To have the technical skill required to bring an animation to life is one thing; to reach out to your audience and make them engage with and respond to your work is another. Australian animator Dave Jones has successfully combined both elements to produce deceptively simple Flash animations that share the sly humour and comic timing of vintage Chuck Jones while incorporating his own stylistic and thematic interests.
ACMI's Rachel Nagy asks the award-winning Jones about his work: his inspiration, his artistic processes, and his thoughts on animation in general in an attempt to uncover the personality behind these witty and thought-provoking animations ...
Rachel: What made you decide to pursue Flash animation as opposed to more traditional forms?
Dave: Flash animation has allowed me to work remotely from wherever I want and to distribute my work to a huge international audience. These are the two main benefits. I can just be working on a laptop absolutely anywhere (one of the music videos I did was made while I was camping in a cave in the Grampians) and then when I'm done . I just need to get to a phone line and instantly millions of people all over the world can see the results.
Rachel: What kind of tools do you use to create your animations?
Dave: Most of the work I have produced in the past few years has been made entirely in Flash. You can use it to draw the characters and backgrounds, then to animate everything and finally to lay down a soundtrack. And if you're still not happy at that point then you can add a few bits of code and turn the whole thing into a game. I have stayed away from 3D animation software as I prefer to keep a flat, graphic look to my work . but you never know . I may come around at some point in the future. At the moment though I'm quite happy working in Flash. I usually start by doing some rough sketches on paper, just to work my ideas out, but after that pretty much everything else is done in Flash.
Rachel: How long would it take to develop a work such as The TeeV, from its conceptual stage to the finished product?
Dave: With The TeeV there was a big gap between the time I had the idea and the time I started to actually work on it (about two years).
Once I got stuck into it though, it all happened fairly quickly (for an animated production). Within a week I had made a full animatic out of all my storyboard sketches. By the end of the next week I had animated most of those scenes. After that I got the sounds all ready and put them in (probably another week spent here) and then tweaked the timing and the sounds until it all ran together nicely. I probably spent two weeks doing that but possibly I was just being finicky and could have spent less time here. That was it.so about five weeks for that one. With a lot of my Flash animations I'm aiming for a very minimalist feel in terms of the animation and a story about a man sitting in a couch watching the telly is obviously going to require less animation work than a story with loads of action.
Rachel: From where do you derive your inspiration? Has there been anyone or anything that particularly inspires you as an animator?
Dave: I derive my inspiration from a number of sources. The real world is always a good place to start . Most of my ideas have been sparked by real events. Other films are always a great inspiration for treatments and techniques and lately I have seen lots of things on the Internet that get me very excited me about the possibilities. At the end of the day however, you need to have strong central idea or storyline and the best source for those is personal experience.
Rachel: Do you have a favourite animated work? Why this work?
Dave: There are so many great animations out there now . some I admire for their brilliant ideas and concepts and others for the beautiful visuals or fantastic characters. I don't really have a favorite . Chuck Jones was always a bit of a star though as far as good animation directors are concerned but then I'm a real sucker for model animation (the first film I made, HighWire, was all plasticine models and I've been quietly itching to have another go at doing something like that ever since). No, if I told you what my favourite animation is at the moment I'll have changed my mind by the time you publish this anyway.
Rachel: What kind of collaborations do you utilise in the production of your work?
Dave: Lately I have been collaborating with Al MacInnes on a number of projects. Al has been doing all the sound and music while I focus on the animation. Al has done a great job with the sound on all these projects. Being a good animator as well as a sound designer helps a lot, I think, when you're working on the sound design for an animation. Actually, I'm a bit of a control freak. I have really struggled with the concept of having to let go of certain aspects of a project. The films have always come back better for Al's input it so I'm getting a bit more relaxed about the idea of collaborations. I have yet to hand out any animation work but I think soon I'm going to have to start looking at doing that. I think this will be fairly hard thing for me to do ... in fact I'll probably get another programmer in first before I take that step.
Rachel: How do you balance being a programmer with being an artist/animator/illustrator?
Dave: I enjoy both animating and programming ... Actually, truth be known, they are both fairly laborious processes ... it's the results that I enjoy. Seeing something moving around on the screen that never existed before, something that you have managed to pluck out of your imagination for other people to look at. That is the appeal I guess. Both animating and programming require a great deal of patience and a vision of what it is that you are trying to create (you have to be able to see it clearly in your mind before you are ever going to be able to create it). A lot of the programming I do actually is just another kind of animating. You type in a bunch of words which make a character move about as opposed to traditional animating where you draw a bunch of pictures to achieve the same effect. It's the same end result just a different approach. I seem to shuffle from one discipline to the other ... A week of animating, a week of programming and back again. Illustration however is just a joy ... If I'm ever feeling a bit flat I can just draw a few pictures and that seems to cheer me up.
Rachel: What are your thoughts on the current state of web animation, both locally and internationally?
Dave: The freedom of expression that web animation has given us is a mixed blessing. On the one hand there are some fantastic things out there that I would never have seen otherwise ... and on the other hand there is a huge amount of trash being pumped out every single day. You have to sort through the refuse if you're going to find the gems. There is a lot of really good stuff out there but there is a truly vast amount of drivel. I think it's best to judge the state of the medium by the best examples rather than the average and in that case things are going well ... very well. I think Australia has a particularly strong field really for a number of reasons ... firstly I think there's a lot of talented people here which is a good start ... and secondly Australia's small population means that there are only limited funds available for the production of animated works for broadcast. The web has provided a viable alternative to being reliant on the small pool that is Australian arts resources. Certainly very little of the work I have done in the past few years has been financed by Australians (Chasm being one of the few exceptions).
Rachel: You have had works accepted in many festivals and won both awards and recognition - how do you feel about having your web-based works screened in cinemas?
Dave: It's nice to see my work up on a big screen. It's very gratifying to sit in a cinema and see a room full of people all enjoying your film. You don't get that sort of direct feedback with the Internet but you do get millions and millions of people watching your films every month and I like that too. The Web is just a distribution medium like cinema, books and newspapers. Each of these mediums has their strengths and weaknesses. On the Internet you don't get the same sort of immersive experience that you get in a cinema, but because of the Internet millions of people get to see my films who wouldn't have seen them otherwise.
Rachel: Do you think there is a difference between having web works 'exhibited' as opposed to 'screened'?
Dave: I think that depending on the nature of the work an exhibition may sometimes be a more appropriate venue than cinema. In an exhibition, people are free to come and go as they please and talk amongst themselves in groups as they are looking on, whereas in a screening, the audience is required to sit and watch for the duration of the piece. For a linear narrative I think a screening is the best forum. People can sit still for a short while and just be taken away by the film. A non-narrative piece, which has no defined start or finish, is in my opinion better shown in an exhibition. Ideally the work will be thought-provoking and people can discuss this amongst themselves without it taking away from the work. Anything that requires interaction from the audience is almost certainly better exhibited than screened. Having created works that fit into both of these categories, I can't say that one medium is better than the other - they're each just better suited to different works.
Rachel: You have recently released the interactive animated game Chasm. Do you think users respond better to animations that are interactive?
Dave: On the Internet it seems that people respond better to games or interactives than linear animation.
On the Transience site (http://www.transience.com.au/) the games get significantly more traffic than the animations. Partly this is because the same people come back to play the one game a number of times, whereas they might only watch a linear piece a couple of times. The other thing is that people on the Internet seem to need to have the sense that they are controlling what it is that they are watching and get a bit edgy when they are forced to sit still and not click anything for a minute or two.
Rachel: What advice do you have for advice for aspiring animators?
Dave: Go out and travel. Make sure you see lots of interesting things and meet lots of fascinating people.
Rachel: Do you have an Internet animation/interactive wishlist?
Dave: I've got a huge wishlist. There are books full of sketches, ideas and stories that I'd love to see developed and put out there for people to see. I'm just working through the list really one thing at a time.
Rachel: What is the future of online animation for you?
Dave: As broadband becomes more and more widespread the limits of what will be classified as online animation will expand. Before too long people will be watching mainstream movies on the Internet. I'm personally interested in the blurring of the boundaries between games and animation and incorporating a kind of multi-player aspect to the whole thing. At any given moment there are millions of people online, all sending messages to one another. If you could turn this into a game somehow I think it would be very exciting. Just lately, I've finally started work on a project I've been thinking about for years where many people will have to interact with each other as part of the game (both directly and via forums) and where the actions taken by one individual effect the direction that the game will take for everyone. It won't be finished for a while but when its done ... it's going to be great!