Sunday, June 30, 2024

Animated People: Erik Timmerman

Back in 1994, on the first day of classes that Fall quarter, Erik and Marla gathered us first-year grad students together in a room and went over what the program entailed and what the next three years would look like (back then it was a three-year M.F.A. program and R.I.T. was on the quarter system).

During his lecture, Erik made a statement that has stuck with me over the past thirty years:

"You can make a million dollar film with a $10 piece of software and you can make a $10 film with a million dollar piece of software."

Erik's lesson was short and sweet: it's not the equipment you use, it's the skill of the filmmaker that makes all the difference. Now that I'm teaching, I often see students getting hung up on what's the latest and greatest piece of animation software. And on the one hand, I think it's important to know what the studios are using, but that shouldn't stop one from making their film. It's easy to get caught up in the arms race of having to possess the latest computer, the newest camera, or the most recent software update--much to the detriment of improving ones skills as an animator and a storyteller.

Erik also placed a heavy premium on story. Back then, he told a number of us "it all begins with a story." I fondly remember the times when he would start lectures with phrases like "so there's this guy...". Years after his passing, Bill Landers (the Chief Engineer for R.I.T.'s College of Art and Design) had a plaque installed  in the Gannett Building to memorialize Erik and his contributions to both the Graduate Computer Animation program and the Scriptwriting program at R.I.T.

At a number of the school reunions in the past, I've had the opportunity to touch base with Bill and reminisce with him about our time with Erik. We both share a knowing smile when Erik's emphasis on the importance of story inevitably comes up in the conversation.

As I have watched a plethora of animated films over the years, and have made a couple myself, I'm often struck by the thought that no matter what genre the animation uses or what form the film takes, there's always a story there to be told.

* * *