Animator. Director. Producer.

But The Animator...

I recently read an article about working on an animated feature film solo dolo.  The point in turn is that while it took the artist 4 years to produce the film he wanted… He got the film he wanted. Sounds like an incredible feat for an individual, but it’s not really an isolated incident now is it?

Right off the bat I can name a few people who produce their own animated films.  Bill Plympton, Don Hertzfeldt, Richard Williams, Signe Baumen, and Nick Cross.  I’m not discrediting the young hero. Not in the slightest bit. In fact, he should be celebrated. Furthermore, he raises a question… Do we really need the “studio system” at all?

It’s a topic I’ve been curious about the further along in my journey as a studio owner… When looking to produce any type of animated work, is it absolutely necessary to have more than one hand involved? In the article he states the an issue that plagues every studio - EVERY. STUDIO! - which is ensuring the next person in the assembly line stays the course. In a way it’s a bit ridiculous the more you think about it. As artists, we’re revered for having our own unique voice and approach to the work. Some artists are more reserved and others more flamboyant. Some are more subtle, while others are very exaggerated. Some have a better sense of timing, some have a better sense of lighting and composition. Some are more detailed, and some are more careless. And so the studio who has corralled all of these unique artistic cats is putting them through the wringer to draw and paint and animate with uniformity.

As an animation director, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a team of 6 or a team of 60, it is a daily battle of writing notes, red lining frames and trying to get everyone on the same page. If the schedule is relaxed, the team can come out in 3rd place… maybe. If the schedule is too tight, the team doesn’t place at all and the work simply is below the ability of the crew. And everyone knows this.

The reason why programs such as Animate (aka Flash) and Harmony exist is to minimize the problem of consistency. But it cannot solve the problem for consistency of performance. The art department of many of the big league studios are, for the most part, small compared to the animation department, which is why most environments and props will tend to stay in the same sphere of consistency. So, the artist is safe for the most part. Their skill sets will have a good chance of improving as the project progresses.

But the animator…

There is a reason why animators now a days come a dime a dozen. Nine out of ten animators aren't capable of drawing and fewer are capable of acting. And rather than animators becoming more artistic, they become more like technicians. Disney’s method of having the best animator handle a couple of characters - and then have assistants to help fill in the gaps - made sense. The leads animators were the lead actors of the production, and the assistants could be seen as makeup artists, wardrobe roadies and go-fors. Now the lead animator is just a person who writes notes and manages the team. How times have changed…

In a way technology has helped boost the production of animated content like an off-shore shoe factory. But in the chase for pennies, the power and purpose behind the art has diminished a bit. With the demand of content and the constant production of the work; our digital culture has come to devalue the labor of love that is animation. Even the artist and the animator have found a way to disregard the craft as simply a means to an end.

Yet, when you seen or read or hear of a single, solitary person working away on a grandiose project like a monk in a monastery; we’re completely in awe of the concept. The idea of actual hard work is so foreign to us now, we wouldn’t know where to start. 

In a talk at Richard Williams gave at BFI, he mentioned how he had started his career alone, went through the large studio system and came back full circle to him producing his own animated films alone again (8:38 marker). "Happily alone," as Richard would say. 

Just to give a little context, Richard Williams sent almost 30 years working on "The Thief & The Cobbler," and his latest short film "Prologue" has taken him nearly 15 years to produce. And it's a short film which is absolutely beautiful.

But… Maybe working alone, or with very little assistance is the way animation is suppose to be done!

To skip the middlemen and get right to the source. To go from concept to completion all within a single hand. Animation as art…

At least to me, the idea doesn’t sound abstract at all.