I’ve been doing a lot of introspection lately, and the foggy parts of my mind are starting to become clearer in regards of working with animation. Maybe is a little bit of the sleep deprived status I’m in, or the books and posts of blogs I’ve read recently. I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that there were some mistakes I did and I´ll make my best to not repeat them. I hope that you can learn from those mistakes and do it even better than anyone else has done it before!
One of the articles that resonated deep within me was this one, wrote by Patrick Smith at the Scribble Junkies blog (his partner in the blog is Bill Plympton, so bookmark it!). In that post, Smith has 4 vital points and adds a fifth by Plympton. This article, and the one I’m quoting, are focused on animated shorts, but I think it will work anywhere else.
The first advice tells you to Be honest, be yourself, push originality and base your idea for your film on personal experience. I agree even more now than at the beginning of my education at Vancouver Films School. I couldn’t copy much, because I’m not the greatest and most skillful artist on the planet… so I tried to tell a story that was close to my heart. Now I know that it was a good call. No one sees the world in the way you see it, and that’s the plus you can give. Having heroes is a great deal of inspiration, and they say imitation is flattery but at the moment of developing an idea, that comes across as a “Me-too” look, instead of an “I-am”. That originality is what sets apart a Chuck Jones from Tex Avery, Ted Newton or Brad Bird. But what comes across as originality is that they were honest enough to let some parts of their personality shine trough their work.
The second one says: Make all your ideas as simple as possible, and try to keep films short in length I learned that the hard way, by stumbling upon the same rock twice. You can tell a story in 30 seconds, flat, with all the action you might want (for a character driven piece, full of acting, I think you need more, at least 1 minute…but then again, I might be wrong as well). I wish I knew that one from the start. Here’s a video that proves that short short film can be good:
The third advice is Make your film for yourself, don’t make it to get a job after graduation, or a series on cartoon network, this thinking will only backfire. I couldn’t agree more. You have more than enough learning how to animate, storytelling principles, timing, etc. to add the total and unnecessary pressure of thinking that this is your golden ticket for stardom (and a Job). It might be, but If you have something that they haven’t seen so far it would be better, making advice number one even more important. Also, Joe Murray describes the process of developing animated shows in his book “Creating Animated Cartoons with Character”. There is no way on earth that you can do all of that in your student film while learning how to do it. It will come across as half-baked and rushed. And that’s precisely what you don’t want. (Powerpuff Girls started as a student film from Craig McCracken in 1992 called ” Whoopass Stew!, but he continued to develop that short idea for some time after graduating from CalArts. It debuted as a series until 1998.)
David Levy got a big break as an Indie Director/Animator after working in Blues Clues and other shows with his animated short called “Good Morning”. In his book “Directing Animation”, Levy explains that he did that personal short in a period of 10 days, with several personal and professional problems… Quoting the book, he says: “I made Good Morning because there was something I needed to express, whether I understood what that was or not.”
That led to a lot of success, both personal and professional… but he never sat down to write an “Award Winnign short film“.
And last: Most important of all… live a life filled with challenge… push yourself artistically and personally. This is the one that I’ learning right now. Sometimes, you need to do stuff that WILL take you out of your comfort zone. And going out of your comfort zone is scary, but usually is rewarding in both experience and personal fulfillment. Go offline if you’re hooked to the Internet. Read even if you don’t like it that much. Push it, push it and then push it some more!
(The Bonus was Plympton’s philosophy of making the animated short as funny, short and cheap as possible! )
Hope this post helps a bit. It helped me as I wrote it. If you think I’m missing something, let me know and I’ll add it!