Saturday 18 February 2012

Andrew Chesworth Interview

Character DesignHello guys and gals,

In December 2011, Andrew Chesworth won his second competition in a row. His expert handling of anatomy invite the audience into a world, where a young kid is cautioned of the dangers that await in the mountain scene. 

Andrew's second win provided the opportunity to conduct a double interview, something I have dreamed of doing since taking the reigns from Eric Scheur. I enjoyed the challenge and wish Andrew many warm thanks for his role in making this happen.

It was also of great excitement to hear BJ Crawford will be working on Andrew's new short, The Brave Locomotive, together with other great artists.

Hope you all enjoy!

Please talk a bit about your interview for your role at Disney.
I actually didn't interview traditionally. I had applied via snail mail and through the website in March of 2011 but was followed up with an e-mail rejection notice in April. When they were looking for candidates for the Fall 2011 Talent Development Program, my friend Ke Jiang (an amazing modeler at Disney and former classmate from MCAD) pointed out my work to the recruiter (who wasn't aware that I had applied earlier that year), and I think that's why I got the call.

Can you share anything about your daily experience at the studio.
I love it. There is always something exciting happening, whether it's an animation department meeting, a presentation by Mark Henn, dailies with Rich Moore (the director of the feature film Wreck-It Ralph), and getting a lot of really exciting animation assignments to work on. The people are so fantastic and so inspiring, and it's a privilege to be exposed to so many talented and influential individuals.

You have mentioned already seeing an improvement in your work since joining the studio. Please expand upon this.
Seeing my work in context alongside the work of the other animators here has its own way of informing me where I must improve. Also, just talking shop with the senior animators clarifies areas that need to evolve. There is an osmosis of learning in seeing everyone's approach to animating, and with that much social overlap there is bound to be a lot of rapid collective learning. You tend to feel like your work is very naked and exposed to dozens of pairs of discerning eyes... and you adapt pretty quickly to try to avoid basic criticisms so that the more sophisticated aspects can be evaluated. Working here has also allowed me to have aspects of my work described to me in conversation by other artists in a manner that didn't happen until I came here. It's easy for me to see how house styles develop naturally in a studio, with so many artists trying to keep up with each other.

I believe building a good partnership is key in a mentor- student relationship. Please comment and talk a bit about studying under Malcon Pierce.
Haha, sense of humor plays a big role, and there is no lack of comedy involved while learning under Malcon. He makes everything very approachable, and he knows how much I respect his feedback and his ability to zero in on elements of the work that can be improved. He and I both respond to very graphic aspects of animation, and it's a language I am very comfortable with. Malcon is equally in touch with characters' personalities, as well as just what's plain entertaining to watch on screen.

In our last interview, you talked about receiving advice from Eric Goldberg. Eric's strength of posing on the Genie is something that remains complex to achieve in 3D. Please talk a bit about the advice he has provided to you.
The few times that I have been privileged enough to interact with Eric at work have been very enlightening. I recall his feedback on my Palm Springs short - he stressed loosening up my poses and motion a bit, to get as much softness and pliability in the forms as possible. He also advocated the classic principle of pushing contrast in characters' motion. He cited that the femme fatale in the short could have been animated a bit softer and curvier in her movements to match her physical form. The short is so fast that the characters tend to rubber-band snap into a lot of their poses to achieve the storytelling, and in that process there were possibilities of movement unexplored to further differentiate the characters. The principles he is talking about apply to any medium of animation or film acting if you look at the basic ideas.

You also mentioned your New Year's Resolution was to animate in a different style than you have used before. Please talk a bit about the animation styles you admire and may wish to explore.
Speaking of Eric, I am always looking for opportunities and legitimately good reasons to do assertively broad animation. I absolutely love the Disney aesthetic of the 1940s from films like Pecos Bill, Little Toot, Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and Song of the South. I have an almost insatiable desire to watch animation with that kind of broad appeal and boldly defined personality, and those are the types of films that not only made me want to be an animator, but to draw. That said, I have just as much room to explore the more subtle, naturalistic side of animating that I haven't before. Artists tend to progress their styles gradually, and I want to take logical risks that feel like they are coming from a place I have been before, but are leading to somewhere that I haven't been. That is starting to sound a bit abstract and high-concept... but I think you get the idea. I think a bold experiment would involve giving myself a visual limitation of some kind. An example (and not that I necessarily will do this) would be to do a piece of work in a Picasso-inspired cubist style, and still try to imbue character and clear narrative in the animation.

Your personal blog presents some beautiful production artwork for ''The Brave Locomotive''. Please introduce your short film to the 11 Second Club community . 

The Brave Locomotive (pictured above) has been a project developing for a few years now, and it coalesced very quickly as something I just had to create once it entered my brain. It's an eight-minute short set in the old west (the late 1890s to be exact) about the friendship between a 'little engine that could' named Linus, and his endearing but opportunistic engineer, Henry. A railroad baron from the east buys out Linus' tiny railroad, and Henry falls in love with the Baron's daughter Scarlet and is promoted to drive Samson, the new heavyweight super-locomotive (and Linus' steely replacement.)

The film is narrated through song by a talented female trio akin to the Andrews Sisters in the vintage boogie woogie style, and the music was composed and conducted by Tom Hambleton. All of the base track for the film has been recorded and put through editorial to my storyboards. It's a very fast-paced film that covers a lot of big story points, and the motivating force was the desire to tell a classic story of a fractured friendship through a style of music and broad animation I am very passionate about.

Disney's 'The Brave Engineer'', 1950
Friends in the know have picked up on the American Legends vibe of the film. The film is mostly in 2D (specifically the human and fully organic characters) and animated digitally, with a lot of hybrid CG techniques to realize all of the highly caricatured anthropomorphic train animation.
In the next few months, the trailer for the film will be online, along with a Kickstarter page to further advertise and acquire artists to animate sequences on the film. BJ Crawford, Justin Weber, Amir Avni, Chang Dai and Joe Merideth are already committed to scenes in the film, and each animator is cast to a scene and character appropriate to their animation style.

Have you visited Ollie Johnston's train ''The Marie E''?
Sadly, no. My life is not yet complete. I can't truly call myself a Disney train enthusiast until I have done so.

Ollie Johnston's ''The Marie E''

(Please click here to watch a clip of John Lasseter making a dream happen)

Please talk a bit about your hobbies outside of animation.
I play tennis, and I go running outdoors a lot, because they are physical activities I enjoy tremendously that allow me to forget how much time I spend sitting at a desk. I also find tennis an exciting sport to watch, because of how individual the narrative is. You are watching an exciting kinetic drama unfold in real time. When I was in high school and playing the sport competitively, professional tennis was going through a very exciting time. Sampras and Agassi were approaching retirement and still playing very competitively, newcomers like Andy Roddick and the Williams sisters were making a huge dent, and I was loving following all of it. When the animation bug really took over my life, I didn't follow the professional sport as religiously (especially after Sampras retired), but to this day I always light up when there's a tournament on TV.

Looking at your portfolio, you had the experience to direct commercial animation. I particularly enjoyed Golden Grammies. Please talk about balancing the opportunity to explore character while working with the budget and brief constraints that commercial animation presents.
I think the entire timeline for Golden Grammies from start to finish was just under a month. It was a breakneck and completely fun experience. I did the character designs, and also supervised the storyboards from a scenario concept by Aaron Quist. Modelling was accomplished by other artists at Make, and then I did a lot of the character rigging, specifically the body controls and the skin binding. That took up half the production, just building everything. I even managed to provide the voice of the tiny bespectacled Granny in the red blouse. Kevin Wisdom animated the first 15 seconds, and I animated the last 15 seconds. That was probably a week and a half of animating. The last week was polishing up the post-production and compositing.

The whole concept was that Golden Grahams was just BEGGING to have a parody of the Golden Girls as a potential mascot, and we pounced on it. Whether or not it was viable is up for grabs, but we found it pretty amusing. And somehow it got executed! With commercial deadlines, you just have to go with your gut, and I think there is something to that. It really is possible to over-think decisions in animation, and in commercials you don't have time to, so you go with what works. From a certain point of view, it's a really solid training ground for learning how to execute with confidence and discipline. There's no beating around the bush.

For production of your short film 'Mortimer and Bracket', you took upon many roles including director, writer and animator. With a focus on story and character, please talk a bit about the film and the lessons you learnt through its production.
Mortimer and Bracket
The biggest lesson for me was, the first film you make is probably not going to be very good... so get it out of the way as soon as possible! Mortimer and Bracket served that purpose for me. It lags a bit in the second act - truthfully it should probably be less than five minutes instead of eight. As a film, it really needs a chainsaw taken to the editing. And as animation, it really tries to rely too heavily on splines and not enough on great graphics images - and it shows. I don't think there are very many still frames in the film that hold up as solid complete poses, if any. It's more just a series of disconnected, amateurish moving parts. But, there were several good things about finishing a film like that essentially on my own - notably knowing how much has to go into every aspect of a production, as well as time management and budgeting assets. It was a very practical experience, and in the end the film seems to have acquired a modest viewership. But it doesn't stand up to the test of time or maturity, in my opinion, and I'm glad I made it so I could learn from it.

(To watch the film, please click here)

Do you have any ambitions to one day direct a feature?
I have at least three ideas for animated feature films that I am extremely passionate about, and would love to see realized on screen in animated form. With how far technology has come in the last few years, I'm confident they would be fantastic in either the hand-drawn or CG format, as long as they were art-directed in accordance with the tone of the story.

What was your reaction to your eCritique?
I thought it was pretty on the money. I laughed about the eye line of the little goat, because his eyes are basically pupil-less shiny black pearls. With characters like that, the head orientation is all the more important. I appreciated how much Jay is invested in his knowledge of animal behavior, and my favorite note was that regarding the prowling cat. Objectively, there was nothing I really disagreed with. I was pretty confident in most of the choices I made all things considered, and his notes about animal behavior resonated with me the most.

(Please click here to watch the eCritique)

Jay Jackson provided some tips on animating animal behaviour. Please talk a bit about the challenges your choice of characters presented. 
Anatomy, anatomy, anatomy. I looked at a lot of reference - video, illustrations, diagrams, and written, to prepare myself as much as possible for a crash course in the two types of animals I was animating.

I made it a goal to push the contrast in weight, attitude and movement of all three characters, and despite some missed opportunities that Jay pointed out, I am pleased that that objective came through in the end. The most unusual part of the planning phase was shooting video reference of myself acting out the poses I saw in my head, and filtering that through what is possible and believable for that animal's anatomy.

December's audio clip included the challenge of a storm sound effect. Please discuss your response to this in order to create a believable environment. 
I knew I wanted something epic, and I am a pretty experienced compositor of 2D animation so I knew I wanted to feature an atmospheric environment this time around to complement the audio. I felt like my decision was a pretty literal one, and the audio easily supported my initial impulse to animate mountain dwelling animals.

You have now won two competitions in a row. What advice would you give to anyone entering the competition?
Take it seriously - treat it like a job assignment. Give yourself strict limitations, and follow them. Emphasize communication and clarity. Be unexpected but reasonable - don't force the audio to bend to your idea, bend your idea to suit what is believable within the context of the audio. The winners of the competitions I think always make something believable out of their idea, even if it's really far removed from the source material. Also, don't submit it before going through a revision pass. Show it to people who will tell you what they honestly think, and who won't just say "Looks good, man." Both of my entries received very blunt critique from respected peers, and they benefited tremendously from it. Animation is about communication and entertainment. Is it enjoyable to watch, and does it make perfect sense? If it does, fantastic! Then you can focus all of your energy on making it look really slick. But if it doesn't meet the first two criteria, then there is more preliminary homework to do.
Interview by Steven Hawthorne