Art and tech wizardry combine in new gospel vehicle

An animated version of the phenomenally successful JESUS Film has attracted “a dream team” of talent from top Hollywood studios such as Pixar and Disney, who are using cutting-edge technology to bring the story of Jesus in a visually compelling way to a new generation.

The vision for The Animated Story of Jesus (2025), set for release in December 2025, was unveiled at three coordinated events in Seoul, Washington DC and Kampala, Uganda, on December 1.

In a Zoom interview with Eternity, Florida-based director Dominic Carola said the project was not a remake but “a new visual translation” of the most-translated film in history. Since its launch in 1979, the JESUS film has been dubbed into more than 2,000 languages.

“And just like the Jesus film is in 2000-plus heart languages … animation itself is like a heart language for young people,” said Carola, head of independent artist-driven studio Premise Entertainment.

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“It really does transcend cultural barriers, even in countries where this type of content is difficult. Many times, I’ve been in villages where they have cell phones and get media, but they don’t have electricity. So, no matter where you go, whether in the middle of a deep metropolitan area or a small village, kids are watching the same animated content. And you don’t have preconceived stereotypes of an American or Chinese actor – those barriers tend to go away, so it allows you to immerse yourself in the storytelling.”

Working on the Animated Story of Jesus

Carola, who has worked on Disney films such as Mulan, The Lion King and Lilo and Stitch, said he feels honoured to lead a phenomenal team of top artists and artisans from almost every major studio. “Nobody wants to miss out on this opportunity, especially those with a real heart for this content or have been wanting to implement some of this innovative approach we’re doing.”

The film uses recent ground-breaking digital innovations such as the Unreal (game) Engine to recreate ancient icons in all their glory – such as the Temple and Robinson’s Arch (a monumental staircase carried by a wide stone arch on the Temple Mount). These will be used across various platforms such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and the emerging Metaverse.

“It’s the greatest story ever told. It’s timeless.” – Dominic Carola

By contrast, the film’s aesthetic has a vintage painterly look.

“There’s a certain beauty that we’re putting into this film because the content demands it. Screenwriter Barry Cook is doing an amazing job with the materials, but when you watch the film, because it does have the word of God in it, even among people that are working on the film, you can feel there’s something very, very different in this film. It’s very, very powerful. So, we feel a great challenge to match the power and approach this material in a reverent manner. But we also want to be beautiful, and we want to be timeless. It’s the greatest story ever told. It’s timeless. So, how do you do that?” said Carola.

“I told the team I would like to embrace something with fundamental principles of art and beauty. For me, that’s the golden age of illustrators of the early 1900s. Let’s look at those paintings and dissect the shape language. Let’s dissect how they treated a fold with a stroke of paint. And we’re working with our very talented production designer, Armand Serrano, and our super-talented art director, Ryan Feltman, who have a similar affinity for these illustrators.

“And the beauty is when you combine that with the innovative technology we’re using, we have a fresh and new recipe, even though you’re dealing with material from the first century. So, we’re trying to find all of those elements that bring something special to this remarkable film.”

“We get one shot at doing this; we’ve got to give it our all.” – Dominic Carola

Dominic Carola

Carola said his studio is working with Dr Lane Ritmeyer, who he called a rock star in the archaeological and theological world, to ensure the film can touch lives in the same way the original Jesus film has.

“We have people from all different backgrounds on our show and the film’s already doing ministry. It’s just incredible. The beauty is they see how seriously we’re taking the material where this isn’t a job for us as artists – we have a heart for this content. This is the greatest form of worship we can offer. And we’re approaching everything right down to how is a house built? What’s the texture of basalt versus the texture of magdala, which is totally different? We get one shot at doing this; we’ve got to give it our all. So, it’s wonderful to lean into the historical context as well.”

Carola said he first spoke to the Jesus Film people back in 2005 and, since then, has been doing short animated gospel stories such as Legion and Chosen Witness, which, from letters he has received, had a powerful impact.

“Barry Cook, the screenwriter, envisioned this possibility 20 years ago. Many people were involved, including [Jesus Film producer] Irv Klaschus. There have been so many chapters in our lives where we’ve tried to make something happen on our timing, but God’s timing is always perfect, even though we don’t understand it.

“I don’t know what it is, but it feels like God is preparing us all for something.” – Dominic Carola

“Not to put too much of a spiritual lens on things, but I lost my parents some years ago. My wife lost her parents a few years ago. We’ve lost friends who are younger than us. You start to look at things differently, through a spiritual lens, and you see what’s happening with the world. It’s really broken. I mean, we’ve lived in a broken world since Adam and Eve, but this feels like this is God’s timing; this isn’t our timing. I wouldn’t have suddenly chosen to say, ‘Oh, let’s take on the most challenging film of all time. And we have to do it in this short of a time period.’

“I really feel this is God’s timing and he’s opened doors to allow us to bring people from almost every major studio at the right time. And it feels right. We are all showing up as servants. We’re going to give it our all, but I feel that something is going on. I don’t know what it is, but it feels like God is preparing us all for something. I don’t know what it is, but people are crying out everywhere. There’s a lot of lost people. There’s a lot of hurt out there, and I’m just honoured to be a part of it.”

Carola said working on this project has been “the greatest Bible study of all time” for him and his team, who feel palpable prayer support from the Jesus Film Project, a massive, powerful outreach organisation with thousands of members.

“I may never meet them, but you can feel the presence of this team and the size of the team. And we always pray for a hedge of protection upon everyone.”

 

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