Tim Allen's work on Frankenweenie

#Interview: Scannain talks with Tim Allen at the Dublin Animation Film Festival 2018

This past Bank Holiday Weekend Scannain was lucky enough to attend the Dublin Animation Film Festival which began in 2011. This annual event brings together a host of talents from across the globe and brings them to the animation students of Ireland. Scannain got to sit down with Fabian Erlinghauser for a Q&A for the Oscar-nominated The Breadwinner as well as Tim Allen the celebrated stop-motion animator who has worked on such films like Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs.

Our interview with Tim was an absolute delight and we can’t wait to see his next project.

So Tim limitations can bring out such excellent creativeness in an artist as we talking about it with Fabian Erlinghauser and The Breadwinner. Did you have those kinds of things with Isle of Dogs?

Well, there are always limitations which is a good thing. I think if you’ve got an endless amount of time and money that in itself can breed a kind of indecisiveness of always being able to come back to things. Whereas when you’ve got the limitation of time and money you have to really hone in on, okay what is it we need to do here? From a storytelling perspective, what do we have to say and then you have to focus on – what is the best way in saying that? And of course with limitations, your options may be limited but at least you need clarity in what you’re trying to do and then what’s the best way of doing it.

Limitations can also breed the style, visually. For me, as a stop-motion animator, it can be what the puppets are physically capable of doing and not doing and that then breeds the characteristics of the character. So I may be looking at the puppet and going okay well if I do this with the eyebrows it looks terrible I can’t do that but if I do this movement with the mouth that’s actually quite effective so you’re just looking for the strengths and weaknesses of what a puppet can achieve and thus get the best out of it and avoid the bad bits from an animation point of view. It should be the same with time and money and thus storytelling decisions.

You’ve been collaborating with some very noteworthy names including Wes Anderson twice now I believe, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs

We use the lingo of I.O.D. If you’re down with the I.O.D crew you’re massive

That’s brilliant

Well time is money.

What was like working on those films because obviously there is a great style? The wit and humour came through the stylings of the characters and their animations. Fantastic Mr. Fox in particular I thought was a Wes Anderson cartoon. It’s like your artistic style perfectly meshed with his writing decisions. Was it a collaborative experience?

Collaborative? Yes and no. I mean Wes has never been an animator himself however he is very specific about how he wants characters to move. Well, more to the point structurely what he wants them to do and when so he’s absolutely down on the timing. We were making animatics edited versions of a storyboard and the timings of when a character looks left or their eyes move or when they do a hand gesture Wes is very precise about the exact frame he wants that to be on. In terms of an emotive point of view, I would ask Wes in terms of the characters emotional intention I would ask questions to try and get more of a feel on that because his focus is often on the composition and the structure of the performance.

I myself would be trying to get more information on the emotional content of the performance but that’s obviously because I want to get to the heart of what he is after. He’s very blow by blow in terms of storytelling. If you watch the animation there’s a very structured pace to how it is laid out and from an animators point of view, the animation is relatively simplistic. It’s quick efficient animation, a character simply picks up an object or does a hand gesture. They will do it in a very straightforward no strings or bows way. There is no embellished animation, it’s very efficient.

Which is funny because if his style of writing was a motion that’s what I feel it would be.

And none of that is meant as a criticism it’s actually just his stylistic way of doing things and I mean that in comparison to other productions I would say his style of animation is to the point and efficient which is how he does things and that’s what makes it unique and that’s what separates his style from other films like a Laika film and a Tim Burton film.

This brings us to Frankenweenie which you worked on as well. Which I find interesting because would you say you have a style of your own or would you think you adapt to the director/the team you are working with?

Yeah, my role has to be to adapt to what the production and what the director needs.

You were saying how the animation looks in Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox. It is very different to how Frankenweenie moves. The motions are fluid, how the dog moves, how the whole world moves. There is Corpse Bride as well.

Even those have differences, Corpse to me generally is a bit more smooth and there’s a bit more smooth flowing animation especially with some of my work I don’t even like some of my work now because it looks a bit too smooth without the dynamic.

You wouldn’t be an artist if you liked your work.

Yeah because it’s about always moving forward and progressing. Frankenweenie is about more snappy and dynamic. Even in the camera shots. As an animator you spend those initial weeks and months trying to get a feel for the style of this film and how do I need to tweak and adjust my work to fit with that.

Yesterday in my Masterclass, plug the festival, I showed my first test for Fantastic Mr. Fox and it’s my first shot on the film and I was just shooting Fox on a white background just as a test to get me into the flow of things which is ironic because there’s less flow to a Wes film it’s more regular beats and it looks nice. Mark Waring the then animation supervisor said it just wasn’t the style and my work looked similar to a Corpse Bride shot. It was quite flowing, quite smooth, some nice little subtleties whereas the Wes style is more clear and simplistic and structured.

Almost like there are no in-betweens.

Yeah, it’s like beat – beat – move – move

What was the inciting moment that brought you to stop-motion?

Well, I had always loved watching stop-motion cartoons as a child. I loved Nightmare Before Christmas and had the Making Of Book which was quite worn out because I looked through it so much. I didn’t even think you could do that as a career, it didn’t occur to me. I always knew I’d do something with art so after school, I did a two-year national diploma purely in art and I was looking for Universities for something that involved model making.

I went to one such University in Bournemouth University and someone put their head around the door while I was waiting and said, “Anyone here to see the animation course?” and I had one look and thought wow you can do that? They only had 2D at the time but I can still remember the line tests of someone shot in a room full of lightboxes and man it’s one of those moments where it clicked and I had seen the light and this was exactly what I had to do.

I was so determined then to put together the biggest portfolio possible to get a place. I went to Glamorgan University in South Wales which had a good stop-motion department. There weren’t many Universities in the UK that did stop-motion then but yeah I was super passionate and determined this is what I had to do and I’ve never once thought otherwise. There’s nothing really I want to do with my career than stop-motion and I love teaching stop-motion animation as well.

This is your first year now here in Dublin?

Yeah, it is.

What was it like catering to an Irish audience for your Masterclass?

Well, they were lovely we had a wonderful intimate group so it made it like a discussion which I prefer. It’s less of me giving a presentation and more of a discussion which I will then show all sorts of bits of my work as reference. If there is any structure I gave it it was that there were a couple of kids who were quite young and I’m going to guess 15 or something so I spent a bit of time talking about my early career and very, very much my mistakes and my progression so they could see me learning as I went to make it much more accessible for them down the line because it shows my own personal growth and my learning and my ups and downs which led me to work on the big name projects I’ve been on.

How are you finding the Dublin Animation Film Festival? Did you watch any of the shorts?

Yep, I watched the first lot of the shorts.

Ah, so you missed the over 18’s shorts. I actually heard the reason was that the reason was due to a short having a naked puppet.

Oh my, I think I would have blushed, or worryingly been aroused hahaha.

It reminded me of Anomalisa which was a wild ride of a film.

My friend Kim Blanchette animated the sex scene in that. He also worked on Nightmare Before Christmas.

Wow, what’s that like working with someone you’re a fan of?

I always get a little personal kick when working with one of those guys because it was such an inspiration for me. My audition on Corpse Bride I had two of the Nightmare Before Christmas animators who were then the animation supervisor and director at the time on Corpse Bride. They were looking at my audition and judging it and Anthony Scott was going through it frame by frame to point mistakes in my spacing and they were very nice and it was certainly good enough to get the job. They were also giving me back detailed feedback which was a real blessing to have.

I think that’s why festivals like Dublin Animation Film Festival are so great for when individuals like yourself and Fabian Erlinghauser show up. You’re a treasure trove that students should mine.

Never been called a treasure trove before but I’ll take it and I do get it. When I was a student if I had the chance to meet one of the Nightmare Before Christmas animators I would be there like a shot. I would want to ask as many questions and get as much information out of them as possible so I do agree even if someone is intimidated that they should take these opportunities at festivals like the wonderful Dublin Animation Film Festival and buy me a beer and take a moment to pick my brain because you’ll learn a lot. These networks are for networking it’s the opportunity to create opportunities.

I was actually talking to a student who was worried about using someone like yourself in that fashion. She said that to me and I had to say to her it’s not using sadly networking is a thing you have to do.

My body is a temple mind haha. I am always asked the question of how to start. It’s funny because everyone’s story is different so it’s always interesting to ask someone how they started. It’s a great way to break the ice and start a conversation if you’re not sure what to say. Ask them about them. However, the clichés still ring true – right time, right place, and not what you know but who you know. I will say this – You make those opportunities for yourself by introducing yourself, reminding people you’re there.

The more people you get to know the more opportunities you open for yourself. Most of the time someone won’t have any work for you and you’ll get rejected but I’ve often used the analogy of go around and meet people and collect as many rejections as possible because obviously, you’re opening yourself up to opportunities that do come. Creating opportunities is my way of looking at it.

I would say as long as you’ve shown you’ve got a good work ethic, a good head on your shoulders, and you’re nice, people like working with nice people.

I have the same thoughts, people thought I was nice enough, they thought my work had promise, they could see I worked very, very hard and certainly I did more than my fair share of unpaid work experience and internships and being hired for very little money and then still working very hard because then you are at the right place at the right time.

Fabian said getting your foot in the door works and it does, tell people what you want to do but be happy to just pitch in and help out with whatever because if they see you’re a good person, you’re happy to help the production you’re the one they’ll be more likely to say,” hey we’ve got something you might want to have a go at.” So just being around really helps and coming to places like the Dublin Animation Film Festival you have the chance to network and meet other people you are around and people will vaguely recognise your face.

Well listen, Tim, it’s been an absolute pleasure thank you so much.

There you go, Tim was awesome and the Dublin Animation Film Festival was an incredible event that any budding young artist needs to mark on their calendar. Preparations are already going ahead for Dublin Animation Film Festival 2019 and hopefully, we’ll be there to bring the funk and the fun once more.

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