Animation – Appreciating and Acting on the Creative Process

So many people ask me what I think about the latest animated film. Did I like the work? Did I like the script? What did I think about the characters? How do I create a film? How do I develop a story? How long does it take? For me, the first thing that happens when…

So many people ask me what I think about the latest animated film. Did I like the work? Did I like the script? What did I think about the characters? How do I create a film? How do I develop a story? How long does it take?

For me, the first thing that happens when I watch a film, I just enjoy it. I try not to watch it with “fans”. Why? I want to watch the film as a truly personal experience. I do not want to have someone whisper, “Oh that's so and so from the other series whatever-it-was.” I want to watch and experience the film as the actors / voices / characters were chosen because they were the most appropriate choice artistically and esthetically. I do not want to be brought back to the theater, entertainment news or the mundane. I came to escape into another world. I want to see and enjoy the story, wallow in the visuals and be moved by the soundtrack.

After I have watched the film for the first time and if it stirred that appreciative gene in my system, I take the time to watch it again in its entity. This time to see the things I missed the first time. I look for subt details like background shots, scene transitions, the way characters are designed. I catch nuances, gestures, script subtexts and appreciate the timing, the choreography and artistry of the action scenes. I have to admit, there are a few films I have viewed more than 10 times.

If a film has a really good storyboarding sequence, I have students redraw and analyze the scene. We all appreciate and can learn from good cinematography, whether it is animated or live action. Just because a film is twenty years or twenty days old, you can always learn from the creative endeavors of other artists, animators and filmmakers. There is a story to tell, a vision to share, a world to explore.

The next thing people ask me is whether I am envious or jealous about what other people have created. I have never understood that question. I am always inspired and thrilled whenever I see really good work. The question may be a reflection of the questioner, that they may be jealous or waiting for me to make some callous or derogatory remark about someone else's work. I just know how much work it takes to create anything. I know how much focus it takes, how much it takes you from your friends, family or those who demand your time to support your creative process. I just say kudos to all you who have the passion, the focus and have convinced someone else to cough up the money and resources to support your vision. In the end we learn by doing.

When I decide on a project, there is some nugget or some small spark that keeps going at my brain. I then start to work out a character, who and what they are, what their environment is, where they live, what they do, how they walk, what and who they interact with. I think about what makes them happy, sad, angry, nervous or fearful. Then I add something else. I do some brainstorming, sort of like what if this character was put in this situation or that situation? From this I build a rough story. Then I sit back and do something else. I work on an ending.

I want something to happen to this character. I want this character to have done something, learned something and achieved something. I want their journey to mean something to the viewer. Now I can work the story backward. The result is a much stronger story line. You do not have to scratch your head thinking, oh now what, the character (s) have gotten themselves in to situation and can not get out. If you work back in the story you already know the result.

Once you have worked this out back, let the story sit for 24 hours. Then read the story out to yourself and read or explain it to someone else. This helps you work out more of the story problems.

After several reworks, you now can work on the visuals, and of course this is where you now can create the wonderful creative animation for your film, but at least you have a good spine to build the flesh of the story. The best can begin as you watch your film take form, in full color.

Here are some numbers for you to consider. There are 30 (video) frames per second. If you are shooting or animating at 15 drawings or computer renderings per second, you will have to create 900 images per minute. If you have 10 characters each with 50 elements per image, you have 450,000 elements to generate per minute. If your film is a feature length endeavor of 90 minutes, you have to create 40,500,000 elements. If it takes you 5 minutes to create and orchestrate each element, you need 20,250,000 minutes or 3,375,000 hours or 421,875 (8 hour) days or 84,375 (5 day) weeks or 1622.6 years. Thank goodness you have 500 really good friends to help you finish it in 3.245 years. Oh yes and do not forget you still have to make the soundtrack.

Why should I be jealous of a monumental task like that? Having a great story makes the work worthwhile. Now go do it! I can not wait to see your projects at the next film festivals.