Saturday, April 25, 2009

Third Year Retrospective

Well, 3rd year of BAA Animation here at Sheridan is done, and since I have nothing else to do for the first time in 8 months I guess I'll offer my thoughts about the year to anyone who might be interested.

Overall, man, what a ride. It was probably my favorite year to date, and although the workload was substantially higher than anything I've ever experienced, I still loved it. From the beginning we were really lucky to have a great concept to start from (thanks to Dan), and even more lucky to have a great group that was willing to work their hardest to make it work.

Our class in particular had it kind of weird from the start, because although all the other classes (there are 5 classes per year) stayed the same and had all the same people in it from previous years, people from our class (group E) were mixed around with people from another class (group D). I don't really know why they did that, cause they still had the same number of people in each class. And then after that, some people chose to switch between the classes throughout the first week. In the end, we ended up having more people from group D in our class then from group E. So a lot of us didn't know each other very well, and some of us had never even met. I don't know why all this happened to just our two classes, but I'm glad it did because somehow we ended up with some of the most talented and hardworking people I've ever had the privilege of knowing.

Our group consisted of: Adam Trout, Allison Neil, Amanda Stocker, Dan Seddon, Dawnson Chen, Debbie Yu, Giorgio Mavrigianakis, Jason Walmsley, Kevin McCullough, Ki Eun Suh, Hank Choi, Dimas Mohammad, and myself. Not only did we work really well together, but we genuinely enjoyed eachother's company. We hung out a lot outside of school, and we even had a group spaghetti night. I think it is key that in order for groups to work really well together that they have to enjoy working well together. But at the same time, you can't be afraid to challenge people and tell them your opinions on their work. And they have to be willing to accept all criticism and try to improve it for the good of the film. One of Kevin's shots where there are around seven people dancing on screen and this one character slides in and does the robot, I mean, he redid that like ten times. Because he would do it, it wouldn't be good enough, we would tell him, then he would fix it without complaining. That happenened many many times, and it ended up being one of the best shots in the film. We all have to be willing to accept any criticism and know that it isn't a personal attack, but that it is only to make the film better.

Story wise, we had our work cut out for us. We had an amazing concept (a walking signal from a traffic light wants to be a dancer), and we did everything we could not to screw it up. We explored our story to a redonculous extent. We had one version where there was this city of electronic entities that lived behind the traffic light and he got banished to the 'recycle bin' and he met this handicapped sybol guy and they had to save the world, etc. We had this other version where he had a family that lived with him in the traffic light and he went out into the real world and walked around and his absense caused traffic accidents. We had another version that was extremely dark, where he was a slave along with all the other walking signals and there was this traffic enforcer guy that was basically a traffic light with a cape...anyway, sorry for rambling but my point is, we didn't dwell on anything. We tried so many different options and directions, and each of these verions (as well as several more) were not just ideas, but were brought to full storyboard states, or even leica reels. Hank, our story supervisor would have an idea that the rest of us might be a little unsure about, so he would make an entire leica reel from scratch in one night just to prove a point. We were relentless in our attempts to make sure that the story worked well and did the concept justice.

Technically speaking, our film is certainly not the most cohesive or consistent. There are significant differences from shot to shot in the way the characters look, the way the backgrounds were painted, and the animation style. We noticed the 3rd year films last year often had problems like that and we tried so hard to not let that happen, but man, it was tough. We had over 15 characters so mastering them all in such a short time was next to impossible, and because crowd shots and dancing animation were a lot harder than we anticipated, we had to struggle just to get it all done, let alone done well.

But in the end, we're pretty pleased with how it turned out. We think. We're not really sure how good it is because we've been working on it for so long, but it recieved some good reviews at the screenings and it won an award for what the judges thought was the best 3rd year film of the year (although since B1's 'The Auction" was shut out of the top three, it leads me to question the value of the judges opinions). Now we're just going to touch it up a bit over the next couple of weeks to prepare it for festivals and stuff (and for that reason the film will not be put on the internet for a while because that would disqualify it).

So, uh, yeah, sorry to bore you with words (although technically this is what blogging is supposed to be), and I guess I'll just leave any 1st or 2nd years (or anyone interested in getting into animation at Sheridan) some pre 3rd year advice:

-Make sure when you pick your story at the beginning of the year, to pick something interesting. Something unique and different. Something that no one has ever seen before, though something with enough familliarity that people will be able to relate to it. If you are lucky enough to have something like that to choose from.

-Make sure that your group enjoys hanging out with eachother. If there are problem members that insist on fighting with eachother, find some way to make it work. It will hurt your experience if you don't get along with your group.

-Show your progress, especially story progress, to a lot of people. Always show new versions to fresh eyes. Anyone that knows about your story ahead of time will not be able to give a genuine opinion.

-Be prepared to redo everything. Story, character designs, paintings, animations, everything. Nothing will ever be right on the first try. If you are not willing to accept criticism and redo your work, then you will not make it in this business (or any business for that matter).

-Prepare to finish early. Because everything, and I mean EVERYTHING takes longer than you think it will. If you schedule rough animation to be done by week 10, it will not be done until week 11. I gaurantee it. No matter what it is, no matter how much time you give yourselves it will always take longer. Someone (if not everyone) WILL always be late. That, I promise you. So plan to get everything done at least a week or two earlier than it has to be, that way it might get done on time.

-Be organised. We weren't. In fact we were probably the least organized group in our year. And as a result I was finding out the week before the film was due that some scenes had barely been started. I think there were 3 scenes that were done from scratch the day before the film was due because I didn't know until then that they hadn't been started. If we payed closer attention unwanted surprises like that would not have happened. And unwanted surprises are not fun (especcially the day before the film is due).

-Use all your time you have to your advantage. I think were were the only group that spent the majority of our Christmas vacation working on the film. Most people just chilled or worked on their internship portfolios, we worked on the film. As a result we had an extra month of story work that the other groups didn't take advantage of. The film would not be what it was if it weren't for that.

-Avoid crowdshots and dancing animation. Man those are difficult. And an audience isn't going to care how hard it is to do crowd shots cause they see crowd shots everyday in real life. I mean, if you have to do them then you don't have much of a choice, but be prepared to work your butts off.

-Have fun with it. It's just a cartoon.

Thanks to everyone that helped make the film happen, thanks to Alexis Marsh for composing the music from scratch in the last two weeks and for being awesome about taking criticism, and thanks to all the other groups in our year who I think raised the bar for 3rd years to come and for being a constant inspiration to us all.