Interview with animation director Shirley Neeman

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

For as long as I can remember, I struggled to find the right words to express my personal thoughts and ideas. Animation gives me the freedom in its most classical interpretation: an ability to move to wherever I desire, while allowing myself a complete and honest self expression – without having to worry about being misunderstood.

  • What exactly is the job of an animation director?

An animation director needs to spot and highlight moments where animation can intervene and carefully add humor to our simple day-to-day actions. I believe a good director can do so by carefully combining elements from both playfulness and surrealistic animation (which is aesthetically familiar from our cognition but detached from the situation), while using a precise use in sound. I find Irony to be one of a director’s greatest assets in animation, giving low moments a sense of heroism.

  • 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 my case, the script, storyboard, character and location design, motion planning, animation, editing and post production was done by myself.
However, I was very lucky to work with a brilliant Soundman -Mike Moss, who did not rest until he was sure to find the right sounds, which mastered my attempt to capture the energy and emotions for each scene.
As far as the script goes, I was guided in script planning by two different guides, working with each one personally. An external and neutral perspective is important to the process of creating a film. It helps to convey a personal story to others and logically produce the story line. I worked with 4 more colorists who helped me to make all the scenes connect
seamlessly. Other than that, I got help from rig professionals who assisted in the creation of a doll whose joints will fall apart as few times as possible during filming. Art people helped with the sets, and of course – my close friends who acted out with me the movements that were filmed for reference (and provided emotional support when needed).

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

The most important thing is to know your material, understand the material you work with – it’s weaknesses, and what material you should use as a base while building the character (as it should support it and won’t wreck it) . Make sure everything is strong and solid. But for me, the most important bit in stop motion is to know how to accept and live peacefully with mistakes. Whether it’s Lightning or other unplanned shifts that happen during the shooting – Learning when to let go,moving forward and developing the process through the materials are key elements in making a stop motion film.

  • What is the process in creating an animated character?

Creating a character which expresses the emotions and ideas you want to convey. For example, using the right facial expressions and clothing.
It’s crucial to have a very precise analysis of the character’s motion – how it moves in space according to its age and the process it’s going through.
The construction of its skeleton should be accordingly – if it needs to be flexible – it is important that each joint would be strong, with the necessary support. The cloak is just as important – Skin and clothes. It’s important to plan in advance not only how your character moves, but also how its body parts or clothes react to external things such as wind.

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

These are two techniques that convey a completely different emotion and it is of course a matter of the creator’s emotional connection. But stop motion beats them both.

  • 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?

I always work with a reference. Motion can be memory based but it has to be based on a deep understanding of timing and movement. The viewer’s eye must be capable of processing the motion in the long run, and even be
intrigued by it. Other than that, The right lightning can leverage a shot while bad lightning can kill it. Practically speaking, I use Dragon Frame – it allows me to place the reference on the timeline and see the outcome in real time.

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

The audiences want to watch fantastic moments that can’t happen in reality, to find Humor even in dark moments, and experience a pleasant motion even if it’s a violent scene. This makes taboo and difficult situations accessible. This is the role of the animator, just like a magician is able to use manipulations to make you believe that what you see is real magic.

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

Films are not made to be hidden in drawers and forgotten. A film is designed to be viewed by many different pairs of eyes. It aims to introduce different people to a new adventure, created and curated by the movie creator – whether it’s a phantasm of his own making or a mimicry of real-life experiences. Festivals helped me get out of my comfort zone and made me believe that I have a place in this world as a filmmaker, that it is within my abilities to touch people from all over the world.

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

Because stop motion is a niche field and given today’s technologies, it is considered somewhat “old fashioned”. This is exactly why this world fascinates me. I have an uncontrollable urge to physically touch material and give life to still elements. In an era where everything imaginable is one click away, our biggest challenge is getting the audience or clients to understand how long it takes to create each scene in stop motion. How much emotion and effort is put into each frame. Even more so, it is hard to
be able to get the appreciation that ultimately pushes me forward.