It started with a single image that Trevor Jimenez drew upon graduating animation school in 2007. The drawing was of a kid walking from his mom’s home to his dad’s car. When he noticed how many friends were connecting to the image with their own stories of growing up in a divorced family, he decided it could be more than just one drawing, but a whole story.

The other crazy thing? Jimenez almost completely abandoned the film along the way because he lost confidence in it, thinking no one would want to watch it. Luckily he didn't, and he’ll be attending the 2019 Academy Awards with the finished 15-minute animated film, Weekends.

Jimenez sat down with No Film School leading up to the Oscars to talk about animating with charcoal, TVPaint, and Cintiq, when a film needs to be longer, and why you need to make the film that, on your deathbed, you would regret not having made.

No Film School: So after that first drawing that sparked the story, with this as what you consider your first professional film, how did you come to make Weekends from there?

Trevor Jimenez: That drawing was the beginning, and that was more than 10 years ago. I worked at several different studios, like Disney, Blue Sky, and would always try to work on this film on the side, and it was really hard just balancing my full-time job and the film. And actually, there was a period of time where I didn't work on it at all and lost confidence in it. I worried that it was too personal or too specific, and maybe it wasn't important enough of a story to tell.

I moved around a lot. I was in New York, LA, Vancouver, and I moved to San Francisco with my wife in 2011 and worked at a studio called Cinderbiter, which is a stop motion studio, and being around this really eclectic group of artists really helped inspire me. I watched the movie Beginners by Mike Mills, which was a super-personal, specific story, and it really inspired me to start writing on the film again. This was around 2011. The film was finished at around 2016, so it was five years before the end.

But that was when things really intensified and I started writing, storyboarding, and editing, and got a first full version of the film up in storyboard form. I worked on that during my off time while I was at Pixar for about three years, and then took a year off in 2015, 2016 to actually produce it and animate it with a group of friends.

NFS: When you took that year off, would you say you spent pretty much the whole year working on it to get it done?

Jimenez: Yeah, it was a lot of work. Animated shorts are a little more time consuming than live-action shorts because you have to draw everything. It's very labor intensive, so like a 15-minute animated short, which is the runtime for Weekends, is pretty long, relative to other animated shorts. Usually, you'll see them in the six-minute range, six-to eight-minute range, so 15 minutes is pretty ambitious.

I was lucky enough to have a lot of help from some good friends to help animate and paint backgrounds. I have a really good friend named Chris Sasaki who is the production designer on it, and he really helped me find the look of the film. Kenny Pickett did all the sound. We had about 26 people help out, all in all.

Weekends_1A still background image from director Trevor Jimenez here followed by the color and texture of production designer Chris Sasaki below.Credit: Weekends

Weekends_2Credit: Weekends

NFS: Weekendsis beautiful, and it’s lovely to see the hand animation creating different moods and surreal departures. How would you describe your animation, and how did you arrive at this style?

Jimenez: It's pretty aligned with how I draw usually, which is kind of messy, kind of raw. I really like to embrace mistakes in drawing, so things not being symmetrical, lines not connecting, and with things kind of being messy, I think it adds the certain human element and an appeal. So yeah, that's just how I draw normally.

My friend Chris is a really amazing, talented art director, production designer, and painter. He does kids' books as well. I think he does a more appealing version of what I do, has a really great color sense, beautiful use of texture. I think we have similar taste in a lot of things, but he's a world-class visual artist, and I think he took the spirit of what I wanted and made it really appealing. He found these great colors and use of texture. His specific directive for me was to draw all the backgrounds in charcoal because I knew all the details. I've lived in those homes. I remembered where certain things were, how certain things looked.

I grew up in Toronto, and I wanted to capture how that city felt, so I did all of these charcoal drawings. There are about 160 of them. They're on paper, and then we scanned them in, and he and a team of about six people would paint and use really cool textures and unique colors that Chris chose. There's some stuff on our Instagram and social handles where you can see the before and after, the charcoal drawing I did and then the paintings that Chris and the team did, and you just see how far it takes them. That was a process for all the backgrounds, and then we animated in TVPaint, which is a fresh piece of animation software. All the animation was digital but hand drawn on a Cintiq, which is this big screen you can draw on.

NFS: Knowing that you started so many years earlier, were there many different iterations of this story or was it the same from the beginning?

Jimenez: It changed a lot. 10 years ago, when I first started writing it, I really wanted to capture seasonality in Toronto because the weather's such a big part of growing up on the east coast. Winters and fall and hot summers. I liked this idea of time passing and showing how the parents' lives evolved. But the first script I wrote for it, the formal script, I wrote on one weekend. It was only six pages long. And I simplified it to try to make something I could finish myself that was actually manageable from an animation production perspective.

So basically, the kid started at the mom's, as the current film does, and he went to the dad's, and you had all the Money for Nothing music, cut to all the antiques. All that was the same. Then he had a nightmare about his mom's house burning down, this candle-head guy, and then came back home to the mom. It ended on a surreal moment with the horse looking out into the sky, but more like a dream cloudscape.

When I showed that to friends, a couple of things jumped out right away. One, it felt way too short. I didn't get that back and forth feeling that is so universal to people who are in divorce situations, like being passed from one to the other, and the routine of it. Then the other thing was, people thought that in the nightmare, the dad was the candle-head guy. His face was cut off, so people thought it was the father. I didn't want that.

I had a boyfriend character in the early version of writing, so I reintroduced that into the mom's story, and that eventually made the film grow, and I started to flesh out the parents' lives, add the transitions, the back and forth. It elongated the film, but you had a little more context for some of the dreams the kid experienced.

You saw the new lovers enter the parents' lives. You saw the change happen in their lives post-divorce, and then I also go to add the weather back in, seasonality and all that stuff. After making that decision to lengthen it, it really became a process of adding to the lives to figure out plot-wise, how the lives would change and turn and how that would affect the kid emotionally.

NFS: Clearly it ended up being a great choice for the film. But of course, then you're like, "Great! Now I have to animate all this new stuff."

Jimenez: That was the good and the bad. But once I started lengthening it, it really felt right, you know? You know on a gut level when it feels like the film you want to make. So I knew it was going to be more work, but I knew it also it was something I didn't want to compromise on.

Weekends_grd01_clean'Weekends' started from a single drawing by Trevor Jimenez of a kid walking from his mom's house to his dad's car, striking many conversations about the shared experiences of growing up with divorced parents.Credit: Weekends

NFS: It was a long journey to make Weekends with many ups and downs, and here you are, nominated for an Academy Award. What would be your advice to readers, in particular to animators, based on what you've figured out, persevering with this film?

Jimenez: It has felt like a very surreal trip. It's kind of hard to believe it is nominated sometimes. Even though I'm really proud of the film. Some friends would tell me sometimes, "Oh, you're going to get nominated." I'd be like, "Nah. That's not gonna happen." So it's pretty crazy that the film's here.

As far as advice goes, I feel like every situation is different. I think for me, I picked an idea I knew I had to make. It was super-personal. I always thought about it, and it didn't feel like a hobby to me. It felt like this thing that if I got to my deathbed and I hadn't made it, I would've had this deep regret. That is what kept it alive for 10 years, even when I didn't want to make it or I didn't believe in it.

I feel very fortunate. A lot of things came together that were totally out of my control, like meeting Chris and having Chris work on it, and getting the help of friends. I could've never made it on my own, so there are a lot of things that happened that were very fortuitous and lucky. That combined with this will I had to make it and this personal motivation to make it. But it's so unpredictable. I think even getting nominated, it's not really what it's about in the end. I think, just make sure what you're working on is something you love, and nothing else really matters.