also known as Action Movie Dad. “If something like this had existed then, I can’t imagine the videos I would have been able to make,” he reflects. “I used to create everything, as much as I could, from scratch. Having this big library available now, I’m happy to tackle bigger projects and more ambitious visual effects, because I’m sure that I can find a lot of little bits that would be too much work in and of themselves as a completed element.”
 

 

The Magic of Pre-Keyed Media

It also helped him realize how much easier it is to do things without huge resources as a modern media-maker. “Obviously there’s a lot more content out there, but one of the cooler things is that productions are scaling down to smaller and smaller operations,” says Hashi. “There are some things that were popular in media because they took a team to do or because you had a lot of people working on them. Now there are a lot of creators doing very small things like Action Movie Kid, which was just me working on my laptop after I filmed something with James. It’s really great to know that there’s a community of people who create things like explosions that are pre-keyed or fun smoke trails — or when I need a burst of dust or something like that, that would take me hours or a day to set up and film — there are people out there who do have that and like to shoot that on the wonderful cameras that exist now.”

“I specifically started using Pond5 because I was now more responsible for creating the content myself,” explains Hashi. “I was working at DreamWorks Animation beforehand, and whenever there was something that needed to be created, we would look outside to external resources for reference and for inspiration, including Pond5. I worked on Kung Fu Panda 3, where they had the stylized sequences, where it’s being drawn by a paintbrush and ink. To see what that looked like, we looked at a bunch of different resources to see what different paintbrushes looked like, what ink and water looked like. Pond5 was something that we turned to to collect reference for those kinds of things.”
 

 

Keeping Up with the Kids

Of course, with all the benefits of modern tools, there are challenges too. “It really is quite difficult to keep up with how quickly the technology is advancing,” admits Hashi. “I feel like, generationally, there are waves of kids who can probably do what I do now. I feel like I worked really hard to get where I am. But it also combines with experience. I’ve worked on this stuff for about 20 years, and the old tricks are still the best tricks for a lot of these things.”

“I use After Effects to do all of my compositing,” he goes on, “which now has these great capabilities for plugins like Video Copilot’s Element 3D, which lets you bring in 3D assets. I can find stock footage from a place like Pond5 and bring in explosions and things like that, all at a speed that was incomprehensible to me as a kid. What I like is that I’ve been using the same tools for 20 years, but they’ve gotten better at doing what they do. And I’ve found wider resources to put together the types of effects that I’m drawn to.”

And with all the new possibilities, one can’t help but wonder if James, Action Movie Kid himself, will follow in his father’s footsteps. “He loves to see the outcome,” says Hashi. “He would love to see the outcome immediately, if possible. He does like to come by Dad’s computer every now and then and see what he’s doing. He likes to click around and use the tablet, to try and play around and see what things you can do. Certainly, it’s a new thing to him.”
 

 
“I’m very excited for him to get to the point where he’s interested in making his own movies and putting them together,” admits the proud parent. “We’re just at the tip of that now, where he wants to throw in a little bit more creative input or suggest a video that we do. I’m really excited to be able to reach for loftier goals nowadays, because I have more at my disposal.”

In case you’re wondering if all this attention has turned James into a camera hog, that’s far from the case. “The interesting thing about James is that he’s not interested at all in acting,” says Hashi. “It’s really affected the type of video we do in what I think is a positive way. He’s done a few appearances where he is distinctly supposed to be a performer for them, and he doesn’t enjoy that as much as getting to play, getting to have fun. For almost all the videos, even if it makes them not come in line with the vision that I had, it gets to be something that James enjoys doing. Anytime you see him laughing or having fun or doing goofy things on camera, it’s because whatever we were doing while we were filming was fun and made him laugh. Whenever we can make the videos into some kind of a game, he’s happy to do that.”
 

 

How to Work with Children on Camera

Clearly Action Movie Dad has found his niche, one that also puts him in a good place to share advice on working with children on camera — something he’s quick to point out is commonly cautioned against due to its difficulty. “I think my biggest tip for working with kids is to imagine more of the desired reaction that you want from them and then think of what they might react to in that way,” he says. “Instead of telling someone, ‘Laugh like you just heard something really funny,’ you give them something really fun to do. Luckily, we’re not doing lots of dialogue and difficult emotional beats or anything like that. Certainly, the more you can put the kids there on their own, instead of them having to fake it, the better a reaction you get.”

“It’s basically knowing the children you’re working with,” he continues. “It really, really helps if you know what will make them laugh or what will make them, in my case, run across the room, point to something that isn’t there and laugh at it. It means you’ve got to get Dad or Mom in there doing something goofy. Then they’ll run and laugh at you. Then you’ll paint yourself out and add a new thing. It’s very funny. It’s kind of like working with these little puzzle pieces of reactions, lines, and bits from the kids that you need. Because I do so much compositing on the back end, being able to erase the reference or something like that ends up being a really easy way to get the kids to play a real game with a real person and replace it with a fantastical element.”
 

 
When Hashi was working full-time and doing Action Movie Kid on the side, he never thought it could become his main job, but its unexpected success underlines an important point for all creatives: “I think that if you work on something that you’re really excited to do, that you really love — in my case, it was working with videos of my kids — If you work on something that you’re really passionate about, it will give you this extra drive to work on it longer, try to make it a little bit better, and to try a million avenues to get to the final result.”