What do you get when you mash up a few entrepreneurial Czech 3D artists with a veteran ensemble of international animators and a diverse group of hungry animation students? In a word, ANOMALIA. Its seasonal workshops form a unique blend of professionally-oriented 3D animation training that fills the void between the classically-focused education found elsewhere in its Central European region and the modern form of the craft employed for the world’s stage.
Readers may recall that ANOMALIA was one of only a few unaccredited training networks to crack our Top 100 List of Animation, Gaming & Design Schools. That’s because its diverse course offerings from world renown working instructors (like Animating a 3D Short Film and Pantomime for Animators) deliver top notch educational supplements for a variety of student needs. We conducted our latest Q&A with ANOMALIA founder David Toušek, and veteran L.A.-based animator Kenny Roy who will be teaching this September’s 3D Short Film class at the European Training Center in Litomysl. While not everyone can hop the next flight to Czech Republic for one of their workshops, ANOMALIA’s close collaboration with industry veterans makes them an important one to watch as they create a community of artists ready to contribute to the craft. (This emailed interview has been edited for length & clarity).
ACR: David, let’s start with you. As a founding member of the Czech production house 3Bohemians, what was the impetus to create ANOMALIA?
DT: It was definitely a mixture of motivations and opportunities that slowly came together over several years. At first, it was my very sincere and personal need for high quality training in modern 3D animation and filmmaking, which was not otherwise available in our central European region. Local animation schools focus mainly on classical techniques and individual authorship. Though classical training is very much needed and is irreplaceable in many ways, it does not reflect the industry evolution. We sensed all around us that many local animators and students also hoped for new inspiration and approaches. So we wanted to bring in what we believe to be the solution - professional training that takes advantage of the classical school but takes it further into the modern scheme. And (we wanted) to do it in Prague so that the cost of the training would be accessible to local artists.
Secondly, from the production perspective we realized that if professional projects are to be successful there needed to be a new network of skilled professionals available in the region. Even with our own project ideas (at 3Bohemians), the style and quality that we envisioned for ourselves and the lack of appropriate, local talent got us thinking what to do about it. Waiting for institutions and studios to update their approaches or just hope that animation students and hobbyists would pick up the tools and methods on their own would have been chasing the wind. I personally did not want to launch any kind of training unless I felt we had the right teachers. I myself had a unique opportunity to meet and learn from the best professionals in the animation industry. And so, as the idea for such training was getting more specific, I started to share the concept with these people hoping they would be interested… and they were.
ACR: And you really attracted very distinguished professional animators, like Kenny. What comes first, the instructor or the course idea?
DT: At first, it was the teachers. Tim Leborgne from The Animation Workshop, Issac Kerlow (formerly a director from Disney) and Kyle Balda (formerly from Pixar) helped us by coming to Prague as our very first supporters during our first workshops. Later, Rich Quade and Andy Schmidt from Pixar and Dripha Benseghir from Les Gobelins delivered the very first summer course. So it was definitely their support and personal enthusiasm that helped us get started. Now, it is still about the instructors as we do not open up courses unless we have an experienced teacher dedicated to the idea. But the course ideas come in first and then we address (obtaining) specific professionals.
ACR: Kenny, I know you are busy with your own studio, Arconyx, and you also teach AnimationMentor. How did you get involved with David at ANOMALIA?
KR: I’ve taken every opportunity I can to be more involved in the animation industry. A few years ago, I started speaking at conferences and sought out more chances to get in front of enthusiastic students. I found ANOMALIA through a web search and was very impressed with the format, the teachers, and the level of education. It was a no-brainer to ask David if I could be involved this year!
ACR: That idea of giving back, or paying it forward, runs deep within the animation community. Why do you think that is?
KR: I think animation above other industries is still deeply centered on CRAFT. So there is a tradition of stewardship of animation knowledge, and you want to be a part of that. Even the professionals are always learning, always discovering. It is impossible to keep these discoveries to yourself! It would be selfish to even try.
DT: I think Kenny makes the right point. Sharing becomes part of a rather mature community where it is viewed as a way to grow. This seems to be typical to the animation culture where growing together means better things for everyone in the long run. It also creates a really cool atmosphere when you share artistic ideas and approaches among people who have the same passion. Friendliness brings effectiveness… it would be selfish, as Kenny says, not to when almost no one learns it alone these days anyway.
ACR: Kenny, this September you will be sharing insight and teaching the new Animating a 3D Short Film class at ANOMALIA. Tell us about this very unique course.
KR: We’re trying a workshop format that is brand new. It is VERY exciting. How better to learn the process of short film production than to produce a short film? For two weeks, students will have a morning filled with dailies and lectures, where I guide them through the entire process of short film making. We’ll break for lunch and the second half of the day will be spent actually working on shots from a collaborative short film! We’ll all be working together to bring something to life that we can all be proud of. If this wasn’t cool enough, my publisher Focal Press has ok’d a new book I’m writing on short film production and I’ll be including all of our adventures in Litomysl in the book.
ACR: Very cool indeed. While the course is not for those with zero experience, you will accept some novices in addition to more seasoned animation students. Does that make it more challenging to teach?
KR: I’ve taught lower classes and upper classes and also the Animals and Creatures Masterclass, so I’m well adapted to all levels of skill. The great thing about this course is that you can learn the process of creating short films at any skill level, and as you progress as an animator your films will improve and improve. The technical and creative considerations that I will teach in the course will serve students their whole careers.
ACR: Which animators inspired or raised the bar for both of you?
KR: I’m a huge Michel Gagne fan. He completely understands the impact that pure motion can have on the brain. His FX work on WB shows and features plucks those strings for me, and he has an amazing aesthetic. With just a few drawings, he can bend your emotions. I aspire to try to elicit these kinds of responses from my audience.
DT: Recently, it was Keith Lango that helped me rethink the workflow and way of thinking about how and why I animate. I’m not a classical animator… I have started in 3D on my own. But Keith showed me how to think and use Maya as if it was a canvas with plain sheets of paper. Nothing can beat the way classical animation has been made. And it took me several years of errors and struggles before I realized this. Keith was the trigger. Also, Rich Quade has very impressive sensitivity to analyzing acting and emotions. He is superb at giving very detailed feedback, always trying to sense the very motivation of an animator to help him or her achieve the goal efficiently and with understanding. He is really an amazing supervisor and animator. But I try to learn from anyone when I see something that catches my attention.
ACR: What is the culture like at ANOMALIA?
DT: This is an interesting question. I’m increasingly convinced that the culture and atmosphere during the training and production is everything that makes the real things happen. I have been greatly inspired by a Danish school, The Animation Workshop, which has such a unique and passionate community of artists and teachers. They support the creativity and learning in the most natural way you can imagine.
How do you create such a thing as friendships and atmosphere if it should be natural and spontaneous? You cannot just construct it. We figured choosing the right location is essential. We are not in Prague during the summer. Instead, we have chosen a smaller town, Litomysl, which is about 2 hours away from the capital by car. It is a very cultural and historic place but also innovative, small, quiet and relaxing at the same time. The training center is a newly renovated historic building- a former castle brewery in which a famous Czech composer, Bedřich Smetana, was born.We have an amazing classroom that feels more like a huge cozy attic with couches, a fridge and a lot of extra room. Everybody that comes inside for the first time is blown away because the standard expectation is that it should be a regular classroom and it is not. Part of the center is also a hotel for the teachers and a new hostel for the students. So students can keep on working as long as they like to and still get to their rooms in a matter of seconds to rest and have some privacy. There is a sauna, a little gym, an atrium where we have little grill parties in the evenings. Litomysl has many (other) things to do all in one small, quiet place away from the big city.
So we all live and learn together during the summer time in a small group with the best professional animators. This has created a culture that, I believe, helps students learn the most. To be honest, most of the time students simply get inspired to work long hours to take advantage of such opportunities. That would not be possible in a regular school environment and in a bigger city, I think.
ACR: Sounds like an idyllic setting for learning the craft of animation. Czech Republic has such a rich aesthetic and cultural history, yet it’s not necessarily synonymous with avant-garde animation today as you touched on earlier. Do you hope that ANOMALIA and 3Bohemians change that?
DT: We definitely hope, humbly enough though, to participate in developing the new generation of professional animation artists that have the skills and dedication to create and inspire with new challenging projects. It is very true, as you say, that current Czech animation is rather sleepy on its past successes. However, (it was) this sleepiness that actually produced ANOMALIA. You cannot move forward if you look nostalgically to the past or rely on scattered individual classical artists and education that does not see into the future. Most of the animators have been intentionally trained as independent artists without much sense for team work and without knowledge of modern (3D) technologies. The level of creativity of such people is often very inspiring and innovative in terms of individual talent and art concepts. But in order for an animation project to push the boundaries and travel the world these days, it requires creative and flexible production teams with an understanding of where the current global state of the animation is to build upon that.
So yes, with this in mind, we hope to be part of this new growth and unite all of the creative advantages that we as Czech animators have available from our rich history and in us, the artistic talent and dedication. ANOMALIA aims to be the platform for such animation professionals and stimulate innovative experiments of the new avant-garde.
ACR: Last but not least, what other projects are you both working on?
KR: My studio currently has a couple of Mattel commercials in house, some creature FX for an Animal Planet TV show, and an animated Christmas special for cable. Most exciting though is my short film The Little Painter which I started production on this summer after raising over $50,000 on Kickstarter!
DT: For sure, the summer ANOMALI A 2012! That’s the most important project right now by any means. In general, we are always constantly brainstorming further concepts for ANOMALIA as we realize that this kind of service to the local artists, students and professionals is very beneficial and needs a constant flow of ideas on how to make ANOMALIA even more effective and useful in the long run. But this year has also been about projects in development. We are having a couple of pilots in various formats in preparation. The one we hope to start next year is Wildlife Crossing!, a grotesque story about a little snail in love. We will see how it goes!
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.