Monday, December 9, 2019

Computer Animation (& Books!)

Today's the day! I finally get to share an animated page from HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS! But before we go there, let's talk Computer Animation (& Books! . . . because of course). And I want to start with a story:

Many moons ago, I was at an auction to raise money for some youth camps. One of the offerings was an animated image done by Ira Baker (who happens to be THE GUY who works with Sandra Boynton on her very fabulous videos). Cool right??!

Well, at that time, I did not have a book out. I had a very recent book deal, but for middle grade. I didn't see how I could use this offering, but my husband is a visionary. Without telling me, he bid on it and won!

Ira and I chatted about ways I could use it, but I just didn't have the right project, and he very kindly let me put it on hold. Fast forward five years (yes, FIVE), and I finally had the perfect images from 
HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS, my upcoming picture book.

I got permission from my publisher, Capstone, to animate a page, and sent Ira my ideas along with some of the images done by Courtney Dawson, the illustrator.

He was brilliant! 

I think I watched the clip he sent for a good half-hour on repeat. And guess what??! Not only will I be sharing that clip with you, today, but when I learned Ira also does book trailers for other authors, I convinced him to answer some questions about computer animation, book trailers, and more.  

On to the interview! (Like usual, I'm the one in bold green type.)

How did you get started working with computer animation?

I enjoyed animation as a child but never thought it could actually be a career path for me.  However, I was very into making videos which eventually led me to the BYU film department.  While there, I tried to get exposure to all aspects of filmmaking, and even became proficient in 3D animation. I was struck by how I could tell a story all by myself, and that story would be a simpler and “purer” representation of my ideas than I could achieve in live action. After college I went on to have a career as a video editor, but it was my new ability to create imagery through animation that proved to be the most valued skill to my clients. After a few years, I realized that I was rushing through my edits just so I could get to “the fun stuff.” I wondered “why can't I do the 'fun stuff' all the time?” So I made a few tweaks to my career path and became a full-time animator.

I love that you figured it out and made changes. So tell us more about the "fun stuff." What is your favorite project that you've gotten to work on? 

Sandra Boynton's TYRANNOSAURUS FUNK - Sung by Samuel L. Jackson.




Okay, I may have watched this video two or twenty times. I love Tyrannosaurus Funk so much! Samuel L. Jackson is amazing. His voice!! And wow, Sandra Boynton is a brilliant writer. How cool is it that you've worked with Sandra Boynton on so many projects! How did you get that gig?

I worked for a time with a company in Provo called Kaleidoscope Pictures who handled the film production for Franklin Covey. Kaleidoscope wanted to use a song that Sandra had written to illustrate one of the Seven Principles. I was the only person on staff at the time that had any animation experience, so the whole production fell on my shoulders. For one whole gloriously creative month, I lived and breathed 2D animation and became forever enamored with it's aesthetic and charm. When the animation was finished, we all held our breath and waited for Sandra's approval. She loved it! After a few years she wanted to do some animated projects herself and she called me up. We've been working together ever since.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I think it's so inspiring to see how giving something your best can lead to opportunities you never could have foreseen.

So I'd love to know more about the process of making a book trailer. When you work with an author to create a book trailer, how does the collaboration work? Does the author plan it, and then you carry it out? Do you help coordinate the content? Or something totally different? Tell
us about it!

Sometimes the author has very specific ideas, sometimes I'm given more free reign to tell the story as I see it. There's no right way to do it as long as we're both proud of the end result. The important thing is to keep the author constantly informed of my progress and showing him/her everything as it is finished.

Communication is so important! It makes all the difference. So how much new art do you have to create for a book trailer? 

Usually the animation is based on the book illustrations, because that's all that exists. I go through a lot of Photoshop work separating the characters from the background and then breaking the characters down into layers that can be individually moved. After that, I rig the characters so they can go through the full range of motions and/or expressions that each scene demands.

I usually approach each illustration as a frozen moment in time and ask myself “what events brought these characters to this exact moment in time?” and “what happens immediately after this moment?” Then I make the characters do what those answers suggest; always trying to infuse as much charm, personality and storytelling into the process. If the author and I disagree, I will make adjustments until the author is happy with the result.

So fascinating! As an author, I ask a lot of those same questions when writing. Story is so important. I love that it's at the heart of a good book trailer. 

What advice do you have for any future computer animators out there?

There are so many resources available now that I never had! You can take courses online and watch free tutorials on YouTube if the college route is not for you. The secret is to find a story to tell and then start making animation right away! Even if you don't fully understand the software, you can learn quickly as you go if you are passionate about your ideas.

Where can authors contact you if they are interested in having you create a book trailer for them?

You can email me at iratheanimator@gmail.com or follow me on instagram @iratheanimator.

Thank you so much for your time! Computer animation is such an interesting field, and I've really enjoyed learning more about what you do and especially how it connects to books and stories.

And so, without further ado, here is the page from my book that Ira animated:



Isn't it so fun! I love how the book flops and the hair bounces. Those details really make it shine! Thank you so much, Ira!

HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS is available for pre-order now!