Interview
Shane Acker
© Shane Acker
Emru Townsend: So much of the work you did leading up to 9 in terms of pre-production was pretty much by hand. By the looks of it, you did so much of the planning, the conceptual ideas and everything... it was all analog. The visuals in many ways are analog. It's got a really great tactile feel—the movie itself. [Tomek Bagiński], the director of Fallen Art, also [said] how little of [his film] actually was 3D CGI. I mean, you just don't realize that until he tells you! Then you see it's all the staging. What do you think of this supposed 2D versus 3D idea, in terms of mainstream feature animation?

Shane Acker: I think I would lean more toward being 3D and exploring the 3D space. I mean, that's what I did with 9, most of what you see up there onscreen is 3D. Of course, [there are] a lot of matte paintings and stuff—whenever you have a locked-off shot, then you have the opportunity to do 2D stuff. But I have a very strong interest in exploring three-dimensional space. I think that comes from my studies in architecture, and stuff like that. But again, I don't want to move the camera so much you get nauseated. Good films are like good music. You have a lot of syncopation and rhythms, and you change things up, and you have pacing, you can see that in the editing as well. You only use certain 3D moves when it really helps the narrative or you really want to do something dramatic. But I really do like exploring three-dimensional space. I design it on paper, but I'm thinking on paper, how am I going to explore this three-dimensional space. So by the time I get to the previz, I kind of know the direction I want to go in, and then I can explore that even further.

So even though his film is amazing, and it was really interesting to see his technique, I think I'm a little bit opposite to what his production process is, or the way he thinks about filmmaking. But it was amazing to see his technique and his approach. But I think for me, the analog is—I think that's where it all starts, because it's so much easier to make your decisions while you're just on pen and paper, or pencil. And then to take that and put that in, and time it out, and to see if it's going to work, because at that stage I'm really trying to approach it narratively. I'm really trying to get the story to work. I think everything you do has to fold back in on what is the story that you're trying to tell. With a feature it may be different, because there's back story, there's other arcs, there's other room to explore other things and ideas rather than the main one. But in the shorts, you know, everything that I did, I tried to fold it back in to helping support the story, and to develop the characters and stuff like that. Because in animation you edit the film before you shoot it, basically. You flip live-action inside out, basically, and so you only make what you need. And you only need what's going to tell the story. So it's very different. And to be able to do that in 2D and get the point across, and then be able to show it to people and get a reaction before you go and make the thing is very beneficial. So that's where I think the 2D comes for me. But what I found is great about working in this 3D medium, because I was always a 2D artist and animator, is that I'm getting much, much better at proportions and perspective and things like that, so now as I'm drawing and preparing, my drawings are getting much closer to what will really be in the picture when I go to make it. And sometimes I'll draw something and I'll be so committed to what I've drawn that I just end up distorting the shapes and the geometry that I have in there to fit it into the sort of staging that I have in the 2D drawing. I remember sometimes, if you'd rotate the camera you'll see that some of my shapes are actually pulled in strange directions and formulated, and I'd use crazy angles on the lenses to capture the imagery that I had in the 2D drawing.

Is there anything you'd like to see 3D animators do more, or for that matter, that you'd like to see them do less?

That's a tough question. I'm hoping that we will begin—I think this is going to happen—we'll begin to see more risks taken with animated films. I think the budget for animated films is going to begin to drop. I think there's more tools you can get off the shelf, and there's interesting techniques that allow you to cut the costs of the production.

But I'd like to see some more voices out there. I can understand why, if you're spending $100 million to make a film, you want to make sure that you recover that money, so you want to make it as appealing to as broad an audience as you can. What that tends to mean is that these things become sort of about mediocrity, it's about, what's the common denominator, you know, who's watching this stuff. I think it sort of waters it all down, it almost becomes like sitcoms, like really super-expensive sitcoms. And I think the medium is so rich, and it's limitless in the possibilities to tell some really compelling stories, some really challenging stories. That's what I'd like to begin to see happen. And to mature, to allow it to appeal to older, more mature audiences, to talk about more mature themes. That's kind of what we're exploring doing 9 as a feature as well, so that's kind of the things that I'd like to see. But whether they make money or not, who's to say? I don't know. It's going to take that one film to break through before the industry will begin to take notice and maybe start making decisions that will steer it in that direction. So that's one thing that I'd like to see happen. And then once in a while these films squeak out, like The Triplets of Belleville. It was a marvelous film, I don't how it did box-office–wise, and stuff like that, but it's really inspiring to see some of these films kind of squeak out and have a voice. I think a lot of people saw it, so I think it made a splash. I think these things are coming, you know, and I think a lot of stuff is done outside of the US market too, in Europe, and Asia, and stuff like that, and so hopefully we're going to see some crossover into this market as well.

And I'm really excited about this convergence between animation and video games, and I'm really interested in seeing where this is all going to take us, and the possibilities are going to open up there, and I'd love to be involved with directing a video game. Telling a narrative in that kind of interactive environment I think would be great as well. The possibilities there, again, are really limitless as well.

I think this is an exciting time. It's an exciting time because—I'm a perfect example of this—because the technology is in the hands of the consumer. You can, if you have the wherewithal and you can manage the time, you can make these things at home, and actually have an outlet, a medium to get your voice out there and you have these possibilities open up. I think that's just very exciting, because I think there's a lot of other interesting things we can be doing in this medium, than the kind of stuff that we're seeing now.
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