Monday 22 December 2014

Yonatan Tal Interview

Hey guys and gals,

Its been a while. Please excuse my absence, but I have wanted to bring back the 11 Second Club interview for a little while.

In October 2014, Yonatan Tal, a student from Calarts, won with his beautiful traditional piece. His answer to my first question, sums up why I had to bring them back. The interviews allowed me to step back from my own work. That the winning animator could come from anywhere, be inspired by anything... it allowed me to look, ask and learn.

To those who I have interviewed in the past, thank you sincerely. To those who read the interviews, (past, future and present), I hope you enjoy!

Winning entry
Artist's website

1) Tell us a little bit about your studies at Calarts.
My studies at CalArts have been great so far! I feel like I grow every semester in ways I could never have imagined. In short, the three things that make this place what it is are: The program, the environment and the people. They are all pretty amazing, and CalArts is everything I believe art school should be. There is always something going on. Musicians play in the hallways, art students exhibit in gallery spaces, and dance/ theatre performances take place on a regular basis. It’s refreshing and inspiring to constantly observe other artforms, and it lets you get out of your animation bubble!

The Character Animation program provides infinite access to knowledge and sources of inspiration. The attitude of the program is to let you discover who YOU are as an artist. In the beginning, it's terrifying, but it gets easier once you understand that it's a learning process, and a constant one. My peers are incredibly talented, so it’s very encouraging to learn together, to make films together and to complain about how we have no life together. I also enjoy getting to know students from other courses. On my last film I worked with a brilliant composer, as well as actors who gave me advice on how to achieve the right performance in my animation. I even took a dance class which was... wow!

2) Please talk about meeting the challenge of creating a short film, Blossom, in your first year. How much animation experience did you have prior?

Making "Blossom" was a challenge for many reasons. First of all, the film is about overcoming the fear of leaving your comfort zone. This was a very difficult topic for me to deal with at the time, since I had just left my home country and everything that was familiar to me in order to pursue my dream. Second of all, I actually had no experience in traditional animation prior to starting at CalArts, even though I had worked as an After Effects artist in the Israeli industry. I was fortunate enough to have Brian Ferguson as my first year teacher, and I soon learned traditional, hand-drawn animation. It really didn't take long until I fell in love with it!

3) Siri is short film produced as participation in the 48hr film challenge between CalArts and Gobelins. It sounds like a very busy weekend. Please talk a little about this experience.

Although it's always very busy at CalArts, the 48hr film challenge is the second most exciting time of the year, apart from our actual film production time. It’s amazing to see your peers come up with very different, sometimes crazy ideas. Also, where the actual films are often taken very seriously, 48hr films are a justified opportunity to spend a decent amount of time on something that’s purely for the sake of a challenge and for fun. Once the theme is announced at midnight on Friday, it's non-stop. I personally can't go to sleep until I have an idea that I know I can start working on the day after. This year I initially had a different idea, but after I boarded it, I just didn't feel like spending my weekend on it. So, I hysterically called my younger brother in Israel (we think quite similarly especially when it comes to humor, so it was kind of like brainstorming with myself), and we came up with the idea of what Siri's actual life would look like, and how she couldn't possibly be happy. We played around with some ideas for gags and laughed a lot, and then I knew that this was it. It was great fun to work on, and to be honest, it turned out to be way bigger than I intended. To be even more honest, although I worked like crazy that weekend, I had to do some additional sound editing and a bit of compositing later on!

4) In Blossom, Siri and Sweet ride, you explore tiny characters and their perspective of the world around them. What interests you about this type of theme? 
To me, animation allows you to create an imaginary world that can reflect the way you see your own, from a different perspective. I would say that the majority of what we are taught at CalArts is simply visual storytelling – learning how to communicate a strong idea clearly to the audience through visuals. When I first started developing the idea for “Blossom”, I felt like the story was so personal and serious that all I could envision were scenarios from real life or from memory. I was far too attached to reality, and it stopped me from taking a step back and exploring something creative and cinematic. Finally, once I committed to finding a parallel world that could function as a metaphor, I was able to develop the idea of the flower as a setting. Even though there is a pattern of tiny worlds in my previous work, I am keen to explore new worlds of a different scale. The characters in my current project are actually human, and I will treat it as an even bigger challenge. 
5) I admire your use of colour, in both Blossom and also your concept assignments, posted on your Tumblr account on 29/09/2014. In the third artwork, the style reminds me of both Mary Blair and also 101 Dalmations. Which artists inspire you?
Thank you so much! I love playing with colour, and it's crucial to my thought process. I guess I’ll have to narrow down my inspiration to what I have in mind right now. In terms of animation, I grew up with Chuck Jones’ cartoons, so I’ve always been influenced by them, especially those with Maurice Nobels’gorgeous layouts. I also enjoy the old UPA shorts (Gerold McBoingboing!), and, more recently, the consistently amazing work of Headless Studios. Needless to say, my peer students here at CalArts are amazing, and I'm sure we're inspired by each other all the time. I also love music videos (I wish that Stremae and Lady Gaga would make one together), as well as fashion and photography. In terms of film, I enjoy the works of Edgar Wright. There is so much more than what I mentioned but I think that narrowing down your inspiration is really important. Information and art today is easily accessible and that’s great, but when you just scroll down endlessly on blogs it makes you passive. When doing research for a long-term project, I actually start at the library. I like to read and digest my thoughts without being immediately influenced by visuals.

6) In regards to Sweet Ride, where did the origin of the idea (using a cake decoration) come from?
Finding an intriguing idea for this one was tough. In order to make the dialogue feel new to the audience without changing the lines, the context had to be very different from the original scene. I had two things to figure out: 1. What kind of car, that’s not an actual car, can be eaten or what kind of character can eat an actual car? And 2. What kind of character would be incredibly frustrated about his/her car being eaten?
Originally, it was a wedding cake featuring a couple and a car, but the context still didn't suit the character. Then I turned to my roommate, Tiffany, one morning, and she said “Why not making it a birthday cake?”. After that, the idea of the race driver and his precious came quite naturally.

7) Please talk about your production workflow.
As I mentioned, research means a lot to me, and I don’t move into production before I feel like the idea is properly fleshed out. However, I try to stay flexible if I see that a shot/scene can be improved or needs rethinking. Before I start animating, I have a clear character design, video references, storyboards (if needed), a rough layout (that might change a bit while animating) and a few notes. Then I draw my key frames very loosely and move on to breakdowns and timing. Once I have a clear sense of the movement and timing with very rough drawings, I start to tie things down and clean up. Next, I in-between the remaining frames with a clean line. I use TV-paint for animating and colouring, Photoshop for backgrounds and After Effects for compositing and effects. If it’s a relatively long piece that requires a heavier use of sound effects, I edit everything with Premiere.

8) You use video reference to help plan your traditional animation. When did video reference become part of your workflow and can you share your thoughts on its use.  (have you always used video reference? If not, what difference has it made to your work?)  
For me, using video references for animation is an extremely important part of my research, and it has its pros and cons. I love it because it lets you explore your performance options quite intuitively. When I explore an action myself, I feel like I can understand it a lot better, and, even when I’m animating, I make hand gestures and facial expressions in front of the screen in order to feel what the movement, timing, arches and spacing should be like. Sometimes, I have to look up certain actions on youtube (if my character needs to do a parkour jump, for example!). Also, if my character is physically very different to me (in terms of age, size or sex), I find other resources. In any case, before I nail the ideas for the performance, I remind myself of the two enemies of acting in animation to me: 1. clich├ęs, over-acting and the danger of animation inspired by other animation, 2. the fact that I’m not a professionally trained actor. I can take lessons, but I respect the skill of a trained stage or film actor. I am therefore just as likely to use live-action films as references as well as actors I know. They can help me understand certain things about good performances that I might recognize in my head but not necessarily be able to physically reproduce. Lastly, I always try to push my key poses through a personal interpretation of a reference, so the performance feels like its my own and supports my animation style.

(Animation reference)

(The high jump - don't try this one without a safety net)

(Rough Animation)

9)  The main character has a curved plush-type bodysuit,  but there are moments where angular shapes of the arms contrast beautifully. The audience are also drawn to the thick black eyebrows. Please can you talk a bit about the character design.
Racer Design
In order to put the emphasis on the animation, I wanted the design to be as simple as possible. Once I'd figured out that the race driver was made of sugar dough, it was clear that he needed to be soft and cute (which would contrast well with his anger). I also wanted the face to be big enough for the audience to notice every change within the facial expressions. I then realised that the sudden changes from the curvy design to angular shapes in extreme moments had to be emotionally driven. By creating little shifts in the design for brief frames, I was able to reinforce the anger and frustration that the character feels. After reading the critique by Dana Boadway-Masson, I appreciate that the eyebrows are, in fact, probably too contrasty. Eyebrows are naturally very expressive, and you want the audience to pay attention to them, but at the same time, you don’t want them to compete too much with the rest of the facial features. Overall, it was a really fun character to animate.
10) In this world you've created, the human doesn't understand a word he's saying. However, he is flicked/thrown back down on the cake. With this moment in mind, how do you envisage the relationship between the two characters?
The way I see it, the human is either not intelligent enough to figure out that the race driver is alive, or he simply doesn’t care. All the human wants is to eat the sugar dough car, and to him, the race driver is just an annoying piece that he would rather just throw away. He is like a kid who doesn’t understand what he’s doing, and the patience of the race driver is lost once the thing most precious to him is taken away.

11) After the production of your short film, and winning an 11 Second Club competition, what are your plans for new year ahead?
I’m already working non-stop on my second year film at CalArts. There are no words to express how passionate I am about this story. It is about a closeted guy and his secret boyfriend, who decide to spend the day at an aquarium. I will start animation production at the beginning of the second semester in 2015. It's safe to say that this project is the biggest challenge I've yet had to face.

12) Lastly, do you have any advice to those pursuing animation? 
Think, think, think, be critical of your work, plan, think, be inspired by other art forms and by life, think, learn how to draw better, think, take breaks (please!), love what you do, have a tiny moment when you finish a piece you’re satisfied with to smile, before you see it the morning after and think that it’s bad, think, have an actual life so you can sometimes just enjoy without thinking too much!

Lastly, if I may, I would like to thank my animation teachers Daniel Gonzales and Robert Domingo, Dana Boadway-Masson for the extremely helpful e-critique and a great friend of mine, Lisa Laxholm.

Thank you again from the bottom of my heart Steven! 

Interview by Steven Hawthorne