I had met Craig at a party almost a decade ago but prior to meeting him all I knew about him was that he was a traditional 2D animator at Disney studios in Sydney. Of course being the animation geek that I was I knew I had to meet this guy and sure enough after meeting Craig I immediately knew that this guy was going to go places. And go places he did!
His list of incredible credits include working as an animator on animated films such as “Legend of the Guardians” and “Happy Feet 2″, the completely underrated live action epic “John Carter” directed by one of my fave directors of all time Andrew Stanton and of course the upcoming Marvel epic “Guardians of the Galaxy”.
He also recently just completed his first non-animated short film “The Uneducated” which took him a painstaking 22 months to complete.
I recently caught up with Craig while he was working at MPC in London (over the interweb, not in person sadly) to talk about he got started in animation, how he ended up working for some of the biggest names in the business and also about his fantastic short film.
NK: What got you into animation and was there a specific moment where it clicked with you that you wanted to do this as a career?
CR: When I was a kid, I always loved to draw and I loved watching animated films and Saturday morning cartoons. In many ways I learnt about the world first through animation. Learning about different animals or my concept of different cultures or
of what America was like all came through the medium of animation. A little warped my reality was, but quite a magical and colourful perspective. When I found out that people made these movies, I was hooked. I wanted to be where the magic was.
NK: How did you get your break into the animation industry?
CR: My mother worked with the neighbour of the Unit Director at Walt Disney Animation Australia. He was generous with his time and had lunch with me a budding animator, disillusioned with school. He told me what I needed to improve with my sketches, but mostly instilled belief in me that I could make it. I left school the next day and went to an art college over the next 2 years, I was applying to a traineeship at Disney and after being knocked back twice I made it in.
NK: When you started working at animal logic was the transition from 2d animation to 3d animation hard or had you always known how to animate a 3d character?
CR: Well, I couldn’t have told you where the shift key was on a keyboard. I had to do a bridging course in IT just to get into the 3D animation module I wanted to study. For me, it was always about the magic of flipping the pages and seeing your drawings come to life. Computers I had always seen as geeky and I hated them at first, but once I got over the technical side and realised they were just a tool, I learnt to enjoy and focus on more than just the draftsmanship of Animation and really get into the performance. I think I’m a better 3D animator than I ever would have been a 2D animator.
NK: What did you find was the biggest difference between animating in 3d vs 2d?
CR: You don’t have to draw in 3D. In a way, that makes it easier. You don’t have to think about drawing and acting, or about difficult perspective, foreshortening etc. It’s pure acting. There are also many different ways to approach 3D animation, there’s motion capture and keyframe, but also different tools that you can use. Sometimes I look more at the motion and flow of a shot than the particular poses, and find those nice poses later. In 2D it’s always about your key drawings, and therefore it’s very planned before you go ahead and animate. 3D can be a little chaotic, but you have the benefit of instant playback. Perhaps a limitation in 3D is that you can’t always get the really wild shapes that are staples in toony animation transitions. You’re locked into what the rig can and can’t do.
NK: And for anyone aspiring to get into animation what advice would you give them to get into the industry?
CR: I think life drawing still helps even if you can’t draw and are simply focused on 3D animation. Learn gestures, posing and anatomy, because it develops your eye. Also sit down somewhere public and watch people. How do they walk, talk, act. Observe as much as you can. It’s what actors do and you are essentially an actor who’s never seen on camera. Also this is an industry that doesn’t necessarily look for degrees (maybe in America) It’s all about your showreel. Keep working on your showreel. Do an action shot and an acting shot, it can be 10 seconds long, just make it the best you can and send it off to studios looking for an entry in. Get to know the people in the industry as best you can. My ticket in was my connection with the Unit Director.
NK: You just spent 22 months making your latest short film “The Uneducated”. How did the inspiration for this film come about?
CR: I had an idea swimming around in my head about some intellectual debates between atheists vs theists. I took the best points from each and chose to dramatise it using two children. As I mentioned before, I had a very magical perspective of the world through animation when I was growing up and I wanted one of the children to represent that, the other to be a child prodigy at the height of knowledge and existential strife- and let those two world views collide.
NK: What would you say was the hardest part about making the film?
CR: It was my first time in live-action film making. In animation you have the ability to control everything and feel out the performance exactly as you imagined it. With real actors, especially child actors, it’s a wild beast that’s in your reigns. Each take you’re trying to tame it to what’s in your head, but you have to let go and find out what it is. There’s a lot of thinking on your feet and you’re always racing the clock.
NK:How did you feel watching the film in front of an audience? Were you nervous? Excited?
CR: I really hate watching the film with people. With a film of this personal nature, it’s like you’re naked in front of them. But strangely enough, after it’s played, I had this confidence come over me. You kind of think well, it’s all out there, people are either going to like or hate me, but there’s nothing I’m hiding anymore. Also if anything sucks, you can’t blame it on anyone. I was the writer, I was the Director, every good and bad decision falls on me.
NK: You mentioned that you spent a lot of time doing visual effects for the film, what effect did you find particularly difficult to solve?
CR: We shot in a classroom, in the basement of the a school and recreated the sunlight, coming through the windows. We had always wanted a playground to be outside of the windows, so we knew that we’d need to recreate every shot a window appeared in with a VFX plate of a playground and children playing around. There was a lot of rotoscoping frame by frame and we had 70 vfx shots to get through, more than half the 14 minute film! It was a delicate juggling act with 3 compositors on board trying to achieve the right look consistently. There was also a shot with animation, which I wanted to feel like a child drew it. Each sheet was coloured in painstakingly with crayons, pen and paper, then scanned into the computer and touched up.
With the VFX, we’re getting some of the best compliments, being- ‘I didn’t realise there was any in there.’ Such is the same with animation. The best work should be invisible.