This is the eighth in our series of interviews with those animators whose work has particularly appealed to our students here at South Axholme. Each interview is available in a more colourful format, along with suitable illustrations, on our website. Sam's will be posted there this week.
Sam Rawson interviews David Bokser
Sam: What technology did you use to create the figures in "The Old Man and the Fish"?
David: I used Maya 6.5 on Windows 2000 PCs for most of it. The texturing on the characters was done in Photoshop CS.
Sam: I use Flash to create my animations and have no idea how to set about creating an animation in 3D. Could you briefly describe the stages you have to go through to create an animation as sophisticated as "The Old Man and the Fish"? How long did the animation take you to do?
David: The animation took a year from conception to final film. The first 3 months were spent on planning and concept work. Putting together the storyboards, developing the character and environment concept work. After the characters were designed, they were modeled and textured in Maya. A friend of mine did the old man model and fish suit while I was working on the environment models; the house, pier, and lake. After the modeling and texturing was finished, the old man and the fish suit had to be rigged, which is where you have to set up the skeletal structure and attach controls to make it more intuitive for the animator to animate. This is also where you set up all the face shapes, etc, to let the character be more expressive. With all of the models and rigs finished, the next stage was to make a 3D animatic. This is where the characters and props are put into their environment and the shots are set up according to the boards. This is done so you could get a feel of how the final will look in 3d and if there are any shots that need to be changed or added before animation starts. Once the animatic was finished, I handed it off to my sound editor and composer to start on a rough soundtrack, while we started on the animation. I had 4 other people help with the animation, and this is where the 3D animatic came in handy. The animatic gave the other animators information about the camera and timing of the main actions that they could work off of. Without that, it would be harder to keep consistent between multiple shots. After the animation was done, each of the shots was lit and rendered. It was at this phase that any in-scene effects such as the water were created. Once all of the shots were lit and rendered, the post effects, such as the bubbles, compositing, and color correcting was done. A lot of the shots also had matte paintings that were done during production as background elements; all of the skies and trees and things. Those were composited into the rendered shots as well. After all of the scenes were final, it was all assembled together and edited into a final pass at which point the music and sound effects were finalized and added in.
Sam: How much of the production was teamwork? How much was you?
David: As I mentioned in the previous question, I had a number of people help me out on it. It's hard to put a number to "how much of it was teamwork" since the film would have been very different without the team I had. The film was my senior thesis project for school, so I came up with the concept for the story and I supervised every part of production. I did roughly half of the modeling, 2/3rds of the animation, and 2/3rds of the lighting, and all of the compositing and editing. The film was done as a requirement for a few of my classes, but my friends helped on various shots and models in their free time, so I had more time to do the brunt of the work.
Sam: How did you come up with such an amazing idea?
David: I don't think there is something that could be called "an amazing idea." As was pointed out in your school blog, the idea of the Old Man and the Fish is just an oceanic version of the Icarus story, even though it's not something that I was conscious of during the production of the film. I think the difference between good ideas and bad ideas are execution, so you could turn any idea into either a good or bad film. As for how the Old Man and the Fish was started, I wanted to make a film that the audience responded to emotionally, instead of the one joke gag films that I was seeing all over the place at the time.
Sam: The world of the old man seems to be a mixture of realism and fantasy. Are we to take it as real or as a metaphor?
David: Parts of it were meant to be taken as metaphor but I supposed when I was working on it, I considered everything happening in the story to be realistic. When the koi fish jumps on the boat and leaves a scale, the scale represents a metaphorical perfection that he embodies the fish to be, but the metaphor is supposed to be from the old man's perspective.
Sam: Some of the scenes in the movie were very spectacular. For instance we feature on our website a screenshot of the old man about to leap into the water set against a sunset. Are you conscious when movie-making of attempting the big dramatic scene?
David: I'm really happy that you bring up that part, and it seems to be the part that's most memorable to people in the film. When constructing the story of the Old Man and the Fish, that was the first scene I had in my mind about the story, and I built the story around that image. It was supposed to embody the whole concept of the film. So, to answer the question, I was conscious of attempting the big scene.
Sam: In class we could not make out if the man was sad or spooky. What is your take on your character? For instance we discussed whether or not the fish were getting their own back.
David: I was aiming for the character to be sad and not spooky, so I'm kinda disappointed that it came across that way. I think it might perhaps have to do with the nonchalance the fish displayed at the old man's death. I received pressrue from a number of my professors to make the ending happy and have the fish save him, but that I guess is where the realism of the previous question comes into play. I wanted the fish to appear realistic to the audience so the fish are unaware of the old man's plight even as he's drowning.
Sam: Why do you not include any dialogue in this animation?
David: There are a few reasons. One of the major ones is that I didn't have the resources in school to get a good actor to do a good dialogue track. I didn't think the story called for it, since there was no one for the old man to really talk to. Also, when learning animation, a lot of the lessons are about conveying emotion through body language. That's something I was trying to experiment while animating the film.
Sam: What was the single most difficult scene to animate?
David: The most difficult was the drowning close-up shot of the old man breathing his last breath. He does a number of big emotional transitions from bliss, to panic, acceptance, and finally peace. In top of that, I had to make it look like he was struggling to swim underwater. It was by far the hardest shot I had to work on in the film, and I still don't think I really succeeded in getting across what I wanted with it.
Sam: The end of the movie is disturbing. Why did you create such an interesting, yet emotional conclusion as the man drowns in the lake?
David: As I said, one of the big reasons for making the film for me was to make something that had an emotional impact. I started the film knowing how I wanted it to end and I built up the story around that ending.
Sam: Do you produce the sounds and background music yourself? What sort of software do you use for this?
David: I didn't produce the background sound and music. A friend of mine, Hunter Curra did, and he used a program called Pro Tools for the majority of the sound mixing. We also brought in a cello player that Hunter recorded and Hunter played the piano parts on a keyboard.
Sam: At this stage in your life is making animation films your job or a hobby?
David: I'm currently working as an animator as a day job, but I'm also working on another animated short film at home as well. So it's both. If I wasn't working as an animator, I'd still be doing it in my spare time.
Sam: What inspired you to animate and why choose this as a vocation?
David: I was always a big computer nerd growing up. I also loved drawing and would always doodle cartoon characters for my friends in class, so I grew up with an artistic and technical background. What really got me interested in animation was Toy Story. I loved the Disney films growing up but when Toy Story came out, that combined everything I was interested in - cartoons and computers. I picked up a bunch of books on computer animation and was hooked.
Sam: What's the best way of getting into animation? What sort of courses should I take?
David: The best way of getting into animation is just doing it. Use whatever resources you can and experiment with making films. As for courses, I think the foundation courses in school were important. Knowing how to draw, color theory, design theory and things like that will help give you a better vision of how you want your film to look. The second most important classes I took were my project courses, which let me bring an idea from start to finish and gave me the incentive and deadlines to actually get it finished. Those were the ones where I learned the most.
Sam: If you could turn any book into an animation what would it be?
David: I've always wanted to make Voltaire's Candide into an animated film. The writing style is so stylized and fast paced that I think it would lend itself perfectly to the medium.
Sam: Finally, if you were to project ten years into the future where would you hope to be with your career?
David: In 10 years, I'd like to have directed an animated feature film. I have an idea in mind that I'm trying to develop so hopefully I'll have some luck with it when I have a screenplay ready.
Sam: Thank you so much for answering my questions so fully, David, and good luck in the future.
David Bokser’s website is davidbokser.com
His animation is featured elsewhere on our animation blog and is also 2007 movie of the week 11