What are some common myths about your profession?
Lots of people think its technical and computer oriented. They’ll say, “Wow, you had to take a lot of computer courses.” The truth is, I took not a one!
I went through program manuals and basically learned on the job. The most important thing to develop is problem-solving skills. Being a good animator is primarily about being a good actor, really, it’s what makes or breaks my career. The video camera is the most powerful tool I have; I act out every part I animate. My job is really being an acting coach to those who are playing the characters. Voices are always recorded first, then we do the animation, and we look for imperfections in the delivery. It’s the throat clearing, etc., that make the character come alive.
It might sound glamorous, but animation becomes extremely tedious work. You spend a lot of time talking about highlights, refraction of the cornea through eye, what is the translucency of the nose compared to the chin, etc. It might take a full week to animate four seconds of film. For the most part, it’s very tedious, which people don’t realize. You do a lot of sitting, a lot of repetition and have to be constantly self-critical, judging your own work. That ability to not get numb to your own shot, but to look at it with fresh eyes, over and over, is what makes someone successful.
What contributions do you feel filmmaking has made to society?
Film is the true modern media. In some ways film is the most powerful art form we have today. Done well, it crosses the barriers of language. You can turn off the dialogue of a good film, and through staging alone, the message of the film is conveyed. It’s a tremendous responsibility, because we are spreading ideas and helping to influence culture; this generation’s questions can become the next generation’s belief. Here we are with a medium that can very strongly influence ideas. At its best, film and video have the clearest way to speak to the whole world.
That said, the majority of stuff out there is probably negatively influencing culture. The name video came from Latin “I see.” There’s an ego related to film making, and it is often the reason that most actors are unsettled. The trouble is that there’s too much watching ourselves, getting caught up in ourselves.
It’s a very egotistical medium; even with my own kids, I turn on the video camera, and they act like complete goofballs. A daughter singing a song is reduced to goo-goo, gaga and funny faces when the camera goes on. A similar thing is happening globally with film; there’s a lot of crap out there. Too much Paris Hilton and her ilk; with so called reality shows that contain no reality.
Someone once said the definition of film is “a medium that lies 24 frames per second.” Film is constantly an illusion. Every frame is a lie, is artificial, and is someone’s point of view.
I think film is the most powerful artistic medium available today. It combines all the great art forms – music, visual arts, acting and technology – the best of all art forms. But I see us misusing it more than to help spread truthful or beneficial messages.
Is it possible to incorporate greater professional and personal philosophies into filmmaking?
I don’t want to over-elevate my own role, but I do feel a tremendous urge to create movies that I can feel proud of showing to my kids or someday, my grandkids. The film I’m on now carries a universal message of not giving up hope; I consider it one of those universal truths that stands above all of these negative messages people get from the media.
I consider it a tremendous responsibility and my vocation, almost a religious calling, to do what I am doing, to bring a message to people. The artistic stuff is fun, but it’s just a conduit; if you have something important worth saying, you have to present it to people in a way they will hear. People ignore the crazy person ranting on the street. In film making, you can sell a message with some sugar and some nice music.
I believe I have a responsibility to reach people, otherwise, I might as well be putting on a fireworks show with beautiful colors, where the people ‘ooh’ and ‘ah,’ but when it’s done, they don’t take away anything new.
At the very least, helping spread a sense of wonder might be enough. The more kids watch TV all day long, the more they get desensitized. It’s a real tragedy if kids grow up apathetic, with a “who cares” philosophy. As a film maker, if you make something beautiful and full of wonder, it might just be the one spark they might need.
I remember going to see movies like The Abyss and the first Jurassic Park, and coming out of the theatre, I had no idea how they did the effects like the water blob. I was so humbled… and I had to figure out how they did it. At the very least, that sense of wonder is very important.
Wonder leads to being surprised by life, that life has more to offer than you might imagine. When you lead people to a sense of hope, it keeps people thinking of the future, of their own possibilities and own potential, and ultimately makes people better toward each other. That’s a high ideal, but I think its worth striving for.
We want to make timeless films with good messages; they don’t have to mention the word 'God' to offer messages that get people hopeful and considerate toward their fellow man.
I treat every film that I work on that way, every day; the message you convey is not just the message of the film, its how you react on a daily basis with your fellow workers, the actors, everyone involved. Here I am with this great opportunity to work on a film with the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of people, and it’s the responsibility of the film to spread a good worthwhile message. So I consider it important not to lose my temper over something petty during the process, to live that message as well.
I had an opportunity to work for a video game company, on R-rated video games. That wouldn’t be so hard, and it might even be enjoyable. But I can’t justify moving my family to Canada so I can animate beach babes in a video game.
When I was in art school, I was so idealistic that I swore I’d never work on a commercial. But a film is often just a commercial enterprise.
One of my favorite children’s stories is The Giving Tree; it’s a timeless story of self-sacrifice. Every time I read it, it moves me in some way. My goal as a film maker is to create that type of art.