Influences – "9" and Shane Acker
So, as many of you may know I worked on the film “9” that is now currently playing in theaters nationwide. I worked mainly as a story artist on the film (as seen on the credits) and also as a concept artist, though I didn’t officially get credit for that. But, credits aside, what I got from that experience was not only my first paid job in the animation industry, but also the privilege and luck to work closely as an apprentice under Shane Acker.
I was in my third year of graduate animation school, the MFA Animation Workshop program at UCLA. I already had one film under my wing (“The Fox and The Baby“), and was half way through the pre-production of my thesis (“Her Lion’s Jump“.) I had seen “9” (the short film then) and was obviously impressed by it, but felt very far from it. It’s hard for people not from UCLA Animation to understand what I mean by that, but basically the program is so small and so diverse in terms of films and artists, that you have everyone in one room doing all sorts of animation, and that can be encouraging and intimidating at the same time. For one, I hadn’t been really interested in the aesthetics of CG animation, and instead my fascination with hand-drawn animation always took over, especially Japanese animation. So, while I respected his work, I felt that I was going to travel on a different road so to speak, one that at the time, and perhaps still now, seems not only less traveled, but also constantly in construction, full of pot holes and detours.
So, when I started at UCLA Animation, and people like Shane and Gil Keenan were just finishing, I would watch their thesis films and think “there is no way I can do that in 3 years…” Of course, it was not until later that I found out it took them much longer to graduate from the program, let alone finish their films.
And so, at a school short film festival, both my film “The Fox and The Baby” and “9” screened there, and I think that was the first time that I actually got to talk to Shane. We had met before at school functions, but I never got to say anything beyond small talk. But, at least for me, that festival was important because it was the first time I saw a fresh audience react very well to my film, and I think that was the first time he saw my work, so maybe it struck a cord somewhere.
Skip a few months later and I get an email from him inviting me to become his assistant during development for the feature “9”. I think by that time the news that development was underway was well known, so when I got the email I was obviously ecstatic. I expected a lot of the usual PA work (which there was a bit of) but what I didn’t expect was to have Shane refer to me as a production artist constantly, and lend his incredible and unrelenting patience with a rookie like me and teach me all he knew about painting and composition, and even a little bit of 3D modeling (though, I’m sorry to say Shane, I haven’t modeled anything in 3D in years!).
For a man who calls himself a “jack of all trades and a master of none” I still don’t know how Shane is able to do all the things he does in animation so well. I can barely keep up my strengths in writing, directing, storyboarding, designing and hand drawn animation (and some comics), but that guy does that and again in the 3D world, and in the feature animation world, which you can read all about, if you search for his interviews online.
But, what you may not get on those interviews is his incredible kindness and generosity towards artists. He really believed in me as an artist, and inspired me to do things I thought I’d never be able to do, let alone enable me to have some substantial contribution to his “dream come true” feature. And even when I went on to become a story artist in the story department for the feature pre-production, he still gave me so many second chances after I made so many rookie mistakes, that I really couldn’t have anything but the utmost respect and admiration for such a mentor. Of course, the greatest gift from that whole experience is the fact that not only do I see him as a mentor, but also a friend.
So, dear readers, if you haven’t done it yet, I highly recommend that you watch the feature “9” in the theaters and I hope that whatever your opinion of the feature is, keep in mind that nothing but the utmost care and effort has been put into it. We didn’t have the usual resources that big animation studios have, and with all the difficulties this production had already (which I won’t get to for obvious reasons) it’s so exciting to see that it got made, and so well. It’s encouraging to see that so many people believed in Shane’s drive and determination and I can’t help but wonder if that didn’t inspire the whole crew to have the same positive feedback; I was there for only development and pre-production, but what I see on the screen is truly a collaborative work of art that took more than just money to bring it to life. It took a leader with a vision and respect and love for his artists and art.
Thank You, Shane Acker.