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Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Zombie Gets a Date for Tribeca
MyFilm.com caught up with “Zombie Gets a Date” filmmaker Leetal Platt this weekend for a QA on fine art filmmaking and feature animated films at this year’s festival.
Q. What’s your experience so far at the festival?
LP: The festival, as a lot of people can attest to, is kind of intense.
MC: Definitely. Tribeca is still young and taps into a lot of energy in the film community. Plus it's New York. That's just a double shot of creative voltage.
Q. In the middle of all that energy, what's your thought on how to make a successful animation that stands up against other forms of film?
LP: The great thing about animation is that it is entirely an artist's brain coming at you. Everything is thought through beforehand from a little streak of color in the background to the couple extra frames of movement at the end of the shot, so in the world of narrative film, animated pieces are actually the closest you can get to really seeing a director's vision.
MC: The animation shorts this year do seem to support a single auteur vision, yet still have a big impact. I think it's a relevant term of endearment for someone who downed a lot of coffee to spring something really original and roughed out from mind to paper. What do you think makes the animations stick with people?
LP: They're usually artistically gorgeous, fine art literally on the screen, while often live-action is more about documenting what's already there.
Q: A lot of the artistic design choices have a big impact on how an animation creates the right timing and emotion. What’s your take on the differences in viewing of a live action vs. animated film?
LP: People will be absolutely entranced by every frame of an animation while the pictures in a live-action might bore them. ... if it's a beautiful animation people will still love it to death. Having a great story in there only makes it better.
MC: Yah, but can there be a good animation of any kind without a good story?
LP: Making a good story isn't really related to the animation process; storytelling is the same no matter what format you make it in, but if you tell a good story with the art of animation, you're pretty much golden.
MC: Some animators tend to focus on the tech and miss the boat on story development, while "Zombie Gets a Date" is a very simple setup, but it's got lots of nuances. Best of all the reaction beats were perfect. It's the first short I've ever seen where you lose that sense that the date is a cartoon because she's having these very complex and comical body language reactions. It's nice to see that.
Q. How did it all come about in such a quick sketch?
LP: The original idea was this montage-like film that would document various characters trading goods, and it was supposed to get racy and ridiculous like, two men would trade wives... it was supposed to go for really black humor. Problem was it had no flow, I came up with all these ideas and even though I would mix them around or take them out or change things it still didn't feel complete or really tight, neat little package.
I finally gave up and tried to come up with a replacement as fast as I could, and in the ten minutes before the pitch I came up with "Zombie" and drew my first conceptual drawing of the date in about 30 seconds and wrote "Zombie Gets A Date" on it and tacked the picture up on the wall and said this is my new idea.
MC: I find a lot of great short animations coming out of youtube now that are better than what was widely available even a few years ago. I'm not saying the quality wasn't there, but it does seem to be gaining ground in public consciousness.
Q. Are animators getting more savvy about getting online to get seen?
LP: As the youtube revolution attests, short and awesome is the way to go. Get in and get out.
MC: Uh huh.
LP: And if you're going festival circuit people love quickies.
MC: Not touching that one. It is the film industry though. We all know there are a lot of lonely zombies out there making films. BTW, I have to ask…
Q. Is the zombie in your film a parody of modern dating in LA? Is he trapped between a lust for brains and a need to gain the status and approval of his peers with that all-convenient trophy snack?
LP: Naw Zombie's just Zombie, you could write a million "Zombie Gets A blank", that's the point, his character design is what wins everyone over. I dunno I guess the movie touches on such a general roleplay we all do that everyone has a different personal story to attribute to it, and that's why everyone gets it.
Q. Technical specs: what software did you use? What was your process?
LP: The movie is hand drawn with pencil on paper. Drawing table and flipping and such. Each shot was roughed out and tested and then refined and then cleaned up. Then drawings were scanned into a computer and colored in a program called Animo. I animated the film in about seven months and then had four people help me color for two. Then all elements went into Adobe After Effects where props, backgrounds, everything was all assembled.
Q. Is there a process you use to really make the tools work for the narrative instead of the other way around?
LP: It seems there aren't many animated shorts that really hold onto story at the top of the priority list. Lots of the best animation schools are more technical schools, where they learn the wizardry but not much of the heart.
I made the animated short at New York University, which was the reverse; the first thing they teach is how to make your story and then you figure out how to animate on your own.
Q: What is the most common mistake you see in animations lately?
LP: Early animators totally get wrapped up in the technology… I mean, it happens at all levels, even what we see in theaters.
Q: How do you get past the temptation to overuse all the bells and whistles?
LP: I just use my instincts on what's funny and what works. That's probably a reason it takes me so long to animate, I keep trying to do and redo and redo movements and shot lengths because there's a just right and I have to have it be just right.
Q. What are your impressions of the other animators featured in this year's Tribeca line-up?
LP: Jeff Sterns and I have become good friends, he animated "Yellow Sticky Notes" which is seriously the most innovative and touching short in his group of shorts, and probably that I've seen at the whole festival. A lot of the other shorts were sweet but only his actually hit the bulls eye.
MC: I think both of you have that sense of quality in the work and it comes off very polished and high impact. I just watched the screener again for YSN and was impressed with how polished all of his materials are, right down to the DVD. He had to make a film to tidy his scattered sticky-note habit, so we know he’s someone with a good sense of discipline.
It also seems that animators might have an advantage on the marketing front due to their familiarity with a lot of useful software. Maybe its just good inspiration from the rest of the community.
Q. Who are your biggest inspirations?
LP: Anyone who knows good movies will see Don Hertzfeldt in my stuff. He's just my favorite animator EVER. I pretty much want to hang myself every time I see one of his pieces because he's such a genius my life isn't worth living.
MC: Leave the oven off this week and order takeout. You’ve done a beautiful job with a short that really jumped out of this year’s lineup.
Q. Speaking of across the highway versus down the lane, what was the biggest production challenge you had?
LP: The time length. While I was doing “Zombie” I was a full-time student in my senior year in college. I was also prepping and shooting a live-action short, and in the middle of post on both projects I moved to Los Angeles, which was a big deal and I also had to get a job. Animation is totally freeing creatively, but my animator's Achilles heel is that I like working with people and I get cabin fever drawing stuff by myself for months on end.
Q. Anything else you want heard?
LP: I'm good.
MC: You’re exceptional. Look forward to seeing more from your studio, and good luck at the Zompire Film Festival next week. I’d say knock ‘em dead, but that would be too obvious, wouldn’t it?