Monday, March 31, 2014

Women in Animation: TAIS and the importance of being seen

I'd like to close this year's Women in Animation interviews by summarizing a portion of my discussion with Janice that did not get included in her interview: namely the importance of having your work seen.

National Film Board of Canada Director Michael Fukushima once gave me this advice: "Make a ten-second film, and send it to the festivals. Next, make a 30-second film, and send it to the festivals. Then, make a sixty-second film... and send it to the festivals...". My interpretation of his point, given the context of our discussion, is that you should start with a film-making goal that is small and attainable, then get that film before an audience--hopefully gaining feedback. Then, apply what you learned to your next film, and make a longer film... and get that film before an audience, etc.

Often, budding filmmakers (and even experienced ones too) will fall into the trap of wanting to produce an epic film that is clearly beyond their reach--clear to everyone but themselves, that is (and I'm just as guilty as everyone else). And while the idea may be exciting, the filmmaker is more than likely caught up in the emotional rush that comes with a new idea. Incidentally, this is part of the reason why I stress working on your drawing skills--so that you can sketch out your idea and get an impression of how much work it will take to bring your grand vision to the screen. No idea is perfect right out of the gate. Every idea will need to be refined and brought into the realm of what is achievable with your available resources (for example: your current skill level, your free time, or the finances you can dedicate to your project). This sounds like common sense, but how many times have we experienced this in our own projects be it producing a short film or painting a room? Everything looks amazing, easy, and achievable with little effort in our ofttimes deceptive imagination. But when it comes time to put our pencils to paper, we quickly learn that our imagination wasn't being entirely honest with us!

Getting back to Michael's advice: when you're starting out, start small. Animation can be a very solitary experience, especially when working on your own films. So make a film that you can achieve--both within the skill level that you have and within a reasonable amount of production time--so you won't get discouraged halfway through the project and abandon it when it turns out to be more work than your imagination had led you to believe.

Which, in turn, brings us back to my conversation with Janice. One of the things that we talked about is the importance of groups like the Toronto Animated Image Society (TAIS). Even though the cost of computers, software, and digital filmmaking equipment is coming down in price to such a degree that it makes film/animation projects very affordable to most people, that doesn't change the fact that you can't "buy" experience or knowledge--both have to be earned through study, practice, hard work, and feedback. One look at YouTube will show you that there's a lot of people out there who 'think' that they're filmmakers, but in reality, they're just novices playing at being serious filmmakers. And if they're having a good time, hey, more power to them. I've spent more than my fair share of time watching cat videos on the internet. However, if you want to stretch beyond an audience of family and friends, there will come a point in time when you realize that you need to step up your game.

And that's where organizations like TAIS come in. You see, animation (and filmmaking) isn't rocket science. It isn't some nebulous thing that only people with "innate talent" can do. It's actually a skill that can be learned. And organizations like TAIS are good environments where you can get access to equipment and expertise. Janice stated during her interview that when people join TAIS, she likes to pair them up with an experienced filmmaker who is working (or has worked) in the medium that the person is working in. That way, they have someone to bounce questions or ideas off of--something that cuts down the time required to learn a new skill considerably.

TAIS's Patrick Jenkins is my 'go to' guy for questions regarding paint on glass animation.(1) I wouldn't dream of starting a cut-out animation project without first passing it by Lynn Dana Wilton. Digital camera and live-action filming issues? Grayden Laing. Character and story development? That's easy: Ellen Besen. Classical hand-drawn character animation: Bryce Hallett. 3D CGI character animation: Barry Sanders. More than just a shout-out, these members of TAIS are experts in their field with many successful projects under their belt who gladly share their expertise with the animation community.

Additionally, every year, TAIS puts out the call for ten-second films. This "Anijam" is open to members and non-members alike and is a way for people to get their work seen by an audience. How it works is, the board sets a ten-second duration for animated films on a specific theme, then filmmakers around the world make their ten-second films using any animation technique they want and submit them to TAIS. All the submitted ten-second films are then edited together to form one big film which is screened during the annual TAIS Summer screening and later uploaded to the TAIS YouTube channel.

Assuming a frame rate of thirty frames per second, then ten seconds of footage works out to be 300 individual frames of animation if you're filming on 1's. If you're filming on 2's, that's 150 individual frames. And it's 75 if you're filming on 3's.(2) The point here is, you CAN produce a ten-second film in a day, depending on how complex you make the visuals and audio.

This year, the theme is 'Robots' and you can find all the technical details, along with the film submission link on the TAIS Robot Anijam 2014 webpage.

So whether you're in the Toronto area or not, make a ten-second film using the theme of "Robots" and submit it to the TAIS Anijam. You'll get some experience making a film, hopefully get some feedback, figure out what you learned making that ten-second film, and then apply this newfound knowledge and experience to making another ten-second film... or maybe a thirty-second film... and then send it into the festivals... then make a sixty-second film... and send it into the festivals...

1. Using the method of mixing paint with glycerine.
2. For those who aren't familiar with the lingo, "1's" refers to filming one single image, one time, before moving to the next image. 2's refers to filming one single image twice before moving to the next image, etc. So, filming on 1's can give you very smooth motion but it's very labor intensive when compared to filming on 3's where every single image is filmed three times before moving to the second image. Fortunately, our eyes don't normally have an issue processing animation that's filmed on 3's, so it's a great labor saving device.