Hey there, Michael! I asked you a question a few months ago concerning life at SVA (which I'm greatly enjoying) and I have another question up my sleeve. When you created your thesis, how did you come up with the story and characters? I know I have a while for that but it's been bugging me because I don't have a concrete idea and I fear when the day comes, I still won't have a clue. Got any advice for future thesis students?
Hey again! I’m glad life at SVA is treating you well. I hope you’re enjoying your classes and your professors. I wonder who you’re studying under!
This is gonna be another LONG drawn out write-up, so please bear with me:
If you’re just starting, then you got a few years left to not worry about it (HAHA!). A lot is going to happen in your first two years of school. Depending on how you perform in your classes and how passionate you are about learning, you’re tastes might change, your drafting skills will improve and you’re sense of filmmaking will get more sophisticated. To start thinking about a thesis idea now will clutter your mind up and preoccupy yourself when you should be focusing elsewhere, like your current studies.
Howard Beckerman was my third year teacher, and he gave me some great advice. After a long 3rd year, take a break and enjoy 2 months of your summer. Don’t think about your thesis. Enjoy life and relax. Then around mid-July, start thinking about it again. If you dwell on it too much, you’ll get burnt out by the time classes start up again in September and you’ll be dragging through the 9 months you’ll have to make your film. By having that break, it’ll clear your mind. Ideas will come quicker and more naturally. And if you like an idea a lot, then you’ll be recharged enough to work like hell to make it happen.
I couldn’t think of a thesis idea either. Those two characters in my thesis film are my own characters that I had LONG before I started at SVA. I didn’t want to fall back on them, since I wanted to try something new. I thought of a few ideas, but they didn’t seem to want to gel. I wanted to do something to music, but that would be too complicated. I wanted to do a story about a court jester fighting a dragon, but I didn’t feel that the idea would keep me interested long enough to spend 9-months on it (not invested). I even wanted to do a scary film, but I felt it wasn’t what I really wanted to devote myself to either. In the back of my head, those two characters kept nagging at me, and eventually I relented and fell back on using them, which in a way worked out. I knew their personalities, I knew how they’d handle any situation I threw at them and more importantly, I knew how to draw them, inside and out. So I fell back on that.
The thing that people forget about thesis films is that they’re supposed to be a showcase of your skills. Sure, it’s about telling a story, but it’s also showing to potential employers after you graduate what you’re capable of. A thesis film should not be the place to experiment with something you never did before. For example, if you never animated effects or horses, don’t do a film with a lot of effects or horses! It’ll trip you up and wreck your schedule. Focus on the things you know and are comfortable with. If you’re great animating birds, or dogs, or cars, or whatever, make your film about that. You’ll be much more comfortable that way. Besides, you’ll have all the time in the world AFTER graduating to do your epic masterpiece.
Same goes with other aspects of production. Very few artists are a jack of all trades. Most people excel at only one or two things. While I felt my animation was okay, I really faltered when it came to clean-up and sound design. Some people are great at doing backgrounds, or effects, or have good color sense, or are good with compositing… and if you feel you’re good at something, you should show off what you’re capable of.
Another thing I thought about when approaching my thesis was to think, “What is something I always wanted to see, but nobody has made yet?”. For me, I always wanted to see an animated Calvin and Hobbes. I also loved the work of Walt Kelly (who did the comic strip “Pogo”) and the classic Disney Winnie the Pooh shorts. The trailer for the new Pooh film just came out, and it gave me the burst of inspiration I needed to work on my film. My thesis film contained all of that (some more obvious than others), but it was still MY voice being projected. While I was inspired heavily by those things, I still tried to make something that felt close to me, rather than copying somebody else.
But most importantly, I think a film production should be fun. I both witnessed and experienced a lot of stress during thesis year, mostly because of time and production issues. If you have a fun, simple idea that falls into your comfort zone and you feel will showcase your skills the best way possible, then you should have a fun time making it.
Also MAKE YOUR FILM SHORT!!! Mine was 5 1/2 minutes (not including credits), and it was a BIG mistake. The shorter your film is, the more time you can spend focusing to make each frame shine. By the end of my film, I was rushing to finish it, so my cleanup was sloppy and I ended up not finishing it 100%. A lot of things became half-baked and I didn’t feel it came off the way I wanted to when it was finally showed at the Dusty show. I actually can’t bring myself to watch it again. HAHA!
But again, you got a long way to go before you should be worrying about that. So for now, put thesis aside and focus on your schooling. That should come first!
Hope things continue to be good for you, and send my best to the studio! I miss them a lot!
I’m so proud of this show and all the talented people who helped create it. On the surface it’s a silly comedy with animal puns. Which is wonderful. But, for me, it goes to weirder and weirder…
Hey guys! “Bojack Horseman” is premiering tomorrow (or tonight at midnight?) on Netflix! I boarded/animated on the pilot and boarded full-time on the series. It was a heck of a great experience and a lot of amazing talented people worked on it as well, especially Lisa! Congrats to the entire team!
Also, I drew the image for that billboard way back when, and it’s awesome that it’s out in the world distracting drivers and putting-off pedestrians with its equine nakedness.