Interview with animation director Christina Christie

Christina Christie is a 3D artist and animator based in Orlando, Florida. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s degree in Character Animation and intends to continue her studies at the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy. As of 2019, she is credited with directing the short Tiffany as well as the initial story pitch for “Serpendipity”, both of which are currently in contention on the international film circuit and plans to bring her passion for narrative and animation into the industry.

Director Statement:
When I originally came up with the idea that would evolve into Tiffany, it was after visiting a local stained-­‐ glass museum in Winter Park, Florida. I had enjoyed the exhibits but found it sad that none of the pieces were being illuminated by actual sunlight. That thought spun into the original pitch for the film.

Essentially, Tiffany is about a piece of stained glass trying to step into the sun one last time before being packed away. As our team grew and ideas were developed, the story changed into what it is today.

For two years, fourteen students at the University of Central Florida put in countless hours to bring this story to life. Every element seen on screen, from our beautiful characters to the smallest needle, was designed, painted and placed by our team. I hope you enjoy our film.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that animation is your way of telling stories?

I feel that animation as a medium has so much versatility. For our program, when we originally pitch our stories, we’re asked to defend why it must be animated. Not every story needs to be visual, and not every visual story needs to be animated, but I personally feel animation as a medium has the ability to transcend language in a way that no other media can manage Because of the demands of our film, 3D animation was the only way Tiffany could be fully realized.

  • What exactly is the job of an animation director?

For this production, it entailed a little bit of everything! I was involved in almost every aspect of production, from the initial pitch to the final composite. As a director, my primary responsibility was to help introduce creative ideas to the team and ensure that our final product met the high standards we set.

  • How many people are involved in creating an animation like yours? And could you tell us a bit about their roles, the flow of the team?

In total, there were fourteen people on Tiffany’s core team (with an additional group working on primarily sound and score). As we are students, our process involved a lot of learning; our roles emerged organically throughout the production while we each tried different aspects. A few of the most prominent roles included Art Director (Savannah Berry), who was responsible for selecting the look of our assets and environment, and Production Manager (Lauren Gisewhite) who kept us organized and on schedule. Otherwise, each different aspect of the film (lighting, compositing, modeling, environment, texturing, rigging, and animation) had their own lead role that helped manage that subsection of production. Some roles, such as environment, had more than one lead as per the demands of our film; for example, we had the house spearheaded by Megan Burbach) and the new museum (spearheaded by Beryl Van Ness); they were both leads on their respective environments. Each step waterfalled into the next. We only had about 10 months of actual production (after 6 months of pre-­‐production), so efficiency was key.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your animation? How did that lesson happen?

While not directly related to the physical act of animating, learning how to function as a team was the most important part of this production. It was the first time any of us had made something like this, and it was our first time specializing; once we learned where we all worked best, our production really got into gear!

  • What is the process in creating an animated character?

For our film, we began with the story. In it’s most bare form, we knew that Tiffany was about a creature made of stained glass. Her original design was actually flat, like a piece of paper! But as the production continued, we had to address how we wanted her to move, and the limitations of her physicality in space, and realized that a 3D sculpture would be best. From there, we drafted a 2D design based off of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s lamps. Those then moved on to the modelers, who crafted her in 3D, and then her look was finalized by our Technical Director/Surfacer (Genesis Laboy Rivera) while our rigging lead (Taylor Estape) gave the animators the ability to make her act. For Pauline, the design process was less tumultuous; we always had a basic idea of what she would look like! In the end, Megan Burbach designed her final look, with our modeling, rigging, and texturing leads (Austin Royall, Peter Lupton, and Ky Campbell) brought her to life.

  • 2D Animation vs. 3D animation what are your thoughts on this endless battle?

To give a blunt and divisive answer, I believe the battle is nearly over. 2D animation has considerable charm, and it serves as the very scaffolding for 3D animation, but the uses of 3D are extremely versatile as well as time-­‐saving. I personally don’t think we would’ve been able to produce Tiffany in 2D given the timeframe that we had, specifically because of the demands of glass refraction. 3D is expanding the world of animation, and while I don’t think the roots of 2D should be forgotten, I believe 3D is the future.

  • What does your animation workflow look like while animating? Tell us a little about the tools that you are using. What are your preferences? Methods? Plugins? Techniques?

All animation (for us) began with over 1000 storyboards. From there, we sat down with our Animation Leads (Chris Gomes, Sofia Santos, Desiree Vargas) and discussed the nuances of how the characters would be feeling or how they would act in that moment. After that, reference video was shot—most often with cellphone cameras—and then we sat down in Maya and began bringing it to life. Shots often went through several iterations before they were approved to render.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the animator’s role to worry about that?

I think that when a member of an audience sits down to view a film or a short, you owe it to them to provide a wonderful viewing experience. Sure, it takes a long time to produce media, but to have someone agree to dedicate time out of their day to experience that media is really indescribable. While I don’t think a creator should appease every whim of an audience, think we can all agree that what a creator produces should (at the very least) not waste the audience’s time; it should be moving, funny, enjoyable uplifting, inspiring, or introspective. A lot of the time, that kind of mood is set by the editor (for us, that was Sara Villa) and the cinematographer.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

For us, Film Festivals have allowed our film to reach audiences across the world! Just recently we won a festival in Budapest, and we screened in Italy. I even attended one locally, and met several wonderful and inspiring creators. I think, in essence, they connect filmmakers around the world in a way that would otherwise only be facilitated by the wild and unpredictable frontier of the Internet. So many great films get washed away by the latest cute cat video, and film festivals provide a space in which genuine effort and creativity is paramount.

  • What is the most difficult part for you about being in the animation business, and how do you handle it?

I think the most common answer to this is “getting into the industry”, and for good reason. All fields of art require a good mixture of well-­‐developed fundamental skills and unique creative flair that makes you distinct, and with so much competition, it’s difficult to stand out. Persistence and dedication do wonders for your odds, I’ve found, but so does exposure—yet another thing that film festivals help us with!