Anthony Sparapani True

Media :: CG Channel feature interview

Interview with Anthony Sparapani, Animation Director
An interview by Natasha Evans


Natascha Evans had a chance to talk to Anthony Sparapani who is currently an Animation director at Damn FX in Montreal Canada. He has worked on such feature films such as Pinocchio, Charlotte's Web and Happy Feet.

When did you know you wanted to animate?

Back in the day when Toy Story came out. That was my defining light bulb moment....

What are your sources of inspiration? Favorite films that come to mind?

In regards to animated features, I loved the acting in Bug's Life and Toy Story 2. In regards to live action features, the acting in Fight Club, Shaw Shank and Good Will Hunting.

Please describe to us a little bit about what an animation director does.

An animation director's main role is to define the look and style of the characters as well as keeping those styles consistent throughout the show. During RnD (Research and Development), quite often we will go through many iterations for a specific character before an appropriate look has been established. In some cases, we go full circle only to return to the first iteration. However painful this may seem at times, this process is essential at getting solid characters. During production, it's all about consistency. In addition it's to stay motivated and in turn motivate your team even during challenging crunch time.

What do you find was the most challenging part of being an animation director?

In some cases when your client changes they're mind often or doesn't really know what direction to take, this can be quite challenging. It's like you're shooting in the dark and you hope to hit the mark. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't.

Having animated various styles from cartoony to more realistic types of characters do you hold a preference for one of the other. And what do you feel are the various challenges each type of animation style holds?

To be honest when I first started out I had a preference on a cartoony style more than a realistic one. In regards to acting, I thought you can get more out of a cartoony performance. I don't think that's the case anymore. They're just different styles altogether.
There have been great acting examples of both cartoon and real styles. The reason these acting examples are great and timeless is because of plain good acting and the enormous talent behind the animation. I like both styles and feel comfortable doing both.

Tell us about your experiences at Animal Logic and Australia. What did you take away from the experience there?

Animal Logic and Australia was all together an amazing experience for me and my then fiancée, now wife, Daniela. Animal Logic had a great and open culture filled with awesome talent. I strongly suggest anyone getting a chance to experience a project at they're facility and expose themselves to how they do things and operate. They are very professional.

In addition, How was it to work with Motion Capture data? Had you previously worked with it before? What do you find is an important aspect for a character animator when dealing with Motion Capture data?

For a character animator, working with mocap is not always their first preference. In many cases I used mocap as a guide or reference (roto capturing) as opposed to playing around with a million keys. I would key all every 4 frames and blow away the stuff in between. In some cases this worked, in other cases I've just deleted absolutely everything and started from scratch. Shush, don't tell the director, ;) The results were cleaner and more manageable. Mocap has it's advantages though. It was applied well for all the dancing scenes. Thank god cause keying that would've drove me bananas!

What types of characters did you have a chance to animate on Charlotte's web?

At the time, I was over at RSP Adelaide. Over there we only focused on Charlotte. That was a pretty cool experience working on just one character for the entire movie. It really gave you the chance to know the character inside out and towards the end we all were pretty good at animating spiders,lol.

What is your favorite shot that you worked on?

I was fortunate to be allocated to a lot of acting shots, I was really appreciative of that cause I like acting and I feel it's one of my strong points. There's a shot towards the beginning of the movie where up we're on the web and she's caught a fly and wrapping it up for a late dinner. It included pretty sweet dialogue from Julia Roberts too. It was a long shot as well, something like 300 frames!

Looking at your great body of work, was Charlotte's web your first feature film with CG integrated with Live Action? How do you feel this process was different for you then working on other projects like Kaena or Pinocchio?

Yes it was. It was my first movie experience with live action plates and cg characters. It's different on so may levels.

For one, a challenge is getting your characters to integrate properly with other live action characters. On the other hand for full cg you are not confined to matching a plate so at times there is more flexibility with a full cg set and cast.

What are common mistakes you see when dealing with animators?

Often an animator is just focusing on their shot and not necessarily thinking about the entire sequence so hook up's are a very common issue amongst our breed.
In addition, creative feedback may get lost in translation. In other words an animator will sometimes get so involved in their animation and go off on their own creative tangent and forget the main story points in their shot.
Although they get side tracked, I appreciate this because they are adding their own artistic contribution to the story. Sometimes I let it slide cause it works as long as it's supporting the story, sometimes I know it won't fly with the director so I half to pull'em back.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for animators, new and those already in the industry?

I definitely wouldn't call it words of wisdom but I do have some advice to offer. Just focus on what you do best and people around you will notice. Always treat everyone with respect even though you might not get along with them. It's a small active industry and artists move around a lot so reputation is vital.
Work hard and do your best!