Many animators dream of working in film and TV. Today we will be interviewing International film director Jeff M Giordano and Producer Aaron Gwynn of Romantic Chorus, an Independently funded and produced animated documentary during the 2020 pandemic.
Romantic Chorus employed almost 20 animators from around the world to create a feature length film discussing Monogamy, Sex, Fear, and Technology. Included in the group of animators are Melbourne’s own Gigi Hart, Linc Glasby and Annie Murray and showcases animation techniques ranging from rotoscoping, stop motion and frame-by-frame to a composite technique of abstract 3D lip-syncing using animation software crossed with VJ’ing software.
We probe into advice for animators looking to break into the indie scene and what the most challenging aspect of working with animators is for independent directors and producers.
Why did you choose Animation and not live action to drive the narrative of Romantic Chorus?
The concept for Romantic Chorus is that we wanted to use the voices of our interviewees, while never showing their images. In this way, we could create a ‘chorus’ where the focus would be upon the words being spoken, rather than what anyone looked like. In fact, the team’s only Rotoscope animator had any concept of what the people in their clips looked like. Beyond that, we felt like giving the animators full creativity would help to create a film that no one had ever experienced before. The art would thus become part of the ‘chorus,’ adding depth and meaning beyond just the dialogue of the film.
Where do you see this animated documentary fitting in with current socio-political movements?
We feel like this is exactly the moment for a film about love and romantic connections as it pertains to fear and technology, particularly. We live in such a hyperactive world, with endless news sources, posts, texts, tweets, emails, and yet the vast majority of people still crave romance beyond the proliferation of noise in our world. At the same time, we think our current landscape is showing people that there can be ways beyond traditional marriage and monogamy that can also be fulfilling. It was very important for us to include voices from the trans community, the gay community, many people of colour, as well as a wide variety of people who identify as female. If you don’t try to be inclusive and give voice to as many perspectives as you can, we don’t think you’re getting a true picture of what the world is like today. We hope Romantic Chorus reaches those lofty standards and that everyone who sees the film will connect with at least one of the interviewees.
How was the concept for this film birthed and from where did you draw your inspiration?
We chose to create Romantic Chorus because of our deep interest in making documentaries and experimenting with cinema. This project allows us to explore and preserve a wide range of perspectives on romantic connections in the modern world, through the context of four themes: Monogamy, Sex, Fear, and Technology. Our own experiences and challenges with dating and romantic relationships has fuelled our curiosity for trying to better understand other people’s navigation and interpretation of intimate connections. We felt that making a film which the public can experience and learn from would help them with their future partners and connections. For us, the educational piece was really important, and we hope the film can show widely in psychology and human sexuality college classrooms. We always planned for this film to be animated, but we also feel immensely lucky that it was the kind of film we could work on full-time and complete during the pandemic.
Putting the film together in this manner, with animators from around the world, was all about collaboration for us. We’ve made three other feature documentaries as a team, but it was just a small crew, and we wanted to expand our cope to bring more voices into the process and get as many artistic styles as we possibly could. We felt like this film was timely and necessary, but it couldn’t be done without the help of dozens of people around the world.
How did you build the collaborative team of animators? How many people took part?
We had two original contacts that were already acquaintances, but the rest of the team was formed like Voltron via social media and other sources. In the end, we had 17 animators from 10 countries with everyone contributing between 2 and 8 minutes towards the final film. Once the project got going, we were very hands on and had lots of group video chats. Also, we also had a super-fun Discord channel and maintained contact with everyone individually as well as with the bigger team. One of our goals was that the animators themselves would form connections outside of the film that would hopefully foster many future projects.
What was the most challenging aspect of working with animators as opposed to actors or ANY other filmic techniques?
Perhaps the most difficult aspect was that varied styles of animation are so wildly different in terms of process. For instance, someone doing 2D or motion graphics will generally create an animatic or storyboard and then start from the beginning until the end of their piece. In this way, there is gradual, but consistent progress. On the other hand, animators who do stop-motion will spend the vast majority of their production time building out their characters/puppets and sets, and then only in the last stage will they begin doing the animation itself. This was a challenge for us because we were trying to keep tabs and encourage everyone, while also recognizing that some team members wouldn’t be able to hit our earmarked dates. Personality was also an interesting aspect. When working with actors or other performers they tend to be, as a group, very outgoing and expressive as a product of the type of art they create. However, with animation the variation of personality was huge! Some were super outgoing and talkative and wanted to share all their work, while others were very introverted and some wanted to work in total isolation even if we considered them as much a part of the team as anyone else.
Tips for directors looking to work with animators and conversely, tips for animators wanting to work on independent films?
We would say that our biggest tip would be to trust the artists!! If you want to bring creative animators onto your team, the worst thing you can do is tell them exactly what to do. Create parameters and deadlines of course, but beyond that, we think that letting people be free to do what they want creates a better working environment and better art… who needs another bossy person in their life anyway? It was also key to have upfront conversations before the project about expectations and timeline so everyone starts off on the same page. If I was an animator I would say to seek out projects where the focus is diversity of style and creation, rather than a process-based animate-by-numbers style. As an editor or director you can often find projects where you are paid better, but in the end you feel like you are spending hundreds of hours simply executing someone else’s vision. That’s no way to spend your life…
We’d rather make less money, but work alongside a team that is able to bring all of their strengths and quirks to the group. In addition for all the animators wanting to work on independent films: make sure to not overwork because you’ll burn out a lot easier. Schedule your time, choose projects that you identify with and like very much. It helps to have freedom as an animator and experiment with emotional themes in a diverse way.
Constantly being able to keep in touch with the directors, producers, and team is very important. Find teams that have good communication at the outset of the project, because that likely means they will be there for you when you need them during production.
For all those brave enough to start animating for the first time: you need to enjoy the process and really have fun with it, because you will be spending thousands of hours on it… the tediousness happens when it feels boring and maybe that’s the only project you make with someone and that’s okay. If you’re famous, you have the freedom to choose any project you like and you can never get tired of that! Also, don’t let perfectionism rule you. Research the animation that you personally love, for its style, process, and story. Create your database of these samples and stay curious about everything. Keep track of that database for when you need a boost!
As an animator, keep experimenting to get out of your style/comfort zone. For example, try out sand, stop motion, 2D; whatever it is, keep trying new things even if it’s frustrating.
For those courageous folks who dare do stop-motion, work on balancing a simple design with human movements over unnecessary flourishes.
What is your hope for the Film? What would you like to see it achieve?
We’d like to say, and this might be preaching to the converted for an animation festival, but support your local artists! Films, books, music and visual arts (amongst others) are the lifeblood of society, not just something to enjoy from time to time. As a global culture we need to do a better job of recognizing this and funnelling our efforts into the creation of art and connection rather than what our governments spend their trillions on right now. We make our films to contribute to this lifeblood. In terms of achievements, we’d both like to see the animators gain both notoriety and financial success, but also that audience members connect with Romantic Chorus to facilitate conversations and change. Managing anxiety as an artist is important these days and focusing on the main timeline for the project is helpful to remember every day, and not jump too far ahead of yourself. Developing a healthy momentum is learned with each project you make. Animation for adults is hot right now, especially with television! Romantic Chorus is very unique for the adult animation world due to the film’s personal interviews.
We hope that people seeing Romantic Chorus for the first time learn to open up and being more honest, rather than bottling it up all to yourself.
Project release date:
Christopher Singleton, Stefanie Ziermann, Chhaya Naran, Gigi Hart, Laurent Mathieu, Angaelica LaPasta, Rebecca Luo, Peter Feng, Keira Quinn, Annie Murray, Claudia Ortega Arus, Eli Copperman, Joseph Crockett, Cloud 1984, Silvia de Tommaso, Emma Jordan, Linc Glasby
Jeff M. Giordano
Jeff M. Giordano, Aaron Gwynn, Lucía González Ramírez
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