ANIMATION FEATURE 1 How has animation changed over the years? • Well, if you mean the art of animation, then not much. The traditional techniques developed by artists at Disney and other pioneering animation companies around the world are approached from the same direction no matter whether you work with 2d cel animation, clay animation, or 3D animation. However, Pixar, who are best known for their award winning work on films such as Toy Story, Monster’s Inc, and Finding Nemo, claim to have developed additional techniques they feel should be added to any aspiring animators skill set, but which apply mainly to computer oriented animation. If you’re referring to animation within South Africa, I think it has changed drastically. The companies doing it have grown and shrunk, and developed and died. The people doing it have advanced in their skills or emigrated overseas, chasing the bigger fish of career opportunity. The software is cheaper and more accessible as well as more diverse with regards to the tools they offer. The hardware is substantially faster and cheaper, and a wider range of platforms are available for the choosier. • 2 What are the requirements for good animation? • A solid foundation with respect to the principles of animation. These are available in books, dvds, and through searches over the internet. These are crucial if you consider yourself serious about animation. Most professional companies will look for these skills first. Technical knowledge of your choice of software is also very necessary in order for you to squeeze the most out of your tools. Think of it as driving. In formula one, it’s not just how you drive, but what you drive. Certain drivers can get the most out of their cars, no matter what they drive, but this is rare. Nevertheless, you can’t focus on driving skills and ignore the car. That’s just stupid. Besides, these days, the technical side of software programs such as Maya’s Mel, or Houdini’s VEX, introduces many more employment opportunities for those who would rather texture and light, or deal with dynamics, or fur, cloth, match moving- the list goes on and on. Not to mention the fact that 3D animation wouldn’t be where it is today without the technical people. • 3 Where do you see the future of animation? • My guess is independence. Animation is both art and entertainment. If you’re not doing one, you better be offering the other. The one requires skill, and the other creativity. Also, most large companies are focusing on producing their own content after Pixar’s success. Now that they’ve finished Finding Nemo, Pixar have around ½ billion dollars in their account, with no debt. They own their own software, and hardly rely on anyone else. They’re almost beating Disney at their own game. I think the market will divide into the existing market of feature film fx, and commercial work, and the new market of CG feature work. Unfortunately, South Africa doesn’t offer a viable alternative to US or foreign markets looking to invest in feature work, after the success of the lord of the rings in New Zealand. A few companies are starting to pioneer marketing our skills to overseas investors. At the forefront of doing this would be companies such as Atomic Visual Effects in Cape Town, Triggerfish, Anamazing, and Depth. Individually we are too small to take on large projects, even though the quality is there, but the plan is to at least prepare joint-venture relationships between like-minded companies looking to grow the industry. 4 How does the SA industry compare with the rest of the world? • Actually, pretty well. I think the average South African is very pessimistic about what we have to offer. The irony is that when you look closely at overseas companies, I’m willing to bet you’ll find a South African somewhere at the head of the pack. But, this is precisely the problem. Most of the real talent is not here, but there. The talent that is here is in very small pools, and not given much opportunity to showcase its talents, and can occasionally slip through the cracks of larger political or corporate agendas. 5 What does an animator need to have in terms of creativity, vision, commitment? • Mmm, commitment is probably the most important one initially. If you’re serious about this choice of career, then you will need to stay motivated to do better and better, and learn as much as you can. The least you should aim to do is to match what you see in films and television today. Why not? The same software is readily available through local resellers. There is a plethora of people around the world who can be contacted on the Net. Don’t be discouraged. There is plenty of work for people with a good portfolio. Vision. How much vision can the average person expect to have anyway? I think it’s important to pay attention to trends and how the industry turns and twists, but vision is maybe the result of experience, and not so much a prodigal gift. Creativity is a very abstract concept. I think someone can be artistically creative, which is different from technically creative. Most people think that creativity, not just in animation, can only be artistic. A car mechanic can be just as creative as a programmer as a lawyer, but obviously it needs to advance skills in your field of choice. In animation, creativity can stem from storytelling abilities, to production solutions, to styles of animation, to technical problem solving, and so on. I think that it develops as you need it. If it doesn’t, then maybe you’re not doing the right thing….. • • 6 What are some of the most challenging aspects of animation? • Learning everything. The field of 3D animation is so vast, that it’s nearly impossible to be good at everything. You might be good at animation, but not at modeling, for example. The software is very, very extensive, and many people are so keen to learn everything they can. I think there is merit in focusing on what you enjoy, and to keep expanding this knowledge where you need to. Keep in mind that in smaller production houses, the animators are expected to know a little of everything, but in larger houses, the animators specialize, and know almost everything about only specific features or techniques. If you love learning all the different tools, then go for it! Good luck. 7 Animation involves knowledge of physics, motion, objects movement through space, what are the most important aspects for an animator to incorporate into the world of animation? • Acting and impersonation. By observing, an animator can learn an infinite amount about their subject. Whether it be a ball bouncing or the hero fighting for his life. Observation is the key to learning what looks right and what doesn’t work at all. 8 What do you consider as remarkable animated projects, product that have recently come out of the animation environment – e.g. of what you believe to be great work, it can be international or local and explain why? • Well, internationally I’d go for Finding Nemo for now. Pixar are undoubtedly at the top of their game. By this I mean that their animation is flawless, as is their lighting, texturing, and rendering. And then, their storytelling skills are honed to perfection. They never sacrifice the story or characters for anything. They also don’t take themselves too seriously and they’re aware of the need to think outside-of-the-box. Their work is visually superior, and entertaining for young and old. Locally, I’d have to look at more commercial work I guess. Atomic have produced some fascinating short projects such as Shuttle and Killweek which demonstrate serious digital effects work. Phil Bolt and Wits are producing Feedback (http://www.thefeedbackproject.com) which is looking to be the first real attempt at a character-driven feature production. The mere attempt is worth merit. Lord knows, getting South African animation houses to work together makes bikini-waxing look fun. I also believe, having seen the play, that it is a great choice of South African content, and not at all the usual sold-to-death political please-just-kill-me scripts that are normally exported around the world. • 9 Animation involves lots of special effects, do you think that real life action, people and environments can or will be replaced by effects or CGI? Note films like The Matrix, Simone – give me your opinions on this debate – what is the future of entertainment? • • There are so many debates on different forums that I could just restate the most common opinions, but the answer is simple: No. The reason for this is that they both occupy different roles in entertaining the audience. They both perform the same role and yet different roles. Viewers enjoy both for different reasons, but in the end, a person will still go watch Tom Cruise, or Sandra Bullock because of their personal appeal. If anything, the more real CG animation gets, and the more movies it fills, the more people are learning that only so much can be replaced by a computer. I think that animation and filmmaking are simply getting wider, and not narrower. A movie like Black Hawk Down would not succeed if it were all CG, neither would a film like Lord of the Rings. Everything has its place, but it’s very easy to get so excited about something new that you forget important facts. 10 What are some of the most challenging issues for the SA industry? • Working together. Seeing the bigger picture. Getting noticed by the foreign markets. Punting the good stuff. Maybe even getting more support or funding from the government, in order to build a better infrastructure. (Gasp!!) 11 Since you play outside existing reality, i.e. you can create imagined worlds and make them appear real, what would you like most to create? • • I always struggle between wanting to create something so real you couldn’t tell the difference, and creating something so fantastic that your jaw would drop open. The perfect woman? What is that anyway? 12 What kinds of animation do you specialise in? • I really enjoy texturing and lighting scenes. If it has to look real, I can do that, and if it has to look dramatic, then I’m your guy. Basically, this places me in both Digital FX and Character animation. I used to want to animate characters, but I just don’t have any special gift for it. I’m quite technical, which is why I can also used programs such as Houdini. At work, I’m normally in charge of dynamics, rendering, and other technical bits specific to Maya.