Interview with animation director Henry He

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

If I was asked this question 4 years ago, I would have been shocked in disbelief because I have only found my passion for animation as of recent. Upon entering my animation studies, I had little knowledge of the craft, and instead, had basic art skills. I was lost in my art journey and hit rock bottom into my second year of college, only to drop out and explore social media management. What I discovered that year was that art is abstract. Storytelling is abstract. I didn’t need to be good at animating to tell a good story, -but rather-, being surrounded by the right environment and having the drive to share my life experiences with others were the key elements in creating a good story. In a way, my downfall was an act of liberation from my expectations. Through this, I spent the next few years learning animation and expressing my emotions through art and only then did I truly start enjoying animation. To summarize, living through my frustration for animation (2018) was ironically when I ultimately found my love for it.

  • What exactly is the job of an animation director?

I don’t consider myself an official animation director nor, do I believe there’s a step by step to becoming one. If you have a drive and passion for creating stories, being a director comes naturally due to your actions rather than your actions being born through becoming a director. When I think about creating a film, I think of someone who is not afraid to go through many ideas. I am constantly taking down ideas on my phone through everyday inspirations and realizations. I would say around 95% of ideas I brainstorm never see the light of day. For the other 5% of ideas that, I am passionate about, I try to run them by with as many people as possible. Having an open mind and freeing yourself from your ego is crucial when it comes to not only creating art but to growing as an individual in general.

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

As talked about previously, losing your ego and being open-minded is crucial when it comes to creating a film. During the process, I was frequently asking for advice from my friends and peers- both inside and outside of the animation industry. You don’t want to limit yourself to only one group of people because at the end of the day, the film is made to be watched, interpreted, and understood by everyone!

  • What is the process in creating an animated character?

When creating a character, I always make an inspiration board so I can have a visual reference of the direction of the style. To create a character with depth, I like to create a list of quirks and hobbies the character enjoys or dislikes. Doing so will paint a picture of how the character would react to certain actions and comments. I tend to sketch multiple outfits, play with colors palettes, and silhouettes when exploring the design. The goal is to have the design tell the story of the character before the actual storytelling. Finally, I always try to simplify because when you’re animating, you have to redraw every detail, so you want to have that in mind to make your production realistic.

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

The future lies behind the combination of the two! I am personally not as familiar with 3D but, it’s a path I would like to understand and explore more in the future. There have been numerous popular films that have been released in recent years like Spiderverse, Arcane, and Klaus that do a great job at allowing 2D and 3D to co-exist together.

  • 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?

When animating, I used a combination of programs. The animation is done on Toonboom Harmony, and the layouts are drawn out on Adobe Photoshop. I used Storyboard Pro for the storyboards and Blender to model out complex layout scenes such as the plane and buildings. In the post-production stage, Adobe AfterEffects was used for the compositing and Adobe Premiere was used to stitch all the scenes together.

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

Being tunnel-visioned to the animation stage of production and wanting to grow as an artist has been a personal dilemma for me. Sometimes I feel like I want to balance a million plates all at once to get the most out of my time to grow as an artist, but I realized that sometimes doing less is more. I’ve been trying to explore other hobbies such as filmmaking, fashion, reading, and yoga; all having an equal role in fueling my drive in creating.