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September 12, 2016

Bill Skills

12 weeks of animation designing. 10 months of principal photography. 4 years of sports training. All three things are not unlike a roast dinner. Takes a long time to make it, much less to consume it.

You shoot for gold for only a brief moment.

Over summer I’ve been scratching the creative itch, which has revealed the potentially winning formula for completing projects. Gardens have been used as workspaces to allow for literal out-of-the-box thinking; the Abzû soundtrack has been fuel for the mind, and the positive feedback from people has been the motivation.

The Finding Dory preview screening at Ham Yard Hotel – the most magical place on Earth – was a golden opportunity to learn from the director (as well as fangirl with a fellow Pixar fan/Whovian in the front row – déjà vu much?). Andrew Stanton talked about approaching the sequel, answering the question Finding Nemo left him with. Although definitely a lighter movie than the first, it’s about accepting and embracing your inner qualities to find your way home.

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A few notes I learned from the Q&A:

  • Your goal in storytelling is to make a statement about certain themes, for example identity. Stories like Lawrence of Arabia are journeys of self-realisation, expressing that “we’re not at peace until we understand who we truly are.”
  • Bambi was a major influence for Stanton, and he carries that impressionistic view into Nemo; he always had a deep respect for nature, imagining what drama and horrors and predators lurk above and below the ocean surface. It can give what it can take away.
  • Without drawing attention to any real life mental disabilities in particular, the filmmaker studied the specificity of Dory’s problem – amnesia – to see if he could find something universal about it, so it could speak to all audiences:

Everybody has something about themselves that they don’t like – personality quirk, the way they are slow to process something [compared to] other people […] The way the brain processes things is different for each and every person and sometimes that’s exactly what makes you unique and special even though it may seem to put you behind in the pack on some other things.”

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  • Writing dialogue is a skill: whenever a character has to speak, it has to be worth the audience’s time.
  • Many of the Pixar films work visually because a lot of thought goes into the staging and acting, so you can understand what’s going on on screen even with the sound off.
  • Economy of art is inherent: how much you can get something across with less?

In other words, how much do you need to say? And how much information can you share?

I have found with every project that I become a different, better person at the other end. For instance, The Future Needs Us is helping me be ME again. Whether it’s going to help me break into the commercial field is yet to be determined, but at least I stuck to my vision, solved problems and found ways to finish stages as opposed to perfecting minor details.

Yet somehow I reached Level 20 in Pokémon GO, an augmented reality app that exploded in mid July involving catching and training virtual creatures. Distracting, addictive as hell, but fun, though not entirely harmless fun as you risk walking into a lamppost. My most successful catch was a wild Arcanine in Swansea.

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But I digress…

I have the proven skills to be an animation director. Studio-ready? errr…

On my way to the Animation SuperGrill at KIN&ILK – a venue that was harder to find than Kingsweston House – I was caught in a deluge. It was like Blade Runner out there.

Between listening to some entertaining lectures on freelancing in animation, the industry, stop motion production and Double Negative, I was warily holding myself back from showing my reel…just days after the Doctor gave his approval of such work. I was anxious until I was drawn to a fellow artist’s sketchbook.

I’m easily intimidated by people better in this field than me. But Stanton too “was a small fish in a big pond”.

I can only continue working towards the best version of me. It is all part of the process.

Further reading/viewing:

Finding Dory: Highlights from Disney•Pixar Preview and Behind the Scenes Masterclass

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