This is #2 of the series of conversations I started with my fellow Animation Mentor(AM) schoolmates. You can find #1 here.
This time I am in conversation with Christiaan Moleman who went out of the way and made a very beautiful 2D Animation short film - "Teddy" during his time at AM.
Anirudh Bhalotia (@|b) - Hello Christiaan! Thanks for your time and getting this conversation started. Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into animation, how did you hear about AM, when did you graduate from AM and what you been doing/working on currently?
Christiaan Moleman (CM) - I started animating using trueSpace when I was still in high-school. I went to college for game art and animation (though the course was labeled Game Design) in the UK and after that I started as an animator at a games outsourcing company in Amsterdam.
I heard about AM from Shawn, whom I'd been asking a bunch of newbie questions about animation. Just before I started my first job, I enrolled in the second ever class of AM, doing assignments evenings and weekends.
In Class 5 I decided I needed more time to focus on my short film so I quit my job and did Class 6 full-time. I graduated in 2006 with a film that was very much not finished yet, so as I set out to look for jobs, I continued working on it.
I got hired at Arkane Studios in Lyon, France, which is where I am at the moment.
@|b - Congrats for your short film - Teddy. It has come out beautifully and to see a short film in 2D is so very refreshing in today's 3D world ! How much time did it take for you to get this done right from getting the story to completion?
CM - At AM, I did three months of part time pre-production, and three months of full-time production. After that I got a new job so my time was limited(evenings and weekends again), but I spent about another year and a half working on and off to complete it.
@|b - What made you choose 2D as a medium for your short? Have you been working as a traditional artist since sometime ? What are the advantages/disadvantages of using 2D over 3D and vice versa?
CM - I do 3D all day at work so if I'm going to animate in my free time, 2D makes a nice change. I also like that it's more spontaneous. You spend less time fighting with your tools and more actually animating. I like 3D, but I think the software we're stuck with is pretty counter-intuitive. Another reason was a purely practical one : I wanted to do a film with three major characters and a fairly elaborate exterior background. I know how to model and rig, but building three characters and an environment in the time we had was clearly not feasible. The cost of drawing an extra character is minimal.
@|b - As someone who is into the process of making his own short, I had quite a tough time brainstorming ideas and then finally get onto some idea which can be used for storytelling in an interesting way. What was your process for getting the basic story outlined nailed down ? Or rather, from where did you get this idea from, was it your own experience or remembering someone else's or something like that? What advice in this context would you like to give to aspiring animators who would like to get started with their own short films at some point of time?
CM - Train rides ! Sitting with a pencil and notebook and writing down random ideas until something sounds good...
The inspiration has to come from somewhere though. I considered what I wanted my film to achieve. I didnt want to try to be funny. I wanted to do a story I had an opinion about. I remembered seeing the documentary "Death in Gaza" and thought his could be something different...
Now I have never been to Palestine and I dont know what it's like to grow up in a warzone, but I have two brothers, so I know what it's like to fight over toys with your siblings, and I'm often struck by how children seem to see the world a lot clearer than adults. Even if your chosen theme doesn't map directly to your own experience you can find something in there that you can speak honestly about.
@|b - What was the biggest challenge you came across during making this short film and how did you overcome it? Were there some problems which kept cropping up time and again during the pursuit of getting your short done?
CM - I struggled with the drawing and definitely staying on-model was a problem. Keeping proportions consistent while getting the right expression out of the characters was a constant fight and the final frames a result of many many revisions.
@|b - How important was the research/pre-production/planning process on getting your short done and looking back what is that one thing which you wished you had done more of?
CM - Crucial. Without research and planning you are stumbling around in the dark. You can't know everything, so read up, get reference and figure out what you want to do. If I could go back I would have quit my job sooner so I would've had time to do proper model-sheets and character tests before starting production.
@|b - Different animators have their own ways of reference and planning. Some prefer doing a lot of thumbnails, some just can't get by without doing video reference or some do a bit of both. What's your way of reference, something to keep you in check and avoid taking a detour from the main essence of the shot/scene you working on?
CM - I thumbnail a lot, but I also try to do (or get) reference when I can. Big fan of BBC Motion Gallery, but You Tube is also great. Getty Images also has some good stuff, though more for locomotion than acting reference. A lot of it is staged.
@|b - For any beginner in animation, there is always the temptation of making an epic right from your first independent short. What's the ideal duration a first timer should strive for so that he doesn't eat more than he can chew and also enjoy the entire process of actually seeing the short from story to screen?
CM - 30 seconds is perfect.
@|b - What keeps you inspired as an artist as I am sure there would be times when no matter what you do or how hard you work, things just don't go your way. What keeps you inspired and motivated and are there any other creative endeavors you pursue to keep your creative juices flowing and keep things in perspective? As I understand it's very important to take a break often rather than struggle with something for extended periods of time and not getting anywhere. Your thoughts on this ?
CM - Hmmm... seeing the awesome work done by everyone around me is a constant inspiration and going back to my favorite films and games (or trying new ones) always helps remind me what I'm doing in this medium.
I love traveling to new places and experiencing new cultures and languages. I definitely think it's healthy to have interests outside of animation and personally I find ancient history and mythology endlessly fascinating.
@|b - What's the best advice you ever got and something which you want to pass on to your fellow animators?
CM - This advise was not given to me directly, I read about it on James Hull's Seward Street. It's something Eric Larson said to Glen Keane (paraphrased slightly) :
"Don't cheat your audience"
The audience will never know all the things you "didn't" do, so never take the easy way out when you could have done something more true or entertaining...
@|b - On a concluding note, any words to students who are waiting to get their first job in the industry?
CM - Don't get discouraged, never wait and keep working on your portfolio. If you have the drive to keep improving, getting your foot in the door is a matter of time.
@|b - Thanks once again Christiaan, it was an interesting and inspiring conversation.
CM - My pleasure!
You can reach Christiaan thru his site here.