Interview: Michael Carrington
Interview with MICHAEL CARRINGTON, Chief Animator on the “Little from the Fish Shop” (Malá z rybárny, Jan Balej, 2015)
First, I'd like to know what sparked your interest in this film. You probably read the script first.
Well, I agreed before I read the script. Actually, Jan Balej approached me, he said he needed an animator and I was interested. I loved his work before and for me it was an honour, so I immediately said yes, I'd love to. But I first had to pass a test to see if he would be happy with me. So that was the first thing. We made a test and I read the script. For me, the script was fantastic, I loved it. I loved the fact that there was no happy ending. Yes, finally I have a film with a tragic ending.
Did you collaboorate on the script? Did you perhaps make any changes to the story?
Not myself, I got there, I read the script. It was more or less the final version. It was quite well written: just a simple storyboard image and what is happening. No other technical details or how one shot should be. The script was a very pleasant read, like a story or a comic. And the last scene, where the water bursts onto the streets, was very epic in the storyboard. I don't know if it worked as well in the end. I was talking about the problems with post-production
I think that the 3D animation perhaps ruined the film just a bit. It's a pity.
That's what we all felt. The biggest problem with this film was the post-production. When we were working, I would always have a copy of the storyboard and Jan would always say OK, we're doing this shot and I would ask what was happening in that scene, and he would explain. He also made quite a lot of changes throughout the film, but they weren't changes that I would really know about, because I read the storyboard, not the script. I'm more of a visual person; I prefer to read the storyboard.
Yeah, sometimes it’s better to write the storyboard than the script.
Yeah, I mean, I sometimes work better if there is no writing, while Jan Balej works with a written script and then does the storyboard. So, there were changes, but that wasn't a problem for me, because I was so involved. Concentrating on the actual shot, I sometimes worked on that; it was a little bit difficult, since I would maybe come to work in the morning, animate, leave it and say “OK, we’re done with his shot”. I don't know whether you know the expression “to sleep on it”: think about something that is complicated? You go to sleep and the next day it seems very easy.Yes, it seems like more into your head, but yeah, generally it was like we were planning from day to day, we were thinking about how we’d do things. It was generally quite spontaneous: it's “OK, we'll do this no later than by tomorrow. Not next week” or “the next shot will be this…”
So you didn't cooperate with the post-production, combining stop-motion and 3D animation?
Once I finished animating, I went to the post-production people and told them them, look, this is terrible. Jan is a good man, but he doesn’t like conflict, so I think it was very difficult for him, but I spent a lot of time with the post-production guides and the digital supervisor and I just think that they began too late, they should have been working on post-production immediately after finishing a sequence, they should’ve been already editing them, but there was no post-production until we had shot everything. Only then did they start working on it.
This probably substantially lengthened the time it took to make the film?
Not by much, but not enough time was spent on post-production to attain sufficient quality. Consequently, the visual side clashes with the puppet animation. This is what I don't understand; a lot of post-production was focused on re-touching, getting rid of layers and holes and kind of very simple... There was a lot of it, but this is stuff anyone can do, it just takes time. And this could have been done already...You know, when we finished animating, they could have immediately started cleaning it, but they didn't and they left it, right up to the end and this became a problem. Again, the 3D water at the end, such an important element, they left it until the very last minute. And then they made something and we were like “Arrgh, this looks horrible. “ I tried to fix it a little bit, but then all of a sudden, we just had a week until the premiere and came like… [snaps his fingers]. I think the main problem with the post-production was the organization. But my contract prevents me from talking badly about the producers.
I don't think that the producers will read this interview.
Let's focus on the puppet animation, which is really good. I love it. But you said you were the only animator for the entire film. So, how long did it take to animate one frame of the most complicated street scenes where you had ten characters?
Well, I'm not sure how long exactly. If you can imagine, the scene was from here to here [shows the distance separating us from the entrance to the bar] and I had a camera here and five places where I could go, and at each place I could animate maybe three characters. I first do the camera, one, two movements, then I do the puppet, then I walk around, I do another one, then the other three, then I come back and check, and if it's wrong, I have to go correct the things that are not right. While working on the film, I calculated that I spent one hour on animating one second of film.
You framed only one 'shot per frame' Yes, not two or three. Avery delicate animation process. Yes, sometimes I felt I was animating less than a millimetre. Sometimes the puppet armatures didn't want to listen to me or if I was working with wire puppets, it became very difficult, so the average was 25 frames per hour. It really came out very nice in the end.
So, you ended up animating... for two years?
Well, a year and a half, that was according to my contract. When I finished everything, we realized that the time of the film was a bit too short to make a feature; it was less than 70 minutes, so we had to animate some extra scenes. And the director asked me if I would do it, so I worked two and a half, maybe three months without a contract.
Which animation technique do you prefer?
Like puppet or pixilation? I don’t have a favourite. I started with my graduation film, which was hand-drawn animation, total animation on film, or a cartoon in short. I then worked in a studio, doing hand-drawn animation; only in 2006, when I started teaching, did I start getting involved in stop-motion animation to a greater extent. My specialisation was 2D drawn animation, but I didn't teach it anymore, because there were other teachers for that. I did workshops in pixilation and I sometimes still do some drawn animations, but I can't say I have a favourite form of animation. However, I have an idea for a film now and I sometimes feel that an idea or a script doesn’t have to have a special type of animation, because I feel that the form of animation should fit the script. For example, I have an idea for a film and I've never done sound animation, but I feel that sound animation would be the ideal form for this particular film. I tried it a little bit and I found it to be very difficult, but visually it fits to the idea of the film.
I find it difficult to imagine »Little From the Fish Shop« as a computer-animated film.
Yes, one thing I don't like is computer animation. I like to animate with my hands.
It's very hard to make a good computer animation. I mean, there are good computer animations... Like Rosto’s. Rosto uses a combination of live action and compositing and creating... but he's got a “green-screen”. Yeah, it's everything and he has characters with masks, etc. I found him very interesting and his films take a very different direction. It's like (I don't know how to say) his own world. I haven't seen his short films, but it's like a whole life’s work. It took me a long time to accept the fact that computers can also be used for animation, because during my studies, from 1994 to 1996, we just filmed material on 35 mm. So we didn't have the opportunities and the computers. And it really made me physically appreciate each picture. I think there are people, from the younger generation, who perhaps started and they know how to use the software. I use computer software to check my animation, but I like the feeling, the look of hand animated work.
What piece of software do you use?
Dragon Frame. My students use Animation DV, Polish software; they used it for Peter and the Wolf (2006) by Suzie Templeton. I used this programme for a while, but I found it too complicated and it wasn't as stable as Dragon Frame. For me Dragon Frame is perfect for stop-motion animation.
How do you like Ljubljana and Animateka?
Are you here for the first time?
It’s my first time at Animateka. I meet Igor at a festival in the Czech Republic and he invited me to do some stop-motion workshops in Izola. Izola Anima, I don't think it exists anymore. So we went there for two consecutive years and once, on our way back, we stopped here to say hello to Igor. But Animateka didn’t exist yet. This is the first time I had the opportunity to walk around, look around Ljubljana and Animateka. Just by looking at the catalogue, Animateka gives the impression of a very strong animated film festival with a very broad film selection. I think it's a serious animation film festival with a very good atmosphere. I feel sad I wasn’t able be here for the whole festival. I only saw two screenings (one competition, one the best of the world). The competition section was fantastic! I really enjoyed it. Really powerful films.
So, how would you describe Animateka in 3 words?
(Hm) One word is Igor, that's one thing I connect with it. The second thing is (hmmm) variety and the third word would be quality.