A critical analysis of my role on a film for the English National Opera and how this role compares to the equivalent role in the animation industry.
In this essay I will be critically analysing the role I had as an animator on our 90 second film for the English National Opera (ENO). I will be comparing this role to the equivalent job within the animation industry, by analysing the cultural values, hierarchies and working dynamic created in our team and in the industry.
The short film we created is based on Puccini’s opera La Bohème, and focuses on the love story between Marcello and Musetta. In our film all of the characters are birds. Marcello is the main character, he is a kingfisher and is in love with another bird named Musetta. Unfortunately for him, Musetta enjoys to flirt with other birds and desires to be the centre of attention at all times. We were commissioned by the ENO to create a short film to advertise the operas that are currently being performed. The ENO have a strong ‘belief that opera of the highest quality should be accessible to everyone.’ Therefore it was important for our team to create a promotional animation to generate interest in the opera, La Bohème, amongst seasoned theatre goers and new audiences.
Our film focuses on Marcello’s love for Musetta and shows the story of him trying to win her heart. The story begins with Marcello offering Musetta a leaf, she rejects this gift and begins to fly around the tree, where they live, showing off to the other birds. Marcello dejected, but determined, flies off on a mission to find the most magnificent gift for her. After travelling for months he finds a beautiful pearl and returns with it to Musetta. Intrigued by the shiny new object Musetta delightedly picks up the pearl, looks deeply into Marcello’s eyes, and flies away leaving poor Marcello behind. Although he has been rejected once again, his character has evolved by his journey.
Whilst the intention of the piece was to advertise the opera, this project differs greatly from working in an established studio that creates commercial content for larger companies. This is because we did not have a large production team and therefore we were able to see the production all the way through from start to finish, whereas in a studio an animator would have only been able to contribute to one aspect of production. Unlike a studio working for a large client we did not have a budget and therefore were limited in what we could achieve. Thankfully the artisan style we adopted lent itself well to the opera we were animating for, and therefore a large budget wasn’t essential for this project.
We had to check in regularly with the client in the initial developmental stages. If we were to change anything in the story we would email the client to inform them of the modifications. This kind of client interaction is similar to that of a studio, perhaps the only difference being that our clients were able to give concise notes on what they wanted for the animation, as they have an artistic understanding and are deeply knowledgeable and appreciative of the music in each opera. Whereas in a studio environment clients may not have this degree of artistic knowledge and may be unaware of what they want.
A culture was created through values and attitudes that naturally developed in our group. The main attitudes that were developed included reliability: ensuring that people were on time and were realistic with deliverables, quality of work: as this was a project that each team member had equal stakes in, and fairness: it was important to ensure that no one was suffering with more work than others.
The main value that was essential to a successful outcome was communication, without this it would have been difficult to decipher what had been done, by who, and if any issues had arisen. We began by creating a WhatsApp group, a Google Drive account and a live spreadsheet that the team had access to. This meant that we could communicate freely and keep each other updated on what was being done. Any queries that we had could easily be solved by a quick discussion on our group chat. As well as this type of online communication we all resolved to come in to university and meet in person as much as possible. This was important as we could act things out to each other, question certain parts of the film, and ultimately solve any problems we were having.
Similarly in animation studios these values also seem to naturally materialise. After discussing the culture of a studio environment with pre-vis artist, Prakash Mohanty, it became clear that our team culture closely matched that of a studio. Mohanty, who currently works at Third Floor Inc. expressed that the main values in a studio are communicating effectively, positivity, and thinking outside the box. After working on this film I now understand the value of creative problem solving and the importance of letting go of certain ideas. In the beginning stages the three of us remained very loose with the story, asking for feedback from various tutors and students. In these initial stages the story changed as a result of the feedback, and ultimately the story became a lot stronger. Once the story was consolidated, and the animatic had been tested on multiple audiences we were ready to move on to the next stage, animation.
There were only three of us working on this film, and therefore there wasn’t necessarily a strict hierarchy of roles. The only distinct roles that we had were animator and director. Other roles that are distinct in animation studios such as storyboard artist, editor and junior animator (responsible for smaller animation tasks) were largely shared amongst the three of us.
As the director of the film was responsible for the idea of the story and art aesthetic, it allowed the rest of us to purely focus on specific tasks assigned to us by the director. For the most part this task was animating, but the other jobs, which included story development and editing, were also important tasks that the director needed assistance with.
Prior to this project the only film I had worked on was one that was almost purely my own, as the idea, the direction and the animation were all mine.
When one works on their own idea and on every aspect of production, the whole thing can be stressful and at times narrow sighted, with the lack of a fresh pair of eyes the project can at times feel stagnant and tired. In contrast whilst working on this project I felt quite detached from it, although I was invested in the art and the story, I was able to cut things out and change things readily. A independent animation artist named Veljko Popović commented ‘When you have a project from a client, you really have all of it laid out (and it is less demanding in terms of investing your personal self)’ I found this statement to be particularly true on this project. Having a client and a director meant that most things were already prescribed and all that was left to be done for the animator was to create animated scenes that closely fitted the desired outcome of both the client and director.
This process closely mirrors the studio environment because each individual is tasked with focusing on a specific component in the production line. There is a long list of roles in an animation studio and each role reflects the knowledge, skill and experience of each individual. At the entry level there is trainee animator or intern, the next level is junior animator which progresses on to mid level animator to senior animator and eventually leads to more leadership roles such as team leader, assistant supervisor and supervisor. Each person in these roles have creative input, but the amount
of creative input increases as an animator’s experience and ability grows. At each stage the animator is responsible for an individual part of the production and so no single person has complete ownership of the film.
In conclusion the animation for the ENO provided people in our group with an opportunity to experience something close to that of working in a professional studio environment. The main similarities between the roles we had in this project and the comparative roles at a studio were culture and values. The cultural values that were created within our group mirrored almost exactly that of an animation studio. We communicated particularly well with one another, which after interviewing Prakash Mohanty, was an apparent critical component in a studio dynamic along with fairness and creative thinking. In both a studio situation and our group project these values naturally materialised.
The main difference between the role we had and the comparative role at a studio was that we had to participate at every moment in the production process and therefore experienced a greater level of ownership over the film than we would have working at a large studio.
Kroustallis, V. (16 December 2016) Creating Your Own Boundaries: Interview with Veljko Popović. Available at: https://www.zippyframes.com/index.php/interviews/creating-your-own-boundaries- interview-with-veljko-popovi (Accessed: 4 December 2018)
Available at: https://www.eno.org/whats-on/la-boheme/ (Accessed: 3 December 2018)
Tschang, Feichin, Ted and Goldstein, Andrea. Production and Political Economy in the Animation Industry: Why Insourcing and Outsourcing Occur. (2004). DRUID Summer Conference, Elsinore, Denmark, 14-16 June 2004. 1-21. Research Collection Lee Kong Chian School Of Business. Available at: https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/lkcsb_research/2853 (Accessed: 4 December 2018)
Interview with Prakash Mohanty. Interviewed by Jessica Galvin, 25 November 2018