Pixar story artist Trevor Jimenez discusses the making of his painterly hand-drawn short film that takes a dreamlike look at divorce.
Directed by Pixar story artist Trevor Jimenez, Weekends is the story of a young boy shuffling between the homes of his recently divorced parents. Surreal, dream-like moments mix with the domestic realities of a broken up family in this hand-animated film set in 1980’s Toronto.
Weekends most recently won both the Special Jury Prize and Audience Award at the Annecy International Animation Festival, and also won top prizes at the Warsaw Film Festival and Nashville Film Festival, qualifying the film three times over for submission to the Oscars.
Jimenez is a Canadian filmmaker who has worked as a story artist for more than 10 years, most notably at Pixar, Cinderbiter, Disney Feature Animation, Illumination Entertainment and Blue Sky Studios. His student film Key Lime Pie screened at numerous international festivals including Annecy, Ottawa International Animation Festival, AFI Fest, Zagreb, Mike Judge’s “The Animation Show vol. 4,” and won the award for best animated short at AFI Dallas 2008. He is currently employed in the story department at Pixar, where he is working on the as-yet untitled forthcoming feature from Pete Docter, while also pursuing his own creative projects.
The full version of Weekends is available to watch online through August 22 via the ShortList Film Festival, which showcases 12 films from around the world that have won awards at major film festivals. (All 12 films are eligible for both an audience and industry prize, so be sure to watch them all and vote for your favorite!)
Check out the the trailer and read AWN’s Q&A about the making of the film with director Trevor Jimenez below:
AWN: How long did Weekends take to complete?
Trevor Jimenez: I had the idea 10 years ago after I finished animation school, and it existed as a rough concept for a long time, and then maybe about five years ago I really started intensely writing, story boarding and editing on it. And then we spent about a year in production in animation and layout.
AWN: So you had this idea after you finished school at Sheridan college, right after Key Lime Pie was made? How many people did you collaborate with to get Weekends made?
TJ: Yes, exactly. All in all, around 27 people contributed to this film. There are some key people like our production designer, Chris Sasaki, who was the first person to come on board. I had always planned to do this on my own, independently. Then Chris started doing some concept art for it, and his work is amazing -- it just blew my mind. He wanted to work on it, so we started collaborating together, and he really came up with the visual style for the film. And then we realized that we had to ask for help. And there were people at the studio just wanted to help the project and were able to volunteer their time.
We had around six or seven background painters working with us. They did all the layouts in charcoal and then Chris and the team painted them. I did most of the animation, but I had five or six friends help with little chunks, and they’d each take a few shots or a little portion of the film and help. And then we had the sound department. We had two sound people work on the film and do all the sound.
AWN: You mentioned the development of the visual style -- can you talk a little more about that?
TJ: I had a few visual ideas in mind from the beginning. I knew I wanted no dialogue and a lot of wide shots. There’s this film called Yi Yi by Edward Yang and it’s a lot of expressive stuff done in these wides. And I’m also inspired by Father and Daughter, the Michael Dudok de Wit short. So that was big for me early on -- I always wanted kind of a rough feeling, the rough, unfinished, handmade quality that felt like childhood. When Chris came on, he brought along his influences such as Japanese photographer Masataka Nakano, for his use of color, and European graphic novel artists like Christophe Blain for the textures -- the use of texture in those comic books was big.
Chris was the one that suggested I draw the layouts, so my animation line would match with the background style and then they would use that line, dirty it up with texture, and then paint over in Photoshop and glazes with these custom brushes that Chris used. We’d actually paint over some of the lines, and leave others in. There’s a real artistry to that -- it definitely wasn’t just coloring things in.
AWN: You’ve discussed the collaboration process between you and Chris, and how each of you brought your own individual artistic sensibilities to the project. Tell us a little about your collaboration with the rest of the team.
TJ: I really want to talk about the sound. Sound was always going to be a huge part of the film because I never wanted dialogue in it and I knew that the audio would be key in selling the atmosphere emotionally -- hearing how hard footsteps are, how soft they are, expresses certain things. The sound designer in this film was Kenny Pickett. He works within Pixar’s sound department, where they usually work on DVD promo stuff and they’ll do sound effects for internal story screenings.
I think it was really great for him because he got to be lead sound designer on a project. He and his team did a lot of work recording all the vocalizations, like little breaths and sighs. Just really trying to capture subtle things that could bring the characters to life. He also spent a lot of time creating ambient environments, and how each environment sounded in relation to each other. I had certain ideas and I’d try to help guide him, like some rough sounds cut into the animatic that helped a little, but I really credit Kenny with finding the style of the overall sound design. He really made it sound as rich as it does.
AWN: So you’ve worked on some of the bigger animated blockbusters in recent history. What’s different for you about working on a personal project as opposed to a giant studio production?
TJ: They’re really different. I think they both have benefits. I’ve worked for 10 years in story, on different films, different studios and it’s really great working with a team and collaborating, kind of feeding off that energy. I think that’s huge and you learn so much of that way and you get to work on these huge projects that are really ambitious. So I love that about that kind of way of working. The downside of that obviously is that you need to compromise and ultimately someone else is making the choices and you are kind of fitting into that for better or worse and it can be great and it cannot be great depending on where you’re at. And I think that the benefit of doing something on your own is that you get to fully just embrace your sensibilities and explore what those are and if they work or not. And I deal with all the negative aspects of that as well which is the insecurity, the vulnerability, just the pressure of it, trying to finish something. Even if it’s a short it’s still so much work to do, so I think those are the major differences. I was lucky, I thought this was going to be something I did on my own but I was really lucky to have a team to help bolster. I definitely had that support and collaboration at work as well. Felt very fortunate in that way.
AWN: What was the genesis of Weekends? What inspired you to make this film?
TJ: Ten years ago I was doing work for a story portfolio, and I did this drawing based on the childhood memory of a kid walking from his Mom’s house to his Dad’s car. I put that online on my blog way and it got the most response out of anything I had done before -- people were commenting and saying things like, “I remember when I did that with my parents.”
I didn’t expect that, and just found it really interesting. Out of that I started sharing memories about my Dad’s place with my friends -- he collected antiques and lived in Toronto, and the stories made them laugh. It was a sort of strange, specific thing, and then I realized people connected to it. And that made me think there is a story there. Not just a drawing but that the experiences related to people in a way that I didn’t think that they would.
So that was the start and then it just evolved from there. I had a bunch of sketches and then I wrote a script where the whole film took place on one weekend. So I was here at the mom’s, you try to layer in as much information in there as possible, and you go to the dad’s and then he comes back and I was trying to relay all this feeling just in that weekend. And after I saw that I realized I really missed the transitions back and forth. I kind of originally seen it that way with time passage and seasonal change, which is huge in Ontario where I grew up as well. It’s really part of the environment but I was trying to write something that was economic that I could actually finish on my own so I realized that after boarding it that it wasn’t enough and it didn’t capture the feeling I wanted. So then I started to expand it out and really track each parent and how their lives changed post-divorce over the course of time, and just really embracing the original vision for the film. And then it grew from a three or four minute short to a 12 minute short in board. But that’s sort of how it all evolved.
AWN: Was it daunting when you realized you had a much larger project on your hands?
TJ: Yeah, for sure. It worried me. There’s so many things us. In addition, the music rights were a big thing because the Dire Straights song “Money for Nothing” was always a part of the film from the beginning. I had always kind of envisioned that introing the dad. So that was one aspect that stressed me out and then the length of it. I’m like, “How am I gonna ever get this done?” But I was willing at that time to take time off work. And I think there’s probably an alternate reality where I still finish it, but it doesn’t look as good and it’s not as strong. Because I wouldn’t have had the help. But I think that, because people saw the story reel and responded to it emotionally, they wanted to help me. That was really what enabled me to finish it -- it was this huge thing that I never really saw coming. But doing it through the co-op program at the studio -- which is still separate from Pixar, but enables you to work with employees and use studio equipment -- that was really huge in me being able to actually finish this.
AWN: Tell us -- who are some of your favorite animators or other artists whose work has inspired you?
TJ: I mentioned Dudok de Wit -- he was a really big influence, he’s been a big influence on me ever since I was in school. Father and Daughter is probably my favorite animated short of all time. Another animator I was really was inspired by for this short particularly was Paul Fierlinger -- I really like his drawings and the way his poses flow so evenly into each other -- it’s kind of rough but there’s always this strong feeling in each drawing. And I love his films too, just the sensibility, there’s like a really strong emotion in them.
I really pulled from a lot of live action for story and writing. Noah Baumbach’s Squid and the Whale was a really big movie for me just because it captured divorce from the child’s perspective. When I saw that movie, I really related to it as a kid from a divorced family -- it felt super-accurate and brought up all these memories for me. And also the film Yi Yi, just the sensibility and the way it was shot was really a huge influence on me.
AWN: Do you have any parting words for all the aspiring animators out there?
TJ: Just stick with it. If you’re working in the industry and you’re trying to do your own films, you have to keep at it. Pick a subject that you love, that you just can’t live without making, and be patient with it. And if you’re using slow periods during work, or little gaps, to get things done, finding your own external pressures -- self-imposed deadlines -- can be really, really helpful. Setting small goals for yourself is big.