November 23, 2016

How to Create Hybrid Animation: 'Don't Get Sidetracked on Crap'

"Don't get sidetracked on crap you think people expect you to do. That's just a mirage."

The traditional style of hand-drawn animation is thriving thanks to a marriage with technology. Nowhere is this more evident than in the work of filmmaker Drew Christie. His latest series, Drawn & Recorded, brings the hybrid style to a collection of unusual music history anecdotes produced by Gunpowder & Sky and released on Spotify.

Drew sat down with No Film School to talk about the process of animation using pens and AE, the importance of color palettes, and the guiding philosophy that has kept him true to his artistic self.

Here's one film in the series, about the naming of Kurt Cobain's seminal song Smells Like Teen Spirit:

No Film School: Where did the idea for Drawn & Recorded series come from?

Drew Christie: I have been making animations and drawings pertaining to music and musicians for as long as I can remember. The very mystical nature of music has always drawn me in, and since it's hard to make a story out of an abstract concept like music itself, I started focusing on stories about people who make music.

One of those stories really jumped out at me. It was about Blind Willie Johnson, the blind blues singer who ended up on the Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft that is now drifting through outer space. I made the animation about him on my own and asked T-Bone Burnett to narrate it. He ended up liking it so much that he started showing it to people and saying, "We need to do hundreds of these!"

"Sometimes imagery is coming to me as I'm writing, but I always get the full script down [first]."

NFS: How do you start the process on one of these shorts? Do you write out the script or do you think of images? 

Christie: I write out the script, then images come to accompany the story. Sometimes imagery is coming to me as I'm writing, but I always get the full script down, then storyboard and style frame and try and figure out color palette and visual theme. To me, a visual theme is very important, because along with color palette, it sets the tone for the piece (along with music, of course).

NFS: What tools do you use to get your style of animation?

Christie: Each one of these was drawn on paper (except for Blind Willie in Space, which was drawn and animated in Photoshop) with Pilot v5 ink pens and either animated completely on paper and colored in Photoshop. Or animated in After Effects with elements scanned in from the ink drawings. Most episodes are some combination of those two processes. 

"I work intuitively and I feel strongly that no one making anything should analyze it too much."

NFS: What do you hope people take away from Drawn and Recorded?

Christie:  I hope people learn something new they didn't know before. I hope it inspires people to make their own music because the world needs more interesting music being made. And I hope it encourages them to dig into the stories behind stories. I think we should all explore the footnotes of history more. Then we'd stop making the same mistakes over and over again.

Here's a look at Drew Christie's process of combining traditional animation tools with new ones brought on in Premiere and AE:

NFS: You have this great body of work in which you've been able to express your personal style and voice while being commissioned to tell a story. What would you say is the key to navigating that kind of work and fine-tuning your personal style?

Christie: All I would say is that I try and stretch myself, but in the end, all I can really do is create the work in my own way with my own style. I work intuitively and I feel strongly that no one making anything should analyze it or try and break it down or examine it too much. Just do your thing as best you can and stay focused on what interests you and don't get sidetracked on crap you think people expect you to do. That's just a mirage.     

Check out all the episodes of Drawn & Recorded on Spotify so far.

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