People Will Try to Discourage You – Especially Other Animators Pt. 1

If you’re going to get into solo feature film animation, not a lot of people will understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and you’ll face a lot of derision from some of these people.

Already this early in my life as a filmmaker I’ve faced disapproval, people telling me that what I’m planning on doing can’t be done and general opposition. I’ve had this sort of reception from many different types of people including family and friends, but what really surprised me was that this response most often came from people who work in the ‘animation industry’. When I was at art school I would walk across to the animation school and talk to the teachers there about animation as they were so called ‘professionals’ in the industry. Whenever we got onto the topic of solo feature animation and what I was planning to do, they dismissed me and said it was impossible.

I recently had a similar encounter and thought I would share it with you all because you’ll likely come across the same thing. I went to a party the other night and began talking to a friend who works at an animation company about the feature I’ve started work on. Now I don’t normally talk to people IRL about my animation because the more I talk about it the less likely I’ll actually get it done and most people don’t really understand or care(and I don’t expect them to), but she asked me what I had been up to and I was a bit drunk. She seemed at first taken aback and then posed a series of arguments as to why I shouldn’t do what I’m doing.

“You should just make a short film. It’ll be much easier and you can try and get it into Annecy.” 

Well there are many reasons why I want to make a feature as opposed to a short film. The first would be that I view the two formats as fundamentally different in what you can achieve with them. With a feature you are able to weave great stories with considerable character development to push your conflict and therefore your narrative. In comparison a short film it is much more difficult to do this because of the time constraint. That is why more short films are whimsical and quaint and tend to lack the depth capable of being generated by a feature. In saying that though it is not a rule, there are short films who do this better than some features but they are very rare. Another reason is the fact that I find animated features more intriguing due to their scarcity whereas animated shorts are everywhere. If I’m to pour my heart and soul into a project for 3-5 years I would rather it have a duration I can really work with to make it great and stand out, rather than another short even if that short was well executed. The third reason is that all my favourite films and most of my influences are features. Why is that? Again, it’s because you can do MORE with a feature film. I like plenty of shorts sure but the films I really take inspiration from tend to be longer form.

“You should collaborate instead of doing it yourself.”

There are pros and cons to everything. Here are some I’ve discovered about the differences between solo and collaborative film making.

Benefits and drawbacks of solo filmmaking

  • Complete control over your project
  • Don’t need to compromise vision
  • Other won’t let you down
  • You will likely develop faster
  • Have to do it yourself
  • It’s more difficult
  • It takes more of your personal time

Benefits and drawbacks of collaborative filmmaking

  • You can use others skills and expertise
  • It’s easier
  • It will take less personal time
  • You will likely need to compromise your vision
  • You will need to pay them in either time or money
  • You will be reliant on others who will possible let you down or doom the project

Both modes of production are valid and it’s really up to you with what you want as a filmmaker. Personally I much prefer the idea of doing it myself and creating something personal than compromising my vision and relying on others. This maybe because I’ve had a LOT of bad experiences with collaboration so I see the pitfalls of it clearly. Perhaps one day I will work collaboratively but not until I’ve got enough behind me to not have to compromise.

“Have you heard of the ‘Thief and the Cobbler’, making a feature by yourself is impossible. You’ll just end up like Richard Williams.”

Richard Williams is an animator who tried to make a feature animation called ‘the Thief and the Cobbler’  for over 20 years and never finished. Firstly Williams wasn’t a solo feature film animator. He had an entire team working on the Thief and the Cobbler. He also wasn’t working on it full time due to his work on commercials to raise money for the expensive cell animation style his team were working in. In my opinion the real reason he never finished it was because he never really wanted to finish it, at least subconsciously. It was his fear of failure masquerading behind perfectionism that stopped him from completing it. While the story of Richard Williams and ‘the Thief and the Cobbler’ is a good lesson on what NOT to do, it still doesn’t really have many similarities to the idea contemporary solo feature animation. Technology has advanced so far that it’s perfectly possible for one person or a small team to complete a feature animation provided they put in enough effort. It’s not even like i’m the first person ever to make a solo feature film. Frank Sudol, M Dot Strange, Nina Paley, Jeff Lew, John Bergin, Bill Plympton, Ray Nowland and others have done it so why can’t I? The real answer is you can if you want it and the only things that can stop you are your health or your will.

“What’s your end game? What do you hope to achieve with this film?”

I hope to make a good film and I hope to say something. There is no other end game. This is the real thing. When I finish this film I will make another. I don’t want to get picked up by any animation company, I just want to have the resources to keep making better and better work and improving. One day I hope to have made good enough films to have some people who find watching them rewarding.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my rant. It’ll be up in a few days.

-Hamish .S


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  1. Pingback: People Will Try To Discourage You – Especially Other Animators Pt. 2 |

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