The Team Behind Snip
Animation Mentor: Can you tell us a little about the creative group behind Snip? How do you all know each other?
Snip Team: We’re a ragtag group of animators from across the United States and around the world. We met during our time at AM. Steven had been running an after class Google Hangout since Class 3 that we all joined and used to critique each other’s work, joke around, and through this we quickly developed friendships that last to this day. Other former classmates came and went from the Google Hangouts, but the five guys destined to work on Snip stuck to it. Those Hangouts eventually became the production meetings for Snip itself.
Our team consists of the following:
- Adam Koenig: Director, Story, Animation, Modelling, Lighting, Rigging, Compositing
- Jeb Cozby: Animation, Modeling, Compositing, Story
- Preet Uppal: Animation, Smoke Simulation, modeling, Compositing, Story
- Steven Jones: Animation, Modeling, Compositing, Story
- Diony Lopez: Animation, Modeling, Rigging, Compositing, Story
The Short Film Process
AM: Where did the idea for Snip come from?
Snip Team: As time went on we continued to grow as animators and friends, and began to exchange more ideas with each other, which eventually led to some of us talking about the idea of doing a short film. In October 2013, shortly after graduation, we ended one of our meetings with a call for story ideas. The five of us went away for the week and came back with our pitches. Out of the 5 ideas we presented we narrowed it down to the two most feasible and further developed both of them for a couple weeks. We ultimately picked the story that would become Snip, based on an idea Steven had for a pantomime shot for his demo reel, because it had an articulated and compelling conflict and resolution. Once we were all on the same page, we sat down and fleshed out the story and boarded it out using the screen sharing function in Google Hangouts. In our naivety, we thought this was going to be our practice film to see if we could actually make one. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
AM: What’s one thing you did not expect that you learned from creating a short film?
AK: Balancing where to spend my time between investing in relationships, personal health, and when to sacrifice that for productivity on Snip was both the hardest and least expected skill I had to practice constantly. It’s hard to communicate how much we underestimated the amount of work this would be. This took us 5 years, which is insane, but that could paint a picture that it was slow and steady, work 3 hours a night, and that eventually we got there. The reality being most of our days consisted of working regular jobs and then working on Snip late into the night. Most weekends were spent working on Snip 8 – 12 hours straight. I took sick days for what I jokingly referred to myself as “taking my Snip days”.
This took us 5 years, which is insane, but that could paint a picture that it was slow and steady, work 3 hours a night, and that eventually we got there. The reality being most of our days consisted of working regular jobs and then working on Snip late into the night.
We constantly sacrificed time from developing friendships and family relationships. Date nights (for the married guys) were weighed against getting a shot ready for feedback. I remember so many days at my job walking around like a zombie because of working on Snip all night. This was something that started causing real issues in my life. I realized that I was communicating that this short film is more important to me than those relationships, which was articulated through where I was spending all of my time. When you, for 3 years, constantly say, “sorry, I have to work on the short”…that inherently is going to strain those relationships. And that was a loud wake up call for me. I begin to notice how much this short was running my life and I wanted to continually pursue a better balance. Knowing that it’s incredibly important to step away from the computer no matter how much something should get done. It’s just a short film, it’s not nearly as meaningful as the people in our lives. Not to downplay how proud I am that we’ve accomplished this incredible feat, but in this area, especially, I had to grow up a lot and I’m still practicing when to sacrifice what.
PU: Honestly, I learned exactly how much I didn’t know about making an animated short film, and how much we would have to figure out that we hadn’t really considered. We were all Animators, and we were using AM rigs, since we thought that would be easier and save us some time. And I think we just kind of thought, well the animation will be the hardest bit, not that it was going to be easy, but we all knew how to animate. We didn’t all know how to light a scene, or set up and render with multiple passes, or how to comp a scene, or create a fluid dynamic simulation. I wasn’t expecting to learn any of that.
DL: I would say the thing I learned the most from creating a short film is how to work with a team for a collective vision. This is probably the most important thing I learned when working on Snip. So much of what we learn in school is how to bring out our own individual ideas and creativity to animation. The reality is that – while we still get the ability to do some of that in the real world, it’s actually more important to be able to put your pride aside in order to work on shots that may not be suited to your style or align with your ideas. I would have had a much harder time trying to learn this out in the real world had I not had this opportunity while working on Snip.
AM: What’s your favorite thing about short films (as a medium)?
Snip Team: Short films are incredibly distilled stories. Every beat has to be so concise and clear because you don’t have a lot of room for things that don’t fit or that aren’t telling the story. We love that. It’s kind of crazy that we’re capable of telling stories that impact us that quickly. That we as humans are able to care about a character we just met 2 minutes ago, sympathize with their struggles and celebrate their growth. That’s amazing. And says a lot about what humans care about, even unconsciously. It shows: our capability to sympathize with anyone, how important conflict and growth are (no matter how simple or small), how essential problem solving and breaking your patterns to find new solutions are, etc. And I get really excited about that.
Short films are incredibly distilled stories. Every beat has to be so concise and clear because you don’t have a lot of room for things that don’t fit or that aren’t telling the story.
AM: What was the most difficult shot you animated for this film? What was the most fun?
AK: Probably the shot where he cuts off her ponytail. We were aware that that was a very important shot in terms of, “if it wasn’t clear that he cut off her hair, no one is going to care about the rest of the short”. So while the animation itself wasn’t too complicated or anything, designing the shot in a way that made it as clear as we could that: he cut off her whole pigtail…and that = bad.
The most fun was maybe the shot when she’s examining her new hairdo in the mirror…actually now that I think about it, on a technical level, this one was probably the hardest, because most of the shot was in the mirror, which I couldn’t actually see the final composition of the shot while animating in Maya. I had to make a “close enough” camera through the wall, and then render out simplified versions periodically to see what the actual poses even looked like in the mirror. Not to mention Stan is holding a hand mirror that’s reflecting in the main mirror revealing the back of her head, which again I couldn’t see what was in the mirror until rendered. So getting all that to work…was a process for sure. It was a lot of trial and error. BUT this was also a lot of fun for me, because I animated it heavily influenced by how my little sister would check and mess with her hair and it was fun to caricature that.
JC: The most difficult shot for me was the one with Stan rapidly cutting hair with two pairs of scissors. It took a lot of planning to get the motion of the scissors looking good, which included animating a 2d version before jumping into Maya. Even then, the final animation required multiple passes, and if it wasn’t for the relentless feedback from the rest of the team it would probably have ended up as an unclear mess.
It’s hard for me to say which shot specifically I had the most fun on. The aspect of each shot that I definitely enjoyed the most was anything involving quick and snappy movement. I had a lot of fun figuring out the best solution to, say, get Stan across the screen in four frames, or having him flail about with several props, all while making sure that every action is clear and doesn’t confuse the audience.
SJ: The most difficult shot for me was the shot immediately following the ponytail dramatically landing on the floor. Trying to show Stan’s terror and inner thinking was a challenge, while also trying to keep the shot quick and punchy. It started off as a much longer shot, with an extra gag or two. In the end, we actually cut the shot almost in half to address pacing issues in that section of the film. I put the shot down and came back to it several times while working on other, shorter shots. I like to joke that it’s the longest single shot I ever had to animate because of how long it took from start to finish, animating the others along the way.
The most fun shot for me was the second shot of the short film where Stan steps into the shot and sweeps the floor. Adam put together the rig for the broom with some really simple but useful bend controls in the bristles. He also allowed for those controls to be scaled, so I had some fun with scaling and rotating them to add some smear/stretch to the broom as it brushed quickly across the frame, and tried to replicate the stiff bounce you’ll find in broom bristles. It’s also just a fun shot to open up on as we try to establish the idea that Stan is a perfectionist who keeps his shop in pristine condition.
PU: For me it was more of a sequence of shots, I had also taken on the responsibility of doing the smoke simulation and it took a lot of time and effort to learn and implement. From a specifically animation stand point, I guess it would be the shot where Stan runs from the back to the front of the store, at that point I had not really animated anything like that before, certainly nothing in such a cartoony style, and this presented a lot of unique and difficult challenges for me. This turned out to be a really great learning experience and really helped me moving forward working on other shots in the film.
For most fun I would say it was the second to last shot of the film, where Stella walks out of the store. At that point I had not animated any shots that had Stella, and was given quite a lot of leeway in how I wanted to do the shot. I really enjoyed coming up with the way Stella moved across to Stan, and then zipped away from him after the hug.
DL: The most difficult shot for me to animate was the shot where Stan first picks a hair out of the brush, this shot for me represented a lot of challenges because of how difficult it was to try to get personality to show in a character whose expressions lived in his brows and chin. After having worked on this shot I learned how important it is to include as much of the characters geometry as possible into an expression. You’d be amazed at how much life you can bring out of a character. One of the most fun shots for me to animate was the shot where stan flutters his legs and runs across the shop to meet Stella just before she sits down. What I love the most about this particular shot is how much we were able to make it look like the big guy can move it’s the first chance we get to see Stan’s flexibility and what else he will be capable of.
AM: How was it getting to animate with AM rigs (Stella & Stan) on this project?
DL: Actually, speaking for myself since I had already had the opportunity to work with Stan and Stella before graduating I was already familiar with all of the basic controls – what was really fun was discovering all of the extra “sculpting” controls to really push my animation to its limits. There were times when I found these extra controls so much fun to use especially in Stan’s torso.
AK: It was great! We started this project right on the back of the release of the tribe characters and were immediately impressed by their quality. We picked Stella and Stan because, like we said, this was supposed to be our “practice film”. With that in mind, we set some limitations for ourselves in pursuit of further practicing the core skill of pantomime acting before messing around with dialogue. We had to modify the rigs a bit, mostly in the eyebrows (the biggest was adding eyebrow controls for Stella), in order to give us this powerful tool to communicate more clear emotions in the face. We discussed if we would need a mouth and did some early on tests with the brow and the jaw controls to see if we could express more nuanced emotions knowing that we’d have to put a character through a complete range of emotions to tell a story. And to our delight they delivered on everything we threw at them…And you should look for some of our smears and multiples, lol, we put them through a lot.
AM: What advice would you give a brand new animator?
AK: Don’t do it alone, show up, put yourself out there. How we met is the best way to illustrate this. We each continually showed up to the google hangout meetup. I didn’t really expect to make friends at AM, I wanted to, but it was such a foreign interface for me to make friends all online and it felt weird putting myself out there. But Steven created an outlet for us to just show up consistently, week after week after week after week. We exchanged honest feedback, we talked about what we were learning, gawked at amazing animation, poked fun at each other and after a year of doing this, we all just became friends. Now after 7 years and a short film, we’ve all become really close. I’m a significantly better animator/filmmaker/storyteller/draftsman because of these 4 guys.
Like anything, do the work, observe and seek out your weaknesses, grow and learn, repeat. But what is being the best animator in the world if you’re doing it all alone, what makes it worth doing is the people you do it with.
I’m so thankful for all of the time they’ve given to me in the form of feedback/advice/sharing life experience/bearing the weight of hundreds of rejection emails. Every industry job I’ve had thus far was in some way through one of these guys telling me about an opening they saw or vouching for me. I’ve often times imagined how discouraging it would’ve been to do this post graduating AM journey alone. I could give the same animation advice I’ve heard, like, sure animation is hard, keep at it… but what isn’t? Like anything, do the work, observe and seek out your weaknesses, grow and learn, repeat. But what is being the best animator in the world if you’re doing it all alone, what makes it worth doing is the people you do it with. Again, I’m incredibly grateful for these 4 other guys and while it’s been a crazy half decade, I wouldn’t take it back. It’s been a time of incredible growth, learning, laughter, discipline, conflict, pain, problem solving, wonder, and excitement. And in my sight, that’s a good story to tell.
AM: What is the best animation advice you’ve ever received?
PU: Best advice for me with regards to animation, is don’t go back to work on an old shot. If you have shots you did in school that were done for a class, instead of going back to work on that shot to polish it for your reel, work on a brand new shot. We as animators will polish a shot to death and will never be happy with it, and if you keep working on the same shot you will never learn anything new. You will be much better off starting a brand new shot, it will provide a bunch of new challenges and allow you to grow as an animator, and bring all the knowledge you have to bare on a new shot. Trust me the result will be much better than trying to polish an old one that you did when you were just learning to animate.
We as animators will polish a shot to death and will never be happy with it, and if you keep working on the same shot you will never learn anything new. You will be much better off starting a brand new shot…
AM: What’s next for the Snip team?
So far we have been riding the wave of what is happening with Snip as it was pretty unexpected. We have discussed some ideas of what we wanted to do next, toying around with story ideas and trying to figure out what form they may take, another short, something longer closer to a feature, or a TV show. But that all depends on the type of story we end up having, as that is the most important thing; having a good compelling story that is worth telling. Whatever we do we want it to be something we care about and feel is worth doing.
AM: Lastly and most importantly, where can we see the film?
Snip Team: You can watch Snip on YouTube.