February 1, 2017  |  Detroit Education Entrepreneurship Social Capital UpTogether Fund

Dara and David Harper

There are few words that can best describe what FII has meant to our family. Quite frankly, its helped make the impossible possible and given life to dreams that would normally be buried. Since we joined FII we’ve worked hard on accomplishing our goals, but most importantly on fulfilling a promise we made to our son Solomon, who is now 5 years old. We promised him that everyday he would feel our love and if he works hard he could do or be anything he wants. Words are great, but the best examples for a young child are his or her parents. If the parents believe they can climb a mountain then their child will know there are no obstacles too high. FII has helped us climb the mountain and the FII matched saving fund helped us get to the summit.

When I was eight years old, I saw the movie “The Little Mermaid” and it changed my life. I had always had a passion for art and storytelling but the musical tunes of the singing crab Sebastian made want to become an animator…except I wanted to create films where the princess had brown hair and brown eyes like me instead of the red-haired, green-eyed protagonist, Ariel, or all of the other Disney characters who preceded her.

I graduated from the Detroit High School of Fine & Performing Arts and the International Academy of Design & Technology in Chicago. My animated short film the award for Best Digital Animator and Best African American Filmmaker at Brooklyn Film Festival. Then life happened. I got married, I had my son, and moved back home to Detroit.

Starting in 2013, I taught myself how to use the free open-source 3D software Blender. In the spring of 2015, when my family joined FII. I finally decided to take the plunge and pursue my most artistically ambitious project yet.

My friends and cousins helped by reading my draft script and storyboards. My son looked over shoulder as I drew thousands of sketches and my husband, David, massaged my weary hands at night. My mother cooked food and folks expressed their opinions about my work-in-progress. The matched savings funds from FII helped me finish the rendering process and made the film look more professional.

David believed in me so much that he worked to support our family while I worked on “The Sky Princess” full-time. I animated for 12-14 hours a day for 18 months. On the days when I thought I was going to give up, David kept me inspired. FII provided my son with a scholarship to help cover the cost of his tuition, freeing up my family’s cash flow as we were hit with unexpected expenses for the film. I also got a lot of encouragement from my friends at the monthly FII meetings.

I was fortunate enough to sign a distribution deal with Wonderphil Entertainment in California. The owner of the company, Phil Gorn, loved “The Sky Princess” so much that he pitched the project to Vivica A. Fox. She enjoyed the script so much that she agreed to voice the role of Moon Queen. Afterwards, Robert Gossett and Angell Conwell signed on to voice characters too. When I flew out to Los Angeles and stood in the recording booth to direct Vivica, it was a beautiful highlight of my two-year journey to realize the dream of “The Sky Princess.” Coming from the westside of Detroit to Hollywood, I almost felt like a character in a movie!

I hope the success of “The Sky Princess” will be a catalyst for others to realize their dreams. I can still think back to the time when I was a little girl popping in a VHS tape of “The Little Mermaid” many years ago. Sometime soon, I look forward to girls and boys watching “The Sky Princess” and sharing my inspiration.

In conclusion, I hope the success of “The Sky Princess” will be a catalyst for others to realize their dreams. Sometime soon, I look forward to girls and boys watching “The Sky Princess” and sharing my inspiration.

It takes a village to make an animated feature. I did not have the budget or experience of the team at Pixar, but I had something that was just as vital...the support of people who loved me. 

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