Tony Bancroft, Director of Disney’s Mulan will publish Directing for Animation with Focal Press this summer. Directing for Animation integrates Tony’s personal stories, experiences, and tips learned at Disney and other studios with interviews of A-list animation directors including Nick Park, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, John Musker and more. In anticipation of Directing for Animation, we have decided to give you a sneak peek at some of the interviews captured for the book. Full interviews, tips, and techniques can be found in the forthcoming Directing for Animation.
A pioneer in computer animation film making, Chris Wedge was there at the beginning of what is now a multi-billion dollar business. With a small band of animation innovators, Wedge co-founded and is Vice President of Creative Development at Blue Sky Studios. In 1998, Wedge and his Blue Sky crew received an Academy Award for their innovative and character driven short Bunny. Wedge directed the first Ice Age, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and went on to become one of the most successful franchises of all time spawning three sequels to date. Since then, he has directed 2005’s Robots in between his responsibilities as executive producer on everything Blue Sky produces.
Tony: So, how did you get into the animation industry?
Chris: Well, I was interested in animation from the time I was a kid. You know, I grew up in the boondocks needing to, kind of, make my own fun and I got interested in animation. It was something I had total control over and I could just experiment and fuss with it from the time I was about twelve. I went to film school and studied animation in a film program that didn’t have too much animation going on at the time, but I had a lot of support and I just continued to do the same thing, make my own little movies on my own, and, you know, I would spend sometimes two or three years on one little movie and just keep it alive, keep it going.
Tony: What do you like most about working in animation?
Chris: What I like most about it is that it’s a technique where you can communicate the most complete version of a fantasy from your brain to another person. I just love that you can divorce yourself from the world of physics, the world of what things are supposed to look like and the way things are supposed to move, and just go to places you can’t see any other way. I mean, that just philosophically is what I like about it. You can heighten physics. You can heighten the color. You can stylize characters to exaggerate personalities, and…
Tony: Kind of make a new reality.
Chris:..Yeah. That’s what I like about it.
Tony: When people ask you, “What is a director for animation?” what do you tell them that you do?
Chris: I tell them somebody has to tell everybody what to do! You know, somebody has to be the person everybody can go to.
Tony: So, you see yourself as a creative supervisor then?
Chris: Well, yeah. I mean, it’s my idea that they’re doing. We make our films with three or four hundred people around us, and the films are so complex, there’s so much work to do. It’s a waste of my time to sit down and storyboard, or to sit down and animate, because all those disciplines are so time consuming that I can’t do that anymore, so that what I end up doing is talking the film to life. I talk, and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk, and I make little sketches every once in a while, and every once in a while I can pound out a page of screenplay, but, for the most part, I’m talking with other writers, or I’m talking with storyboard artists, or I’m talking with character designers, or I’m talking with editors, or animators and, you know, just coaxing the film to life by describing it to people.
Tony: I’ve never heard that translation of what you do on a day-to-day basis as a director. I like that. What is the best and worst part of your job as a director?
Chris: Well, you know, I can’t really, I mean, it’s all going to be relative, because, well, the worst part of my job would seem silly to someone that has a real job.
Tony: Like somebody that tars roofs for a living…
Chris: Yeah, I mean, it’s all relative but for me, the best part of directing is when you achieve something that is beyond what you imagined, and the worst part is when something doesn’t quite get to where you wanted it to be. That’s all it is. It’s creative.