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Tucked into the idyllic Czech town of Litomyšl is ANOMALIA, a 3D animation training program that continues to gain momentum with its unique course offerings and growing list of impressive international instructors. Founded with the intent of bolstering 3D animation in the region, the training program was founded by local pro’s to bridge the gap they noticed between the strong classical foundations of the area and the 3D form of the craft that is in high professional demand.
Less a school and more a work/study experience, intermediate and advanced animators descend on Litomyšl for ANOMALIA’s summer labs to learn in cooperative, fast-paced environments. For the second year in a row, the Short Film Making course will bring together 16 animators to create ‘Wildlife Crossing’ alongside veteran PIXAR animator Anthony Wong. Working with a tight deadline of just under 2 weeks in the classroom (and a few beers after hours, we hear), the crew will also benefit from the talents of REEL FX Head of Rigging, Josh Carey who is teaching the Advanced Cartoon Rigging.
To learn more about it, we asked Anthony, Josh and ANOMALIA co-founder David Toušek to fill us in. Though registration for the Short Film course has come and gone, interested animators in Europe should check the program’s website for open courses and future offerings. (This interview, done via email, has been edited for length & clarity).
ACR: David, you’ve described ANOMALIA as an animation boot camp. Tell readers a little about its genesis and goals.
David Tousek: ANOMALIA started as an initiative to further educate Central European artists in terms of modern 3D animation and filmmaking. Local schools do not provide an up-to-date talent pool. We wanted young classical artists to have a chance to learn new tools and methods (while) passionate 3D artists can grow their skills.
Our main goal now is to keep the platform small enough so it stays personal, unique and oriented toward the best possible results. We provide work and study experiences such as working on a short film, which provide more complex opportunities to work in a team. That is so important these days- networking with fellow animators and creating something together. It gives them further training but it also allows them to work on artistic projects with talented and experienced artists like Anthony and Josh who help them. (To put it) more precisely, it’s fun and it’s work to stimulate animators to not give up the craft and meet unique artists who can help them.
ACR: Anthony and Josh are the latest in a line of accomplished pro’s who lend their insight to ANOMALIA as mentors. When did you all meet and decide to collaborate for the second Short Film course, making Wildlife Crossing?
DT: We have never met in person, to be honest! This summer will be the first time.
ANTHONY WONG: We have been communicating quite efficiently through email. This is all possible because of the internet- it is exciting!
JOSH CAREY: David contacted me last year and the experience and opportunity sounded awesome! I am super happy to share knowledge with students and people in the industry, and this will be my first time doing so in Europe.
ACR: If this short is anything like last year’s, Booty Call, it looks like the 16 participating animators are in for a lot of fun and work as you say, David. What’s the camaraderie like during these summer labs?
DT: The best way to answer this question is to watch our documentary (on the making of it). Most animators (last year) worked all day long until very late because they realized what a great opportunity this short film course was. The team spirit and atmosphere of (our town) Litomysl definitely motivated everyone to make the best out of their shots. This is what I love about our courses and location… people feel comfortable yet isolated. The summer time should feel like vacation even though you end up (spending) long hours in front of a computer!
In return, people naturally put a lot of effort into the project and this eventually becomes the best learning experience that shows in the final result. It is all about motivation… we try to motivate people to stop worrying about things like money and expensive equipment and just focus on the art. We are in a low budget environment so if somebody wants to be a professional animation artist, then s/he needs to learn to overcome the situation and focus on the performance. When they do, amazing results can happen. The history of Czech animation is about improvisation with what the artists had available. This is what we want people to carry on. And if they get it, they don’t sleep because they know there is only 10 days to perform.
AW: It will be intense and fun. We will learn and grow as a group, and I think we will be amazed by the result.
ACR: Anthony and Josh, you both mentor students despite your busy work schedules at PIXAR and REEL FX, respectively. What is the take-away you get from mentoring that keeps you coming back for more?
AW: I think teaching is a good career companion for an animator. It sharpens my eyes and decision making. Teaching also gives me a chance to see the world and meet young talents. The passion of the students always inspires me. It is rewarding to share with them my experiences.
JC: By teaching and sharing what I know, I actually gain more knowledge back from the students and the actual process. Different students will have different skillsets- especially among the riggers and tech artists that we teach. One student may be far more knowledgeable in programming but needs help understanding aesthetics or why we need to rig something a certain way. While that student learns what he needs to, the mentor can also pick up little bits of information about coding or how this student works and what might be better about that workflow compared to his or her own. It’s that kind of collaboration that helps both parties gain knowledge, even if they don’t realize it. Knowledge flows both ways when mentoring, and that’s what I love about it.
ACR: In your own experiences, what are the best ways to develop the diverse qualities that make for a good animator?
DT: I will say before passing this on to Anthony and Josh that I’m learning to develop organizational skills, self-motivation and ways to motivate others. I often feel like my whole brain is reaching its limits on both sides and it sometimes hurts!
AW: (haha) I feel the same way, David. All those attributes are simply the quality of a true professional… it doesn't matter what field it is. Of course, it is easier if you like what you do and feel that it is worth your while.
JOSH: I think a good team needs to consist of people from across the spectrum. Some will need to be more right brained than others, some more left brained, some more practical in thinking, some more analytical. Once you bring that mix of personalities and skillsets together, everyone starts to feed off each other. They start to gain knowledge quicker, and in areas where they were weaker they will grow stronger because they’ll have someone to learn from.
When it’s time to hire someone for our rigging team at work, we look at what skills we should fill; where could we get stronger? So for students, I think it is important to have them show that they can meet all these different requirements and qualities, but they don’t have to be great in all of them. If I see a rigger that really knows his anatomy, is a good artist, and understands modeling and mesh flow but lacks programming skills that’s OK. He’s still hire-able, and his skills will just get better on the job.
ACR: If you guys could go back in time and offer your younger-selves advice, what would it be?
AW: Develop my own show and characters. When facing difficult career decision, always remind myself the reasons that I got into this industry.
JC: That’s tough. I’m not one to say I have regrets or “I should have…”. I guess I would tell myself to reach out of the box sooner. Experiment more with new techniques and expand your thinking sooner.
ACR: David, ANOMALIA seems to keep growing. Where is it all heading, and are there future courses on the horizon that we should know about?
DT: ANOMALIA is actually not growing all that much bigger but the community and talent are. We are already working on plans to offer an ANOMALIA ADVANCED program for animators who have general physicality and acting experience. We often find students who have worked for years in animation, but their work falters because they lack the eye for seeing a motion like overlapping or understanding the mechanics of how to replicate that on a character in the computer. We would like to be there for people with natural talent that need to boost their level of experience and also for those who have been in the business for some time and still feel they are stuck in one spot. ANOMALIA should challenge their frustrations and help them reach their career goals.
Because animators need to know a little more than just animating, we hope to open up courses that would teach them additional skills such as sculpting, cinematography, storyboarding. That would give them higher chances for employment and value on an animation project. Artists here in our region are expected to be very independent. Since 3D is a complex production and has to be done in a team, some extra skills are needed.
Lastly, we are working on growing ANOMALIA Labs internationally and have made some exciting steps in the past few months towards our goal of becoming a true development and creative lab. You can have a look at what we are preparing for next year and vote for your preferred class so we know what is the most wanted.
ACR: More exciting times ahead! Guys, thanks so much for answering some of our questions. Best of luck on this September’s Short Film Course… we’ll be eagerly awaiting the finished product!
DT: Thank you!
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.