Tuesday, 21 July 2009

New Projects and Hard Work in Animation

I’ve always had a profound love of cartoons. I feel like I’ve probably said all this before, but I distinctly remember that as a child I would much prefer anything animated over anything with real life actors in, because anything with real life actors in was either gritty and boring or wacky and annoying. Sometimes it was a mixture of all four, which as you can imagine is difficult to pull off.

I find that once I’ve latched onto something, I want to make my own of that thing. It has happened with comics, with music, with computer games, with fiction, with television, with miniatures and with anything I’ve had small obsessions with in the past. Due to the sporadic nature of my attention span, I therefore have dozens of half finished comics, some half baked and shakily recorded songs, a load of lazy coding that bears some small semblance to a handful of computer games, a small hard-drive’s worth of unfinished and partially started novels, several scripts for TV dramas and sitcoms, and even a few small humanoid-like shaped twists of wire encased in modeling putty.

Of course, I’ve tried to do little bits of animation in the past. I have a small selection of experiments that I threw together in Adobe Flash that don’t really do much. There’s quite a nice one of a penguin singing a little bit and walking off, but it’s very primitive. I recently came to the conclusion through no discernable mode of decision that it was time to give animation another try. I had been recommended a book written by Richard Williams, the creator of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” so I found a copy of that and started to leaf through it.

There were probably two things in that book that made me get to the picking-up-the-pen-and-paper stage of the project and away from the much more alluring but-I-need-to-read-more-tips stage. The first one was that Richard Williams, who in my mind is an absolute master of his field, started animation in earnest at the age of 22. Psychologically, this is a massive boost. I am under the increasing impression that if you want to be good at anything, you have to have been doing it since the age of 8 and never attempted or wanted to do anything else, which if you look at the half finished novels, scripts, miniatures, games, symphonies and coffee tables littering my life you can imagine is a fairly discouraging thought.

The second revelation was one of those statements that everyone knows but sometimes people just need to be told again. The gist of it was that animation takes a lot of work. A lot of work. More than a lot of work.

Everyone knows that animation takes a lot of time and effort. We’ve all heard the stories of how the makers of Wallace and Gromit took six months to make half a second of film (that might be a slight exaggeration) but I think a large part of me assumed that there was a quicker way of doing it that would get results that were just as good through using a computer. Just knowing that if I wanted to attempt anything in animation it would take a long time and a lot of work was enough to make me start working on it. Being able to come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t quick and easy was enough to make me stop trying to find a quicker and easier route.

Once you know that what you’re experiencing is normal, or once you’ve been told to expect a high volume of work or trouble, it makes that hurdle easier to deal with psychologically. Once you know your first script is going to be rejected by the BBC, it means that when it is, it isn’t a problem and you can get on with the next one. Once you know you’re not going to get the first job you apply for, it makes it easier to search for the next one. Once you know you probably won’t even get a rejection letter from the first job you apply for, it makes it easier to apply for the next one. Once you know that your first miniature you carve is going to look like a dog crossed with a wildebeest when you were trying to carve an elf, it makes the next one easier to start.

Nothing in this life comes easily, and if it does come easily, it probably isn’t worth it. This is all old stuff that everyone knows, but sometimes you just need to be reminded in order to get on with it.

Additional Notes:

Calling my songs half baked is an accidental pun: One of my better songs is called Undercooked.

I’ll confess my animation hasn’t gotten too far, but I’ve made headway onto a walking pattern and apparently getting a character to walk across the screen convincingly is one of the hardest things to do.

The book that I’ve bought and that I would highly recommend to anyone that wants to try animation is the Animators Survival Kit by Richard Williams. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” is still an excellent film and if anyone reading this has not seen it, try to. It’s still funny and it’s still clever.

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