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Bringing Life to The Book of Life: Behind the Scenes with Ray Chase

by | Nov 13, 2014

Animator and mentor Ray Chase recently wrapped production on Reel FX’s latest film, The Book of Life. The movie tells the tale of the love triangle between three young friends set against the backdrop of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos. Its stunning visuals, vibrant characters, and mythical storytelling are sure to inspire animators for years to come. We recently interviewed Ray on his work on the film – read on to go behind the scenes with The Book of Life and to find out the one thing Ray wished he knew when he was just starting as an animator.

– The Animation Mentor Crew

ANIMATION MENTOR: What characters did you animate in The Book of Life? What was the most fun shot to animate with those characters?

RAY CHASE: I was pretty fortunate to animate pretty much all the main characters: Manolo, young Manolo, Joaquin, Maria, La Muerte, Xibalba, Chuy, Grandma, Grandpa Luis and Carlos. The shot that I had the most fun animating was a shot with Maria and Joaquin at dinner. Joaquin had just mistakenly implied to Maria that women were around to make men happy. My shot involved Maria standing up from the table, insisting that the men not stand, and then storming off to spend time with Chuy her “pig.” There was some fun acting that I was able to do there as well as some subtle comedy both with Maria and Joaquin’s reaction to her.

ANIMATION MENTOR: The Book of Life is a very stylized film. As an animator, what is your process for creating characters in a stylized world?

RAY CHASE: Jorge was very adamant about staying true to the concept art which presented challenges for the animators. We had to say “Ok these are the parameters for this character. How can we get the performance we need?” There was quite a bit of problem solving done in pre-production. We had to figure out how to animate characters that weren’t necessarily animator friendly. Manolo’s arms for instance were boxes that needed to be able to bend and such while not looking rubbery. The majority of the characters were made of wood so there was the challenge of staying true to their materials and not overusing squash and stretch or making the faces too fleshy.

ANIMATION MENTOR: What was it like working with director Jorge Guiterrez? What kind of feedback would he give animators, and how is that different from other directors you’ve worked with? How do you adapt to working with directors that have different styles of working?

RAY CHASE: I really, really enjoyed working with Jorge. Like most directors, there were key things that were important to him for each shot. Jorge had lived with this story and these characters for so long that he really had a clear picture of every shot in the film and what every shot meant to the film. That said, he never dictated the performance which I loved. I have worked with directors in the past who didn’t really know what they wanted until they saw it, which can be exhausting. I very much prefer a director you knows what he wants and leaves the animator room to bring ideas to the table. That was very much how Jorge worked. Another awesome thing about Jorge was his passion for the project; it was infectious. He was always super excited in dailies and would clue us in to little bits of symbolism in a shot or sequence that no one would have ever noticed but it was there and it meant something. He’s the kind of director you want to work hard for and do your best for, because he is such an amazing force of positive energy. Maybe that’s starting to sound a little too zen but it’s the truth. I consider myself lucky to have worked with him.

Adapting to directing styles is just that: adapting. A director’s method is usually made clear at the beginning of a project and as a professional studio artist you have to honor that working method. I have worked with director’s whose methods I have liked and one’s whose methods I did not. You learn a lot in either case.

ANIMATION MENTOR: What was your favorite part of The Book of Life production process?

RAY CHASE: I can honestly say that I enjoyed the entire process. It was a fantastic experience from beginning to end.

ANIMATION MENTOR: What is the one thing you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out as an animator?

RAY CHASE: I would have wanted someone to stress to me how animation is collaborative. When I entered the industry and was working on my very first feature I was reluctant to accept feedback from my peers. I thought that if I incorporated a suggestion then the shot would no longer be “my idea.” Rookie mistake. First off, the shots are never truly “your” idea unless you are the director who also happens to be animating. Second, ideas from peers will only improve the work and make it better. An animation team is only as good as the sum of all its parts. Everyone brings strengths to the table. To not use that to help improve your shot and yourself is very short sighted. I was young and naive back then…what did I know?

Ray Chase is currently an animator for Reel FX studios in Dallas, TX. His impressive roster of credits includes over 25 titles across feature film, television, and games, including The Book of Life, Free Birds, Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas, and Transformers: The Game. Ray has been a mentor at Animation Mentor for 9 years and he is teaching Class 1: Animation Basics in the upcoming Winter 2015 term.

Ready to start breathing life into your own characters? Apply Now for the Winter 2015 term. Classes do sell out, so be sure to apply early to secure your spot. Ray has only 5 spaces left in his class – don’t wait, apply today!

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