Sony Pictures Imageworks Animator Interview
Animation College catches up with Sony Pictures Imageworks Animators Dylan Reid and Tom Davis as they reflect on their careers as feature film animators.
Some productions he has worked on: The Penguins of Madagascar TV series, Monsters vs Aliens TV series, Kung Fu Panda TV series, Hotel Transylvania 2, Storks (currently working on).
Some productions he has worked on: The Adventures of Figaro Pho Season 2, Monsters vs Aliens TV series, Maya the Bee Movie, All Hail King Julian TV series, Hotel Transylvania 2, Storks (currently working on)
How did you get into Animation?
DR: I watched a lot of The Simpsons & after school cartoons growing up. I'd say the The Simpsons and the early Pixar films are what inspired me most to pursue an animation career. When I was about 11 I downloaded a free 3D animation package to start playing around with and learning the basics. That got me really excited about it and after that I concentrated on figuring out how to become an animator.
TD: During high school I really wanted to get into VFX for films even though I didn't really know anything about the industry. So after I graduated I went to the University of NSW College of Fine Arts to study Digital Media which is kind of like a sampler course where you're introduced to a whole variety of mediums. There was a 3D animation and modelling subject in amongst that and it was that class where animation first really grabbed me and so from there it was clear to me that this where I wanted to focus my attention.
What’s the hardest part about being an animator?
TD: I guess it depends on where you're at in your career and what studio you're working at. At the very start when I had my first job in animation, the hardest part was coping with how demanding the job can be in terms of hours. Working on a TV series the amount of seconds of animation they ask you to do on a weekly basis is pretty crazy anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. So trying to stay on schedule and manage your animation quota, while still doing work that your happy with creatively is a struggle for sure. Now that I'm a little bit more experienced and have had the chance to work at a feature studio where you have a bit more time to work on shots, the hardest part for me is trying to produce work that's original and unique, not formulaic or cliché.
DR: Balancing your work and personal life is the toughest part. You always want to put all that you have into your work, but if you do that for too long you'll get tired and burnt out. You need to know when to put in 110% and when to relax and chill out a bit.
What goals do you want to achieve in your animation career? Have you met them?
TD: I've already been lucky enough to tick some of my animation goals off the list. Working on a fully animation feature was a big dream of mine ever since I got into animation and I got chance to realise that working on Hotel Transylvania 2 which was amazing, especially after being so blown away by the animation in the first Hotel. I guess every budding animator wants to work at Pixar or Disney. For me now it would be great to have the chance to work on a movie that was in that top tier of animated films like an Incredibles or a Tangled etc. regardless of what studio.
DR: My goal was always to work as an animator, and then when I started working in TV my goal was to eventually work in film. I've been in film for a couple of years and I'm really enjoying it. My goal now is to just learn as much as I can.
What has been your personal highlight working in animation?
DR: That's a tough one - Working with Genndy Tartakovsky on Hotel T 2 was a pretty big thrill, it was such a pleasure to just sit in the sweatbox and watch him draw these fantastic poses in a matter of seconds. But there was a moment early on in Storks that is pretty memorable - Doug Sweetland is the Director of Storks. He's an old school Pixar guy, he's animated on basically every Pixar movie up until Brave, and Directed Presto. We needed a teaser trailer out for Storks so there were about 6 or 7 of us assigned to work on it. Doug had come up with an idea for the teaser so he boarded it entirely himself and pitched it to us in the sweatbox. He held it up to us board by board explaining what was going on and doing sound effects, it was pretty surreal. Everything is all digital now so it's a treat to have someone pitch something by just holding up some drawings.
Above: Animation Director Genndy Tartakovsky Roughs out poses for Translyvania 2.
TD: Working on Hotel T2 has been the highlight of animation life to date for sure. More specifically there was a shot towards the end of the movie during the final battle sequence that the director asked me specifically to animate which was both a real honour and also a huge challenge because the shot was so demanding in terms of the amount of animation, the number of characters and the amount of time left to do it in.
What has been your favourite character to animate?
TD: Animating Dracula from Hotel T was a lot of fun because the style was so cartoony and pushed and you could get away with lots of smear frames and wild facial expression and bendy arms and legs and what not. One of the main characters from Storks, which is the movie we're working on now, is also really fun to work on but mainly because the voice acting is so unique and funny which makes her fun to animate.
How much footage do you need to hit weekly?
DR: There's no required quota, you're given a shot and expected to do it in a certain about of days depending on the length of a shot / how complicated it is. I would say roughly everyone does about 2-3 seconds a week.
TD: At Sony we're not really given a specific number per week in terms of footage although I'm sure production keeps track of how much footage each animator gets through per week. But previously I've been assigned roughly 20 days for a 200 frame shot with 3 characters, just as an example. It varies a lot from shot to shot though.
How do you deal with feedback if your scene gets rejected or isn’t used?
DR: It's tough when you have shots pulled out of the film. It's important to keep in mind that all the notes, changes, and feedback that you'll get is given by people who care about the end product and want to make the film better. Sometimes you need to step back and realise that changes you get may not improve your shot, but they'll improve the movie.
TD: Dealing with feedback is just part of the job, most of the time the feedback is really useful stuff which makes the shot much better in the long run, even if it is a pain to change your animation at the time. Occasionally you get notes that you think are bad calls, but you just have to do your part and remember that it's not all about you that it's about getting the point of the shot across and about serving the story as a whole. If I get a lot of big notes from the director or animation director on a shot that I don't agree with usually I'll grumble about it and sulk for about an hour then just get on with it and almost always feel better about the shot once the changes have been made.
How much have you learned on the job and have you found any mentors?
DR: I've learnt heaps on the job at Sony. It's impossible not to when you're surrounded by fantastic animators. Leads that you're assigned serve as great mentors, even after you leave their team you can go back to them and get even more feedback on your work. I'd recommend anyone at a studio to just spend a few minutes each morning looking through work that has been submitted by your co-workers. It gets you excited, and you can pick up some animation tricks by framing through their work.
TD: I've learned a tonne "on the job" more than I learned at University or at Animation Mentor. I haven’t really found any mentors specifically but I have learned a lot from framing through shots that I love and trying to figure out what makes them so good and how to implement that into my own work.
Do you work with a small or large team at Sony?
DR: The animation team is pretty large, we just hit 120 animators on Storks, and on Hotel we had about 110 at the end. But within that we have teams that have 10 - 15 animators each, we work within that team and constantly communicate with our lead.
TD: The animation team size at Sony varies from show to show but right now I'm on a team of about 20 animators with one lead animator, and the animation department for the whole movie is at about 120 which is huge. The department size usually starts small and ramps up to about 60 animators in the middle of production, if we're behind schedule more animators are brought on board towards the end of production, which is why the animation team is so large at the moment.
What is your position at Sony Animation?
DR: Digital Character Animator
TD: When I was first hired at Sony I came on as an intermediate animator, and at the end of Hotel Transylvania 2 I was lucky enough to get a promotion to Senior Animator.
All images and video are property of their respective owners and appear under fair use © Sony Pictures Imageworks (Hotel Transylvania), © Studio 100 (Maya The Bee), © Warners Brothers (Storks), © Nickelodeon Movies (SpongeBob Squarepants)