29.09.10

David Sproxton

Filed under: Interviews — Alex Amelines @ 11:36 pm

CBE David Sprox­ton is the co-founder and Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Aard­man Ani­ma­tions. Along­side his part­ner Peter Lord, he is a pio­neer in stop frame ani­ma­tion. Dur­ing his life­time, David has been a pro­ducer, direc­tor and a cinematographer.

David and Peter met in gram­mar school where they made their first ani­mated film using David’s Bolex cam­era. In 1972, they founded Aard­man where they have con­cocted sev­eral TV and Film ani­ma­tion clas­sics. Cur­rently they are work­ing on their lat­est pro­duc­tion: Pirates! which is sched­uled for release in 2012.

His stu­dio is also known for nur­tur­ing tal­ented film­mak­ers such as Nick Park, Steve Box, Peter Peake and Richard Goleszowski among many others.

Aardman’s early days.

Aard­man has grown expo­nen­tially, you were 8 peo­ple in the mid eight­ies and you were start­ing to go into films.

Yes that’s right, we got Nick in 1985, actu­ally he got to us a bit ear­lier when he was a stu­dent, but yeah we did grow and it is weird because as soon as you go into fea­tures and you crew up and obvi­ously you need all those peo­ple but they run away with the pic­tures. Gen­er­ally we’ve got about 150 peo­ple staff, the pay­roll this week was about 400 peo­ple, there’s a lot of free­lancers in here.

You are also tack­ling the dig­i­tal side of things as well!

The dig­i­tal depart­ment: There’s about 30 peo­ple in there doing web­sites and games, you know and that feeds into all the other stuff we do it’s extra­or­di­nary because apart from any­thing else it is hard to make any money out of pro­duc­ing TV stuff, you know in com­mer­cials you make money but with TV you’ve got to do all these web-based things around it, so it has changed dramatically.

[…] rewind­ing the clock 30 odd years, it’s a much much harder world now than it was then to get into. It’s eas­ier in some respects, the facil­i­ties and the stuff that you need to pro­duce ani­ma­tion is eas­ier to get hold of, you could do it on a lap­top, could you not? But find­ing a break these days I think is tough.

What’s Aardman’s main pri­or­ity right now?

The thing we’re really con­cen­trat­ing on is devel­op­ment, devel­op­ing ideas. It is quite weird because the actual mak­ing of stuff is rel­a­tively straight for­ward these days we pro­duce a lot of the stuff our­selves, there’s very lit­tle major work we out-source, so there’s a lot of peo­ple work­ing on things.

But the hard­est thing is writ­ing a decent story, and that can take you a good few years, and I wouldn’t go in to the fea­ture films side of ani­ma­tion unless you’re will­ing to lose a lot of money in the first few go arounds, because you’re up against Pixar and Dream­works […] peo­ple have this extra­or­di­nary per­cep­tion that “Hey! we have the kit, we have the peo­ple! Let’s make a fea­ture film!”

That’s prob­a­bly the hard­est thing, get­ting good ideas.

Do you try to develop stuff in-house?

Yes, we have a fea­tures devel­op­ment depart­ment, it’s not very big. We use exter­nal writ­ers. It’s kind of inter­est­ing because you want the idea to be dri­ven by somebody’s pas­sion, now that could be a writer, it could be a direc­tor, it could be a designer, you’ll always need to pair them each of those up with some­body, a direc­tor, a designer, what­ever and the big ques­tion for us, spe­cially on the fea­ture film side is is there some­one to drive the project with pas­sion and who do they need team up with and what’s the chem­istry between them […]

Shaun of the Sheep is based on Nick [Park] and taken on by Golly [Richard Goleszowski] who’s worked with him for many, many years and he said “Actu­ally I know how I can turn this into a series idea” and then he brought on writ­ers, to help write the 80 episodes we’ve now made, and Timmy Time is a lit­tle bit the same, and most of our strongest ideas come from, peo­ple inside the com­pany and the staff, peo­ple we work with a great deal.

There’s a show called Chops Socky Chooks, which is on air at the moment on [Car­toon Net­work] I think, which came out of one of the ani­ma­tors in Chicken Run, a guy called Serge Delfino, he’s a good ani­ma­tor actu­ally and he came up with this ridicu­lous kind of Kung-Fu chick­ens spoof some years ago and it took about 4 or 5 years to get it devel­oped. He then directed it.

I would put my hand up and say that prob­a­bly most of our peo­ple aren’t the great­est sto­ry­tellers, they do often come up with good sit­u­a­tions and they come up with some good char­ac­ter designs and char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion but they may not have the story to struc­ture it, so we get peo­ple in to help them.

Do you think that the amount of tech­nol­ogy that’s avail­able to any­one today, and it’s becom­ing more acces­si­ble, is hin­der­ing or help­ing the qual­ity of the ani­ma­tion that is being pro­duced these days?

I think it’s it’s clear that the tech­nol­ogy is help­ing in many ways, but now that the WOW! fac­tor is no longer the draw for an audience,the sto­ries have to be even stronger. If you look at Pixar and Toy Story 3, I mean they prob­a­bly use bet­ter tech­nol­ogy than Toy Story 1 and 2 but the char­ac­ters are basi­cally the same, they just build stronger and stronger sto­ries […] they can be more ambi­tious cer­tainly but on the other hand look at Avatar, the tech­nol­ogy is get­ting a bit in the way there, well, there are some beau­ti­ful scenes in it, but it’s like “Hey! Look what I can do” rather than “I will engage in a story”, so I think it is always a bal­anc­ing act and we know It can­not just depend on tech­nol­ogy allow­ing us to do eye-watering things.

Actu­ally, in a Pixar film, to an extent there is a dan­ger that “Look how great the scene looks!” as opposed to what the scene tells us about the story, because the model mak­ers and design­ers love putting stuff in and it can cer­tainly get in the way of ani­ma­tion. […] And it’s always been the case, to an extent, I mean we now have an unbe­liev­able pow­er­ful tool­box at our dis­posal, you can do any­thing and there’s no excuse for not get­ting it right, bud­gets and time aside.

I think it is like any­thing, you can go from a man­ual brace and bit to a Black and Decker elec­tric drill, you can do an awful more with it but you can actu­ally wreak havoc [laughs] at the same time.

But I’m sure that if the great ani­ma­tors that Dick [Richard Williams] was talk­ing about had all the tech­nol­ogy that we have now they would be doing some extra­or­di­nary stuff with it.

To dip a lit­tle in that area, because Dick pretty much comes out of hand craft and he’s still doing that. For him and his gen­er­a­tion is a lit­tle bit deeper than that, is like a lan­guage, is the way you think.

Yes! and I think that prob­a­bly hasn’t changed, you still have got to have great ideas well expressed. Most of our guys still draw an awful lot (they love fig­ure draw­ing) and, again,it is how you use those skills, you know, the clas­sic CG idea of ” keep the cam­era kind of float­ing” “Nooo! it’s a film!” you know, keep it sta­tic, the observer watches from the screen rather than danc­ing around all the time. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

Talk­ing about bal­anc­ing acts, how does Aard­man man­age to appeal both adults and young audi­ences, are you tar­get­ing both at the same time, or one more than the other?

If we enjoy the idea and the film we’re pretty con­fi­dent that audi­ence will. Nick has a great nat­ural abil­ity for pleas­ing all age groups. Fun­da­men­tally they’re quite sim­ple, they are silly.

And there’s an absur­dity in there, you know for exam­ple in a Curse of the Were-rabbit, Nick… what does he call it? “the first veg­e­tar­ian hor­ror movie” and cer­tainly with the fea­ture films (we did do test screens with Dream­works, but with the film half fin­ished the test screen­ings are rather decep­tive. we are very rig­or­ous with the way we make the film, par­tic­u­larly at the story-reel stage. we do attack quite vig­or­ously the story-reel to get it to play as well as it can. […] In the aver­age story reel there’s prob­a­bly about 6000 draw­ings and we did about 25000 draw­ings over all dur­ing the mak­ing of the Were-rabbit film, which meant that, every scene was re-drawn sev­eral times in order to get it fun­nier or more dramatic. […]

You can put a film in front of kids to test their reac­tion, but it is quite hard to put a story reel in front of kids, they sim­ply don’t quite under­stand what they are look­ing at. And it’s some­thing Dream­works used to do, the film would be half to two thirds com­plete, so some of it would be drawn and cut into a story reel and kids would come out “I didn’t under­stand it” you know, with the last act as scrib­bly drawings.

Does that apply for TV as well?

On the children’s TV stuff we actu­ally do test stuff with kids, we’ll go to a school, just to sort of see how they react, mostly to the char­ac­ters, which ones are their favourites, which ones they don’t like. Just to get a sense of how are they going to react to this thing, because it needs to be com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful, but gen­er­ally… and actu­ally Pirates! is kind of inter­est­ing because Pirates! is quite dia­logue led, a lot of the com­edy is in the dia­logue and kind of adult. Not adult in a kind of sophis­ti­cated way but you wouldn’t expect a 6 or 7 year old nec­es­sar­ily to be con­cen­trat­ing on the dia­logue and to get the com­edy out of it, where as a 14—15 year old prob­a­bly would.

So broadly we make it for your­selves, really… And it depends on the bud­get as well.

Our stuff tends to have a 5 year cycle (on the fea­ture films) but 3 and a half years of that is devel­op­ment and then you roll into pro­duc­tion, and pro­duc­tion lasts 18 months gen­er­ally, but the bulk of the time is in devel­op­ment, writ­ing and designing.

And you’re writ­ing up to the last minute, you’re always chang­ing stuff.

Now that you’ve tried both the stop-motion and the dig­i­tal routes for mak­ing a film… Do you think com­put­ers really make life eas­ier or is it merely a dif­fer­ent tech­nique with a dif­fer­ent set of problems?

Dif­fer­ent set of prob­lems! [laughs] yeah, um… is funny, the stop-frame works out kind of cheaper, because the CGI and Hol­ly­wood route is ridicu­lously expen­sive for all sorts of com­plex. Ratio­nal and irra­tional rea­sons. And they’re dif­fer­ent processes, stop-frame is much more like a live action process, you know, you shoot, it’s in the can, it’s done, whereas CG you do the ani­ma­tion, you then may light and ren­der it it, it’s a process that rolls on and it’s harder to lock it down I think.

I would opine to say that we prob­a­bly, on aver­age, have bet­ter stop-frame ani­ma­tors that can give you very good per­for­mances on the fea­ture side than you tend to get in fea­ture CGI, just because these guys have only got one go at it. So it’s a lin­ear process, so in their head they’ve got to know what they’re doing (it’s like a very slow motion per­for­mance) we were doing some CGI ani­ma­tion tests the other day and the stuff is not bad, [but] there’s a slightly “miss­ing­ness” in what you see in the first go around. There’s some­thing that’s not quite there which needs putting in before the action could be signed off.

I guess is a bit like the dif­fer­ence between a the­atre actor and a film actor. The­atre actors need to know the whole piece, act in a con­tin­uum, fully under­stand the char­ac­ter, whereas film actors act in small sec­tions, often out of order, they can have many goes at get­ting right, so there isn’t that need to really get under the skin of the char­ac­ter. The stop-motion / CGI com­par­i­son is a bit like that. […]

And I think because of the phys­i­cal­ity, like actors work­ing against blue / green screen: it is very dif­fi­cult to kind of “fight air”, you know, react to the mon­ster that is not there, or to a marker on a stick, as with the blue screen, but you stick them in a real set and they’ve got actors to work against, they know what the job is. And I think is a bit the same with stop-frame, the char­ac­ters are in the set, you know, they can kind of know what they’re doing.

And cer­tainly, we cross train our guys, we take the stop-frame ani­ma­tors and put them in CG and they do make fan­tas­tic ani­ma­tors, because they know their craft very well and they know exactly what they want the char­ac­ter to do and you can teach them the CGI but­tons very very quickly, they have an open mind and they make very good CGI ani­ma­tors from that point of view.

I sup­pose you don’t get the same if you do it the other way around.

Is hard! We’ve done a bit of that and some of them do, but gen­er­ally it is a harder fix because of that lin­ear approach the stop-frame guys have, they kind of see it in their head, they see the com­plete stop-motion per­for­mance that they’ve got to do.

Of all of your achieve­ments what are you most proud of?

Well, sur­viv­ing as a com­pany is a key achieve­ment! For­get prof­its, just stay in busi­ness and hold on tight… but hav­ing said that, there was a moment, which I recall, when we screened The Wrong Trousers at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val, we pre­miered it as a short and it was cou­pled up with a fea­ture film […] we were the sup­port act to this guy’s big break through into films, and we thought it was kind of inter­est­ing. So The Wrong Trousers played first, as the warm up act basi­cally, and it got a stand­ing ova­tion! Bloody hell! Sit­ting in this the­atre are a bunch of hard nose film jour­nal­ists, hacks, buy­ers, so about as tough as it gets in the film world and they all stood up and gave it a stand­ing ovation […]

That was pretty out­stand­ing, because this being a pre­mier, you don’t know how it’s going to play, you know, but they absolutely loved it, and sadly this guy’s fea­ture played and about 40 min­utes in, two thirds of the audi­ence had left! [chuck­les] oh no!… but that was a hell of a moment, actually.

And I think the first Oscar was pretty amaz­ing as well.

You men­tioned ear­lier that you’re always think­ing ahead, about what’s going to hap­pen next. Do you know what’s going to hap­pen next?

Well, you know, in this mul­ti­me­dia, sort of multi plat­form world… In Hol­ly­wood at the moment they’re stran­gling them­selves try­ing to get costs down. Some­body said to me the other day “Pixar are try­ing to get their cost down below 110 mil­lion dol­lars” And you’d think “Well, cer­tainly they should… It’s very hard!” And a lot of that is in the devel­op­ment area, well, the devel­op­ment process is not that expen­sive but it starts to crank up if you’re run­ning with 4 or 5 ideas with 40 or 30 peo­ple. So try­ing to decide which ideas go ahead is crit­i­cal to keep­ing those costs down.

DVD sales have pretty much col­lapsed, tele­vi­sion, the back cat­a­logue sales have col­lapsed, stu­dios are find­ing it really dif­fi­cult at the moment because they have this mas­sive over­head basically.

And you know this dig­i­tal thing that we’re doing, the dig­i­tal depart­ment, which is all the online stuff, web­sites and com­mer­cials… that’s hard to make money from at the moment. We’re doing this thing for the Tate Mod­ern, we’re doing Wal­lance & Gromit’s world of inven­tions, there’s a big web­site around that, the Sci­ence peo­ple, the BBC, so that’s more strings to our bow, it all helps, but it’s a weird land­scape out there at the moment.

Aardman’s new pur­pose built facil­i­ties in Bristol.

There’s quite a lot of con­tro­versy rag­ing at the moment about dig­i­tal down­loads and piracy, do you think that’s impacted you?

Well… I asked this to some­body at Annecy a guy who’s from Arme­nia and he said “Although your works have never been on tele­vi­sion in Arme­nia, every­body knows Wal­lace and Gromit, we’ve been watch­ing Russ­ian pirated copies”. So whole swathes of pop­u­la­tion are watch­ing stuff with­out pay­ing for it […] as far as China.

It is a worry, we’ve just done a deal in China that will hope­fully help stop that a bit but it’s funny, we have a cul­ture of “Well, that content’s free, wahey! I can take it, I can use it…, I can have it for free!” you know?…it’s tough.

I think part of it is that DVD prices have been far too high, and that’s where the stu­dios are in trou­ble, if they were only 5 or 10 dol­lars a pop they’d prob­a­bly sell mil­lions more and there wouldn’t be a piracy prob­lem any­more, to be honest.

Milo rig to the left. To the right, the edge of the scissor-lift with attached monitor.

Are you pur­su­ing the 3D TV route with your upcom­ing projects?

Well, both our fea­tures are going 3D, the CGI ones are very straight for­ward, Pirates! is a lit­tle bit more com­pli­cated but it’s not too bad, we cracked the process, we’re sort of wait­ing for our first 3D com­mer­cial to come in, but again,if it’s CG, tech­ni­cally is not too dif­fi­cult. The impor­tant thing to under­stand about 3D is how you use it for the best effect in the drama or the com­edy, but for com­mer­cials it hat aspect not so cru­cial, it will be used in a bit more of a sen­sa­tional Way.

We have had dis­cus­sions on this here at Aard­man. Itis a tool peo­ple can use but be care­ful how you use it, don’t over do it and bear in mind what is it that you’re try­ing to put across with the depth thing and how can you make it com­fort­able for the audience.

The future of Aard­man, has there been any talks about a Theme Park?

We are doing, not a theme park, but there’s a talk about doing some­thing at Black­pool, one of the rides, it should be quite a good fun, not a full-on theme park though. There was one of those ridicu­lous pub con­ver­sa­tions “wahey! let’s have a theme park!” [laughs] but I think in this coun­try you just don’t have the foot fall for it, to jus­tify the leg work or rather the invest­ment, well, no… not yet, anyway.

Thanks very much for your time!
Great to see you both!

  1. Aard­man Ani­ma­tion Main website.
  2. Aardman’s Pod­casts Hear it from the horse’s mouth.
  3. Wal­lace and Grom­mit Main website.
  4. YouTube Aardman’s Channel.
  5. IMDb Aard­man on the Movie Database

I make images that move and images that don’t, for ads, pro­mos, film and TV, for kids and grownups and some­times just to amuse myself.

Cre­ator of one­huge­eye. Founder and direc­tor at Lon­don based Stu­dio Tinto. Dad. Cof­fee addict.

Comments (3)

19.07.10

Richard Williams

Filed under: Interviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — Alex Amelines @ 9:09 am

Richard Williams with some of the 30,881 draw­ings used in the 412 scenes shot for The Animator’s Sur­vival Kit — Animated

Richard Williams is a Cana­dian ani­ma­tor, win­ner of two Oscars and count­less other awards for his work on Who Framed Roger Rab­bit? and A Christ­mas Carol. He is per­haps best known for his unfin­ished mas­ter­piece The Thief and the Cob­bler. He also pro­duced lit­er­ally hun­dreds of multi-award win­ing TV com­mer­cials through­out the 1960s, 70s, and 80s through Richard Williams Ani­ma­tion in Lon­don and L.A, as well as movie titles and sequences for films such as The Pink Pan­ther, What’s New Pussy­cat? and The Charge of the Light Brigade.

I recently joined Mario Cav­alli for a friendly chat with his old boss, Richard Williams, at Aard­man Animation’s stu­dios in Bris­tol, where he edited the 16 DVDs that make up the full Animator’s Sur­vival Kit and where he has found a quiet place to work on his two ‘new’ projects.

Who Framed Roger Rab­bit? © Walt Dis­ney Pictures

One of the sem­i­nal influ­ences upon me [Mario] as a young boy, the film that made me see that ani­ma­tion could be some­thing other than ‘Dis­ney’, was the work you did on Tony Richardson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade. I’d like to ask you, what was the equiv­a­lent inspi­ra­tional piece for you? What brought you into ani­ma­tion?

Snow White!… When I was 5 years old, it’d just come out in Toronto, and my mother was an illus­tra­tor, so I knew this things were draw­ings you see. Because Dis­ney offered a job to her and she wouldn’t go, which was stu­pid… So I knew they were draw­ings. She said I was never the same again.

So I seri­ously wanted to do it and then I went to Dis­ney when I was 15. I earned money and I saved up my money and got on a bus from Toronto to Los Ange­les and walked up and down in front of the stu­dio for a month and a half, try­ing to get in… I was a fanatic! and [chuck­les] then, my mother had a friend who was in adver­tis­ing so (…) he set it up and I was there for 2 days meet­ing a lot of the peo­ple, it was fan­tas­tic as you can imag­ine and (…)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — PRNews­Foto © Walt Dis­ney Stu­dios Home Entertainment

There was a guy there, Dick Kelsey (…) and I said [to him] “What do I do? What do I do?” you know “What should I do, I want to be this ter­rific ani­ma­tor” and he said “For­get ani­ma­tion, go learn to draw” and I said “yeah but look I can…” but he said “yeah yeah car­toons… REALLY learn to draw”… when I was leav­ing LA I rang him up again and said “What should I do?” he said “I told you what to do: Learn to draw! REALLY learn to draw” that went [mim­ics ges­ture of gun shoot­ing at his head].

Shortly after, for some rea­son, I stum­bled into the art gallery and there was a room full of Rem­brandt and I’ve never seen them before, (…) and I said “Oh shit, this is, that’s what art is” and I burst into tears, you know, at this ter­rific thing, and I said “Fuck ani­ma­tion, I’m not inter­ested” and I got into art school (…) and then I ended up just being a painter (…) in Spain.

Richard Williams work­ing on The Ani­mated Raggedy Ann & Andy, 1977. Cour­tesy of Michael Sporn.

So you gave up on the idea for a while, what changed, how did your career in ani­ma­tion started?

Some­how or other I got this idea for this lit­tle island film, and my paint­ings were try­ing to move, and I kept think­ing “This is weird” and then I started doing this tiny lit­tle sto­ry­boards, I said “What the fuck am I doing?” and I used to like Paul Klee a lot, and there were like lit­tle things and it just took over (…) I worked on this pic­ture for 9 months doing a very elab­o­rate big sto­ry­board of the whole thing and went to Eng­land because, TV was open­ing and they had black and white com­mer­cials and I man­aged to get friendly with Eddie Radich Stu­dio, and they were very kind to me, they wouldn’t give me any work but they let me use the cam­era for a bit, advised me in all sorts of ways. (…)

Team photo of Richard Williams’ staff sit­ting in front of the Soho Square stu­dio. Cour­tesy of Michael Sporn.

When did you set up your own stu­dio?

62? some­thing around there… I never wanted a stu­dio but I was friends with George [Dun­ning] and he let me down on a lot of stuff and I just said “Oh, I’m going into com­pe­ti­tion now” [chuckles]

Still from The Yel­low Sub­ma­rine. Cour­tesy of Michael Sporn

An impor­tant piece of work of that time was The Yel­low Sub­ma­rine, wasn’t?

Yeah, at the same time, exactly at the same time, only theirs went every­where where as, because The Light Brigade was a metaphor for Viet­nam, the Amer­i­cans dropped it like a hot potato, so no one saw it. They showed it at the Acad­emy recently and they had five or six of us sur­viv­ing old men who worked on it, Vanessa Red­grave was there… and I was shocked it was so good, and I couldn’t believe it, when it started it was my stuff, it started with the ani­ma­tion… and I’ve for­got­ten that, and

I remem­ber think­ing ‘his will be a major impact” but then nobody saw [laughs] the film and every­body saw the Yel­low Sub.

Tony Richard­son.

But that was the nicest job. Richard­son was a mar­vel­lous guy to work with, I mean you could yell at him and… I remem­ber I was try­ing to do a Turner [as in the painter JMW Turner] and we were doing the illus­trated Lon­don news and he said ‘That’s shit, throw that out… that’s won­der­ful… go that way… have you got a fiver for the cab?’ [chuckles]

Still from The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1968.

So the idea of bas­ing the style on the Illus­trated Lon­don News and Punch car­toons of the era…

That was his, yeah. And he said he wanted to use ani­ma­tion and didn’t know any­body that could do it. And it was Tony Wal­ton [Stage and cos­tume designer] who said “get Dick, Dick can do it” so I showed the stuff and they trusted me, (…) they had a rough idea and a script (…) with 2 min­utes for the titles or some­thing and he said “I don’t care if nobody reads the cred­its, just make sure you show the Vic­to­rian age blos­som­ing, you know, the mas­ters of the world” and there was another 2 minute sec­tion on war fever… it’s just like now, you know… Iraq… it was exactly the same… and Vietnam.

And then there was this sec­tion where I had to take the fleet to Turkey and he said “but do it imag­i­na­tively, so it doesn’t look like we could’t afford to film the navy” right? And there was a 2 minute sec­tion where they had lost the bat­tle of Sebastopol, where they were ter­ri­bly beaten but of course we pre­tended it was this tremen­dous suc­cess, so it was an euphoric thing, we won [laughs] and he just let me run.

Richard Williams at his ani­ma­tion desk early 1987 in his Lon­don stu­dio. Cour­tesy of Hans Bacher.

At the time, Richard Williams’ Stu­dio was the stu­dio that could ani­mate any­thing, which was a very refresh­ing idea, very inspir­ing!

Yeah, that was my idea, because the Dis­ney peo­ple said “Oh, you have to get it for ani­ma­tion” and I said “why? they’re just draw­ings! Draw­ings that walk and talk”. They can be good draw­ings or funny draw­ings or ugly draw­ings it doesn’t mat­ter, so why not? “Oh no, you have to do it for animation”.

But in the end the cri­sis for me came through Chuck Jones, his best ani­ma­tor Ken Har­ris. I knew Chuck a bit and he liked my work and we were friends… friendly any­way, and I was rav­ing about Ken Har­ris’ work and he said “How can you tell Ken Har­ris’ work? it’s all mixed it in every­body else” I said “I can always tell it, he can draw slightly squarer” and I made notes when I was a kid when I see these things, and he said “Ok, tell me what he did” so I rat­tled off all these things and he said “Christ! you’re right! Well he’s left me now, he’s retired, he’s a car fanatic… Write to him about cars and maybe he’ll come an visit, his new wife (he just got mar­ried) is a trav­eller…” any­way, so I wrote a let­ter as a fan and back came a let­ter about cars and he came in with his wife and as the lift doors opened, there he was and I saw him laugh­ing and he said “Yeah I look like the coy­ote, don’t I?” [laugh­ter] Because Chuck drew Ken as the coy­ote. [laughter]

Some of the works pro­duced at Richard Williams Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio: “The Pink Pan­ther Strikes Again” (Main title sequence), “Casino Royale” (Main title sequence), “Who Framed Roger Rab­bit?” (Ani­ma­tion direction)

Any­way we hit it off and he stayed. He wasn’t inter­ested in travel so his wife would go trav­el­ling around Europe and he stayed and I got him ani­mat­ing, that was the start of The Thief. I thought, what kind of char­ac­ter could he do that would suit him, a bit like the coy­ote and it would be a silent char­ac­ter? So that’s how it started. Any­way, we had about 3 months with him and he went back to the States. And we had money then, so I said “Come on, please come back as long as you can”, so then it started, he was with me for 14 years.

He’d just come over and when we just fin­ished the Light Brigade, it was the first week in the Odeon, Leices­ter square, and the 4 or 5 of us who did all the work, sit­ting in the bal­cony with Ken. So the film goes through and at the end of it the lights come up and he says “Oh… God… I don’t know how you guys did all that cross hatch­ing… all that work…” and then he leans to me and he said “But it don’t move too good!“‘ [laugh­ter] and it was like [makes stran­gling ges­ture] and he was so mar­vel­lous at any­thing he did.

Ken Har­ris’ sketch for The Thief and the Cob­bler, 1993.

What was it like to work along­side with some­one like Ken Harris?

He did 3 times the amount of work we did, he came at the stu­dio at 7:30 in the morn­ing and opened it up and we were all stum­bling in at 11 and by noon he would have done 3 times the amount of work, and much bet­ter. He wasn’t a drafts­man or… he wasn’t sophis­ti­cated graph­i­cally, but he had per­fect taste even though he could’t do it, he just knew where to put everything.

It must have been 6 years work­ing with him and… Ken (..) said he did a draw­ing every foot, but it was a draw­ing every sec­ond, and I had to try and ani­mate and I would be doing all this draw­ings for him, and he was happy, but if I did too many he’d throw me out he’d say “damn it! You’re try­ing to ani­mate, get out of here”, he had a very bad tem­per and he had angina so he wasn’t allowed to be angry [laughs] his face would go red and he had to get out, any­way after 6 or 7 years, he would take my draw­ings and say “oh, that’s a good draw­ing” and he would cut the head off and paste it in a dif­fer­ent place, or he moved bits of them. And after 6 or 7 years he said “Hey Dick… You’re start­ing to put those things in the right place” and I said “yeah I’m get­ting it aren’t I? I’ve been [makes suck­ling noise] I’ve been drink­ing your blood and I’m get­ting it”, and he said “yeah… You could be an ani­ma­tor” and I was 38, some­thing like that and we had about 100 awards and all that stuff and I had to go to the toi­let and I sat on the steps […] and said “God damn! Amer­i­can ani­ma­tors they’re just move­ment mechan­ics, God damn! I’m an artist, they can’t draw” and I was rag­ing and about after 10 min­utes of this I thought “Yeah, I’m a fake” because he was an obvi­ous mas­ter, you know, when you start to know some­thing you start to realise how good the good ones are. (…) I went to work like crazy, and I did this thing with the magi­cian with the cards, have you seen that? That was my project, I went mad at home, I was work­ing over it and over it…

The next year he came over, (…) and I said “I want to show you this thing I’ve been work­ing on” so he looks at it and says “You’re get­ting the accents right, yeah you’re an ani­ma­tor” that was it!
And then later, about 3 years later he comes and says “Hey!”, now I’m like 45, older, more awards and all this shit, and he says “You could be a good ani­ma­tor!” [laughs out loud] This is all true!

He was a mas­ter ani­ma­tor, a virtuoso…Ken Har­ris did it all.” – Chuck Jones

And then in the end he was 82, he died at 84 and, this is just before he went to hos­pi­tal, I used to go I’d lay out these sequences [for the Thief and the Cobler], I was work­ing in Cal­i­for­nia and I would go to his mobile home and I’d lay out the shot, and he would always take a nap, (…) one day he didn’t get up, so I just kept work­ing and even­tu­ally after 2 or 3 hours, he gets up and he comes in and says “Oh God I’m so old, oh Jesus Christ, I couldn’t get up… oh! you’ve done the scene!” and I said “Well I just kept draw­ing I didn’t know what to do” and he said “Nice draw­ings!… [pause] That’s wrong!” [laughs our loud] and I said “Oh fuck, it’s going to die with you, I’ve had 12 years, I’ve been drink­ing your blood… 12 YEARS! and I’m never going to get it! It’s going to die with you!” and he went [snig­gers behind his mouth] and he said “You’ll be alright!”.
He [Ken Har­ris] was a mas­ter of the charts, he would think ahead, about 6 feet and when I’d be doing the lay­out draw­ings he would say “Well this is draw­ing 265, an impor­tant draw­ing” and I’d say “ok”… “now draw me 382″ and that’d be 2 sheets ahead!… “What?”

And then I found out later that he was very very sim­i­lar to Milt Kahl who was my next big teacher and Milt was the great vir­tu­oso and drew beau­ti­fully and every­thing, more sophis­ti­cated but it was very very sim­i­lar, so that was a big eye opener. I spent years try­ing to mas­ter and I finally got it [laughs] I think it was only 4 years ago.

Milt Kahl’s Sketches for the Jun­gle Book © Dis­ney Co.

Most ani­ma­tors and artists encounter a big hur­dle on their way to mas­ter­dom, an Ever­est to climb in the craft. Did you have such thing?

I’ve done so much draw­ing, so much life draw­ing, and after The Thief was lost I did another 10 years of seri­ous life draw­ing, so I don’t have any trouble.

Get­ting the thing in the right place, the spac­ing has always been a prob­lem. I mean to make it really con­vinc­ing.
I mean, when we were learn­ing ani­ma­tion these char­ac­ters used to run on the screen and they always looked ner­vous… When some­body good and an actor or musi­cian, they come out and play just one note and you relax and say some­thing like Milt’s tiger in the Jun­gle Book, when it comes out and you just “Holly Moses!” you just sit there and… It’s just Char­lie Chap­lin!
I worked for years, I mean I found it easy to get graphic stuff and make stuff funny but it was not well ani­mated, but it was funny! It was inter­est­ing but to make stuff live at that level, I would have to get lost in it for years try­ing to get it and I did!

Ken Har­ris, Grim Natwick, Art Bab­bit, Dick Pur­dom and Richard Williams in 1975. Cour­tesy of Michael Sporn.

And I’m hav­ing a har­vest now, I’m fear­less, I mean I’ve never been very, sounds very immod­est, but I can do exactly what I think. Most of the time I did it right the first time, but still, my num­bers, my arith­metics are crappy [laugh­ter] but I can divide space, I can divide time… Ken used to do it, he would get me to do a lit­tle dance for The Thief and he’d do it again and he could then do it and write it, so I got it and I can now do that… Finally! [laughter]

Memo sent by direc­tor of ani­ma­tion Richard Williams to his ani­ma­tion department.

Talk­ing about get­ting into char­ac­ter, Alec Guin­ness once said that the first thing he did was to get the walk right, you said some­thing sim­i­lar about ani­ma­tion, didn’t you?

Yes! well Ken said it “A walk is the hard­est thing to do… to do right” so any young ani­ma­tor should just do walks of all kinds and test them, all kinds: fat people’s walk, skinny people’s walk, furry walks… in those days. Just keep doing walks. Young guys when they ani­mate they have some story, they have some­body come in and they throw a bowl of soup at some­body and some­body hit some­body and some­body runs out and slips, they get all tan­gled up in all this stuff. They don’t know what they’re doing. Do walks! So, I did walks. Lots of them and I think that is the hard­est thing, then the next hard­est thing is to get the com­mand of the screen like Milt Kahl had or Frank Thomas or… They [makes suck­ing noise] grabbed the audi­ence by the cojones and hold them and I think any guy with any expe­ri­ence can do it with an idea or a strong graphic state­ment and bang, but to hold them for an hour? you know, like that? And that’s what I’m try­ing to do.

I bet­ter do it [laughs] or this is all bull­shit [laughs out loud]

Dick Williams’ notes from Art Babbitt’s lec­tures. Cour­tesy of Michael Sporn.

You used to organ­ise talks at your stu­dio with Bab­bit and Chuck Jones… and there a great legacy behind that, and on behalf of the ani­ma­tion com­mu­nity we’d like to thank you for keep­ing those skills alive and we know that you’ve con­tin­ued to do it with the Sur­vival Kit, the DVDs and so on…

Well that’s what I tried, I think that, well a book is good but I think the 16 DVDs, we really worked on that and so did Mo [Richard’s wife] she pro­duced it all. And a lot of that, because Bab­bit had sys­tem­a­tises every­thing, what I would do drink­ing the blood of these old guys, they all had dif­fer­ent words for dif­fer­ent things, you know I can’t think what, but… Bab­bit tried to sys­tem­a­tise it his way and then Milt would say some­thing else and Frank would say some­thing else and Ken would mut­ter some­thing… The way you would learn from Ken was… Mario had worked on Ken’s stuff and that’s a won­der­ful way to learn, isn’t? because I was his assis­tant doing in-between at night. DIrec­tor by day and in-betweener by night! [laughs]

So we sys­tem­a­tised every­thing and rammed it into this.

Page from The Animator’s Sur­vival Kit.

Ani­mated CG films are get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter, char­ac­ter ani­ma­tion wise and it seems as if some of the 2D legacy seems to be com­ing through in CGi movies. How do you feel about dig­i­tal animation?

Well, the Hor­ton Hears a Who? I was impressed by that, because they… That was Blue Sky, and they had obvi­ously built in the rig­ging that they could do more of the break­ing joints and stuff.
It wasn’t ter­ri­bly suc­cess­ful to my sur­prise, but the ani­ma­tion… You must see it, it had a lot of the stuff in it, and I thought “ooh! That’s a sur­prise!” much more than Pixar, it was much more… But it was a looser wilder idea, you know? Less of a Disney…

Yeah, I think is great, I mean ani­ma­tion has never been like this and of course some of the stuff must have gone in because we did 23 mas­ter classes and 90% of the peo­ple were CGI.

The first class we did was in Van­cou­ver, because we lived in Canada on an island, and it was right near Van­cou­ver and we thought Cana­di­ans would come but they didn’t there were 7 Cana­di­ans and the rest all they came from Dis­ney and 12 guys came from Pixar and they’ve just done Toy Story […] and I said “Lis­ten, I don’t know beans about CG, I mean I think you’re wast­ing your time” it was a three day course and they said half way through “95% of what you’re say­ing is per­fect for us, and it’s valu­able” and I said “I can’t believe that!” and they said “Well come on, we’ll show you” and we went down there and they showed me how it all worked and every­thing, which I didn’t under­stand, and then we got more of them, moun­tains of them includ­ing the good ones.

It’s from Bab­bit, Ken, Frank and Milt, my big teach­ers. Is their stuff, really.

I think 2D could very eas­ily make a come back, just make a really good movie, and it makes money [laughs] and then it’ll be back in fash­ion, it has to make money and the tal­ent goes where the money is, it has to.

Eric [Gold­berg] did a great job on the Alli­ga­tor, the trum­pet play­ing alli­ga­tor [The Princess and the Frog]… Have you seen it?

Eric Goldberg’s danc­ing alli­ga­tor for “The Princess and the Frog” © Dis­ney Co.

We haven’t yet, no.

Well, he did very well.

His work on the genie in Aladdin was fabulous!

You know? I’ve never seen it. Every­body says it’s at the top of his game.

The other guy who, nobody really knows about, who really taught me a lot is Emery Hawkins. He moved around every stu­dio, he got bored very eas­ily. He kept the same wife but every­thing else… The jobs all bored him and they all loved it. He worked with Dis­ney. Dis­ney had him in a room, very early on, fix­ing other people’s work, in a lit­tle room oppo­site Walt and they’d say “Take this work and make it bet­ter” and it was the good guy’s stuff andE­mery finally said “I can’t stand it… work­ing on other people’s work, I have to go”. He was Amer­i­can Indian and he had a non white, non wasp men­tal­ity, it was Indian, I don’t know what it was… and he was so imag­i­na­tive and Ken Har­ris said “Boy, you could be the best ani­ma­tor, not for the best draw­ing but for the best imag­i­na­tion”. He was a won­der­ful guy. We went to New Mex­ico with him, he was falling apart. Mo fell in love with him. Ter­rific guy and ter­rific mind, what a mind he had! And he was off, he said “I can’t stand the rules! I have to break the rules!” But he’d mas­ter them all, but he was con­stantly break­ing them, even as an old guy… But he was off the wall!

He said “Don’t go from A to B, go to A to X to B, go to some­where else in the mid­dle” which always works, he was anti-pedantic, where as Bab­bit was com­pletely pedan­tic… but great!

Richard plays the trum­pet, while Hans Bacher works on an in-between test at his desk for Roger Rab­bit, 1986. Cour­tesy of Hans Bacher.

How much of the ani­ma­tion craft can only be learnt and how much can only be dis­cov­ered through instinct and exploration?

I think it depends on the per­son, because each per­son goes into it in their own nat­ural way, like my way in would be draw­ing; Ken’s way in was to know where to put every­thing; Frank Thomas’ way in was with his mighty genius brain, um… I don’t know about Milt, he said he had no idea what he would have become, he said there wasn’t any sign that he would become ter­rific but he seemed to be nat­u­rally cre­ated for the medium, the medium was per­fect for him and I noticed that all the ani­ma­tors, the good ones, they’re all musi­cal, they all play instru­ments or they’re very musi­cal, or with a high appre­ci­a­tion of it. They’re all in one way or another ath­letic, they’re coor­di­nated at some sport or some phys­i­cal thing and they’re all intel­li­gent and as my son said, as a 15 year old I was tak­ing down through all the stu­dios and he says “Why are all the good guys nor­mal?” [laughter]

Would you tell us a bit of what you’ve been work­ing on recently?

Well, I just fin­ished a… I’ve been car­ry­ing around a film, on the cir­cus, that I did from years ago when I was draw­ing and paint­ing cir­cus peo­ple and I never fin­ished the lit­tle film and I just fin­ished, because we moved I’ve been car­ry­ing the tins around for 45 years, and when we moved, my wife Mo said “Why don’t you just fin­ish that?” and we’re just fin­ish­ing, that’s just a lit­tle 9 minute short but I’ve been on a big one. And peo­ple say “what’s it called?” and I say it’s called “Will I live to fin­ish this?” [laughs]

I don’t like to talk too much about unborn stuff but it’s using all the things I can do, so it’s in dif­fer­ent styles, it changes in dif­fer­ent styles. It’s all on paper, there’s hardly any cels and it’s, I can’t describe it, It’s unlike any­thing anybody’s done, it might be a bit like stu­dent films, because they try all sorts of things, but they can’t do it [laughs] it’s like a stu­dent film but with 60 years of seri­ous work and experience.

I thought of this thing when I was 15 years old and I thought “God, I won­der if I could ever do that, get good enough and 10 years ago I said “Well, I bet­ter start!” [laughs] no, seri­ously, I may die before it’s fin­ished and…

How far along are you?
I’m not quite sure, I have an awful lot of story boards and ref­er­ence mate­r­ial and all sort of tests and I’ve got about 8 min­utes, but it’s quite elab­o­rate, so I work like a stu­dent. I’ve gone full cir­cle, you know?

Thanks very much for your time!
It’s been a lovely expe­ri­ence.

Is that ok? I can’t stop talk­ing! If you can put all that in 5 sen­tences! [laughs]
See you around I hope.

  1. The Animator’s Sur­vival Kit Dick’s offi­cial website.
  2. The Animator’s Sur­vival Kit Buy the kit!
  3. Mas­ter Ani­ma­tor Ken Har­ris’ trib­ute website.
  4. Michael Sporn A tal­ented NY animator.
  5. Ani­ma­tion Trea­sures Hans Bacher’s blog.

I make images that move and images that don’t, for ads, pro­mos, film and TV, for kids and grownups and some­times just to amuse myself.

Cre­ator of one­huge­eye. Founder and direc­tor at Lon­don based Stu­dio Tinto. Dad. Cof­fee addict.

Comments (6)

05.04.10

André Bergs

Filed under: Interviews — Tags: , , — Will DuToit @ 11:50 pm

André Bergs is a Dutch ani­ma­tor cre­ator of the popular-gone-viral short ani­ma­tion Pivot, designed and ani­mated by Kevin Megens, Floris Vos, Arno de Grijs and Andre Bergs, it was nom­i­nated for best short film at the Dutch Film Fes­ti­val, won the “Best Local” award at the Play­grounds Fes­ti­val and was screened at the Anima ani­ma­tion film fes­ti­val in Brus­sels. André trained at the Hogeschool voor de Kun­sten Utrecht, he coaches a Maya work­shop on a vari­ety of sub­jects and runs his own ani­ma­tion Com­pany called Plas­tiek.


How did you and your team come up the con­cept and the unique style?

In 2008 I was asked to make a short ani­ma­tion on a Dutch poem. The pro­duc­ers at ilLus­ter gave me com­plete free­dom to exper­i­ment, and what fol­lowed was a gritty short where I exper­i­mented with a low-poly style and ani­mat­ing on dou­bles. (you can view that short here).

It was a very rough exper­i­ment, but it did show that a 3D low poly style can actu­aly have a more ‘real’ feel­ing than some more real­is­tic 3D ani­ma­tions. When ilLus­ter sent me the sce­nario of Pivot, we imme­di­ately agreed that this kind of story could work realy well with the low-poly style. I then asked Arno de Grijs, Floris Vos and Kevin Megens if they’d like to work on it with me, and take the con­cept and style to a higher level.


Where do you get your inspi­ra­tion from when work­ing on a film like this?

We had a cou­ple of evenings where we would all bring in visual inspi­ra­tion from illus­tra­tions, photo’s, ani­ma­tion and films. This was really help­full to think and talk about the direc­tion where we were going with the film.

Big inspi­ra­tions were old films, like ‘M’, the ‘third man’, and ‘das cab­i­net des Dr. Cali­gari’. Graph­i­cally the work of Saul Bass, Oskar Fischinger and the Hell­boy comics were a big inspi­ra­tion. All in all we col­lected around a thou­sand images and movieclips for inspi­ra­tion, so the pool of inspi­ra­tion was very deep.


How big was the team?

The core of the team con­sisted of four peo­ple. Arno de Grijs, Floris Vos, Kevin Megens and myself. We share a stu­dio in Utrecht and man­aged the project as a team. The music and sound­de­sign was made by Alex Debicki. Fur­ther­more we had tech­ni­cal assis­tance from our intern Bram Vleugel. And when time was get­ting tight, Patrick Chin helped us out with some char­ac­ter ani­ma­tion. So all in all seven peo­ple put their backs into it.


How long was it in pro­duc­tion for?

Half a year from start to end. We had a strict dead­line, since it was planned to be pre­miered at the Dutch Film­fes­ti­val. And of course we didn’t want to miss our own premiere.


How did you end up as the direc­tor of Pivot?

We had a big bat­tle royale where the last man stand­ing would be boss over the rest. And I was the one who faught the dirtiest.

No, really we picked up the project very much as a team. I was respon­s­able for the film as a whole, but vir­tu­ally all the choices made, were made by the team. And all the con­flicts of ideas and dis­cus­sions we had really brought out the best in the film.


What tools did you and your team use when mak­ing Pivot?

The sets and char­ac­ters were made in 3D stu­dio Max and Cin­ema 4D. We then imported them in Maya, where we did all the rig­ging, ani­ma­tion, effects ‚light­ing and cam­eras. The final com­posit was done in After effects, and the edit in Premiere.


Do you have any sug­ges­tions for other aspir­ing ani­ma­tion film­mak­ers on how to pro­duce a high qual­ity film like this?

We spent a lot of time on the mood­board, sto­ry­board design and R&D phase. Allthough it made the actual pro­duc­tion time a bit tight. It really did pay off in the end. We had a very clear image of where we were going with the film, didn’t have to make big adjust­ments on the shots from the sto­ry­board and knew which effects would work, and which would not. So we had a very clear path to fol­low, this way every­body was on the same page and we could really pick up the pace in the production.

As a film maker myself I know that it’s tempt­ing to start mak­ing the film as soon as pos­si­ble. But the time you spend in the begin­ning will defen­itly pay itself back later on. So take your time at the start, and know where you’re going before you actu­ally go.


I under­stand the film has been get­ting some pos­i­tive feed­back around the world at var­i­ous ani­ma­tion fes­ti­vals. Where can peo­ple look out for it?

We’ve had some great feed­back on the film from a lot of peo­ple and fes­ti­vals. On Vimeo the views even passed the 160.000, wich is pretty awe­some, and it’s really nice to see all the extra effort we’ve put into it being picked up and appre­ci­ated so much. For now I know for sure that the film will be played at:

  1. Pivot Offi­cial website.
  2. Plas­tiek André’s Company.
  3. Soul­base Floris Vos.
  4. Art­ib­ite Kevin Megens.
  5. Alex Debicki Music production.
  6. il Lus­ter Distribution.

A pro­fes­sional ani­ma­tor work­ing in the games indus­try, since 1999 Will has been ani­mat­ing for sev­eral major game titles in South Africa, Eng­land and cur­rently Denmark.

Comments (1)

15.02.10

Andrew Grisdale

Filed under: Interviews — Tags: , , , , , , — Will DuToit @ 2:08 pm

Andy Gris­dale has been involved in var­i­ous types of ani­ma­tion through­out his career and has worked on a num­ber of excit­ing projects rang­ing from con­sole games for Xbox and Playsta­tion 2, to theme park attrac­tions, com­mer­cials and stun­ning cin­e­matic sequences for games such as Bioshock and Fable 2.

Andrew has spent the past 8 years hoard­ing a wealth of expe­ri­ence in very excit­ing projects. After work­ing for sev­eral stu­dios in Eng­land, he moved to the United Stated where he first joined Blur Stu­dios in Los Ange­les for just over a year before join­ing Pixar Ani­ma­tion Stu­dios in Emeryville, Cal­i­for­nia where he’s cur­rently work­ing as a lay­out artist on Toy Story 3.


You are cur­rently work­ing at Pixar. Can you tell us how you ended up there?

I started ani­mat­ing as a hobby back in the early 90s which led me to art school and even­tu­ally a degree in ani­ma­tion. My first three jobs were for games com­pa­nies in Eng­land. I wasn’t espe­cially inter­ested in the games indus­try and so in the mean­time I was mak­ing my own short films at home. I made two of them — ‘The Cir­cle’ and ‘The Green Miaow’. They look crude now but these shorts led to my being hired at Blur Stu­dio in Los Ange­les which was artis­ti­cally a huge move for me, col­lab­o­rat­ing on much more cin­e­matic pieces. I was there for three years before some larger stu­dios started to call. Although Blur was a great place to work I couldn’t say no when Pixar invited me to join them. i feel like cre­at­ing my own work was the most cru­cial step in get­ting here.


What is it about ani­ma­tion that made you choose it as your career?

I had an inter­est in film mak­ing from a very young age. When I was start­ing col­lege I thought I was going to go into live action film mak­ing but I quickly got dis­cour­aged by the lack of con­trol I had over the com­po­nents of a film — actors, light­ing, weather and so on. I was already com­fort­able with ani­ma­tion with which I could more eas­ily real­ize my ideas and have more fun with it. You’re only lim­ited by tal­ent and time. When I was at Blur I started to do lay­out pro­fes­sion­ally and in that area I really found my niche as it is the most filmic part of the ani­ma­tion process and I enjoyed it a lot.


What do you like the most about the type of work you do?

It’s just really fun to start a new sequence and to cre­ate a new Pixar scene from scratch. In lay­out we really work out the nuts and bolts of how the film is going to work in three dimen­sions. Aside from fig­ur­ing out the logis­tics we’re free to exper­i­ment as much as we please with the stag­ing, com­po­si­tion and cam­era work so we’re a big part of the film mak­ing process which is very satisfying.


Who or what inspires your per­sonal and pro­fes­sional work?

I’m mostly inspired by live action film­mak­ers — Kubrick, Hitch­cock, Lean, Scors­ese — all the usual sus­pects. PT Ander­son is my favourite work­ing right now. Scour­ing the inter­net for art blogs pro­vides an infi­nite source of inspi­ra­tion too. I’m for­tu­nate to live in an inspir­ing part of the world and to be sur­rounded by many tal­ented people.


What lessons have you learnt from you var­i­ous roles in games and films?

My years of work have taught me to have a plan and stick to it. Think about what you’re going to do do before you do it. I try to be as organ­ised as pos­si­ble. To build up my work in lay­ers and to do one thing after another. To com­mu­ni­cate as much as pos­si­ble with every­one you’re work­ing with. Keep track of how long tasks take so that you can best judge how long things will take to do in the future. But how well I stick to my own advice is another question…


Hav­ing tran­si­tioned from games to films, how do you think these two medi­ums are different?

From an ani­ma­tion stand­point there are obvi­ous dif­fer­ences — act­ing in ani­mated film ver­sus shorter actions and loops for games — but, really, the tools and the process are pretty much the same and you always try to cre­ate the finest qual­ity you can. I do remem­ber work­ing in games as being more repet­i­tive but it was still enjoy­able for the most part. I haven’t worked in games for quite a while so maybe things are chang­ing with this gen­er­a­tion of technology.


I know that you enjoy work­ing on your own ani­ma­tion shorts. Are there any more of them in the pipeline?

Nope! I would love to do another but this job takes too much out of me.


What are your tools of choice when animating?

Pixar has it’s own soft­ware which I really like using. Com­mer­cially, I like to use Max for most things but for ani­ma­tion I would say Maya is my favourite.


With films like Avatar and Up grac­ing the screens last year which take the art form of ani­ma­tion to new lev­els, where do you see ani­ma­tion going in the next few years?

Up, and espe­cially Avatar, had huge amounts of resources poured into them and it’s great for the indus­try that they’re doing so well. I’m more excited about how Cora­line and Fan­tas­tic Mr Fox went down so well. The ani­ma­tion indus­try is much cooler with those kind of films in it.


If you were a sur­vivor from the zom­bie apoc­a­lypse and you couldn’t do ani­ma­tion for a liv­ing, what would you be doing instead?
Hmm… hope­fully, build­ing boats to sail away on.

  1. Andrew’s offi­cial web­site A closer look at his work.
  2. Pixar Ani­ma­tion Stu­dios Andrew’s place of work.

A pro­fes­sional ani­ma­tor work­ing in the games indus­try, since 1999 Will has been ani­mat­ing for sev­eral major game titles in South Africa, Eng­land and cur­rently Denmark.

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31.01.10

Eric Walls

Filed under: Interviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Alex Amelines @ 6:33 pm

With 20 years of expe­ri­ence in the ani­ma­tion indus­try, Eric is an excep­tion­ally skilled ani­ma­tor in both CG and tra­di­tional ani­ma­tion. His impres­sive port­fo­lio con­tains names such as Dream­works, Walt Dis­ney Ani­ma­tion Stu­dios, Warner Broth­ers, and Rhythm & Hues among oth­ers. Some of his most recent projects are The Princess and the Frog, Alvin and the Chip­munks: The Squeakquel, Bolt and Meet the Robin­sons. He stud­ied ani­ma­tion at Cal­i­for­nia Insti­tute of Arts, in Valen­cia, Cal­i­for­nia, where he was awarded a par­tial Dis­ney Schol­ar­ship. He’s even pub­lished a children’s book, which he wrote and illus­trated: The Har­bor Light, pub­lished by Kregel Publications.


As an ani­ma­tor, do you have any pref­er­ence between 2D and 3D?

I hon­estly love both. Each has its own unique pluses and minuses, and I love the chal­lenges both bring. To me, ani­ma­tion has always been about the per­for­mance of the char­ac­ter, cre­at­ing a believ­able and relat­able per­sona you care about.


And as a spectator?

Both forms of film hold won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties for cre­ativ­ity, imag­i­na­tion and style. I love films that pull you in and make you believe in and care for the char­ac­ters, regard­less of the medium used to achieve that goal.


How long had you been doing 2D when you first decided to learn CG, and how did you find the transition?

I was a 2D ani­ma­tor for about 10 years before I started learn­ing CG. It was a lit­tle daunt­ing at first, but since I’m an ana­lyt­i­cal per­son by nature, I wasn’t scared off by the tech­ni­cal side of things. Once I wrapped my head around the tools and how they affect the ani­ma­tion, it became sec­ond nature and I could con­cen­trate on the most impor­tant thing — cre­at­ing a performance.

I recently had the priv­i­lege to tran­si­tion back to 2D for a time to ani­mate on The Princess and the Frog for Dis­ney. I thor­oughly enjoyed the return to famil­iar ground. Then, it was back to CG for my next project. I feel so for­tu­nate to have the oppor­tu­nity for the variety.


Do you think CG is killing tra­di­tional animation?

No. I think there are sev­eral rea­sons why CG is at the fore­front of ani­ma­tion cur­rently. But I don’t think tra­di­tional ani­ma­tion is being “killed.” It’s just been pushed aside for the time being.

There’s a lot of room in the mar­ket­place for medium diver­sity. The last few years have been a mix of ani­mated films, mostly CG, but also tra­di­tional, stop-motion, as well as some new forms of ani­ma­tion. Great sto­ries, appeal­ing char­ac­ters, and unique expe­ri­ences are what make great films, and they are not exclu­sive to one par­tic­u­lar medium. Hope­fully we’ll see a bet­ter bal­ance of medi­ums in the not too dis­tant future.


What do you like ani­mat­ing the least?

I’d say any­thing not char­ac­ter per­for­mance related can become tedious for me. I know I keep repeat­ing myself, but it’s all about char­ac­ter to me.


How does life as a fam­ily man get along with the long hours of an animator?

It is tough at times, I must say. Fam­ily is num­ber one in my book. So when crunch time hits, I am very aware that I must be on guard to MAKE time avail­able. Work ethic is extremely impor­tant to me too, but a per­son can’t live their life at the stu­dio. I work with my employ­ers to have some flex­i­bil­ity in my work sched­ule at times.


You have worked with very tal­ented and renowned direc­tors and ani­ma­tors, is there any­one left you would like to work with?

Yes, I have been blessed to have worked with many great peo­ple in the ani­ma­tion field. Down-to-earth and approach­able peo­ple who make you feel part of a team, respect you, and value your expe­ri­ence and input.

The per­son I’d most like to work with is, actu­ally, who­ever is the next per­son or group of peo­ple I work with. Every­one has their own unique expe­ri­ences, skills and ideas, and the more peo­ple I col­lab­o­rate with, the more I’ll learn and grow as an artist.


Do you have any inten­tions of tak­ing your children’s book, ‘The Har­bor Light,’ into an animation?

I actu­ally started the idea as an ani­mated project. I had hopes of cre­at­ing a 30 minute, direct-to-video fea­turette with it. But from the very begin­ning, I wanted to do some­thing per­sonal, some­thing under my own com­plete cre­ative con­trol. As time went on, I real­ized a fully ani­mated project was a bit beyond my means, so my focus shifted to a more man­age­able form, and the idea to turn it into a 32 page children’s pic­ture book came in to being. There is noth­ing like hav­ing your own cre­ation and see­ing it through all the steps to completion.


Are you cur­rently work­ing on any new projects of your own?

Yes. I’m just fin­ish­ing up on a new children’s pic­ture book, my sec­ond. After that, I plan to move right on to my third pic­ture book idea, while con­tin­u­ing to develop a novel aimed toward an older audience.


How would you explain your job to a 90 year old lady who’s never seen a CG animation?

I’ve always found it a chal­lenge to con­vey to oth­ers exactly what an ani­ma­tor does, and the process they use to cre­ate a per­for­mance. I’ve sat down many times at my ani­ma­tion desk or my com­puter screen and shown in sum­ma­rized terms the steps to ani­mat­ing. They seem to under­stand it to a degree, and are always amazed to dis­cover the time and effort it takes. But in the end, I know it still eludes them. It seems “mag­i­cal” to them.

But I think that’s the way it should be. To cre­ate a char­ac­ter from absolute noth­ing that you could believe lives and breathes and feels and emotes, but is cre­ated through a tedious process one frame at a time over a period of weeks and weeks – how could that be any­thing but magic?

  1. Dis­ney­land minia­tures and stuff Eric’s per­sonal blog.
  2. Ani­ma­tion port­fo­lio A close look at his work.
  3. The Har­bor Light Buy his book!
  4. IMDb Eric’s filmography.

Cre­ator of one­huge­eye. Founder and direc­tor at Lon­don based Stu­dio Tinto. Dad. Cof­fee addict.

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16.01.10

Jeff Pratt

Filed under: Interviews — Tags: , , , — Alex Amelines @ 9:22 pm

Jeff Pratt has had a fas­ci­nat­ing (slightly mean­der­ing) career. After many years work­ing as a space shut­tle engi­neer for NASA, Jeff swapped the ‘infi­nite and beyond’ for a graphic design and com­puter ani­ma­tion path, which he kicked off with none other than Pixar, join­ing the teams behind ‘Toy Story’ 1 and 2, ‘A Bug’s Life’, ‘Mon­sters Inc’. and (as modeller/rigger) ‘Find­ing Nemo’. Then, after gath­er­ing bun­dles of expe­ri­ence as an ani­ma­tion monk he moved on, log­i­cally, to become a mas­ter and pass on his wis­dom. First at Expres­sion Col­lege just out­side of San Fran­cisco and finally at Escape Stu­dios in the United King­dom, where he cur­rently works.


What made you leave sunny Cal­i­for­nia and come to England?

My part­ner at the time was trans­ferred to Lon­don. I had lived in San Fran­cisco for 14 years so when a chance to try liv­ing in Lon­don came up it sounded like a some­thing worth try­ing out.


Have you ever attempted any tra­di­tional 2D animation?

No, I went straight into 3D in Art School.


What would you say to those who believe that 3D ani­ma­tion is like rocket science?

Ha ha ha… Well, I should know what Rocket Sci­ence is like hav­ing worked at NASA for 8 years. The User inter­faces in 3D pack­ages are get­ting more and more user friendly, so some aspects of 3D ani­ma­tion are actu­ally not very tech­ni­cal at all. Now if you are talk­ing FX then that’s a dif­fer­ent story.


Is it pos­si­ble to be a good 3D char­ac­ter ani­ma­tor with­out the tech­ni­cal knowl­edge of rigging?

Yes, if you are able to be work­ing in a larger stu­dio where ani­ma­tors are only doing ani­ma­tion and there are whole mod­el­ing and rig­ging depart­ments to sup­port production.


What has given you the high­est sense of accom­plish­ment as an animator?

Sit­ting in a the­atre and watch­ing a film I ani­mated and observ­ing the audi­ence reac­tion to my work. Hav­ing an audi­ence laugh at your shot is a great thrill.


And as a teacher?

Hav­ing a stu­dent who came into my class not inter­ested in the class leave the class excited about the sub­ject and want to learn more.


How are you find­ing being a teacher after all those hec­tic years at Pixar?

It’s a lot of fun work­ing with stu­dents who are all excited and have lots of energy and ideas and it is allot less stress­ful than pro­duc­tion and much bet­ter hours.


Is there a golden era of ani­ma­tion? Do you think this is it?

There have been a num­ber or Golden Eras in ani­ma­tion. The Dis­ney Clas­sic ani­ma­tion Bambi, Fan­ta­sia, etc. Then the sec­ond golden age, Lit­tle Mer­maid through Lion King. And yes I think this is kind of a third Golden time in Animation.


Do you cur­rently have any per­sonal ani­mated projects in progress?

No, I’ve been too busy devel­op­ing my ani­ma­tion course here at Escape to have time for a per­sonal project these days.


If you were a famous ani­mated char­ac­ter who would you be?

Arthur from The Sword in the Stone. For one it’s my favourite Dis­ney clas­sic ani­ma­tion and sec­ond I’m always chang­ing and try­ing new things.

  1. Escape Stu­dio Jeff’s pro­file page.
  2. British Air­ways Inter­view Inter­est­ing video inter­view with Jeff Pratt.

Cre­ator of one­huge­eye. Founder and direc­tor at Lon­don based Stu­dio Tinto. Dad. Cof­fee addict.

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05.01.10

Nick Cross

Filed under: Interviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — Alex Amelines @ 9:05 pm

Nick Cross is an award-winning ani­ma­tor and inde­pen­dent film-maker liv­ing in Ottawa, Canada. He’s played a key role in the pro­duc­tion of sev­eral ani­mated fea­tures such as Ren & Stimpy ‘Adult Party Car­toon’ and Rupert, not for­get­ting his per­sonal projects: The Waif of Perse­phone and Yel­low Cake. Nick’s port­fo­lio con­tains clients such as Nel­vana, Spumco, Nick­elodeon and New Line Entertainment.


You have been in almost every job on the ani­ma­tion pro­duc­tion line, from set dec­o­ra­tor to edi­tor, pro­ducer, writer, ani­ma­tor to direc­tor.
In which role do you feel most comfortable?

I think that the role that I enjoy the most is the art direc­tion aspect of mak­ing films. I really like to play around with mood and colour and plac­ing char­ac­ters into those set­tings. I guess I just enjoy the idea of cre­at­ing new worlds and envi­ron­ments; that’s the best part of ani­ma­tion and film-making for me.


Your per­sonal projects have taken many years to pro­duce. Do they stray a lot from the orig­i­nal idea in that time or how do you man­age to stay on course?

Since all of the edit­ing in an ani­mated film takes place at the begin­ning, it gives me a firm frame­work to work around. If that weren’t the case, it would be really hard to resist the temp­ta­tion to keep chang­ing things as I go until the final film no longer resem­bles the story that I orig­i­nally intended to make. It’s like being a long-distance run­ner, you need to have dis­ci­pline to make it to the fin­ish line.


How do you fund your projects?

I fund them with my com­mer­cial work. The sad real­ity is that short films rarely pay for them­selves so they have to be more of a labour of love. The down­side of hav­ing to self-finance my work is that I have to pri­or­i­tize my time in favour of work that pays the bills. The fact that I pay for the films myself gives me all the free­dom that I want, but on the down­side, that’s one of the main rea­sons why my films take so long to produce.


Most ani­ma­tion stu­dents have at least one idea for an ani­mated short but they don’t have (yet) the advan­tage of earn­ing for com­mer­cial work. What advice would you offer them in order to see it finished?

Just have con­fi­dence. It’s inevitable that a film­maker will lose moti­va­tion as they work on an ani­mated film. It’s just such a long and some­times a tedious process. You always get to a point where you start to ques­tion your­self and the valid­ity of your work. You just have to push all of that aside and have con­fi­dence in your orig­i­nal vision, in what got you inter­ested in start­ing the project in the first place. That’s all it takes, really — per­haps it’s eas­ier said that done, but that’s the one thing that I’ve learned in 11 years of mak­ing my own inde­pen­dent films.


How would you sum up the under­ly­ing social mes­sage in the Waif of Persephone?

I think I would have a hard time sum­ming it up. I don’t usu­ally start a new film intend­ing it to have a moral or a mes­sage. They usu­ally just encap­su­late a lot of ideas that I have in my head at that par­tic­u­lar time. How­ever, I think the main theme for that film is about how good inten­tions are almost always destroyed by greed.


What’s the ani­ma­tion work you’re most proud of?

That’s hard to say. Like a lot of artists, I am pretty crit­i­cal of them, but I think that I have reached a point where I’m start­ing to feel proud of some of my most recent work and Yel­low Cake in par­tic­u­lar. I think that all the dif­fer­ent parts from story to ani­ma­tion and back­ground styling came together quite well in the fin­ished product.


Indeed, the style and grad­ing of Yel­low Cake are very unique. What do you reckon is the secret ingredient?

I don’t know if there is a secret ingre­di­ent. The style is just my nat­ural way of work­ing; the only real look that I intended to put in the film is a height­ened amount of con­trast between the light and the darks. I wanted there to be deep, dark shad­ows to empha­size a sense of fore­bod­ing in a sub­tle way.


Is there another Nick Cross short in the pipeline? Can you give us a hint about what it is?

I actu­ally have two new films that I am work­ing on right now. One is still just a zygote of an idea and doesn’t really have a solid plot yet. The other is a shorter film then my last few; it will only be about 5 or 6 min­utes in length. It takes place on a farm and involves a fox steal­ing chick­ens. That’s about all I can reveal at this point, since I’m still sto­ry­board­ing it and I don’t quite have all the plot points fig­ured out yet.


If aliens stole your ani­ma­tion and artis­tic pow­ers, what could you do for a living?

I orig­i­nally wanted to be a biol­o­gist and a lot of the jobs I had before I got into ani­ma­tion were work­ing with ani­mals. When I was a lit­tle kid and peo­ple would ask what I wanted to do for a liv­ing, I would always say that I wanted to be a zookeeper. I still love sci­ence and I’m addicted to nature pro­grams, so I don’t think I would be totally lost if the art thing ever fell through.

  1. Pyatyletka Nick’s per­sonal blog.
  2. Nick Cross on Vimeo Watch his per­sonal work.
  3. IMDb Read about his long film credits.
  4. Buy The Waif of Perse­phone on DVD Sup­port Nick!

Cre­ator of one­huge­eye. Founder and direc­tor at Lon­don based Stu­dio Tinto. Dad. Cof­fee addict.

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