Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Radiohead/ Aniboom Animated Video Competition - An interview with the creators of "Zoo" (Anthony Catania and Thomas Au)

I find it almost impossible to understand why Zoo by Anthony Catania and Thomas Au has fared so badly in the Aniboom/ Radiohead competition. I have written about it here before and it is an animation I find fascinating in concept and, judging by the one minute section completed so far, execution. It is too late to advance the case for the animators I fear but here is a very full and frank response to some hastily put together questions. Anthony and Thomas are hugely talented - that is blindlingly obvious - and I'm sure, if not on this project, I'll be writing about some huge competition or commission they have obtained.

Q1. What in the music prompted you toward your plot?
Anthony: The chorus, "Don't get any big ideas, they're not gonna happen" was the main inspiration for the theme of the storyboard. I instantly envisioned animals trapped in cages at the zoo because to me, the lyrics represent defeat and loss of hope. The sombre tone of the song dictated the overall pace and mood of the story. To elevate the stress I took the human race out of the equation and that allowed for a social commentary of our present condition. The inside of the zoo reflects the problems of the outside world that we are currently facing on a global and personal level. The last minute of the song reaches a crescendo and calls for a plot twist. I visualized the animals rioting after escaping from their cages. The final 20 seconds of the song changes again. The soothing tone evokes feelings of hope and redemption for the animals and the planet.

Q2. How did you organise the allocation of roles between the two of you?
Anthony: When I learned that I was a semi-finalist I realized that I would need some support with the animation. I called upon my former animation classmate, Thomas Au. He was totally committed to helping me with this project. We experienced some challenges because we were exploring new ground and experimenting with different programs and inventing new techniques to achieve a different style of cut-out animation. We did a lot of problem solving. It was Thomas' expertise that allowed the animation to be completed. He was extremely motivated and patient. When it came to animating a scene, Thomas was very perceptive and was able to capture the subtlety of movement that I was aiming for. Although some of the things I requested him to do were very challenging, they never seemed impossible to him.
Thomas Au: The director has amazing ideas and I would animate the scene according to his explanations. This was my first time working with Anthony and I knew that everything would be experimental. I believed in Anthony's ability to direct because I have seen his past works and I must say they are creative and beyond my imagination. We worked together throughout this whole project side by side and he was willing to give instruction even when he was in the middle of detailing his drawings. I also have to give credit to Andrew Chan, the compositor for this project because he would help organize and put together scenes for the team, which gave us a much easier time.
Q3. You have created one minute of the animation. When you have completed the remainder of the song, do you envisage further work on the animation completed so far?
Anthony: There is always room for improvement. Deadlines must be met and sometimes you just have to accept what you have as 'good enough'. Having said that, I would definitely go back and fine-tune the animation as some of the comments have alluded to the fact that the animation is perhaps too subtle. A lot of effects, like steam from the rhino's nostrils or water droplets from the icicles were not included due to time constraints. Most of the energy would be needed for the completion of the song. The opening and closing scenes, particularly the frenzy, would be very complicated. Cutout animation is limiting in how much movement you can do with it. I originally intended to animate the eagle with classical animation showing it pecking at its egg. This scene alone would have taken a month and would have required over one hundred drawings. But a similar effect was conveyed with one drawing, allowing the viewer to imagine what had previously transpired. If I was to win the contest and Radiohead requested traditional animation, I would try my best to accomplish this. As a child, I was read to nightly and in this animation I wanted to recapture the essence of some of the best-illustrated storybooks I had been introduced to. I remember that a one-page illustration could convey more story and emotion than many of the cartoon shows that I watched on TV. Cutout animation permitted me to do this, as it's a nice middle ground between animation and illustration.

Q4. How much is of the work is CG and how much hand drawn?
Anthony: It was important to me that the animation has the detail and noir look that only graphite can produce. Therefore, everything is hand-drawn. Most of the layouts were made from texture rubbings made on tiles. The only CG elements in the animation were the liquid effects, glass, and tongue of the anteater.

Q5. What plans for the rest of the movie have you got?
Anthony: My plans for the rest of the movie include changing some of the animals and their situations that are in the storyboard. The riot scene will be the most challenging to animate and I envision doing that in slow motion. The frog scene as well as the flamingos, which lend colour to the film, would be done in pencil crayon to keep with the traditional hand-drawn look.

Q6. Where do you work at present?
Anthony: I quit a 4-year part time job at an electronics retailer to work on this project. Recently, I have received job offers from studios interested in my work but I am debating whether to do some independent projects or work for a studio. I would like to make a few short animated films and publish a book of some of my character designs. As long as I am creating art for a living I will be happy.
Thomas: I have just graduated from Seneca College and I am presently working on an animated mini series as a personal project. I will probably be continuing my education further in the beginning of September.

Q7. Should you win the competition how would this alter your plans and/or career?
Anthony: I love music and Radiohead is my favourite band of all time. I consider them to be the most diverse and creative group since The Beatles. I would easily put my plans on hold for them. I don't know what the future holds, but winning the competition would be even more life altering than it already has been.
Thomas: Winning this contest was never on my mind; it would just be unbelievable because there are so many amazing artists in this competition. I haven't really thought about this question but it would definitely change my plans since I have just graduated. I would definitely become more motivated as an independent artist and will continue to pursue my dream of spreading my ideas out there.I almost forgot to add that if we win, the first alteration of my plan would be to party with the team.
Thanks to both of you. The detail of your answers and the obvious time put in make me gush with admiration. Too embarrassing so I wish you both well and, truthfully, hope you complete the whole piece, enter it for a different competition, win a fortune, include it on your resume and obtain a position in the best studio around.

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