“One thing I really like about Indian animators is that they are very determined & have very strong work ethics.”
From Ciderpunks to Horn Ok Please, Joel Simon is a self taught stop motion animator and is an accomplished animation film maker too. In his fourth visit to India, the Flickerpix CEO shared his knowledge and experiences with professionals and students at a workshop organized by TASI.
He also shared his views on various topics in an exlcusive interview with AnimationXpress.com
Many Indian artists including Vaibhav have worked with you. What do you think about Indian artistsâ€? strength and weaknesses?
One thing I really like about Indian animators is that they are very determined and have very strong work ethics. Their passion for their craft (perhaps) stems from the fact that they have gone for a very left-field career choice and opportunities to carry out good character animation work are few.
When it comes to solving technical issues, Indian animators are very well versed in finding solutions for the problem by nature or by instinct. Perhaps that is because animation materials and facilities may not be as readily available as they are in the UK, so you have to think laterally all the time. This also creates versatility, when all the production methods are not always at your disposal.
On the weakness front, it’s a bit harder to say; as I have worked with some very talented people from here, but I have noticed that part
of the newest generation of animators seems to gravitate automatically towards CG animation, perhaps it is the influence of gaming, which is a shame as I think that an awareness of all animation mediums and basic fine arts skills is as important as the software manual.
What is the animation scenario in Ireland? And how is it different from the Indian scenario?
There are lots of work opportunities in the UK and Ireland at present in both 3D and flash animation, and at the top end of stop-motion also, but there is still a shortage of experienced people there. In India, the animation industry seems to be growing much more rapidly. And there seems to be a good number of short term courses to teach these subjects, especially in 3D animation. There are lots of animation projects coming up from UK & Ireland side as they have tied up with lot of international partners for funding.
Another key difference is that the smaller animation studios in the UK and Ireland tend to work in relative isolation, usually. Whereas, I have noticed more collaborations and associations being built here. TASI is a great example. However, my experience of Indian animation revolves around Mumbai mainly.
What have you learnt from Indian animators?
I suppose it’s the “if at first it doesn’t succeed, try 5 other ways” ethic, that and a complete lack of irritation when things don’t work out.
Please share your comments on some of the best animated films that you have seen and are inspired by?
I have seen so many good films in so many festivals recently, it makes your head throb, but at home, for leisure, I would watch PINGU, one of my favourite animation series ever… it will never date, the characters are simple and very endearing, and represent a little micro-cosm of life in a community of penguins. The creator of PINGU is an unsung hero from Switzerland called Otmar Gummer, who came from the eastern European school of stop motion animation where expressions and spontaneity prevailed over smoothness, and involved multiple characters all interacting. I also like another childrenâ€?s animation series called CHARLY AND LOLA at the moment, itâ€?s very big in the UK, very design, illustration based, very flat, but it works because the characters reason like real children, itâ€?s not just writers putting on a pseudo-childish patronizing tone.
What suggestions do you want to give to Indian content creator?
Itâ€?s hard to say. I would have to watch more Indian content to reply. Personally Iâ€?d be keen to see a real crossover project; animation characters created here that can be appealing internationally. But to do that youâ€?d have to shed some big cultural reference off, or go multicultural. So far, the animation characters I have seen were based in mythology or religion, there is nothing wrong with that of course, but it will alienate all the viewers who are unfamiliar or uninterested in these references. I think that real human interest stories can resonate in various cultures though, itâ€?s kind of what I tried doing in HORN OK PLEASE, the story is based in India and deals with someoneâ€?s desire for a better life, his subsequent coping with failure, and his determination to pick up the pieces and start again from scratch. Itâ€?s something a lot of us can relate to, in different countries.
At the TASI seminar, you mentioned about artists putting their content online. Have you also put any of your work on any website?
Yes. Itâ€?s something I can totally recommend. Especially since there is a lot of appetite for short animation films on the net. We have our official studio site www.flickerpix.com, then we have a site on which you can see some of our films and episodes from our latest series ON THE AIR www.myspace.com/flickerpix This site has meant that many more people have seen our work, over 300,000 in the first month, and we get to read some of the viewersâ€? feedback. When you work on animation, you can lead quite a reclusive life, so any exposure and interaction with an audience is a big thrill! I go online to watch animations and life action shorts much more than at than at festivals.
Your short films or even series like â€?On The Airâ€? are reality based. Any particular reason for that?
I suppose I do base a lot of my ideas on experiences and people I have met. Itâ€?s what I prefer to do, if I am given a choice.
On, ON THE AIR, I wanted the series to reflect types of people you may actually come across in Northern Ireland, rather than cartoony characters. I find films (be they comedy or drama) have an extra edge for me if they relate to the life around us. You canâ€?t find more interesting subject matter than peopleâ€?s lives. They are much more complex and fascinating than any epic fantasy character.
“I suppose I do base a lot of my ideas on experiences and people I have met. Itâ€?s what I prefer to do, if I am given a choice. I like to keep things close to reality.”
What according to you is the importance of storyboarding in stop motion and clay animation?
I think storyboarding is really important for any kind of animation. A storyboard is a key feature in the pre production phase of the movie. They help the director to visualize how the film should appear in the frame and at what pace and movement. I donâ€?t think that good storyboards require good drawings. You should look at Martin Scorsesâ€? drawings, or Hitchcockâ€?s original drawings. As someone put it, the storyboard is the film on paper.
From the global point of view, do you think that the animation communityâ€?s focus is more on the execution techniques rather than coming up with new story telling styles?
Not sure on that one. I assume that there is room and even demand for both. But I reckon with time it will become harder to blow the peopleâ€?s minds with fancy CG effects. The evolution may be in that these effects will become easier, faster to achieve.
What next after â€?Horn Ok Pleaseâ€??
Well these days I am working on a character called â€?Minkyâ€?. Itâ€?s about a cheeky monkey learning to deal with lifeâ€?s essentials, under the patronage of two kids. It is a pilot project and if we get the green signal weâ€?ll make a full animation series. We are waiting to hear about a second series for ON THE AIR, our first animation series for the BBC, went down really well. Our best work yet. And I am developing yet another childrenâ€?s animation character BABY BEE.
How can short film makers make money out of their short films?
In India itâ€?s very hard to find budget for films as the producers/directors have to keep chasing for funds. In some European countries you can just about survive by making shorts all your life, if you are a big name, some governments will support you. But most of us go commercial either with series work (which is my favorite) or TV ads.
How long are you in India and are you open to conduct more workshops with studios/ institutes/ organizations while here and in future?
Actually, this time it won’t be possible for me to conduct more workshops in India as I am about to leave but yes, in future I will definitely come back for a fifth time and do workshops. We need better stop motion animators from here!!