Friday, September 14, 2007

The Ages of Directors

Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell have an interesting article on their blog about the age when most directors get to do their first feature. They examine the situation from the 1910s to the present day. They say that if they were giving advice to aspiring directors, this would be it:
Start as young as you can, in any capacity. For directing music videos and commercials, the window opens around age 23. For features, the best you can hope for is to start in your late twenties. But the window closes too. If you haven’t directed a feature-length Hollywood picture by the time you’re 35, you probably never will.
I was curious to see how animation directors stacked up. They generally skew older. One reason is that in the early years, animated features didn't exist and for decades they were relatively rare. However, even in the modern era, it's rare (as you'll see below) for directors to start in their 20s.

Certainly there are directors in their 20s working in TV and in the old days on shorts. However if directing live action features is a young person's game, directing animated features is for the middle aged.

So here are some ages of directors for their first animated features. There are omissions here because the IMDB doesn't have birth dates for every animated feature director, which is why something as big as The Lion King is not listed.

David Hand was 37 when he directed Snow White. Ham Luske was 37 and Ben Sharpsteen was 45 when they directed Pinocchio. Dave Fleischer was 45 when he directed Gulliver's Travels. Jiri Trnka was 39 when he directed The Emperor's Nightingale. Jean Image was 43 when he directed Johnny the Giant Killer. John Halas was 43 and Joy Batchelor was 41 when they directed Animal Farm. Paul Grimault was 52 when he directed The Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird. Wolfgang Reitherman was 53 when he directed A Hundred and One Dalmatians. Bill Hanna was 54 and Joe Barbera was 53 when they directed Hey There, It's Yogi Bear.

George Dunning was 48 when he directed Yellow Submarine. Bill Melendez was 53 when he directed A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Ralph Bakshi was 34 when he directed Fritz the Cat. Richard Williams was 44 when he directed Raggedy Ann and Andy. Bruno Bozzetto was 44 when he directed Allegro Non Tropo. Don Bluth was 45 when he directed The Secret of NIMH. Will Vinton was 38 when he directed The Adventures of Mark Twain.

John Musker and Ron Clements were both 33 when they directed The Great Mouse Detective. Gary Trousdale was 31 and Kirk Wise was 28 when they directed Beauty and the Beast. Henry Selick was 41 when he directed The Nightmare Before Christmas. John Lassetter was 38 when he directed Toy Story. Brad Bird was 42 when he directed The Iron Giant. Peter Lord was 47 and Nick Park was 42 when they directed Chicken Run. Chris Wedge was 45 when he directed Ice Age. Sylvain Chomet was 40 when he directed The Triplets of Belleville. Richard Linklater was 41 when he directed Waking Life.

I wonder, given that the majority of the movie audience is under 30, if this is one of the reasons that animated features have a problem capturing the teen market. The age of animation directors is very appropriate, though, for family films, as most of the directors above likely had children of their own at the time they got their first feature assignment.


Ward Jenkins said...

I'm not entirely sure if age of a director(s) for an animated film constitutes whether or not it'll tap into the teen market. Teens generally don't like animated features. At all. They like animation -- just not the mainstream kind, which is usually meant for general audiences. Unless the subject matter appeals to them, such as Nightmare Before Christmas -- I worked at a movie theatre when that film came out and we saw TONS of teens at each screening for Nightmare. It was wild for me to see so many teenagers going to an animated feature screening and not an action or horror screening. That's when I knew that Nightmare would have a certain cult following.

Keith Lango said...

The overall system of the animation biz builds in a certain "up through the ranks" path for directorship. My first shot at directing something longer than 20 minutes came when I was 36, or after 10+ years in animation and a number of shorter directorships. I don't really imagine I could have handled that task any sooner than that age- I just didn't have enough all around experience to succeed any sooner than that. The front ended editing of animation may play a significant role in the necessity for more experience compared to live action. Due to the heavy use of coverage shooting a young director can literally get by if they get just enough quality raw material to edit (and if they listen to their DP their chances for accomplishing even this limited goal is greatly enhanced). A great editor can make something work and there is a greater emphasis on editing nowadays because of its ease. Animation all the editing is done up front, before any footage exists. The difference between editing final shot footage and visualizing a narrative 'from scratch' is a gap that only experience can properly fill.
One other thought comes to mind- in live action the responsibility for owning performances rests in the hands of the actors. in animation that role primarily rests in the hands of the director and is executed via feedback and performance notes in dailies. This is yet another area where live action's more delegated structure benefits a less experienced director.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

One of the big differences to me personally seem to be that in live-action, a director very often is a director, and didn't grow into that role. Note that Kristin & David noted "with the exception of actors". I think the same counts for other fields. For example, Walter Murch was 42 when directing his first (and only) film. Young live action directors/students actually direct. Through shortfilms in filmschool and even writing and directing their own feature films. See George Lucas, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, Terrence Malick, and many more. What animation student actually gets to direct a crew in film school? What animation student actually writes and plans his own feature films (since I am right now, I guess at least one)? No matter how colaborative animation is, in school, 99% of the time it comes down to doing everything on you own, or doing it in group, but still doing a bit of almost everything.

Besides that, we in the west are still mostly under the illusion that animation needs to be for as wide an audience as possible and cost tens of millions of dollars to make. What live action director got a 20 million budget (or comparable amount in its time) on his first film?

David Nethery said...

Here's another one for you :

Hayao Miyazaki was 38 when he directed his first theatrical feature film "Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro" (1979) although the Lupin III feature may have actually been put together from television episodes , but I'm not sure about that. Miyazaki is credited with directing some television episodes of "Lupin III" as early as 1972 when he was 31. He also directed television episodes of the show "Boy Conan" in 1978.

The Miyazaki we all know as an animation director had his theatrical feature film career really take off in 1984 with the release of "Nausicaä" which he adapted from his comic book . When he directed "Nausicaä " he was 43.

Michael Sporn said...

I'd be curious to know how old Fred Wolf was when he directed The Point (1971) or how old Chuck Swenson was when he directed Dirty Duck(1974).

John Hubley was 50 when he directed Of Stars and Men (1964).
However, he would have been 40 when Finian's Rainbow would have been done, had that feature not been pulled from production.
Bill Plympton was 46 when he directed The Tune.

bruno bozzetto said...

Sorry but I found an error about myself... I'm Bruno Bozzetto and if it's true that I directed Allegro non troppo when I was 44, my FIRST feature is West and Soda(1965), and I made it when I was 27...

J. J. Hunsecker said...

>>I wonder, given that the majority of the movie audience is under 30, if this is one of the reasons that animated features have a problem capturing the teen market. The age of animation directors is very appropriate, though, for family films, as most of the directors above likely had children of their own at the time they got their first feature assignment.<<

I doubt age has much to do with it. I think there are two major reasons why most animated features don't appeal to teens.

1. The personality and taste of the director. Some of them are "squares" like Don Bluth. (The type of people John K loves to call "bland".) Even if Bluth had been young when he first directed, I doubt that his film would have appealed to teens. They still would have been sappy and childish.

2. Most producers won't allow content that is too adult for most animated features. There's a lot of money involved in traditional hand drawn features ala Disney, or CGI features like those of Pixar. Producers tend to be cautious, and make conservative choices to avoid any controversy that might turn off certain audiences.

If the animation budget is smaller, then more risky material can be allowed in the feature.

John Musker said...

This post is long gone and my response will sit here lonely and unnoticed, but I wanted to point out that most animated films are years in production. The ages you mention are the directors' when the films were released. In some cases the directors were as many as five years younger when they commenced the films.

Mark Mayerson said...

Hi John. A pleasure to have you here.

I understand the length of time it takes to do a feature, but I still think that there's far more opportunity for a young director in live action (coming from commercials, music videos or shorts) to get a feature off the ground. Part of it is just that there are more live action features made, so there are more available director slots.

I sincerely wish you the best of luck with The Princess and the Frog. I hope that the film is successful enough to destroy, once and for all, the myth that audiences are no longer interested in drawn animated features.