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Levy Hits the Bullseye with 'Directing Animation'

Without good direction, you end up with drek. Problems with sequence timing or the render pipeline can be solved with relative ease – problems of mismanagement are difficult to overcome and usually spell doom. Animation directors aren’t directing animation, they’re directing a group of people who are working in arguably the most time consuming and exacting of creative mediums. David Levy's new book Directing Animation at its heart strives to teach the reader how to keep an animation production crew happy, productive and on task.

Problems with personnel are most often problems of poor management. Except, of course, for the Transformers t-shirt adorned compositor in the cubby at the end of the hall – he knows he’s good, he lets everyone know that several times a day, he’s unmanageable but indispensable, so nobody likes him nor ever will.

All kidding aside, without proper guidance and a clear understanding of project goals and expectations, even the most talented and hard working group of people will soon flounder and grind to a halt. This is never more apparent than on an animated production.  Whether a commercial, short film, TV series or feature film, animated projects require precise integration of an enormous amount of detailed work, always done with less time, money and manpower than desired.  Without good direction, you end up with drek.  Problems with sequence timing or the render pipeline can be solved with relative ease – problems of mismanagement are difficult to overcome and usually spell doom. 

With that in mind I encourage you to buy David Levy’s newest book, Directing Animation.  The industry seems so singularly focused on the “artistic” and “technical” aspects of animation production that little is written or discussed about the “people” side of the process.  The exception, of course, is when animators go out drinking and spend the evening stabbing each other in the back.

The director’s job is just that, to direct the production of a show.  It’s a communication job above all else.  David has distilled down for the reader the essence of directing animation.  His focus is not on history or technique, but on the human side of the business. His goal in writing this book is:

“I wanted my readers to come away with the idea that directing animation is a lot more than asking the animator to adjust a walk cycle or put some extra squash before a character jumps into the air. The truth is that you don't direct animation. You don't ask Bugs Bunny to try another take that's even wilder. You direct an animator who does the animation. To do this effectively, besides the obvious creative skill set needed, you also have to able to work with people. In addition, the animation director, as a leader, has the obligation of establishing a proper process, an achievable schedule, and fostering a professional and supportive working environment. Animation directors can't be fully successful by ignoring all the non-fun duties that go along with their title.”

The book includes specific chapters on directing independent films, commercials, television series, feature films and webtoon/webisodes in addition to chapters that talk in broader brushstrokes about the process, the challenges and responsibilities of directing animation.  Copiously illustrated with relevant images, the book is well thought out and concise, never preachy or off target. David writes in an engaging style that captures your attention without smacking you over the head. Directing Animation at its heart strives to teach the reader how to keep an animation production crew happy, productive and on task.  Animation directors aren’t directing animation, they’re directing a group of people who are working in arguably the most time consuming and exacting of creative mediums.  Managing the process, getting a good outcome, is about leadership, working with people, making sure they know what to do, how to do it and when it needs to be done.   

What makes this book so powerful is the way David weaves his own real-life directing experience, alongside those of other well-known animators and directors, into the very fabric of book.  There’s no finger wagging here.  He’s not talking at you – he’s taking you along a contextually rich and wonderfully annotated journey through the world of animation directing.  There is no substitute for having actually “been there, done that.”  The book makes its points through the dissection of real productions, real experiences and the critical analysis of the process that only intelligent hindsight and knowledgeable assessment can bring.  There are many people in the business who “think” they know. David actually does.  Directing Animation is a must-have for anyone serious about animation. 

DIRECTING ANIMATION (Allworth Press, November 2010, Trade Paperback, $24.95, 978-1-58115-746-8)