Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bernardo Warman: Reader's Digest Style

Last night, Tea Time assembled in room 415 (now with chairs!) to welcome AAU's own Bernardo Warman. He delivered a wonderful and engaging lecture on his time at the Academy, DragonBoy, and the importance of short films. Here's a paraphrased version of what he had to say.

Bernardo (Bernie) - like many of the Academy's most successful animators, it seems - originally hails from Brazil. He has a background in Graphic Design, but before making the decision to move to the 'States in 2007, he held a steady job working in TV.

He always had a passion for drawing (initially thinking he was going to be a comic book artist), and although most of his friends thought he was crazy for giving up such a steady and well-to-do job, Bernie made the tough decision and decided to pursue his dreams. "It was risky, maybe, and a lot of people told me I was crazy, but life is short, and I knew I would have regretted it if I didn't go. It's tough to leave, but don't let that hold you back. 

...If you trust yourself, do it!"

In coming to the 'States and the Academy, Bernie didn't have any real animation experience. However, he did have a good idea about what he wanted to achieve. "In Brazil, it's not just about the student reel. You show a dialogue clip, or a weight-shift exercise -- nobody cares. But if you make a short film, then you have the respect of your peers. Because you know what it takes, because you went from nothing to a completed film." Take Run, Dragon, Run! for example:

Run, Dragon, Run! (2002)

"Okay, fart joke. Don't do that, that's not funny now. But what is it that makes this film an exemplary short film? It's economical."

How many characters are there? Dragon, an entire angry mob, puppet show guy...a bunch! But look at the presentation. Rather than animating a bunch of characters for an entire angry mob, the most you ever see of them is the tops of their hats/spears and a couple of arrows. The background? Instead of being modeled, it's just a matte painting. The techniques are so effective, but your brain is doing all the work.

With this is mind, it's needless to say, that Bernie was a little disappointed to see that the Academy seemed to only be focussed on the demo reels. Even for the people in the Pixar Classes! Sure they come out with a reel that's great for Pixar, but not necessarily good for other places. There were many talented animators he knew that, despite excelling in the Pixar classes, had a hard time getting a job after school because their work was "too Pixar".

"When I got to the school, short films...were just...terrible. It was hard to look around at the work that was being turned out by the Academy when places like Gobelins were churning out work like this..."

Burning Safari (2006) HQ version HERE.

This film looks like it's a lot busier than the last one, but it's still economical! Yeah there's more characters, but it's the same model for all of them, so you only need one rig for all of the robots, one rig for the monkey man, 1 space bus, and matte paintings! Why bother spending so much time modeling the perfect leaf in the background when you're focussing on trying to tell a story? 

Plus, the people at Gobelins were working in a group, and they kept it short. Working in groups is nice because it shows that you can communicate and collaborate to get things down the pipeline, but try to keep it small! Big groups almost always fall apart because there are 'too many cooks in the kitchen'. AS for keeping it short, they really catered well to the 'YouTube' Generation. "How often do I click on a video that's over 5 minutes? Almost never, and when I do, I roll my eyes and think "Ugh, this better be good.""

The teacher's here aren't always honest. If you show your work to a teacher and they say "Yeah that looks good" when you know that it could use some work, that's a bad teacher. You have to push yourselves, it's good for you! You can't just compare yourself to the person next to you, because there's other people out there who you can't see working harder than you. Whether they're a professional or not, they're still out to get the same position as you. You have to make yourself amazing.

"Norman is still Norman at the end of the day (or Bishop from Animation Mentor). Maybe if you can mod him really well...but still! It just gets old. A short film gives you a voice of your own...

I dare anyone to sit fact I'd urge anyone to sit down to 11 second club and judge the videos for a while. At first you sit through them, but  eventually, it all just becomes the same!" Having unique characters in your own short film is your chance to really show off your own style. Maybe it's weird, but you can own that! And, more importantly, no one has seen it before. Don't doubt yourself. When you doubt your powers you give powers to your doubts. 

Don't forget to knock on doors. You are paying a lot of money to be at this school, so you should fight for what you want! Don't forget that you are paying for the knowledge of each and every staff member in the building. Make an appointment, respect the rules, but no one is doing you a favor by meeting with you and you can't just sit around the lab every day and wonder when they're going to come to you. You have to put yourself out there. 

Thus, when Bernie and his two co-directors were told they couldn't do a collaborative thesis, they fought back.

"When we were creating DragonBoy, we had to go through a lot of struggle to get things done, and the whole time everyone was telling us we'd never do it."

However, the whole time, they were pushing. They pushed each other to improve the story until it broke, and even then they never stopped. They just took a step back and never stopped asking questions. WHY doesn't it work? WHAT can we do to fix it? HOW are we going to make this better?

It wasn't long until the school began to see that they were really onto something, and asked for a trailer to be released for DragonBoy. They had little to no production work complete. This is what they managed to accomplish in a week:

Although it was a hectic week, the result was a hit! Not only did it prove to the school that they could do it, it proved to themselves that they could do it. 

"The cool thing about short films is that the first shot, it's so hard. And the second shot? It's hard too. But then the third shot, it's a little bit less hard. By the time you get to the middle of the production, you know the rig and the character so well, you can crank out a shot in just a couple of hours. You don't have to think so much about the decisions they'd make because it's second nature to you."

In the end, despite further turmoil and rejection, DragonBoy went to win Gold at the Student Academy Awards in 2011. 
You can watch Bernie and Team's acceptance speech HERE. 

I suppose the last thing to keep in mind would be always fight. Some people are fine with just clicking the buttons other people tell them to click, and that's fine. But if you've got ideas don't doubt yourself, don't let that be your downfall. 

"...Don't be a cog, because you're a brain."

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