Monday, April 16, 2012

Animation: Three Lists

Spruce buds.

For the past year, starting right after I finished my last short film, I have been wondering if I should continue to animate short films. There's a number of reasons for that:

1) Short films take a long time to make. The last one probably took me 12-15 months of solid work, over a period of four years, to complete. That's an extreme example, though - all my other ones took 2-6 months each.

2) Short film animation does not pay the bills.

3) I've been wondering what the purpose is of telling a story in the first place. I think our culture is already saturated with distractions in the form of constant interpersonal communication and storytelling entertainment (video games, youtube, TV and film.) Why do I want to contribute to that?


About a month ago, I had a fairly well put-together animation idea and started working on it. I opened a new project on my computer, began plotting the movement of some birds for the first shot, and within twenty minutes I stopped, closed the program, and said to myself, "Nope. I don't want to do this any more." I wasn't ready to start on a journey that would certainly consume me and 4-8 months of my life. It didn't feel fun or interesting. So why bother?


However, since I've been back in Canada, things have been shifting again. Creative energy is building like water behind a dam. It has a lot to do with the following, I think: (I love lists!)

1) I had a hankerin' to learn about the history of animation, and picked up a book called "Animation - The Whole Story" by Howard Beckerman. I learned this stuff in animation school, years ago, but I never had an interest in the information like I do now.

As I read about early films, I look them up on Youtube and watch them. It is incredible to learn and understand the roots of the artform, to watch the evolution, see what has changed and what has stayed the same. It's amazing to see the magnificent experiments that people were doing in the 1920's, especially in Europe. I had no idea there was already such a rich diversity in the medium only a couple decades after it was invented.

It's nice to take a step back and get a bigger view of the medium of animation as a whole. It helps gives some context to my own practice.

2) I've been doing a lot of sketch-painting and storyboard sketching. They have been fueling my creative battery, and habituating me to say 'yes' to every idea, instead of 'not good enough.' (see previous blog post)

3) The powerful beauty of Canada's West Coast is surrounding me and filling me up. These huge Douglas Firs and Cedars, the dark, cold ocean, the deer, otters, the loons and ducks.. There's something about this place that has always filled me with a feeling of mystery and magic and awe that fuels my imagination.

4) I've been reading two of my favorite comic book series. Both are black-and-white Japanese comics (manga) from the 1980's: "Appleseed" by Masamune Shirow and "Akira" by Katsushiro Otomo. I've read both of these series five or six times, and every time I'm absolutely stunned by the level of detail in each panel, the magnificent cinematic compositions, the incredible design, the anatomical and cartoon-y renderings, and the great storytelling. They are huge, time-consuming works - Akira is over 2000 pages! They were obviously a labour of love. They inspire me.


So it seems that these things have broken the animation-dam. The last years' problems about storytelling, animation not being profitable and taking too long boil down to this:

1) Is storytelling useless? Am I just another guy making another thing that is glutting people's lives and minds, when they should be out going for a walk? Again, this is not an issue. It's not about other people. I love thinking of stories, I love creating worlds on the page and on the screen. It would be cruel to myself to stop doing it.

2) It doesn't matter if short-film animation doesn't make good money. If I go into any art-making thinking about it as a business, it's going to restrict and limit my work. So money is only an issue in that it's crucial that I completely get it out of my head when I'm making art. To make that easier, I've decided to teach more regularly so I have steady income, which means I no longer have to think about my art as a business.

3) It doesn't matter how long animation takes. You do a little, a day at a time, because you love it. Don't worry about the big picture of a finished film. Maybe the daily animation won't even be a film. Just animate because you love it.

I'm looking forward to sharing some of the clips I create on this blog. Along with whatever other sketches / paintings / photos happen along the way.

If anyone lives near Vancouver, my last short film, The Perfect Detonator, will be screening at Vancity theatre at 9:00 am, on Thursday April 19, as part of the Reel2Reel Film Festival. Q&A afterwards.

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