Monday, December 17, 2012

Francis Glebas and The Animator's Eye

Francis Glebas is a director, designer and story board artist with a long career in the animation industry. We asked him some questions about his work and his latest book "The Animator's Eye".

FLIP: Tell us a little about your latest book The Animator's Eye. What it is it about?

Francis: The Animator's Eye is about the process of finding and bringing ideas to life through the magic of animation. It's a step by step documentation of the whole process of making an animated short. I drew more than 6000 drawings for the book which includes the 3 ½ minute animated short- The Animator's Eye. The film is a metaphor for the process of getting an idea and bringing it to life with animation.

I wanted to include all of the classic animation principles but present them in a fresh way. For example Iggy, the impulsive pig tries to create life in the lab by filling a floursack with ideas. In order to make the book a more useful guide, I decided to include all the mistakes as well as the successes. In fact, studios will complete this process to improve their filmmaking process. I believe you can often learn more from what goes wrong than when it's done perfectly.

Iggy, one of the stars of The Animator's Eye
You can see the complete animated film here, and a book trailer here. It features a wonderful score by composer Hans Karl.

FLIP: What was the genesis of the book? Were you approached or was this your idea?

Francis: After I finished Directing the Story for Focal Press, they wanted me to write another book for them. I had several ideas, but they wanted me to write a book called The Animator's Eye. It was to be part of a series including The Photographer's Eye and The Filmmaker's Eye. I was actually nervous about doing a book on animation because most of my career I've been a storyboard and visual development artist. Animation itself was not my strength. When I got the idea of documenting the whole process of making animated short, then I felt I could contribute something worthwhile and it all came together.

The subtitle of the book is Adding Life to Animation with Timing, Layout, Design, Color and Sound. All of these are explored.

I actually wrote a book called The Fundamentals of Classical Animation in 1980. But, unfortunately, before I could publish it, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnstone wrote this other book called The Illusion of Life. (Dirty rats!) Mine couldn't hold a candle to theirs.
Frank and Ollie's animation classic - still one of the finest books on animation in print
However, a few drawings from the original found new life in The Animator's Eye. And I discovered more than the 12 principles of animation and grouped them into three categories: Principles for physical believability, inner life and clarity of the read. Also, Frank and Ollie never talked about cartoon physics.

FLIP: How large an undertaking was The Animator's Eye?

Francis: It was insane. I was working full time while I researched the content, wrote over 100,000 words and drew over 6000 drawings as well as documenting the process. I struggled with my character designs until I got the idea to use a couple of characters that I already had created- Iggy, the impulsive pig and his best friend, Scared Bunny. I already knew how to draw them and they were simple cartoon characters. The book shows the evolution of these characters including how Iggy at one time was a Guinea pig and then a bat. I think Bunny's influences go back as far as Crusader Rabbit, the first animated TV series.
Francis Glebas at work on Fantasia 2000
FLIP. You have worked on many animated feature films. How did you first get into animation?

Francis: I've directed 2 features, storyboarded on 15 features and 10 direct-to-videos. Currently, I'm on my first TV series, How to Train Your Dragon for DreamWorks. The show is a blast to work on.

When I graduated from Pratt, a neighbor knew someone who knew someone who was working on Tubby the Tuba. I interviewed and tried to pretend I knew what I was talking about. During the interview instead of “stretch and squash”, I called it, “squish and squash”. I got the job- but not as an animator, I was to be painting cels on a night crew. Luckily, I knew how to mix colors and that got me to the day crew. Later, they needed some in-betweeners. They draw the breakdowns after the clean up animators. I took a test which took all day and was chosen as one of the three positions.

Tubby the Tuba was made at N.Y.I.T. The president loved animation and technology. So he created the Computer Graphics Lab a research facility at the college. Us artists were the “test subjects” for the scientists. Later those scientists went on to create the digital editing system for George Lucas and
then Pixar. How many people can say they were Ed Catmull's Guinea pig?

Iggy and Scared Bunny explain the Principles of Animation

FLIP: You directed Piglet's Big Movie, which I was lucky enough to work on in Tokyo. How was that experience?

Francis: This was actually the second time that animation brought me to Tokyo. The first time was to train a Japanese studio with animation software made by the New York Institute of Technology (N.Y.I.T). Disney owned a studio in Toyko and they completed the animation for Piglet's Big Movie. We wanted to go back to the look of Walt's original Winnie the Pooh films, so we sent animators over to work with them. I was lucky to have you [Alex Williams], Scott Peterson, Teresa Wiseman and Andreas Wessel-Therhorn guide the Japanese crew. The joint team created an amazing movie. It was a shame though that the Second Gulf War started the week of our movie's opening. I really love Japan - its food, scenery, hi-tech, and so on. But the movie, Lost in Translation really captures the real alienness of it.

Francis storyboarded the musical sequence "A Whole New World"

FLIP: What is your favourite project that you have worked on and why?

Francis: It's really hard to choose only one. I guess it would have to be Aladdin. It was my first feature at Disney and I storyboarded, A Whole New World. When I saw the finished film, that started with my crude sketches, it was like magic. Each department made the movie better and better. I remember how Randy Cartwright who animated the Magic Carpet had the tassels dipping into the water like little fingers. It's that attention to detail that creates the magic.

Scared Bunny talks Flour Sacks and character poses

FLIP: You storyboard, direct, write books and teach. How do you find the time to balance so many different things?

Francis: I love all of what I do. I've been making movies since I was twelve. The teaching and books happened along the way. During the making of Pomp and Circumstance, I was asked to speak to my crew, over a lunch hour. I was panicked because I didn't know what I was going to talk about. Well, two hours later the questions were still coming. That led to workshops and lunch box lectures at Disney and then teaching at colleges. My storyboard students were telling me that I was teaching them things they never had heard so I thought to put it into a book- Directing the Story. I still feel like a beginner. That makes it exciting and scary but keeps it fresh.

To answer your question, I have an insatiable curiosity to learn more about everything. You could call it a healthy obsession. I often write by keeping a sticky note pad with me. I once thumb-nailed out a scene on sticky notes while waiting at an airport.

It's hard to balance a family life with this business. My son is very creative and won a first place cable channel award for this student film. He actually did the film editing for The Animator's Eye. It's also his Rube Goldberg machine science fair project that's featured in Directing the Story.

FLIP: What advice would you offer to anyone aspiring to get into the animation business?

Francis: Believe in yourself, find a mentor who's doing it and listen to their feedback. This is an extremely difficult question to answer. As noted earlier there was an element of chance in my getting to work at NYIT. Find how to make your own opportunities. Learn how to be entertaining.

No comments:

Post a Comment