Monday, October 17, 2011

Animondays Interview: Rob Renzetti -part II

*graphic above from:

Finally, here's part II of my interview with animation creator/director Rob Renzetti. This was conducted in 2009 for use in my book, Directing Animation. It's fun timing to share this right now because I just spent the better part of the weekend sharing a booth with Bill Plympton at NYC's Comicon. It was really gratifying to connect with some of my readers and learn that my books have been helpful to them. In particular, Your Career in Animation, seems to be a gateway book that a lot of animation artists pass through on their way into the business.

In the spirit of sharing, here's the "directing specific" interview with Rob Renzetti. You'll notice it's not as personal as part I, and that's because of being on deadline and having to interview dozens of directors at once. But, there's still good information below. Enjoy!

1-What skill sets go into directing animation for a television series? And, is it important to have worked in animation in other roles before being ready to direct?
The most important experience is to have done some actual animation. Not a lot. But suffering through a few short films will give any aspiring timing director a much better sense of how long (in terms of frames) it takes for actions and expressions to “read”.

Also working as a storyboard artist will help since storyboards are intrinsically linked with animation direction (at least in television animation).

2-What role does good people skills have in being a successful TV animation director?
If you are strictly doing timing you can hide in your room all day if you like and talk to no one. Of course, this would not bode well for your future employment. The more you are involved with other aspects of the production process the more people skills you will need.

3-Can you list some common mistakes and challenges that are faced by the first time animation director?
The biggest challenge is to get the cartoon to run in your head. You have to visualize the final animated project.

The biggest mistake is playing things too slowly. Inevitably the work print will come back and things will be dragging. You quickly learn  to push things faster.

4-What are the ingredients of a good production pipeline, process, and schedule? And, what role does an animation director have in setting that up and maintaining it?
Unless the director is also the creator of the production he will have very little role in setting up the production pipeline. A good pipeline leaves room for the inevitable delays, missteps and mistakes. Put some padding in every step of the way. Not a ton but a little. Want to fail? Then assume everything will go according to plan and leave no room for error. You will end up paying people to sit around waiting for others to catch up.

5-Is there a secret to good communication up and down the animation pipeline? What role does the animation director play in that?
This really falls to the line producer and production staff as well as the show creator. The main thing is too check in with your artists on a regular basis, make sure they are on task and on schedule and catch problems before they have a chance to fester for weeks and snowball out of your control.

6-What mistakes have you made as a director and what have they taught you?
Well, I used to time things too slowly when I first started as mentioned above. I also could get lost in the details of timing each little action without looking at the bigger picture, meaning the overall pacing of a sequence or of the entire cartoon. When the storyboard is strong this tends to happen less. A strong board will give you a strong indication of how to pace things. Ironically a crappy board is easy to work with as well. It’s obvious things aren’t working and you can go to the creator and suggests changes to strengthen it. I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who trust my sensibilities and value my input. A mediocre board is the toughest to work with because some things are working, maybe every sequence is working, but it doesn’t add up to a satisfying whole. But when you are lost in the details of each scene it’s easy to miss the fact that it just doesn’t add up to a good cartoon. You have to take the time to step back and look at the whole package before diving into the minutia.

7-What is the animation director's role in regards to collaborating with other departments such as storyboard, design, post production, etc?
A director will work most closely with the storyboard artists. In an ideal setup this is a two way street. The director will want to make sure that he or she is understanding what the board artists had in mind and the board artist will be open to changing things if the director needs adjustments for either technical or creative reasons.  Having the board artists pitch to the crew is really helpful for directors in terms of getting the rhythm the board artists imagined for each sequence. Some directors take on post production responsibilities as well and may be involved in calling retakes, editing and spotting music & sfx.

8-What are the typical daily duties of an animation director on a TV series or feature production?
I can only speak about TV since I’ve never worked in features. Usually you are spending your time either slugging a board or doing x-sheets.  If the show does animatics you will be involved in that as well. In all these tasks you are making timing decisions. Deciding about the overall pacing of the cartoon in the broadest strokes and determining the amount of time for the minutest of actions.

9-How is technology changing the way today's animation directors work?
In my own personal experience, new technology has not had a lot of impact except in terms of editing. Digital editing is a completely different experience than editing on film. You can do so much to adjust the rhythm of the picture. Creating holds where none existed, speeding actions up, slowing them down or even reversing them. It gives you an amazing amount of flexibility and saves so much money in retake costs.

10-Is your directing role and responsibilities different depending on whether you are directing an in house production or an outsourced one? 
Almost all TV programming is actually animated overseas. The only exception for me has been Foster’s which was animated in Flash at CN Studios. Having the animators in house (and speaking English) was an amazing luxury. I was able to preview scenes before they were complete, make adjustments before we would get to the official retake session and when we did call retakes I could just walk over to the retake supervisor if there was any confusion or something too complicated to explain in a retake note. It was heaven.

11-How did you get your first opportunity to direct? 
I was a storyboard artist on 2 Stupid Dogs and during the second season the creator Donovan Cook gave me the opportunity to direct  the episodes I had boarded. So I would board an episode and then follow myself up directing it. I even had the chance to animate a scene or two along the way!

12- Since becoming an animation director, have you worked on projects or jobs where you filled other positions such as storyboards, design, layout etc?
I’ve probably done more directing than anything else but I have continued to do storyboards here and there as well as write outlines and scripts. On my own show I did a little bit of everything of course.

13- Do animation directors get stereotyped as comedy or action?
I have not ever felt stereotyped. I have mostly worked in what I would call classic cartoon comedy but I’ve also worked on action when I directed on Samurai Jack and prime time sitcoms like Family Guy.

14-What part of directing animation gives you the most satisfaction?
When you are watching a finished cartoon with an audience and they laugh at something that is funny purely because of the way you have timed that scene. I gives you the idea that you might know what you are doing.

15-Where did you learn your sense of timing, acting, staging, and storytelling that is so essential in directing animation?
As a consumer of pop culture, I think I mostly just acquired it through osmosis. You watch or read things that you find funny and as you grow up it all kind accumulates in your head, mixes in with your own experiences and your particular perspective on the world. If you’re a smart ass like I was, you start trying to make your family and friends laugh, you start acting up in class. You see what works and what doesn’t and you adjust. If you’re an artist you also start drawing for yourself and for the praise it garners from others. You start telling stories with your pictures.  I also did a brief stint of acting in high school. Doing the same play 3 or 4 times for different audiences and adjusting your performance is a great way to hone your sense of timing.

16- After directing, what is the next goal you'd like to achieve in your career in animation? 
I always wanted to have my own show and I was lucky enough to already have that dream come true.  Right now I’m just enjoying helping other young artists get their chance at making their characters come to life.

17-What advice do you have for someone just starting out in animation with ambitions to direct?
If you can go to an art school hopefully one with an animation program and actually do some animation! As I said, this is the best possible training you can get.


Arsenal Animation Studios said...

Great interview David. Just got your new book. It's awesome. I want to set up a meeting for my show with Fred Seibert. Should I just email him? Not sure how to go about it. Thanks for the books. Great information.

David B. Levy said...

You should totally meet up with Fred. Yeah, just send him an email. He always takes the meeting. He knows that he might miss out on something amazing if he didn't. And, tell Fred I said, "hey." Good luck!

His email/contact is listed at the Frederator website.

Arsenal Animation Studios said...

Thanks for all your help David I really appreciate it. I'm really excited about meeting up with Fred. It's going to be a great experience and I can't wait. Thanks again for all your information. Props to you buddy.

Angela Entzminger said...

Excellent info - thanks for conducting the interview, Dave!