adventure and absurdity in making an animated short

Friday, January 23, 2009

ONCE AGAIN See Leo this weekend in SF Bay Area

Still time to buy tickets online to see a rough cut preview of Leonardo screening tomorrow at 1 PM at the Bay Area International Children's FIlm Festival (BAICFF) in Alameda, CA. Complete with unfinished sound, color all over the place, a few broken bits here and there and all the dirty laundry that is a work in progress. But it is way way further along then any of you saw at the 2D Animation Expo Jerry and Amid put together a few years back. There will also be a Q and A after.

Also Screening, and believe me your not going to want to miss this is -

Andy Jimenez's Live action film debut - 'Calendar Confloption'

Andy will also be there giving a Q and A and showing a making of Calendar Conflop.

You also can see some great shorts from other Pixar artists as well as other films from around the world.

It's one price - 10 bucks - and you can watch films all day. How cool is that!


see you there!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

scan no more

drawing 302 from sc. 12.01 the last scene to be scanned in.

today at 12:50 am the last complete scene from Leonardo was done being scanned into the computer. this was all scanned in by hand folks. one drawing at a time....

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

10 things I've learned in making a short film: # 10

close to finish frame from "Leonardo" color isn't correct yet blah blah blah

10) Perfection doesn't exist
Get it out of your head that your film has to be perfect. No matter what you do it won't be. So stop stopping yourself from continuing because it isn't perfect or that you don't have the perfect idea. There is no such thing. When you really look at great animated stuff most of it is very crude and flawed in some way. Charlie Brown's Christmas, the Looney Tunes shorts, the Grinch, the great Rankin and Bass stuff, (can you tell Christmas just passed) all have imperfections and they all stay the test of time. The thing that they have is that they are authentic. The good stuff comes from the right place and people took a chance. Film is a communal art, a dialogue, and it needs an audience to be completed. People often hide behind the perfection excuse because they are afraid of what others are going to think. Who cares. Look if you are making a short and actually finishing it, you are doing something not many people do. So you can think to yourself (or say to them) "Well what the hell have you've done. " It is a scary thing to be creative, to put your thoughts out there, your talent judged. But to be honest it isn't your problem what people think, it's theirs. Of course you want people to like your stuff and if no one likes it then you might want to investigate why. But do it in another film. This is the beauty of thinking long term, many films. Play. Make mistakes. Learn.

Well good luck, have fun!

I leave you with this quote I got while writing these posts. It is from another Jim: ( I didn't get it from this Jim but someone forwarded to me )

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.

—Jim Jarmusch

Monday, January 12, 2009

10 things I've learned in making a short film: # 9

9) Keep it Simple
If I had to do it all over again I probably wouldn't make a fully animated, hand drawn, 8 minute short. A nice 4 minute short done in a designy limited style feels good to me right now. I never expected it would take me 10 years to make the film. This isn't to say that in the end I regret doing it. It is good to be naive. I read once that when you make a film make it as if you are 16. You don't know any better and you have all the energy of a 16 year old. But wisdom is important too and in that 10 year time I could have made more films if I set out with a simpler form of animation. I could have told more stories and made more mistakes. So, especially to those in school and to those perpetual learners out there don't bite off too much. In other words a doable idea. Try to come up with an idea that fits into your lifestyle with very minimal impact. Not the next Toy Story or Lawrence of Arabia. Citizen Kane or Princess Mononoke. The idea is to make many films, learn from them, and hopefully not just one film. So you don't have to put everything into this one masterpiece.


10) Perfection doesn't exist

That's another thing, get it out of your head that your film has to be perfect.

Friday, January 09, 2009

10 things I've learned in making a short film: # 8

8) Economical Thinking

You want to get your short done. So you need to look at your talents, ability to attract other help, finances, time, lifestyle, work habits seriously. Then plan your film to take those factors into account. Of course you want to stretch yourself and others creatively but you also want to be realistic so as to finish the film. Even though Leonardo is 8 minutes and fully animated there are things I did in Leo to be economical. There is no dialogue. So, no need to record voice actors and all that entails and no need to animate lip sync. The backgrounds are kept to a minimum. There is no clean up animation, the animation is left in a rough tie-down fashion that better relates to da Vinci's sketchbooks. Some animation is very rough. This may not work for you, the subject matter dictated this for me. All my planning was done in the story reel which changed very little when animated. Because of these things I actually haven't had to pay for much to make the film and I have been able to get it done largely on my own.


9) Keep it Simple

If I had to do it all over again I probably wouldn't make a fully animated, hand drawn, 8 minute short.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

10 things I've learned in making a short film: # 7

7) Utilize what you have

This can also be termed "Use what you know." Supposedly if a shark stops swimming/moving it dies. That's what you need to do keep moving, don't die. Basically if you need to make a film then get out there and make a film and don't let anything get in your way. If you don't know how to animate then shoot a live action short. If you don't have a pencil test system don't let that stop you. For two years I scanned drawings in and timed them in Adobe Premiere (which took forever ) until I found a pencil test I could afford. Today you can animate right into your computer with toon boom and tv paint. If you can't afford those, animate with clay or cut outs or found objects with istop motion it is super cheap. There are ways, be creative. You'll find as you make your thing other opportunities will pop up. Also start from what you know. I knew about 2-D hand drawn animation, I wasn't about to tackle a computer animated animation project to tell my story or even flash animation. I would have to take some time to learn those things. ( If thats the ubergoal of your film to learn a new program or way of animation then that is what you do.) My ubergoal was to see if I could make a film on my own. So 2D and storyboarding is what I knew. I actually only knew I could storyboard so I could start there but the key is I was willing to learn and do the other stuff as needed. Nothing was going to stop me and nothing should stop you. Nothing stopped da Vinci.


8) Economical Thinking

This should be part of your planning.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sneak Peek of Leonardo at BAICFF

If you happen to be in the Bay Area on Jan 24th you are in luck. Come see a very near complete "Leonardo" at the Bay Area International Children's Film Festival. Also screening are two of Tim Hittle's films, "Potato Hunter" and the rarely seen Academy Award nominated "Can Head", some other great cartoons from fellow Pixarians and something you won't want to miss - The debut of Andy Jimenez's (One Man Band, academy award nominee) first Live-Action short film.

Bring the Kids and spend the day watching films!

BAICFF - A Play Date for Your Imagination

10 things I've learned in making a short film: # 6

6) It has to be a hobby you love

Here we come back to the Why Goal? It has taken me 10 + years to make Leonardo. During that time people have asked me if I am tired of it or impressed that I have stuck it out. I tell them, "Some people love to go fishing, I work on my short." It's not the best analogy perhaps since unlike fishing or another hobby there is an ending, at least for the one short. But the point is like a hobby you enjoy the doing of it and not necessarily the end result. Enjoy the process. This isn't to say there aren't frustrations, your line gets tangled, the fish gets away, but on the whole it is a very interesting, challenging, pleasurable thing to do. If this is not the case for you and you would rather spend your vacation, well...fishing, instead of working on a chunk of animation then perhaps making an animated short film isn't for you. Also, if you are more concerned with getting it done and winning the oscar or something then chances are you won't finish it or it will turn out crap. Because it can be a long, tough, lonely slog and I believe you really have to enjoy participating and watching the evolution and maturing of the project. Roll with the failures, thank them for teaching you something and pick yourself up and go again. It has to end though because that too is part of the process of filmmaking. So you also have to cut bait ( i really didn't intend to keep the fishing analogy going this long but roll with it) and move on to a new pond.

These last few lessons are tricks really. When I was growing up my family prided itself with procrastination, "Why do something today if you can put it off to tomorrow" was a familiar familial phrase. So I had to find ways to fake myself out to alter my habits. Now, I can't see living any other way.


7) Utilize what you have

This can also be termed "Use what you know."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

10 things I've learned in making a short film: # 5

5) Chunks of Time

Now, if I had settled on finishing the film by spending just five minutes everyday on it, I would still be making it 100 years from now. Five minutes is a means to an end, and more psychological then completely practical. Enter the Chunks of Time method. For a few years on Christmas vacation or if I could take a week off or have a long weekend I would set a mini goal (goals again) of "I will complete x by the time I go back to work." This deadline of utilizing a gift of free time became a huge motivator. I looked at it like a challenge. "Can you accomplish that one big thing in 7 days? Watch me!" The important thing here is to pick one thing and focus! Once you finish that one thing, if you still have time, focus on the next thing or enjoy your vacation, you earned it. Singular focus is extremely important so as not to get overwhelmed and to be much more efficient. You'll find stopping and starting ( as invariably will happen if you are making your film on the side) not very efficient. Since you have to factor in time to go back and remember where you left off. By focusing on one task to its completion you'll find you are getting your project done before you even knew it.


6) It has to be a hobby you love

Here we come back to the Why Goal?

Monday, January 05, 2009

10 things I've learned in making a short film: # 4

4) 5 minutes a day

I hit upon this idea when I was really down about getting the film done. I don't know, around year five. It occurred to me, and brightened my spirits, that no matter what I do, as long as it is about the film, I am working on the film and getting it that much closer to being done. So I called it 5 minutes a day and I decided I would devote at least 5 minutes everyday to the film. For even if I got one drawing done it was one less drawing I had to do. Even if I ended up throwing that drawing out at some point, for some reason, I would've had to make that drawing anyway to get to the right one. So I began to look at whatever I could accomplish as a teeny tiny victory. I no longer beat myself up over what I couldn't accomplish and instead was satisfied, content, in what I could accomplish.

The other thing about time is you begin to realize how much of it we waste. So the other thing to do is to use every bit of it that you can toward achieving your goal. So if you are waiting in line somewhere think about that scene that is giving you a problem. Put the music or dialogue you are using for the film on a CD and play it in the car, on your ipod. It may inspire some ideas. During lunch at work, jot down some notes, do some sketches, design a character, thumbnail out some animation, do the bills so you'll have time to animate later. You can find the time if you just start looking for it.


5) Chunks of Time

Now, if I had settled on finishing the film by spending just five minutes everyday on it, I would still be making it 100 years from now.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

10 things I've learned in making a short film: # 3

3) Goals Goals Goals.

Leo off and running with the goal to fly

Without deadlines you will make the film forever. First you should have an overriding goal. an ubergoal, the emotional goal. It should answer the question "Why am I doing this?"

Secondly a completion goal, "In five years I will have the film done to show at Annecy!" Truthfully working on the side, after hours this will double or triple. If this were the Apollo Moon Goal it would be "By the end of this decade we will put a man on the moon and bring him home again." So what date, event, arbitrary or not are you shooting for? Write it down. The first step to achieving any goal is to write it down.

Now you need to breakdown the completion goal into the major events. For the moon mission this would be; learn how to send men to the moon, Gemini program, build the LEM, etc. For animation it could be learn to animate but assuming you know that it would be make a storyreel by a certain date, design characters, begin animation, etc.

This is all still pretty overwhelming so each of the major events, ie Gemini or storyreel, are broken down into very doable little goals leading you to " little victories." During Gemini they had a checklist of things to do to prepare the astronauts and NASA to know they could get to the moon and back. Spacewalk - check. Rendevous and dock with another capsule - Check. Test out the Luner Module (LEM) - Check. By doing this your little victories will build your confidence and momentum not to mention keeping you fired up to get through the long lonley slog of making the thing.


4) 5 minutes a day
I hit upon this idea when I was really down about getting the film done.

Friday, January 02, 2009

10 things I've learned in making a short film: # 2

2) Have a plan

Part of the color script. The images were taken from the storyboards.

I can't stress this enough. You have to have a plan for your film. A blueprint. It seems kind of ridiculous to me to think people wouldn't but they don't. Sometimes they think they do and then it goes out the window when the first difficulty or new idea comes along. Plan the project from preliminary drawings to storyboarding to storyreel. Have your camera moves, staging, acting as thought out as possible before you begin animation. It will save you so much time, money and headache down the line. It provides you with a piece of film to show potential help and even investors. You should even use it to solicit feed back. This is very important and you shouldn't be afraid at this stage to get some critique. Show people who you respect their opinion and even show some strangers. Show your mom but she doesn't count. Be careful though, too much input can take the wind out of your sails. If someone doesn't like something always ask them for a reason. You want constructive criticism. Don't get upset, just take it in. Let the notes percolate for a few days, don't react instantly negatively or positively. Things you initially didn't agree with you might like after a few days stewing on them and ideas you initially loved you'll find don't work. Remember, you are the filmmaker. Take strength in that you have the final say. I showed the short to a couple of the big shot directors at work. They had a few notes ( they can't help themselves) but their ideas were just different. You have to watch out for the make it an elephant not a pachyderm suggestions. They didn't make the short better and I was struck by an empowering feeling: where normally I would have to execute their note this was my film and I did not have to. It was my choice.

The Leo maquette, sculpted by Jerome Ranft. The wings fabricated by Ron Smith. These were given to the animators to help with turning the character.

After planning in terms of the storyreel (blueprint) then plan the rest of the film. Organize it like a real production. It actually is and think of it in that way. I made model packets for the animators, reference reels and exposer sheets. I even made maquettes for them. The film was broken up into 60 scenes (shots) and those were grouped into 13 sequences based on location and story point. Each scene was made into a packet with exposer sheet, character layout drawings, a rough BG (if there was one). I calculated how much animation paper we would need and bought it all at once ( I am on the last box now). Files on the computer are organized by sequence and scenes. There are a lot of little things and organization and planning are paramount to keeping your sanity, saving money and actually getting the thing done.


3) Goals Goals Goals.
Without deadlines you will make the film forever.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

10 things I've learned in making a short film

It being New Years and all I thought I would throw in with my own top ten list of sorts. It isn't really a top ten but sort of ten suggestions, thoughts or learned things from making an animated independent short. So over the next week and a half I'll dispense with this wisdom for whatever it's worth. Maybe it will help you in your own endeavors. Perhaps, some of you have New Year Resolutioned to make that film finally. Well, I hope this helps.

Starting with - in no order of importance:

1) Those helping you need to get something out of it too.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons I have learned working on Leonardo and working with people in general is that everyone needs to get something from the collaboration. This took me some time to figure out. A friend warned me when I started that no one will deliver if you don't pay them. I thought "Oh no, they will love the project. They will want to do it and besides they're my friends." Well he was right to an extent. What I learned is - You, as the main creator, get the film and all the good ( and the bad ) that comes with that, the artists working for you, if they are going to deliver, need something too. This is often thought of in the form of money but truthfully even when people are paid the really good work comes when they are stretching an old muscle, trying something new and/or being challenged. I see this at work all the time and it was true on Your Friend the Rat. It could be getting a chance to do something they normally wouldn't. Generally it is really hard to get people to work for nothing, on their off hours without some benefit to them. For example my first editor, Chris Vallance, was an editorial assistant he needed something to learn to cut with so I told him I had this short I was storyboarding if he wanted to he could help me make the reel. Chris did and I have him to thank for getting this whole thing rolling and he got experience, something strong for his reel and an eternally grateful friend. So find someone who isn't doing the thing they want to do ( like your not, that maybe why your making your short) and give them a chance to do it.

A side note: It is important to realize no one will care as much for the film as you will. Many people have passed through the corridors of Leo, some have helped and some haven't no matter what good intentions they had. This is to be expected and there is no ill will, you just move on. But you have to be prepared to fill in where others have dropped out or have an alternative plan. For example: I found it hard to get some animators to make multiple changes to their scenes. So I found I would just go in and fix the scenes. I would tell the animator I was doing it of course. They never seemed to mind.


2) A plan - a storyreel, animatic, lica reel whatever
I can't stress this enough. You have to have a plan for your film. A blueprint.

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