When I first became a director, and even up to this day, whenever I enter a studio engaged in producing films under my direction, I can’t escape a certain moment of panic. “My God! All these people are working on something that is my conception! What if I’m wrong? They are all trusting their livelihood to the notion that I know what I’m doing!” Well of course, I must know what I’m doing. What does a director do? If you’ve sat through the end-credits of an animated feature film, you know that what we do is a (large) group effort. Sure, you would love to think up, write, design, animate, paint, voice, shoot, compose, computerize, and edit your own film, all by yourself… Great! Maybe you will win a major prize in a major festival…. That is, after years of work, possibly being financed by a grant, but more likely from your career as a McDonalds fry cook. But if you actually want to earn a living in animation, you will have to find your place in a studio, and your place in the complex interplay of many talents.
A good animated film is a deft amalgam of many talents and crafts. But a good animated film must look like the work of one hand. And that is what a director does. The director is the one with the responsibility for the overall vision, and he or she is the one who must know what goes in, and what is discarded; the one who holds the production to a straight line. Without a director’s clear vision and firm hand, the movie will wander all over the lot.
A good animation director should basically know how to do, or at least understand the place, of all the elements of the movie, and strive to keep them all in balance, not letting any one thing dominate, and have his or her eye and ear at all times centered on the story being told, the premise being proved, and the point being made.
How to gain the confidence, the support, satisfy the egos of many diverse talents, and draw from them their best work, integrating it all into a seamless unity, is the constant endeavor and challenge of an animation director, just as much as any film director. Go for it!
© Gene Deitch - March 2010
Whizzing, exploding, hopping, and boinging across our screens, animated cartoons have grabbed us from childhood and beyond. Feature-length movie versions have lifted the technology to amazing heights. This is potentially the greatest of art forms, combining nearly all the others into one. Graphic arts, literature, storytelling, humor, satire, drama, acting, music, song, ballet, poetry, can all be combined in this virtually limitless method of expression.
So how come on television it has been mainly cranked out as appallingly crude, repetitious, and mindless junk?
Budget and time limitations are the usual suspects, but there is more/less to it than that. There is the persistent perception by most producers that the audience is composed of mindless morons who will accept anything that moves and yabba-dabba-doos, however crudely. Unfortunately that is just true enough for them to get away with it. People, on the whole, will accept junk food, though many long for something chewier.
We cannot actually draw edible food, so most of us animators have to eat what the industry will feed us. Some of us who animate professionally do try to elevate the content of our work, and occasionally we get a chance. But for every gourmet production we accomplish, we inevitably leave a trail of garbage.
In this book I will attempt to guide you to creative success; to make the most of every chance you get, and to give you some grisly tours of the desiccated remains of some of my own shot-down productions.
First off, here is a joke that tells you exactly what you are up against:
A film writer, director, and producer were having lunch at a posh Hollywood restaurant. The writer ordered soup as a starter, and after the first couple of spoonfuls he exclaimed, "My God, this is the greatest soup I’ve ever tasted! He offered a spoonful to the director. "Taste this. It’s incredible!"