Dreamworks Animator James Hashimoto and Son Strike Viral Gold


James Hashimoto may not even be old enough to realize that he’s a meme, or even how to pronounce “meme,” but thanks to his DreamWorks animator father, James has a Youtube channel and fans the world over who enjoy watching the adorable 3-year-old perform stunts usually done by superheros and the stuntmen who bring them to life.

James’ father, Daniel Hashimoto, has worked in visual effects for DreamWorks for 10 years. It’s evident through his credits in special effects, animation, art and editorial departments the he enjoys bringing to life the creatures, scenery and stories that exist first in make-believe. Hashimoto gets to make dreams a reality in his job and, now, is doing the same for his son. His visual effects skills can be seen in films like How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda 2 and as of earlier this year, on Youtube, with his son as the star. Hashimoto inadvertently turned his toddler into a viral Internet figure as “Action Movie Kid” on the Youtube channel they created of the same name. “Action Movie” James is featured in a series of short, 10 – 15 second videos, performing extraordinary feats of strength and the supernatural (extraordinary not only for a three-year-old, but for any gravity-bound human being).

So far, using his tricks of the trade, Hashimoto has turned James into the rocket-shooting Iron Man, light-saber-swooshing Luke Skywalker, and grapple gun-wielding Batman who swoops, with mask and cape, around their living room. The videos are entertaining, funny and have the look of top-notch CGI enhancement. In one video, Hashimoto turned the McDonald’s play place structure James was playing in into a rocket ship that blasts off into space, leaving a gaping hole in the fast food restaurant’s ceiling. A Lego structure that James builds starts to levitate and shoots across the room and out the window in the aptly-titled video “The Hyperdrive.” “I think it’s going to destroy the Death Star,” James says, whose toddler babble is subtitled by Hashimoto. Hashimoto often incorporates James’ real-life dialogue in the videos, as well as adds sound effects and music. In a video made at the breakfast table, James blasts a laser from his hand, causing a fiery explosion across the room. “Oops, sorry” he says, turning back to his cereal bowl.

Every day encounters become magical, supernatural, when Hashimoto puts his Adobe AfterEffects skills to use, gifting his son the power of imagination, creativity and a belief in limitless possibility. In the video “The Danger of Wet Floors” James jumps into a puddle of water at an outdoor home and garden store, only to disappear down into the puddle, likely catapulted through a portal to some unknown nether world.

His parents say James has always played imaginative games, and enjoyed toys like blocks and trucks, rarely engaging with television or movies. But when he saw superheros in an animation industry-related magazine of his father’s, his interest was sparked. This prompted Daniel and James’ video series, although his mother, Mandy Richardville says “[James] has never seen a movie with these [super heroes] in it. All he knows about them comes from books or stories we’ve told him. I think that’s better because it all comes from his imagination.”

A few of Daniel and James’ videos were featured recently on network television, ABC’s Good Morning America’s “Play of the Day” segment, as well as NBC’s Today Show. “I’ve had friends from other countries call me saying they saw them on the news in Spain or Australia” said Richardville, who was interviewed by her hometown news publication, Monroenews.com in Monroe, Michigan. Richardville also started working at DreamWorks 10 years ago, but has since left to open a chocolate shop, called Chocolate Menagerie, in Northridge, California.Hashimoto explained to GoodMorningAmerica.com that, although James may not realize it yet, he hit the jackpot with the parents he got. “I work for a cartoon factory and my wife is a chocolatier, so he literally grows up in a chocolate shop. It creates an interesting balance of creativity.” When James saw the first video Hashimoto crafted of him, careening around the living room as Iron Man, he asked, “Did I really do that for realsies?” “At first, James didn’t understand that he hadn’t actually done those thing,” Richardville says. “It took some explaining that Daddy had done it on the computer.” Daniel and Mandy’s artistic work and creativity is also on display on Chocolate Menagerie’s website, which includes a company promo video of Mandy in a kitchen showcasing her chocolate-making skills, with many special effects included.

Hashimoto enjoys re-imagining the home movies he takes of Daniel, although it’s an enormous amount of work for deceptively short videos. Each approximately 10-second clip takes between nine and 12 hours to enhance with effects. Perhaps the creativity of the videos are so popular because they transport the viewer into a state of child-like wonder, or because James’ play is so familiar. Perhaps memories of the game “lava” resurface when viewers watch the living room floor at the Hashimoto’s turn into lava as James bounces around furniture to avoid it. Or perhaps the viewers are reminded movies that they love, like in the video “Kids in the Matrix.” Whatever the reason, Hashimoto finds the attention surprising, but welcome. “It’s humbling” Hashimoto says of the videos’ reception, many with viewer hits reaching the millions. “I’m excited that a little hobby I have is enjoyable to other people.” Daniel and James have a Twitter handle, to let their fans know when new videos come out, with tweets like this one, written from James’ “Action Movie Kid” persona: “Follow me, and I’ll let you know when I have new videos or tutorials. Or when I simply have words of wisdom. My car is a pizza thrower.”

The family lives in Porter Ranch, California. Daniel and Mandy are expecting another child in September. It wouldn’t be surprising if the family’s new addition is a baby with some pretty remarkable super powers.