Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Review: Directing for Animation

There are many books that describe the jobs in animation in a bloodless manner.  They lay out the procedures but do it as a mechanical process, devoid of human influence.  The truth is that the human element is embedded in every part of the process, and managing it is often the toughest part of the job.

Tony Bancroft is the co-director of Disney's Mulan and has also worked as a feature animator and animation supervisor.  His book, Directing for Animation, confronts the messiness that comes with the role of director.  While the public might think that the director is the one in charge, the truth is that the director is in charge of keeping everyone else happy.  Caught between the financiers and production managers on one side and the crew of artists and technicians on the other, the director has to keep all parties satisfied while trying to establish a vision for the film and keep it on schedule.

Bancroft takes the reader through the process of directing a feature, dealing with each stage of the production and the pitfalls to look out for.  In addition to his own experiences, he interviews other directors, most with feature experience: Dean DeBlois, Pete Docter, Eric Goldberg, Tim Miller, John Musker, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Nick Park and Chris Wedge.  Bancroft is a good interviewer and it helps that he knows what questions to ask.  The interview subjects are forthright in talking about their experiences.  As they are talking to a fellow director, they don't sugar-coating their stories as they might for an interviewer from outside the field. 

These interviews add considerably to the range of experiences a director might face.  The interviews with Goldberg and Miller are particularly insightful, as their experiences are not limited to features.  Goldberg directed commercials for years and Miller, a founder of Blur Studios, has done commercials and game cinematics.  As they have worked on shorter projects, they have confronted a greater variety of artistic, technical, financial and political challenges.

This book is a good companion to David Levy's Directing Animation.  Bancroft's experiences are west coast, Levy's are east coast.  While Bancroft focuses on features, Levy talks more about television and independent films.  Between the two books, a prospective director has a wealth of information to draw on and a list of problems to watch out for.

Neither book, however, gets to the nitty gritty of how directors make their creative choices.  Those choices include story, casting, voice direction, art direction, staging, animation, lighting, editing, musical scoring, sound effects and mixing.  I hope that someday a feature director publishes a diary of a production or allows a writer to shadow the director so as to provide the thinking behind each  decision as it arises. 

Until that time, this book will give readers with the ambition to direct a feature a good grounding in the challenges that they will face.  Even casual fans of the medium will learn more about how the films they enjoy come together.


creativebiren said...

loved it..I will try to get these books soon.. :)

Carla Veldman said...

Hey Mark,

Great talk as always last night at Animatic T.O. - we (as students, and now as industry members) always appreciate the insights and beacon of light you hold up to various aspects of the industry.

Mark Mayerson said...

Thanks, Carla.

David B. Levy said...

Many thanks, Mark, for the link to my book. I'll definitely check out Directing for Animation, too!

I'm West Coast now too, for the last two years. In an update, maybe I can include directing animation for apps, which is what I'm doing at Disney where I head an animation team in the digital space.