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Animation Imagination

Our short film season reached an unexpected climax with the nomination of ‘Tin Can Heart’ for an Inside Film Award Best Animation alongside The Cat Piano and Chicken of God.

Writer/director Rod March talks about writing for animation.

What was the starting point for ‘Tin Can Heart’?

I saw an image of a lonely android staring up at a giant steel sphere with pipes and tubes coming out in all directions. I didn’t know who he was or why he was there, but the idea seemed very visual and it just interested me.

Then I thought to myself, what if a little puppy came along and was desperate for this android’s attention when all he really wanted was to look at the sphere? And my story began.

Was that a different approach to your other work?

Being the first serious film I’ve made, I was going into uncharted territory. I had to learn story craft as I went along.

I matured as a writer during the process of making the film and in a sense it’s a shame that you have to do the story first, because it’s the most important part and I feel I could have done it SO much better by the time we finished production than when we started!

Were do you get your inspiration from?

For me an idea starts from an image with an emotion attached to it. Once you have a vision you want to share and you know how you want it to make people feel, you can chart the rest.

I get a lot of ideas from photographs and music, probably because music has such a strong emotional quality.

What is it in animation that grabs your attention?

If you can think of it, you can make it. That’s incredibly empowering. The only limit is how much of your own time you want to spend on it.

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What was the most challenging aspect of its production?

The scale. When I started out I was determined to design a modest film that I could actually finish, yet somehow it grew much larger than the single-character-single-location film that I had promised myself. How we ever got it finished, I don’t know. It is very satisfying however to see just how much detail and atmosphere we managed to get in there.

How would you describe your writing process?

Merciless. No idea is sacred. I outline over and over and over again, run the outline by my esteemed script editor/co-writer of Story Department fame, tear it down and write it all over again until it’s right. It’s about holding onto that small core of an idea which you already know subconsciously and trying to bring your conscious mind up to speed.

It’s surprising how far you have to wander from your original concept before it curves back around to almost exactly what you started with, only now it works!

For me, I know when I’m on the right track when I’m coming up with ideas that, even though they’re brand new, they feel strangely familiar also.

My writing process has evolved a lot since Tin Can Heart. If anything, I think I should have been more merciless with the Tin Can Heart script. 20/20 hindsight and all that…

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Do you always have animation in mind when you start?

I always have ideas and characters in mind when I start writing. What I find interesting to write about seems to tend towards fantastical situations that really only work in animation. But I don’t think that way, I just explore what seems interesting about the idea and it turns out how it turns out.

Any advice to screenwriters interested in animation?

Do something you can’t do with real actors, and put your characters through trials real people couldn’t handle. Visually your characters are going to be caricatures of real people, so don’t hesitate to make their personalities bigger, brighter and more outrageous than real people too. The sky is the limit!

Is there a place for short films in mainstream cinema?

I think short films are great. I think audiences enjoy them, and I think the animation studios that make short films flourish. The animated short seems to have found a home at most of the big studios as a way of developing new processes and new talent. But I don’t think audiences are going to start paying extra to see short films, and that’s always the bottom line.

To me shorts are great because you can make stylistic choices that you can’t in features- if an audience is sitting down for an hour and a half they have a pretty narrow range of what they will tolerate but they’ll watch and enjoy nearly anything for 5 minutes.

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What next?

There are a couple of scripts I’ve been working on over the last year or two that are just starting to take shape. I’m brimming with ideas so hopefully you’ll hear more about them soon!

After successfully completing a Course in Advanced Character Animation Techniques, Rodney March graduated from the Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication) with First Class Honours in 2004. Over the past two years, Rodney’s talent and skills have been in high demand as a character animator on a variety of projects. He is part of the team on the Network Seven series ERKY PERKY by world class 3D studio Ambience Entertainment and is currently Animation Director at Flying Bark, Sydney.

Tin Can Heart can now be viewed here: http://vimeo.com/13266812

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About the Author

Cherie Lee

I studied acting for three years and hold a graduate diploma in writing from Sydney's UTS. My interest in film and writing was solidified through interning at The Story Department and gave me the opportunity to fine tune my skills. I've been involved with several film projects, the most recent of which was shortlisted for Tropfest.With the knowledge gained from university and my experience at The Story Department, I'm now specialising in professional feedback on short films and documentaries.

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