This is the thirteenth 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. Jack's will be posted there later in the week.
Jack Whitmore interviews Darren Price
Darren Price is in charge of 3D animation at the London studio “Nexus”. It was his personal project "Potapych, The Bear Who Loved Vodka" that drew him to our attention here at South Axholme School. His tale of a bear addicted to vodka is very funny. Darren's work for Honda has won him awards too (and persuaded our teacher to buy one.) His interview is full of information about working in the commercial world, as well as about courses and universities.
When you first read the article about Potapych did you immediately think, "This is a great idea for an animation"?
I immediately thought that it was a funny, and interesting article, and it wasn't too long until I was considering it for an animation. I started out, though, by just writing a few lines from the article into my sketchbook, and doing some drawings of Potapych and Misha. I was on holidays in Australia staying at a house in the country, where I drew and drew until I knew, visually, how I wanted the film to start and to end.
How long did the animation take you (and your team) to do?
The animation took 12 weeks of production time. I had pretty much developed the story, and storyboards before that production time though - so we knew what we were doing when we started. Mike Greenwood, and I were the only full-time animators on the project, and we worked for most of that 12 weeks. Other animators popped in for a week or two here and there. We didn't really work too many long hours, and tried to keep it well organised, so we weren't in the studio on a Saturday night.
The colours of the movie are very rich and almost Christmas-like. How do you decide on a particular style for an animation?
It depends on who the animation is for really. This was a personal project, and so I went with a style that I liked at the time. I'd been looking at some books about a well-known concept artist for Disney from a lot of their early films, called Mary Blair. Her art is lovely, and the final Disney films don't look that much like a lot of her final art. I wanted to make something that looked like original concept art, rather than over-painted, realistic paintings. And, I work in 3D all the time, so I had a few tricks that I wanted to try, making 3D look like 2D, and putting it on top of paintings etc.
Working on commercial projects, the client will often let you know that they want the characters to have realistic textures, or to be drawn in 2D. The general colour choices, and design of the project, are usually decided by the director, or an art director. The clients can then have some feedback, but you definitely push for a look you like.
The sound of your movie is important, including the narrator with the Russian voice, music and fx. Is this something you control yourself or is it someone else's responsibility?
I am not that great with sound. I have a friend, Scott Collins, who did all the music and fx for me. He's brilliant, and so I was pretty confident he'd do something great. I gave him a really big brief at the start, and sent lots of reference songs, and bits of Russian accordion music I liked - hoping he'd pull it all together into something that sounds really nice. Which he did. The voice artist was great too. I found him through an agency that handles voice talent - and got really lucky with Yuri. He was brilliant. I went to a sound session with him, and tried to direct him as to what I wanted. I say 'tried' as I really just don't know how to talk about sound and acting all that well. It was definitely a learning experience. Also, quite stressful as we only had a couple of hours to get the whole thing right.
Did you set out to create a piece of art, win an award, create a popular film for television or as a personal project because it appealed to you?
I wanted to creat an entertaining film for television. I received a grant from Channel 4 to do this project, and so, did treat it to an extent, like a ommercial job, where I was to deliver something that would be fun to watch for 3 minutes after the news.
Is making animation films your job or a hobby?
Animation is definitely my job. Short films like Potapych feel like a hobby, but I approach them like a job. I do a lot of commercial work mostly, and work every day on lots of different projects.
We use Flash to create our movies. Could "Potapych, The Bear Who Loved Vodka" have been created with Flash alone?
Yes, totally. I think Potapych held together as a story pretty well, just due to the voice-over, and simple story structure. It would have worked as a Flash animation. It's just a choice you need to make, that usually comes down to what your resources are. For a short film like Potapych...I needed to choose a medium that I was good at - just to get it done on time. If you have a big budget, you could hire a team of 3D people, or stop-frame animators, 2D...whatever you like, and just direct the thing.
What inspired you to animate? And why?
I guess I was drawn to the romantic idea of creating worlds/characters etc. out of your bedroom. I loved loads of fantasy, and sci-fi when I was a kid...and was just blown away by things like the taun-tauns in Star Wars. I also drew a lot, and would copy Bugs Bunny, and Peanuts characters all the time. I really loved the idea that you could do that stuff for a job. Actually ending up animating though.
I saw that you won the "Best 3-D Professional Animation" but have you won any other awards for your animations? And are awards important as a career aid and/or for personal satisfaction?
I've won a lot of awards as an animator, rather than a director... ie. some of the commercial projects I've worked on have won lots of awards. The ad Honda 'Grrr...', and the Motorola Grand Classics spot won loads of things. I like it when an ad is successful in the industry, as it means you get more work, and more attention. For my personal films, like Potapych, and to a lesser extend 'Show & Tell', which I put a lot into as an animator, it is really rewarding to win a prize. It does push you on to do it again, and it's just a bit of affirmation that you've made something people like. As a film-maker you are always a bit paranoid that you've wasted everyone’s time with your film...so prizes do help, yes.
Another good thing about awards is they help you when applying for jobs overseas (ie. applying for Visas), and they help when applying for grant money to make a new film.
Is working on commercials a very stimulating environment for an artist or is it too competitive for that?
Working on commercials is great at a place like Nexus - Ads have a short turnaround, and they always look very different and usually interesting. So...it's a pretty exciting area to be in. The one thing you miss as an animator working solely on commercials is being able to animate long scenes, tell complex stories, and develop characters etc. Still, a lot of animators prefer ads. They usually pay well too.
Do your animation team have similar backgrounds?
The animation team have fairly varied backgrounds. Most have some sort of animation training - 2d, stop frame, or 3D. Then, there are quite a few people who have gone through the Royal College of Art, or done a Graphic Design degree. The directors have usually done film studies, or design studies of some sort. Most of them are hands-on animators too.
What's the best way of getting into animation? (e.g. the best schools/ universities) and what sort of courses would I need to take? Is artistic talent the key or is it use of ICT?
Artistic talent is the start of it all. From there you have to learn a lot. Learning to animate is a funny thing... there are loads of courses - small courses at tech colleges, and even short courses at larger institutions, a lot of which are fairly useless. A lot of the mechanics or animation come down to practice, and doing it a lot - copying other people etc. until you know what you are doing. Hard work, but fun. For courses, I would suggest doing a lengthy course where you make a film by the end (and look at the previous films made at the school to see if they are any good). Schools I think are good are the RCA, Supinfocom in France (learn French!), Le Gobelins (again in France), possibly Central St. Martins in London (2D animation is good there), and if you want technical 3D then Bournemouth NCCA is good.
Nexus Productions has done some great commercials. At school we are just about to start our own commercial for a product of our own choice. If you had to write down golden rules to guide us what would they be?
Our most successful commercial is Honda Grr... and this had a really strong idea at the base of it 'Hate Something, Change Something'. So, we had a great base to work from - and the animation just made that idea come to life. So...golden rules...strong idea, catchy song/appealing motive, and then great animation?! Something like that... ;) Also, watch the 'Log' ads that John Kricsfalusi faked in his Ren and Stimpy episodes. They are good for exaggerating animated ads, and probably good reference for you making an ad for fun.
You come from Australia. How do you judge the standard of animation work there and here?
The quality of animation is generally better where the work is. There is plenty of work both here in London, and in Sydney, so I'd say quality levels are fairly similar. There's more advertising work here in London though, and generally more interesting/creative briefs to work with. The internet has made the world a bit smaller too. I think websites like http://www.cartoonbrew.com/, and http://www.cgtalk.com/, where people talk about animation, and show each other their animations are really helping to push quality levels up.
Is the animation industry a good one for me to get into?
The animation industry is good to be in. It is very competitive, and if the bottom line is that you want to make films, or animate on films, then this is the place to be. I wouldn't say that the animation industry has the most established career structure - ie. you get to the point where you are animating...and there's not a lot of ladder left to climb. However, as a craft and general enterprise, I think it's hugely rewarding, and the possibilites of what you can put into an animated film are endless.
Finally, "Potapych, The Bear Who Loved Vodka" was triggered by a newspaper article but if you could turn any book into an animation what would it be?
I'd quite like to animate 'Bottesnikes and Gumbles' by S.A Wakefield - an Australian kids book that had some great drawings in it. I also met the author once in Bathurst, and he was really nice... :) I'd also love to adapt some comics, but more the graphic novel type - similar to Sin City, Ghost World, and Persepolis. In a dream world where I can pick and choose such things, I'd probably want to search through some of those... Dan Clowes' 'Like a Velvet Glove cast in Iron', or Charles Burns' 'Black Hole' are great stories. Ah...I don't know, there are loads of things that would be great animated. It was nice to work from a true story with Potapych, and I'd possibly look at doing something similar for a short film again.
Anyway, thanks for the interview Jack, and good luck with everything. I'm sure you'll have fun in the wonderful world of animation.
"Potapych, The Bear Who Loved Vodka" may be viewed at: http://www.cleverlikeamonkey.com/potapych/index.html
It was featured as our 2007 New Movie of the Week 23 and was our blog entry for 24th May.