Animation has had a great influence on me ever since my childhood. The first time I started talking English was during an episode of the Flintstones, so you can imagine how deep this seed was planted in my youngling mind. I kept watching TV animated shows even after I was too old to do so. I think this is what inspired me to create artwork of my own.
I pursued an education in arts from the age of 15, gradually learning to master traditional media such as charcoal, watercolours, gouache paint, markers, inks, pastels; later on I taught myself how to use most of the Adobe Suite programs, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, After Effects.
Being a curious and enthusiastic person, I delved into many areas of the visual arts, graphic design, illustration, fine art, but I was inevitably drawn back to animation again. My last three projects have involved animation, and so will my final major project.
I wish to become a 2D traditional animator, working on diverse and interesting projects, in film, music videos and other media. In the distant future I see myself returning to my home country of Romania and jumpstarting the now dormant animation there using the knowledge and skills I have acquired over the years.
In this essay I aim to draw a portrait of animation as an art, as a market and as an industry in as much detail as I can, while at the same time demonstrating what part I may have in this area in the near future. Presently, I am just a budding artist who has a clear idea of her career-to-be and an ambition to constantly perfect herself and her artwork.
There is no precise place which could be named the birth place of animation. Precursors to animation have been found all around the ancient world: Palaeolithic cave drawings depicting animals in movement, Egyptian temple murals and Ancient Greek vases depicting wrestling matches. Many centuries later, the Victorian society was introduced to so-called “parlour toys” such as the zoetrope, and the flip book.
For many decades afterwards, animated cartoons were only shown on Saturday morning, being aimed just at children; until in 1989, when The Simpsons reintroduced animation to adult audiences through its themes and satirical approach. Many shows followed The Simpsons’ lead, most of them still being aired today, e.g. Aeon Flux (1991-1995), Beavis and Butthead (1993-1997;2011-present), South Park (1997-present), Family Guy (1998-2001;2004-present).
Animation in Europe and Romania
Even though animation in Europe was more inclined towards stop motion and alternative methods, it was still greatly influenced by the American Golden Age of animation, without feeling the need to copy it. For instance, in Britain’s best known animated features, Animal Farm (1954) and Watership Down (1978) the main characters are animals expressing human thoughts and emotions, without the hyper-anthropomorphic aspect of Disney and Warner Bros. Another great turn from the “softness” of Disney can be seen in the grotesque animated sequences of Pink Floyd: the Wall (1982).
Despite its success (at its height the studio was producing 60 films per year), Animafilm never created a feature length animation. After the Romanian Revolution in 1989, it slowly fell into debt and was declared bankrupt in 2006. It was only five years later that Crulic (a documentary about a 33 year old Romanian who died in a Polish prison while on hunger strike) was to become the first Romanian animated feature film.
In the United Kingdom:
At its roots a small sector, animation is slowly but consistently growing more successful and more people appreciate it for what it has to offer. The animated feature film in particular knew such growth in popularity that in 2002 the American Academy of Motion Pictures created a new Award specifically for this kind of film, won for the first time by Shrek.
Of course the length, quality, size of the studio all contribute to how big any animation department is going to be, and with the great leaps in modern technology, animation has become easier to produce. This has influenced how studios work as well, since the job of inbetweener has all but vanished, animators now being responsible with their own tweening. Thanks to off-the-shelf software, it is now physically possible for even a single person to animate an entire feature film (first time: Ladd Ehlinger Jr.’s Flatland, 2007).
The use of the Internet as a medium has also helped many freelancers to establish themselves as artists. By allowing them to exhibit their personal work without any paperwork or legal issues, websites such as YouTube and Vimeo have provided a platform from which many artists have launched themselves into the industry.
In its rush to westernize itself as quickly as possible after the 1989 Romanian Revolution which overthrew the Communist government, Romania did not give much notice to its own artists and animators, many of them emigrating to the welcoming embraces of Western Europe and the United States.
As said, the main cause for this unfortunate outcome, apart from funding issues, is the lack of an educational system that specializes on animation. In an interview animator Matei Branea offered me, he states that “In Romania, at the moment there are no University courses specialized in animation. […] There is only one module at UNATC [the National University of Theatrical and Cinematographic Arts] as part of a film production course. There are efforts towards creating an animation course, but it proves quite difficult.” Regarding the Romanian animation market, he stated that: “[It] is still an uncharted territory. Most of it is engulfed by advertising. The animated short has neither financial potential, nor a place in the cinemas here. Feature films have no chance against those from North America.” Animator Virgil Mihailescu’s opinion on the matter: “Animation market in Romania… well, bluntly? You get it, not good. It’s pretty low and it’s stagnating; and mostly Bucharest-based. There are a few studios doing 3D work for advertising, Framebreed, DSG, Golem, but not all commercials need character animation so… there isn’t always work for the character animator, more for the generalist. And then there are the advertising agencies such as McCann Erickson or film studios like Tandem who also, some of them, might have a small 3D department incorporated.” (personal interview)
During one of these seminars, held on 14th October 2010, Daniel Todoran stated that: “Something very peculiar happened with Romanian animation; we first hosted the festival and afterwards the field started to flourish because of it.” (Todoran blog, 2011) Indeed, Anim’est’s own motto is “Reanimating animation”. (Anim’est, 2012)
In 2011, director Anca Damian took on what was to be the first Romanian animated feature film, Crulic – the Path to Beyond, a documentary about Claudiu Crulic, the 33 year old Romanian who died in a Polish prison while on hunger strike. The film is currently receiving praise from film festivals all around Europe, but not for its animation. In fact, the film never entered an animation festival and animation websites and publications ignore the film completely. (Todoran Blog, 2011) However, it will always remain in the public’s eyes as the first Romanian animated feature film.
So, as stated above, there is great potential for animation in Romania, but until an institutionalised animation school with industry-educated teachers is to be created, Romanian animation will have to rely on individual herculean efforts and international animation festivals.
In the United Kingdom
The Animation industry in the UK is universally praised for its creativity and technology, having a broad array of studios across the country: London, Bristol, Manchester and Dundee. (Skillset, 2012) However, the fact that there are numerous studios willing to take a graduate under their wing is not enough for one to stand out in one of the most competitive creative industries.
Education plays the most important part in any industry, particularly in animation, where the training is practical as well. The best way to have a general overview on the competition today is to take into account the number of students that are currently studying, or have just graduated a university course in the field of animation. A simple search on the UCAS website yields 227 results in animation courses starting in 2012. Out of these, 57 are animation as its own single subject (i.e. excluding the computer generated and media animation). Provided there are, to take a number at random, 40 graduates from each of these courses that would mean that every year there are approximately 10,000 students who exit university with fully formed knowledge and skills in the field of animation.
And although the general tendency at the moment is towards 3D computer generated animation, there will always be a place for traditional animators, even within other media. (e.g. in the pre-production phase of Tim Burton’s stop-motion film Corpse Bride, 2005, animators would create character tests, explaining how a character’s body, face expressions and gestures would look like during a scene; these tests were later used as reference for the stop motion puppets and resulted in a more flowing, organic movement)
As mentioned in the “Market” chapter, Romania does not presently have an animation studio or the educational resources required in order to constitute a strong animation industry.
Thus, over the past 21 years, dozens of young Romanian animators have left their country to work in animation studios abroad. Of these, some have worked on several important productions (such as Angelina Ballerina, Mr. Bean and several Hanna-Barbera productions) The few who have remained are now working mostly in advertising or doing promotional workf for film festivals. (Todoran blog, 2012)
In January of 2011, 4 digital artists uploaded a pilot episode of a show called RObotzi (literally “robots”) on YouTube. The episode showed 2 robots: F.O.C.A. the intellectual and alcoholic MO rusted because of its own drinking problems, having a witty, yet foul-mouthed conversation. Within 3 days it had reached 1 million views. In two months time they created their own website (www.creativemonkeyz.com), where they upload tutorials for all the major Adobe software, 3D Max and Cinema 4D, as well as inspirational artwork from artists all around the world. Today, the RObotzi are at their 2nd season and 39th episode, receiving numerous praises and awards for their work, and being considered the most popular internet figures in Romania at this moment. (Creative Monkeyz, 2012).
Apart from them, though, the market is pretty much up for grabs, especially in term of 2D animated films. The only problem would be getting Romanian students and young animators more interested in their national identity and making them profit off their own knowledge of art and film-making.
Being enamoured with animation as a child, I was religiously watching the only channel that would offer around the clock animation in Romania, Cartoon Network. I was stunned by the wild diversity the late 90s and early 2000s animated series had to offer. I could not help but be influenced by them.
Shows such as Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory, Craig McCracken’s Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Bruce Timm’s Batman:The Animated Series and Justice League and Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon left me with a powerful visual imprint. At the same time I was attracted to the surrealist concepts and fantasy settings portrayed in shows such as John R. Dilworth’s Courage the Cowardly Dog, Peter Chung’s Aeon Flux and David Kirschner’s The Pirates of Dark Water.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2010 when I discovered Richard Williams’ The Animator’s Survival Kit that I knew animation was my calling. In the space of a year I had learned the basic animation techniques and was applying them to my University projects. My works became more elegant and flowing afterwards, developing an almost instantly recognisable style.
My own background, for that matter, is quite unique. Being a Romanian, I am familiarised with Slavic mythology and Balkan fairy tales and legends, many of which have been lost or overlooked by Western Europe. Also, my high-school education was in International Literature and Foreign Languages, which has taught me much about narrative structure and culture around the world in general, and especially in Europe. Apart from my mother language of Romanian, I am very well skilled in English, and have an intermediate knowledge of German, French and Italian. I am also well versed in Latin and Philosophy. Right here are some very different and uniquely combined ingredients, which if focused correctly, would make my artwork something absolutely new and fascinating.
I have also discovered that a surprisingly simple way of coming up with amazing creative ideas: I keep a dream journal. Whenever I have memorable, enchanting or exciting dream, I write it down and more often than not, discover images and concepts that I would not have thought of in waking life.
Although I am quite confident in my artistic and technical skills, one of my biggest flaws is that I lack experience. I have only started experimenting with animation in the last year and a half, and have not yet created an outward facing animation demo reel. I am also often grip by fear of personal failure and that I will end up being the stereotypical starving artist.
However, I regained my confidence when I saw Zack Snyder’s original film Sucker Punch (2011). It was flawed, but entertaining, and the thing that intrigued me to the very day was that the credits for the visual effects team alone ran for 3 minutes. After some research (IMDB), I discovered that in the making of that film there have been 487 visual artists and animators. If 487 artists worked together on a single 110 minute long film, there would surely be room for me in the industry, especially since I now know the precise path I want to take towards fulfilling my goals.
I know that I want to become a 2D traditional animator; I will always be in favour of the hand-drawn, organic movements rather than the mechanical, computer-generated ones. I wish to develop a great body of work and gather experience from animation studios in the UK and in Europe. And my one and only long-term goal is to one day return to Romania and, with my previously acquired knowledge and industry skills, attempt resuscitate the dying scene of Romanian animation.
As I have said in the previous chapter, my career goals are to acquire experience and on the long term return to Romania to revitalise the animation industry there.
Therefore the next projects I am going to tackle will both involve me improving my technical skills and my outlook towards the industry. One of these projects involves me creating an animated dream sequence for a short film shot by the Media Production students in Iceland, which will be then screened at the BAFTA awards on the 7th of June 2012. Succeeding in this project will offer me the outside recognition from the masters of the trade that will boost my self confidence and open doors that would not be available otherwise. The other project is creating an animated music video for the electronic artist Funki Porcini, which will be submitted to this year’s D&Ad Student Awards. D&Ad has had a great tradition of helping budding artists get a foot in the door in their desired area of practice.
One thing that I am absolutely sure and unmoved about is that, however these projects will progress, evolve, and conclude, I will always have the ambition to always make my work better, my drawings looser, my lines more confident and my characters more full of life.
In the end I leave you with this quote that has become my new litany and keeps me smiling whenever my creative energies are low. In an interview animation director Valentin Eliseu gave sociologist Daniel Todoran on his blog, regarding the decreasing interest of Romanians in animation: “You know what, if you want to draw something, anything, don’t you come to me saying that it didn’t work out because the ink wasn’t good enough or the pencil wasn’t sharp enough! If needs be, you must be able to draw even on your knees on toilet paper, with a burnt match stick dipped in coffee grounds.”
„I was educated among the talented artists of Coventry University in the UK, where I received a degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Illustration and Graphics” (Alexandra Balan)
Photo: Alexandra Balan