Happy International Animation Day!
Created by ASIFA (International Animated Film Association), International Animation Day honours the birth of animation and puts the art form in the limelight in a global worldwide celebration every October 28th!
To mark the occasion this year, we sat down with some of our talented DNEG Animation crew members to learn more about their career journeys in animation, what inspires them, and more.
How did you first fall in love with animation, and what inspired you to pursue a career in this field?
Guillaume: My initial interest in animation came from drawing, as I’ve been passionate about that activity from a very early age. As I kept pursuing and developing my drawing skills as a teenager, I was also very active in dancing and theatre activities, so when it came time to pick a university major, animation seemed like a great way to marry those interests.
Denis-Jose: My dad absolutely loved cartoons. Especially Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry. He would encourage me to choose a cartoon over a live action show if there was ever a choice of what to watch. He always said that animated stories were really just an allegory for things that were happening in the real world and in the news. He taught me to pay more attention to the stories as well as the animation, to try and read deeper into it. As an adult I’m inclined to think he was reading a bit too deep into some things, but nonetheless, I have him to thank for setting me on this path!
Leigh: I can’t remember a time before loving animation! Growing up with Tom & Jerry and the Disney classics of the 70s and 80s, combined with playing computer games throughout my childhood, I always loved this idea of making things that inhabited a world entirely of our own creation. I used to make lots of little stop motion videos with my parents’ camcorder, and flipbook style animations in the corners of my school textbook pages, but ultimately it was the film Jurassic Park with its incredible CG dinosaurs that cemented my decision to actually pursue it as a career.
Anand: The one major impact I had was the work being done by an animator called Daniel Martinez Lara from Pepeland on 3DS Max software – this was early 2000’s. I found his work really cool and inspiring and that’s when I decided to pursue learning character animation and the more I did it, the more satisfying and enjoyable the whole process got.
Francisca: I actually think I fell in love with animation when I started working on Nimona. I think that watching animation movies nowadays and sharing them with our kids, it’s what makes it magical and inspiring.
Oliver: I remember finding the Shrek VHS in my Aunt’s house when I was young and falling in love with the franchise. When it came to Shrek 2, I was so in awe of the density of jokes (that could have only have been realised by animation) in such a rich world and have watched it every year since it came out. It was the thoughts of this and ultimately getting to work with colleagues who worked on such fine cinema, that made the decision of pivoting from banking (!) to Animation, so much easier!
What’s your favourite animated movie or TV show, and what about it resonates with you personally or professionally?
Guillaume: If I had to pick a favourite animated movie, it would have to be a tie between Sleeping Beauty and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Sleeping Beauty for the sheer beauty of its production design and animation (I probably watched the magical cake-making/dress-making sequence hundreds of times as a kid), and Kiki, of course for the beauty of the visuals and animation, but also especially for Kiki’s character arc, which feels so real and relatable to me.
Denis-Jose: As much as I love great animation, I’m driven more by story, especially clever comedy. Right now my favourite animated TV show is Rick & Morty. It has both amazing animation and razor sharp wit. You can watch an episode multiple times and find something new. And I love complicated sub-plots!
Leigh: It’s so hard to pick a favourite, because I have so many. But if I had to choose just one, South Park is probably the one that’s been a part of my life the longest. I have a very irreverent sense of humour, so South Park really checks all the boxes!
Anand: The first part of Monsters Inc and Ratatouille are my all-time favourites. It’s the amazing characters in these movies that really stood out to me, Mike Wazowski – the bubbly joyful entertainer, Remy the Rat – for the sheer appeal the animators got out in his performances through the movie.
Francisca: I have a lot of favourite movies, but The Pursuit of Happiness tells me a lot because of the message that is sent out to the world and that message makes me wanna grow and move forward no matter how many setbacks I have.
Oliver: Although Shrek 2 is my long-time favourite, recently I’ve connected a lot with Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. The struggle of reconciling that what we pursue in life doesn’t necessarily improve the world we live in, and the dichotomy between beauty and horror both in our natural world and constructed world, really struck a chord with me. So many of us struggle with the question of ‘is what I’m doing right?’, which is almost impossible to answer, but a life where we nurture our passions and remain conscious of that question is a life worth living.
Animation often involves long and meticulous processes. What’s your secret for staying motivated and creative during projects?
Guillaume: I don’t really have one big secret to staying motivated and creative… perhaps mainly trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance and cultivate moments of quietness outside of work, when my mind can wander and randomly come across moments of inspiration. Also, watching the awesome work other people on my team do always helps refill my creative tank and keep me excited about the project!
Denis-Jose: In general I remind myself to keep my eyes on the prize! It’s a long slow road, but the end result is completely worth it and so, so, satisfying. I’ve worked in other creative areas which, believe it or not, have longer project times, so I don’t find working on a 2 year project too hard. I constantly remind myself that I could be single-handedly making a 400 page technical manual (which took me three and a half years).
Leigh: The best way to stay motivated during long productions is to keep challenging yourself. Nothing stagnates an artist like boredom or tedious repetitive tasks, so I think it’s really important to keep focusing on bigger and bigger challenges so that you keep evolving and growing. It’s why I left VFX for animation, because I love how every project is different; it keeps things really interesting. Something I love about modern animated films is the way we’re starting to branch out a lot more stylistically away from the “traditional” look of CG films, because it’s providing a lot of exciting opportunities to get really creative and do something special. Recent DNEG Animation shows like Entergalactic and Nimona are great examples of this. I also think that collaborating with others is a great way to stay motivated, and we’re lucky to work with some of the best here at DNEG Animation!
Anand: Looking at the amazing work being produced by colleagues really pushes and motivates you to strive and do better in your own work. Also, in general finding performances for a character that is true for the moment is both challenging and immensely satisfying – especially when it’s backed by the Director that they are really feeling the character in the scene. Apart from this, it’s also important to switch off regularly to stay fresh mentally and physically.
Francisca: Usually the movie and its message itself helps a lot. Of course, having a good team, people you can rely on and a nice environment is a big part of the motivation!
Oliver: As a member of the Pipeline team, a lot of our work involves developing tools well before a production has begun, and seeing the end-goal and wider picture when you are deep in 1000 lines of Python code can be difficult! However, keeping a good perspective of what the creative purpose of our tools is doesn’t just improve their effectiveness but lets you see problems at their root, and gives a marvelous excuse to look at fantastic artwork and watch films as research. Not to mention having such an amazing team and colleagues really helps – I’m eternally grateful for that, so much so that every day I look forward to going into the office or joining a zoom call.
What advice do you have for folks aspiring to work in animation who are just starting their journey in the industry?
Guillaume: If you aspire to work in animation, start doing animation now! Don’t just think about animation, or watch it, or dream about it… actually get your hands dirty and put in the work, even if it confronts you to your current limitations. You’ll only get good at it if you practise a lot! Also don’t just work hard, work smart. Meaning, don’t try to reinvent the wheel by yourself, instead watch tutorials, read books, take classes, force yourself out of your comfort zone, and accelerate your learning that way.
Denis-Jose: Focus more on the fundamentals of the craft, less on the tools. Too often we get lost in a cool new tool or in trying to master a feature of a particular software package. Whatever tool you are using now, you will unlikely be using it in a decade. That’s just the way things go with computers. But learning the fundamentals of the craft – whether it’s in animation, lighting, cameras or any of the many disciplines – these are the skills you need to excel and they will never be lost to time. Also, don’t wait to learn everything before you start doing your own stuff. Because working on actual projects is how you really learn. Got an idea? Just go for it. It’s easier to learn when you have a practical project with an end goal. Deadlines aren’t necessarily a bad thing!
Leigh: Be brave! It’s more important than ever to be really good at your craft, but don’t be afraid to try something new and different. An artist who does their own thing brilliantly tends to stick in my mind more than one who recreated some famous characters on their reel. And don’t skip the art classes! Understanding aesthetics, colour, shape language… these are more important than pushing buttons in a software package.
Anand: Be patient – it’s a long steep road ahead to becoming a fine animator and always stay hungry for feedback! Also, work towards creating your own fresh ideas – there is always going to be demand for a thinking animator.
Francisca: These days, I would just say: hang on! There’s a place for everyone , so don’t give up and keep improving your skills because I’m sure one day they will be needed. Sometimes it’s hard to encourage the new artists joining the industry, but if they don’t give up and keep working hard, the day will come, I’m sure!
Oliver: In my early days in the industry I struggled to connect with how what I was doing day-to-day actually translated into the film, especially when coding. I found watching as much (and as varied) Animation as possible was so beneficial and inspiring. Questioning how they pulled off different shots, getting an understanding of the history of the industry and how technology evolved over time, all while enjoying the best medium storytelling has to offer, was so formative for me. It really helps you appreciate the talents of your colleagues but also what you can offer in turn.
If you could bring any fictional animated character to life for a day, who would it be, and what adventures would you have together?
Guillaume: Definitely Totoro! I’d hang on to him and fly around the countryside to magical hidden forests.
Denis-Jose: Do muppets count? If so then I would choose Beaker and we’d go out conducting outrageous experiments (I’d wanna hang out with the Swedish chef too and hit up some karaoke bars). Otherwise it would have to be Professor Pat Pending from Wacky Races. We’d go for a drive in his car and use all the gadgets while out in traffic.
Leigh: The Robin Hood fox from Disney’s 1973 animated film. We’d go hiking in the woods together, singing silly songs!
Anand: That would be Remy the Rat from Ratatouille – what fun it would be to see him do all the cooking magic live! That would be so amazing!!
Francisca: I would love to hangout with Goofy and Mickey! When I was a kid, my best friend was smaller than me (still is lol), so we would be Goofy (me) and Mickey (her). Also she is very smart and I was more clumsy so we would fit in perfectly.
Oliver: As tempting as a wild adventure jumping the spider-verse would be, I think getting to spend a day with Marcel the Shell with Shoes On would be one of the most heart warming experiences, even if all we did was get coffee. I am so amazed by how much humanity the creators could put into such a little shell – I’m sure at the end of the day I’d be more thankful and wiser thanks to his adorable and wholesome life perspective.