Sunday 9 September 2012

Christian Larocque Interview

Character Design Hello guys and gals,
After a few months off, I am pleased to bring you our next interview with one of 11 Second Club's monthly winners. Let the show begin, with kind words from Christian Larocque regarding his 17 year career in the industry.

I wish to thank Christian for his time and really hope all you enjoy.

You have spent 17 years in TV animation. What inspired you to pursue animation as a choice of career?
I never get tire of it, it's truly the perfect art form to me. Animation it's so much more than moving drawings. It's sculpting, lighting, art direction, technologies, music, painting, the list goes on and on you can NEVER get bore with animation. As to make a career out of it, how can you say no to all of this?!

Do you have a favourite animated television character? If so, who is it and why?
Family Guy! I know, I know.. But that's the only animated show that I can watch and still found funny. It's also the only show where I can turn my brain off and not be thinking about animation. Every other shows I always found myself looking at the animation and see how they done it.

But as a kid, I loved watching the old Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse shorts. Today I still like them but still find myself studying them more then enjoying them.

Please tell us a bit about your footstep into the industry.
I went to Algonquin College in Canada to study animation for 2 years. During my first summer break I got my first animation job at Lacewood Studio as a Poser. I was on a show called "The Savage Dragon". Later that summer I moved on to another show called "Katie and Orbie". By the end of the summer I actually saw one of my scenes Ink and Painted on a cells (the old fashioned way). That was the coolest thing I ever seen. That was the only time I ever seen that. After that everything went digital, an era had ended.

Can you talk a bit about you feel your work has adapted to meet the changing demands of the industry.
To answer this question, I need to talk about my last 10 years in the industry. Being in this industry it's all about adapting to the demands and change. This is how I did it.

Back in the early 2000's. Hand drawn animation was dying and 3D was rising. To stay in the business you had to convert yourself to an Flash animator or a 3D animator. I decided to go explore the uncharted territories of "Flash".

Back then and still today, a Flash animator was considered to be the lowest form of animator by our peers right beside paper cut out or sand animation. Feature studios would not even dare to look at your reel if your dared to mention the word "Flash!". So I gave myself a challenge. I wanted see if it was possible to create a TV show using the computer and make it look like it was hand drawn.

I needed to rethink how to approach "Flash/CG" animation. I knew the way studios were doing it would not cut it for me. The most successful shows using Flash were done in a UPA style (very cartoony). They were very flat looking, with no perspective and snappy animation. I wanted the opposite I wanted the classical look. The Disney look.

So I started to experimenting using several softwares like 3D Studio Max and Toonboom Concerto and Flash . I wanted to see what each software had to offer. At the end I ended up using Toonboom Concerto. It ended to be very complex and very taxing on the computer. Just moving 1 keyframe in the timeline would take up to 30 seconds to 1 min. But I discovered something new. I was able to make a character look traditionally hand drawn using the computer. The technique was a perfect mix of 3D and 2D and Flash.
- Using the 3D mentality, you could move rotate stuff much like in 3D software. You could even animate with curves.
- Using the 2D hand drawn mentality, you could have that nice drawing design and drawing cheats that only hand drawn can create.
- Using Flash Flash mentality, you use very little amounts of drawings.

This is the first test I did.

It was a Smash it! Nothing ground breaking animation wise but it proved, for me, that a traditional look could be achieved using a computer and we were no longer constrained to the UPA style. I always remember showing co-workers how I done it and they all look at me with that same look of "are you insane!"

Then, one years later I got the chance to direct my first TV show and to put my new discovery to the test. The show was "Toot and Puddle" based on the books by Holly Hobbie. The first thing I animated was a promotional clip.

Animating the show became a real challenge and a real learning curve. I had 30 animators that had to be trained in this new way and most of them right out of school. The first 11 min episode must have taken us over 2 or 3 months to animate. I had to get my crew down to 3 DAYS !

The show ended up looking great! As the days went by we became more comfortable with builts at started to make up time. Other artists started to pitch their ideas on how to make it better. It was very exciting time, we all knew that we were working on something very special, something that never been done.

I guess the only weird down side of it, everybody in the world thought it was done drawn so the show never got noticed for it. One animator ended up showing some scenes to Eric Goldberg. He never believe him it was NOT hand drawn.

3 years later I was Nominated for a Emmy for directing Toot and Puddle ironically I was going against a other show I helped to direct, Disney's Kick Buttowski. We both lost. Toot and Puddle ended up winning an Emmy for Best Background location that year.

I couldn't be prouder of my crew!

After Kick Buttowski, I was the Director (Canada) of Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Disney was interested to use the same technique I came up with to animated on Jake's. We learn allot from or mistakes on T&P and came up with new ways to simplify it and improve the technique. Today a crew of 25 animators can do a show in 4 days, 3 days if we push it.

So next time you watch Jake and the Neverland Pirates keep in mind that the show was animated in 4 days and the show is not hand drawn.

I actually ended up storyboarding and directing the Intro of Jakes and the Neverland Pirates,

Do you have any ambitions to animate for feature film?
For sure. One of my life goals is to animate or, even better, direct a feature film.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in online schools and resources. Please talk a bit about how you feel this has changed the landscape of animation.
I believe online schools are the BEST! When I hire somebody that comes out from Animation Mentor it actually speaks more than a College diploma. Actually an animator winning 1'st place on the 11 Seconds Club speaks for a lot also. So far I have worked with two 11 second Winners. Trent Correy worked on Toot and Puddle and he also worked on Jake and the Pirates with Matt Sheperd.

The online information that is now available is AMAZING!! Every day I can check out some blogs and learn something new. It's like going to school every day. Thinking about it I have learned more about advance animation online, than I did at school.

You recently attended an animation class taught by Disney legend Andreas Déjà. Please talk a bit about your reasons for taking the class.
Well I was lucky enough to have my studio pay for the class it was only 1 day. I was really hopping to learn new tricks on animation. It turned out I didn't learn that much new stuff. The class was more on his years at Disney and the characters he animated. He also had a lot of fun stories about the 9 old men.

But! Hearing him talk and seeing him draw, really gets you inspire. After the class all that you want to do is to go home and start animating! Which I did.

You mentioned that through talking with Andreas, you realised you had not yet animated a sincere scene. Please tell us what you believe determines whether a scene is sincere?
Well I come from a TV animation background, we need to pump out a amazing amount of footage every day so we relies on animation tricks and formulas. So I never had the chance to animated a character that seems to be thinking and even better that have a background story. I think that what's really makes a scene believable ...Thinking!

Do you believe this will change the way you approach your work in the future.
Oh yes!!!! Before I just animated a scene to make them move in a very technical way ( I know the Richard Williams book by heart). Now I love animating a scene and coming up with a back story on the character it's so much more interesting to me.

Please talk a bit about your production process.
Well the first thing I did was a schedule. On this case I had 1 month.

Week 1: Finding a idea
Thinking of the acting coming up with as many variation of it. I force myself to find 3 different takes on the same idea and then I took the best of all 3 and made it 1. The same Week I started to draw some design. Same here I force myself to do at less 3 designs and I pick the one I like the most.

Week 2: Prepping the work ,
I took me about 1 week to create this built in Tooboom Harmony, it's much like a 3D built would work. You need to model it, rig it and test it. This is allot of work for a small scene like this. Usually a built that complex would be more useful for a TV production.
(Testing some squash and stretch)

Week 3: Animating
This was always the fun part for me. I roughly animated 50 to 70 frames per day (5h per day). Basically the day before I thought about that little sequence and then the next day I animate it and so on and so on for 1 week. I also comp the scene at the same time I was animating it. So every night I got to see my scene finish and comp which was really fun.

Week 4: Revision time
By that point my scene was pretty much done. I gave myself a few days to sit on it and to look at it with a fresh eye. I Spend about 2 days smoothing thing out..and BINGO was done!!

Do you use model sheets and turn-around to help you plan your animation?
Here is the drawing I did by the end of the first week.

I was having a very hard time to figure out the body, not as much the pose put more the clothing. I didn't want anything to complicated to animate. I was always a big fan of Milt Kahl and the Sword in the Stone... So I " borrowed " the clothing from it.

I also did a very quick turnaround for the head to help me with the modeling.

How has the programme Harmony assisted in the shot's production?
The entire shot was done in Harmony, again using an advance Built. Very little drawing was needed, roughly 5 drawings total, maybe even less.

Please talk a bit about creating the back-story for your character.
Here is the story I came up with.

Lord Hatter, is about to send 2 prisoners to fight to their death. The idea was, 10 years ago the roles where reversed. Lord Hatter was one of the prisoners and had to fight a man to death , but in that case it was his own brother.

As a child his brother was always the favourite. So he became very jealous and started to hate him. And through the course of events, they both got captured and was force to kill his brother in the same event. I never came up with a story on how he became "Lord", but that's what is in his mind. He is thinking of his brother 10 years ago that he was forced to kill.

Here is the transcript and under it I have type in want he's thinking.

Now when men get the fighting,
Finally lets the fun begin!

It happens here!
I done this myself your little brats!

And its finishes here!
Your both going to take it like a man. Like I did!

Two man enter.
A toast to you my brother . (It is because of him that I am Lord after all.)

One man leaves
(Change of mind)
You know what? I actually enjoy killing him.

A bit dark but not too complicated. That's was roughly what I had this guy thinking.

It is actually very rare for a winning entry to have a character remain seated throughout the scene, particularly without a camera cut. Please tell us about the challenge to keep this character alive.
I didn't wanted to over-animated him. I didn't want to show off a bunch of movements just to make it look cool. I kept thinking about this one scene animated by Kristof Serrand for the Prince of Egypt.
(Please click on image to view)

That scene really blew me away! No big movements allot of held pose, but man do you ever see him think so ALIVE!

For my scene I try to do the same. I tried to make him think as much as I could. I also tried to lead the audience eyes. Leading the audience eyes is probably an animator best friend. It will save you lot's of work when you know how to do it properly.

Talk about how the eCritique enhanced or expanded on the ideas you had originally set out to animate.
Character DesignI've been directing or supervising for the past 10 years. I'm usually the guy giving the critic. I never got an feature film animator to critic my animation before so I was really nervous to hear what he had to says. It turns out that he seem to like it. He talked about my lip sync a lot and how it was a tad off. That's always been my weakness. I really need to work harder on that. I always use the same excuse when I talk about my weak lip sync. As a kid and still today I see most of my movie translated in French ( My wife have a hard time following it in English) so the lip sync never match . So I guess subconsciously I learn to not pay by much attention to it. But again that's just a poor excuse and I really need to work on it.

Funny enough I knew in advance about the bad silhouette hand pose at frame 89 . I really tried to stay away from the body but could find a good pose, it always ended up looking to forced to me. One solution that I didn't though that he mention was to change my acting ideas. At the time I was sold on the pointing and never thought of going on a different direction. That's the biggest down side of working alone we don't get feedback until it's done.

After taking part the 11 Second Club competition, what advice would you share with your fellow traditional entrants?
I don't really consider my entry traditional. It may have the look of hand drawn, but that's about it.

To make a living in animation you need to adapt to the demand and to the technologies. We must not forget there is Art and then there is Commercial Art. Most of us work in Commercial Art.

If you want to animated on paper or even on a Cintiq to see how it was done back in the Golden ages of 2d animation, Do it! But don't bring your hopes up thinking to make a living out of it.

When somebody asks me 'Do you think 2D animation is dead?!'. I always respond the same thing. I think the art of drawing frame per frame will come to a end soon. Just like inking and painting on celluloid did. But the look and the elegance of 2D animation will live forever!