The Animated Short – A Student’s Perspective
To the fledgling, painfully green animation students of the world, the universe of film making and production oriented projects can seem profoundly mysterious and annoyingly inaccessible...and in the real world, “working man” sense of things...it is. It was to my surprise, honor, hint of fear, and “helping” of confusion then, when, upon learning of a recent victory of The National Team Animation Competition (sponsored by HP and Saytek) my Department Director at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Hans Westman, asked myself and another fellow teammate to write an article talking about the production experience as a whole.
Author: Patrick Bannan with contributions from Tom Netzband
“Write an article? We’ve barely dipped our toes in turbulent sea that is ‘production’, and you want us to talk about it?!”
“Of course!” I imagined his reply, and a few discussions later, some brainstorming here, a lunch break or two there, and here I am, diligently tapping away at my creamy white keyboard in my smoldering hot room.
Our (officially award winning) film is called Snowday and it was started and completed during two classes over the course of six months by four strapping young lads named Tom Netzband, Jesse O’Brien, Ed Gonzalez, and myself, Patrick Bannan. It’s a simple little tale about a young, childishly mischievous boy named Avery Middleton, and his playfully spontaneous efforts to find entertainment during a surprise day off of school. Snowday became for us a very real ruler by which we, as blooming artists, have measured ourselves since its undertaking. There is little doubt that, separate from the film itself, the most rewarding aspects of the endeavor are the lessons and insights we took away from the process, things we can only know with experience, things that will stick with us, becoming more reinforced with each subsequent exposure to the production lifestyle.
We began as any project would; staring helplessly at the ominous blank canvas before us. Reconciled to our fate, we resolved to jump in and see what sort of angel or monstrosity we might uncover.
As with anything, there were many things we performed well on. Perhaps the biggest strengths that served to the project’s completion were, firstly, our relative dedication and commitment to the established schedule despite the numerous and (learned to be) inevitable setbacks. In addition, our keen awareness of the importance of communication offered lubrication to the process; we relied on a separate e-mail account to act as a centralized hub of sorts. We also, as a team and individuals, worked from a genuine interest and passion that can’t necessarily be imbued by expensive institutions or the threat of poor marks. As students, we recognized that knowing the software wasn’t going to make our short. We frequently thought back to our acting, storyboarding, animation, and other foundational classes to pull from and apply principles we had learned during our earlier quarters in school. Typically speaking, we were students that worked beyond what was expected in the classroom, and held ourselves to the highest standard despite expectations or prior performance.
The project progressed. Some things started coming together nicely; other things collided in a horrid storm of flying pigs and twisted rigs. We pressed on, cranked out what we had to, learned when we could, avoided sunlight, and eventually finished the film.
Now, it’s not easy to miss that this, without a doubt, is a STUDENT film...full of all the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) nuances that aptly name it so. Weaknesses between the film itself and our approach to the piece abound, but have proven to be some of the most fertile breeding grounds for our learning endeavor. Ultimately, there will always be a lot you look at in a piece and repeat the line “if only I had a little bit more time...” Snowday is full of many things “unpolished”, and the team has done its share of “looking back”, but its nice to see where one has come from, relative to where they are now. For all of us, this was our first real, involved, self directed group project, and our first shot at a full blown short film. The blatant weakness of inexperience was one that plagued our project; start to finish. We had ambitious goals mixed with naïve optimism, and phrases like “Let’s not overdo this.” and “How about we try all this crap we’ve never done before!” were practically married. Our hectic student schedules offered little relief as well, between four other classes, extracurricular-s, jobs, and the sacred dose of socializing that might be sneaky enough to work its way into our time starved lives...and then there was that whole sleeping thing to worry about. To say the least, we now understand why studios dole out hundreds upon thousands of man hours for some silly little task like storyboarding, animating, or plain old revising.
So the short was completed, the deadline was met. We had our wishes for further perfection, but we were well enough ‘close’ to resign ourselves to a “project: finished”. All that was left to do was to pack it tightly away and forget it beneath the pile of dusty nudie mags in our attic...wait...no...That’s wrong.
As a team, we honestly didn’t have any concrete plans for Snowday upon its completion. We had begun the project as I’m sure most projects do, especially under the direction of first timers (with visions of angels and a certainty of praise and riches to come). As time went on though, those visions were replaced by the reality we created, despite our best efforts. It was a valiant attempt, and something we were proud of and happy to take a step back from. We certainly didn’t expect lavish praise, and, I’m guessing, there was a part of all of us that wasn’t necessarily eager to put it out into the public realm. In the end, the opportunities provided by going forth with an uncertain effort, in the face of limited experience, proved to be just as organic in development as the project itself. Ultimately, it was a team experience that yielded resume worthy results, with the winning of the animation contest (and an all expenses paid trip to SIGGRAPH for Tom and I). Moreover, opportunities were created in a ‘slight edge’ sort of way, improving working philosophies and techniques, abilities and approaches. All the stuff we had heard about before hand but never really used or thought about – organization, scheduling, pipelines, planning, teamwork - was rewired into our brain and helped to step our work up a few more notches from there on out.
We sent the film out with a sense of detachment to the outcome. We did the work and were happy, considering the obstacles; everything else was icing. And whataya’ know? Our cake, relatively speaking, got smothered, despite our fears of under cooking and shabby flavoring.
The nice thing about retrospection is that it also provides the opportunity to recall all the things that provoked the feelings of worry, concern, agony, or threat, and know none of it was enough to kill you. All the things we hadn’t dealt with before: an amalgam of self and course imposed deadlines, the stress of relying on everyone to do their part, the technology battles that kept us teary eyed into the wee hours of the morning, the borg-like time devouring monster the project seemed to become, sucking every last second away from our other obligations; there’s a certain amount of satisfaction knowing what caused you the most grief and then seeing it from the other side of the fence. It’s the sort of mind expanding experience one can only hope to hold on to at the completion of such things.
So, short film turned long article (relatively speaking...hey, gimmie-a-break, this was another first too!), it was a great and phenomenally educational experience and, I think, an echoed instance of a project’s value existing in the lessons learned. Perhaps we all, as students or amateurs, clawing and biting our way into the professional world, have a long way to go, or perhaps we’re closer than we think. Perhaps I’m going to sneak in a plug for our team’s websites...ahem...that’s
Patrick Bannan – http://PBnoJ.net
Tom Netzband – http://TommyWhoops.com
Ed Gonzalez – http://BrokenLegGuy.com, and
Jesse O’Brien – http://JesseOBrien.com
Either way, the biggest thing that has been reinforced in my mind from this whole experience, is that you’ll never know until you try, and you’ll always wonder if you don’t.