Thursday, June 24, 2010
Directing Animation: a preview
My new book, Directing Animation, flies onto shelves November 2, and boy will its arms be tired. Don't get me wrong, I know I'm not Chuck Jones, Richard Williams, or Preston Blair. First of all, two of them are dead, and one of them is in his 70s. And, since I don't have an AARP card in my wallet (yet), I can't be in this august company. But, what I have tried to do is write a book from the perspective of a working director, with six series, a half-dozen pilots, dozens of shorts for Sesame Workshop, as well as a smattering of indie films behind him as well as just about every mistake you can make, some of them with career-altering consequences.
I recently had lunch with a young animator who told of working on an animation gig at a studio where her director stayed bunkered in his office, only coming out to yell at his team or give vague direction. The director made it clear each day how angry and disappointed he was and how he wished to fire everyone on the crew. Stories like this are why I thought there was a need for this book, not that I hope to reform an individual like that, but you never know.
The education of an animator––from school, books, and instructional dvds, is all geared toward learning the craft of animation (bouncing balls to walk cycles, and advanced acting). The trouble is that at some point a gifted animator might be promoted to director where her duties will then require management, communication, and leadership skills. So all of a sudden a good animator is now expected or assumed to be a good boss. That's the basic and eternal challenge: Who better to direct animation than someone who's come up through production, starting as an animator or a storyboard artist responsible for only his/her own work, and hopefully having a full understanding of the entire production so to be able to be able to see the big picture as a director must. But what prepares him or her to take on all the roles and responsibilities of management?
To write on this unexplored yet important aspect of directing animation was an enormous challenge, but as with my previous books, I didn't go it alone. I'm very grateful to include new interviews and stories from some of today's top animation directors including Cordell Barker, Signe Baumane, Don Hertzfeldt, Marv Newland, Janet Perlman, Bill Plympton (who also provided the cover illustration!), Michael Sporn, Mike Overbeck, PES, J.J. Sedelmaier, Dave Wasson, Ian Jones-Quartey, Robert Marianetti, David Palmer, Sue Perrotto, Rob Renzetti, David Wachtenheim, Tom Warburton, Paul Fierlinger, Yvette Kaplan, Nina Paley, Andrew Stanton, Tatia Rosenthal, Xeth Feinberg, Dan Meth, and Amy Winfrey.
I'm hopeful that Directing Animation can do some good in the industry (at the very least it's a juicy read full of anecdotes and warts-and-all stories), throwing an important spotlight on what might be the hardest part of directing animation to master: the people factor. Pixar legend Andrew Stanton told my NYU class that a journalist interviewed him about his upcoming experience directing the live-action feature film, John Carter on Mars, asking, "Are you nervous that you'll have to talk to people on set?" Stanton replied, "It's the same with animation. I don't talk to computers. They don't do the animation. I talk to people."