Chapter 34: Big Thoughts
It struck me: What more imprinting way could there have been for those people to inculcate their youth with the legends and lore of their community and tribe than to lead them into the enveloping darkness of a cave, to a deep, forbidding gallery, always the one that was the most sound resonant, (Cave-age Surround Sound!), and in flickering oil lamp light, illuminating wondrous images, tell the tribal tales in an atmosphere of guaranteed attention. The first "animated movie" presentation!"
So we can see that though the technology of animation has changed a bit in the last 35,000 years, the aim is the same: to tell stories in the most dramatic, riveting, and attention-holding way we can. Technical advancements come thick and fast in our times, but we mustn't let them rule our work as a thing unto themselves. Technology is an ever-evolving tool, but our use of it must always be the same: to tell our story!
If you learn anything, learn to keep the clarity of what you are saying, or the gag you are presenting. Don't fall victim to the mannerisms of the moment and let the technique smother your story!
In our art/craft of animation, in order to truly win our audiences hearts, we should aim not just to make our characters move, but to make them live -- or certainly seem to live -- to project an inner life, that motivates their actions and make those actions plausible. I wish I could say that I ever truly accomplished that... but I was a UPA man at heart. I have always valued strong stories and humanity, but in animation, I had other goals, guided by graphics, symbols, and stylisation. That has its place, and my successes nicely balanced my failures... but I have grown in my understanding of what animation is all about.
Our audience is made up of humans, and we must respond to human expectations.
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 four to six 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 - January 2008