Short of the Week

The Future of Animation | SOTW Awards 2013

Interview / February 11, 2013

Short of the Week is about more than just highlighting the best in bite-sized narratives—it’s also about fostering a dialogue amongst the innovative creators telling earth-shattering stories in new and interesting ways. And, what better time to do that than the week of the 2013 Short of Week Awards? All week, we’ll be having roundtable interviews with the award winners to learn more about their creative process as well as the broader storytelling landscape where short films are proving to be the leaders in the industry. First up are our animation winners.

A big thanks goes out to all the great filmmakers who participated—please be sure to follow them and learn more about their next projects at the end of this post. Also, as a note, all the interviews were conducted individually and then organized into this discussion for your convenience.

Catch all SOTW Awards 2013 Winners: AnimationQ&A, Live-Action + Q&A, New Media + Q&A, and Short of the Year Winners (Fri.)!

Who’s here?

WES BALL (Ruin)
LOUIS LEFEBVRE (I, pet goat II)
EAMONN O’NEILL (I’m Fine Thanks)
EUSONG LEE (Will)
MIKEY PLEASE (The Eagleman Stag)

How has this film impacted your film career?

WES BALL—It’s been great. I set up Ruin as a full fledged feature at 20th Century Fox. We’re currently developing it now. In the meantime, I got my first job as director of another 20th Century Fox movie, The Maze Runner.

LOUIS LEFEBVRE—Mostly it has given me a lot more confidence to pursue my vision. I was very heartened by the positive responses and encouragements and it has strengthened my determination to continue. Also the very negative comments have freed me from what others think of my work which is also a blessing.

EAMONN O’NEILL—It’s gotten a modest amount of festival attention which has definitely helped spread awareness of my work. It’s also just been nominated for a BAFTA, which really helps bring it to a wider audience. The response from the online community has been fantastic and incredibly supportive. Some of the techniques and ideas I was exploring in I’m Fine Thanks directly informed how I made my most recent short, Left.  I’m Fine Thanks also caught the attention of Studio AKA where I’m now working as a commercial director/designer. It’s fair to say it has impacted a great deal.

EUSONG LEE—Impact through this film came in various ways. It helped me to get a job at JibJab so I could stay in the animation industry in the US. Personally, the film and all the appreciation I received from people who watched the film made me realize that I want to keep making stuff in any form, as long as it has a story or emotion that matters to people.

MIKEY PLEASE—Well, it’s kept me making work. Prior to making this I totally considered hanging up my beloved animation hat and trying my hand at something new. I remember thinking, this is just too hard and unhealthy a process to justify the results. But looking back at the finished film, without my toes curling into my heels, and thinking ‘actually, this isn’t completely awful’  was a good feeling. And it was a first. The film itself was a big step forward in refining my own practice, figuring out what I like, why I like it and what kind of stories I’d like to tell. The more complex story telling also opened up a lot of opportunities to work on my own narratives and so for the first time ever, I actually know what I’ll be working on in a years time, and I’m excited.

How have you seen animation change or evolve over the past year?

WES BALL—Lots of great work by small teams. I think the tools for artists have come a LONG way, and artist’s ambitions have risen as a result.

LOUIS LEFEBVRE—I think animation is branching out more forcefully in experimental directions. I see animators taking more and more advantage of the limitless potential of the medium as opposed to following the traditional storytelling structures followed by big studios. I find this very inspirational. Also, the quality of work done by individuals or small studios is phenomenal.

EAMONN O’NEILL—I don’t think much has changed in terms of production. There’s definitely a noticeable shift in how animation is being presented and distributed. I spent most of the last year in my bedroom looking at my laptop. I was working on Left day in day out.  Throughout that time I was particularly tuned into the online community. It seems to be growing and growing, especially with platforms like Vimeo in place. There’s a real sense of support and awareness of other peoples work. I hadn’t really felt that as much previously. In the later part of the year I got involved with Late Night Work Club. This is a small collective of independent animators working on films under one theme. Our first release will be online this spring. That whole project is a direct result of meeting people on Vimeo and Twitter and building up friendships. It feels like this is a good time to be making independent work. It’s gratifying to know there is an audience out there.

EUSONG LEE—It might take too long to talk about every little thing, but there is one common thing I see, which is that animation is becoming a form of art that is the very friendly to produce for younger people. I am not saying the work of animation is something easy, but because of programs and the amount of content that is out there on the internet, books or apps, it’s becoming very convenient. For example, I am currently working on a film by myself with my computer in addition to my full-time job. All you need is a few programs, tablet, and yourself. It’s amazing for me because I am young. But, I also am scared to think what is going to make good animated content rise above the rest.. Or maybe it doesn’t even matter.

MIKEY PLEASE—I think there has been a resurgence in simplicity, minimal character design, more complex stories. I absolutely love it. I tend to get fixated with particular trends that I’m not sure are representative of the industry as a whole, but illustration-wise I’ve really got into watercolour design; Brecht Evans, yasmine Ismail. In stopmotion the whole papercraft thing got done to death last year, bastardised by a few too many adverts, which is a shame. But I think the principles of that simplified aesthetic are still developing and pushing real, physical animation forward in interesting ways.

What would you like to see change in the field of animation?

WES BALL—Animation at this point is only limited by the technology—and technology gets cheaper and cheaper. I’d love to see more and more people attempt unique and engaging stories. And, I’d like to see people stop thinking of animation as as genre.

LOUIS LEFEBVRE—I would like to see more films on critical social issues, films that challenge the establishment and status quo.

EUSONG LEE—I’d like to see indie animation artists influencing or driving the commercial mainstream. Around the world there are so many groups of artists who produce quality work but still have to do it only through their passion, without money, support, or a team. Cartoon Network really produces strong work based on the showmaker’s artistic sensitivity, vision and storytelling. I do see a similar influence of short films on features, but it really isn’t the same. Unlike the TV industry where artists with potential have the chance to take a shot, the film animation industry seems to be harder to breakdown. Of course, making a short film and making a feature is a whole different game. And, I am sure it is harder for features to be outrageously dependent on one artist’s perspective or sensitivity because failure can’t be made up for by a stunning second episode.

EAMONN O’NEILL—For a time, there has been a sense that animation is closed off and hard to get involved in. I hope that in seeing projects like Late Night Work Club come to fruition more people will follow in our footsteps  and realise that it’s possible to get your work out there. You don’t need major connections to do it. Somebody working alone in their bedroom in rural Poland is much more exciting to me than the next big studio feature. I want to see more of that.

EUSONG LEE—A few days ago I saw a website of a club called Late Night Work Club (LNWC). It is an amazingly ambitious and creative team. I wish I could be part of it. I don’t know much about it, but I had the impression that they are working by themselves without money or a team. Everyone is driven purely by passion. It’s amazing! But, what if that kind of creative content can be created in a bigger scale and released in a movie theatre instead of the internet? Everyone has an idea worth spreading. But, it’s sad for me that many of those artists get paid only with view counts on Vimeo or YouTube. Of course, it is valuable appreciation and eventually exposure will get the artist somewhere else.

MIKEY PLEASE—Well, it’s an old song I don’t mind singing again, but I would love to see a viable platform for auteur driven animation; commission and distribution. Publishers like No Brow and Drawn and Quarterly have done wonderful things for left of centre illustration artists and shown there is definitely an audience who are into that kind of work, who can make it commercially viable. Scott Benson puts it rather more eloquently in this interview for the Late Night Work Club project. So yeah, more support for LNWC-esq things, (such as SOTW!), less for shampoo virals.

What are your thoughts on the current state of 2D animation?

EAMONN O’NEILL—I don’t think 2D animation is under any threat. There has long been a debate about whether 3D will take over and push 2D and stop motion aside. While this may be more prevalent in features it’s certainly not the case with short films. The fact remains that for anyone entering into animation, it’s a very accessible technique within the medium. And, that’s just what it is—a technique. I think the freedom just means we are exposed to more individual voices. What may be more impactful upon specific styles is how software develops. I often wonder what my work would be like if Flash and Photoshop did not exist. How much of what I do is determined by the tools I’m using? If the software hadn’t developed in such a way how might the work look instead? At the end of the day, all of this is just surface. Regardless of technique, if there’s anything the short history of cinema has taught us, it’s what’s beneath it all that counts.

What’s up next for each of you?

WES BALL—Prepping my first movie The Maze Runner. It’s an adaptation of a popular book series by James Dashner. [@wesball]

LOUIS LEFEBVRE—I am doing a bit of freelance work presently to replenish my finances. I am simultaneously working on a few story lines, some short films but also a few feature film ideas. We’ll see which ones see the light of day, depending if I can get some financing or not. Either way I am determined to bring more of my ideas to life. [heliofant.com]

EAMONN O’NEILL—I finished Leftin September last year. Right now I’m distributing it to festivals and will be putting it online later this year. I’m making my film for Late Night Work Club which promises to be something quite different from my other work. After making a 12 minute narrative I wanted to break away a bit a make a smaller more experimental piece. Late Night Work Club seemed like the perfect place to do that. Beyond that project, I’m slowly developing my next film. It’s in its very early stages, but it’s coming together. [@eamoon_o_neill]

EUSONG LEE—I am trying to work hard on my personal work and also work at JibJab. I wish to make another good film. I just want to get better. [personal blog]

MIKEY PLEASE—The rest of this year is development on my first feature, Zero Greg, plus two other content related projects that are TOP SECRET. Ha. It’s a mixed bag of all nice things. Plus I’m going to get well buff. [@misterplease]

~
Finding and showcasing the best online short films since 2007.
  • http://www.facebook.com/jasondhi Jason Sondhi

    Very interesting that Eusong brought up Late Night Work Club, which is something that Eamonn is a part of. I think the idea of collaboratives and collectives could have major potential for short film creators.

  • http://twitter.com/escooler Adam Wells

    I love the concept of animation as a genre, there is a unquite method of storytelling available to animation that cinematic work cannot achieve; although I dont think the concept of animation is restricted to the idea of creating images; the films of wes anderson are clearly, animation….and the cinematography thats present in alot of CGI films, make them film – to my mind, obviously there is alot of grey in between, but I think animation has is a very different tool kit to that of conventional film

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasondhi Jason Sondhi

    You seem to be proposing a fairly expansive view of animation, which I think agrees with the point that Wes Ball was making and maybe there is just a mixup in terminology. Not to put words in his mouth, but Wes I think is arguing a against a very real inclination to go: rom-com, sci-fi, comedy, animation — as if animation can’t be any of those other things.

  • http://twitter.com/escooler Adam Wells

    Agreed, I dont quite understand why people are forced to pick between ‘fiction or animation or documentary when all things could be one and the same’ – I suppose I feel that there might be a certain aspect of aniamtion that I think of as genre in itself, that could not be translated to traditional film, Designed film might be better terminology and to me its a million miles away from most cinema.

  • http://www.andrewsallen.com Andrew S Allen

    Live-action is captured, animation is created. But really they are simply techniques, and ones that could be applied to any range of story genres: adventure, horror, film noir, etc. That’s why we at Short of the Week group Animation under Style and not Genre.

  • http://www.lucky9studios.com/ Ivan Kander

    Just updated this with Mikey Please’s thoughts. Interesting that he’s also a fan of the LNWC model—that’s quite a braintrust of talent they’ve got there.