For July's monthly winner, Salvador Simo used beautiful craftsmanship to presents his puppet show. I must add, I received the interview last week, however, I felt the need to delve a little deeper. I am super glad I did.
I hope you enjoy the tales from Salvador's 20 year career so far, and hold dear his words of inspiration. That to enter the magically world of animation, 'Anyone can get there, it is just a matter of hard work'.
I want to thank Salvador for his time and wish both him and the community good luck for their future endeavors. Enjoy!
What influenced you to become an animator?
Well I had been always drawing since a kid, but I started off my University studies as a lawyer. Then, after a while, I got onto a introductory course on Saturdays morning doing 2d animation. I can’t remember why, and it was there where I was introduced to this new world. And that was it. I knew that was what I really wanted to do. Mainly what called to me was the honesty of this environment. Anyone can get there, it is just a matter of hard work.
Your career as an animator has taken you around the world, including visits to Barcelona, London, Thailand. Care to share any fun memories of these travels?
I’ll add Los Angeles and Paris. These are very important for me. The first one is when I did work with Bill Melendez in The Peanuts Show. I had a great mentor and friend there, Larry Leichliter.
When I went to Los Angeles in 1992 I went to take night classes in the American Animation Institute, and during the day I was in the studio of Bill Melendez - I´ll say more learning than working. Bill offered me a desk and the chance to help them and learn from them. It was amazing to meet him and hear him talking, feeling his passion for animation, for me that time was a lifechanging experience.
It was in the studio that I meet Larry. He is a great animator and now Director, with a lot of patience. Basically he became my mentor and I did learn a lot from him, not only as an animator, but also as a person. I was amazed by his kindness and his talent. It was one of those things that you find only once in a while, that moment when you are young you say "I´ll like to be like him when I grow up".
Working with the Peanuts, was a privilege. The animation style they achieved was more on the illusion of movement. It was stylized animation more than the full rendered animation of the Disney films, and I think that has been always there somehow. I consider myself very lucky and grateful for that time.
When I went to Paris, I somehow got my dream to work in Disney. I had amazing time everywhere, but probably the bigger laughs were in Disney when about 20 people from different countries we were trying to learn French in the same class, and all of them from the studio, you can imagine ... we learned a lot.
So in London and Paris I had the most fun, enjoying the beer on Fridays after work with the colleagues.
Have you visited any of their fine art galleries? If so, what was your favourite piece of fine art and where was it on show?
Yes, I visited as many art galleries as I could. The classics that are my favorite. I have to mention Sorolla and the sculptures in Orsay...the Rodin Museum in Paris... Las Meninas by Velazquez in el Prado-Madrid.
I was surprised by the art in Thailand. They have a quite new museum in the centre of Bangkok. It is not very big, however, it exhibits some really impressive young talent.
After 20 years in the industry, where do you turn for new inspiration?
Well here I’m not very original. I did start my career in 2d animation and there is where I always start. The 'simple' pencil tests of Glen Keane or Milt Kahl, they just blow your mind every time.
I also like to see the work of many illustrators with amazing styles, available online, or some comic book of Loisel and some other artist.
Watching your entry, I must compliment your handling of line and shape. You wrote in your clip's description:
Was wishing for a long time to go back to 2d animation so I managed to stretch sometime this month and make this piece
Please talk about your previous experience in traditional animation.
I have spent half of my career in 2d animation. I started by painting cels and explored all the steps through to animation and layout. It is an art form that makes me very sad that it is becoming less and less. The people were quite amazing, they were artists that had a strong passion for it. Deep in my heart I will always be a 2d guy, so what can I say.
Later I moved to 3d and I think is great. It is a new way to work with animation and has many advantages. It is a relatively new tool with the same principles, and some more technical stuff. But I still miss the feeling of the pencil and the paper.
Have you had any personal experience bringing puppets to life with ventriloquism or stop motion?
Actually not, but I always start my animations thinking that the characters are puppets, so you are forced to rely on the basic pantomime not in the face, then I developed from there.
I think the magic of the puppets is on the simplicity and that is what captivate me most.
Puppets seemed to influence your earlier work. Would I be correct in noting that the style of your short film 'Insight' was influenced by the stop motion work by Tim Burton?
Well I understand that in 3d we move digital puppets and I have been influenced by many kinds of animation. It will be false to not say that Nightmare Before Christmas did not influenced me. It is an amazing piece of art and entertainment, that has influenced a lot of people.
When I did Insight I was looking for simplicity. I had very, very low resources and I wanted to finish it so I had to find a way to tell the story as simply as possible. I think the influence of the stopmotion is on the simplicity and effective way to animate. It is an interesting reference to study.
(Insight, click to view)
I like to use simple shapes as much as possible. In my 2d shorfilm Aquarium, the fish were based on a square shape and the bad guys were triangles.
On the subject of simplicity, I think when anyone starts a personal project we aim very high. This is good to do, but you also have to have your feet on the ground. If you aim too high the project will not be complete and that is very sad. Sometimes I have to put my producer´s hat on and be realistic. My director´s hat helps me to find a doable way to produce the project and be able to finish it.
However, it is also important that we always put some of our life into the designs/animations. For Insight, I did reference someone very close to me, but then chose to push the graphic concept of the design and play with it.
Focusing on your winning entry, I now must ask: Why did you choose puppets?
Well, I think the challenge is not only on doing a technically good piece, but it has to be entertaining for the audience. When I first heard the dialogue, I didn’t want to fall into the first choice and I tried to look for something a little further. I took a risk, and I thought that to have the two puppets, a kind of three little pig tease, would be more fun.
Talk a bit about your animation process for your entry.
Once I had the concept I first shoot myself to take some acting references, and sketched some ideas to plan the animation.
I knew I had to make a choice here go for the puppets as a main characters or the puppeteer, and I choose the second one, maybe a wrong choice but actually I thought to do this exercise to have fun rather that wining the competition, I could play more with the expressions and acting with him, so worth the risk. I hope this explains my staging choices.
After that I rough the key poses and did a rough pass on the breakdowns, and later the cleanup process.
The puppeteer's lip sync is delightfully expressive. Please talk a bit about your approach to facial animation.
Thanks a lot, I enjoy a lot the lip sync in animation, is a part that defines a lot of character in the acting, if you check some english actors the way they have to pronounce the words and the accents give a big stroke on the personality of the character, is fascinating to see. On my exercise I went for clear shapes and the feeling of the motion, than hitting the exact labials, I tried to hit few key expressions.
It was very thankful on the comment on the e-critique about the jaw, is true that a bit more work on it would had improved a lot the exercise.
During the voting period, I had the opportunity to make the following comment:
I believe the puppets need more stage presence. Right now, the focus is on the puppeteer... as the puppeteer knows what will happen (he is in full control), I cannot buy the element of surprise at the end
Please may you discuss your reasons for staging your animation in its current format.
As I said before was a risky choice and seems was not clear enough for the audience, but I thought that the puppeteer would be more entertaining for me, selfish choice.
In your eCritique, Keith Sintay discussed opens to help solve this staging issue. With hindsight, would you have staged your animation differently?
About the staging and the position of the character in the screen, I wanted to create a contrast between him moving from side to side agains the last beat of him in the centre. This way, the shot gets more strength and balance at the end.
I think Keith is right when he talks about the thirds rule. It is important to keep it in mind, but the rules and more in cinematography depend not only of the shot itself, but of the ones around and what you want to tell. The third rule gives you a safe grid to place the characters, but sometimes it is nice to push them and break the rules. It may work or it may not, but is nice to try and experiment. That is what is nice about these exercises, that you are able to try things and learn. And that is the magic in it.
Is there anything you'd like to add about your thought-process or experience in July's competition?
I always wanted to participate, but for me, there was different factors that were in play. Mainly the time. I work in the animation industry and sometimes finding a couple of weeks free is difficult. Once your schedule is free, you must also find the right story to tell with the dialogue. Finding the one that suddenly “lights up the bulb over your head” is challenging. After all, if you have to work on your free time or after a whole day of paid work, you want something that inspire you. And in July the odds were smiling, so I decided to go for it. And I have to say that I had a lot of fun doing it, and the consideration of the members was a great and I’m really very thankful.
What advice would you offer to a beginner who wants to enter the competition?
We all want to show something nice, but most of it entertaining, so I’ll suggest before sharpening the pencil or turning on the computer, spend some time, maybe just the first week, listening the audio and thinking on the story and the way to make it entertaining, maybe making some rough thumbnails, after that, once you got it, you are almost half way in. And of course have fun.