Reflections on Diploma Films
The teaching of making animated cartoons has a short tradition, but there is something striking in the popularity it has gained lately.
We hear frequently about various types of workshops and seminars. In one issue of "Animafilm," I read that animation teaching has been introduced to French schools. Children make films at the age of eight or ten. I think such an activity can't be seriously called film making.
I regard it rather as something like painting on Sundays, or other hobbies, for example modelling or weaving. I take this view because while working with children, an instructor plays the main role. This means that he has a considerable influence on the final composition.
Universities have different objectives. If schooling is to exist in this field, it should be based in fine arts academies, which are the most competent institutions to teach this discipline.
If we assume that during the course of studies, someone is preparing himself for the profession of animated cartoon director or animator, then a dissertation film becomes his visiting card. It is his first single-handed composition. Both the university and the graduate himself will be judged by this composition. This film can decide about his professional career.
That is why I draw your attention to the topic, to present you some of my experiences.
The concept of animated cartoon is very wide and has a lot of meanings. Therefore there is a need to define the range of our education process.
Our work can be divided into animator schooling and schooling in the field of animated cartoons.
A student can learn how to animate within several weeks, provided that he can draw. There is no need of studies here, and this teaching is not interesting for me from the pedagogical point of view.
The other problem is with teaching the making of animated cartoons. This means teaching film narration based on animated cartoons techniques. Since I teach making animated cartoons, animation itself is of interest for me only as something needed to make a film.
As you can see, it means that our studio educates a director, a man who will be able to express his own or given story in the animated cartoon language.
So a dissertation film should comply with some basic requirements.
First, it should have a permanent narration not shorter than three minutes. Our experience proves that producing a short episode based on one idea is relatively easy. Difficulties arise when we are to deal with longer period of time and we have to form a consistent composition out of many concepts. These include arranging frames according to their importance, leading to the climax, finishing etc..
Three minutes are sufficient for setting up a conflict and developing the single narration form which a director is going to deal with during professional production.
The second condition is authorship of artistic description and animation of the film to be made.
A director as a graduate from an academy of fine arts is, to some extent, obliged to present his artistic vision. It can happen that in the future, our graduates will use other artists' assistance in describing scenography or character drawing. However, a student should get to know practically all stages of a film's vision coming into being. This condition is to be observed.
The third condition is to provide a film with a sound track. I think that it goes without saying that a film should take advantage of sound, and that a student himself should animate it.
The largest pedagogical problems arise during the first stage of making a dissertation film. Acceptance of a project based on a screenplay description is a very important moment for each film creator. In the case of a debutante with little experience, it can be a major influence on the dissertation's artistic quality. I note two elements. The first is the difficulties and attractiveness of the proposed subject. By knowing a student's former compositions, I can assess his workmanship progress.
Difficulties which arise during production, and which are daunting, can discourage a student. It is my task as an educator to foresee if the result will be worth the labour.
A dissertation film should be attractive. I think that attractiveness is important at each stage of education. A good, promising concept lets loose artistic invention, enriches imagination and encourages a student to work etc.. It also has a positive influence on studio's image.
As we all know, it is not easy to find a good idea. There is no need to repeat this. We also know that every student is a unique individual.
What to do then? Based on years of experience, I have decided to accept ideas for dissertation productions much earlier that the final year. If for example, a first year student comes to me with an idea which I regard as adequate for a dissertation, I will accept it and support his effort.
I also choose exercises for him, taking into consideration the exact composition. I analyse the text and the whole idea in every aspect for a long time. With other students we discuss various screenplay ideas, so that the author can choose the best for him. In this case a frank discussion is effective. But basic decisions are made by the student himself.
You may know from your own experience the most troublesome students are those who do not have any ideas.
If all my attempts to give inspiration fail I usually propose to remake some finished picture. In those cases, I have to be sure that none of the students have seen the film. This is an extreme solution and I use it when I do not see the better one. Usually it's very interesting for our studio to eventually compare and analyse the two versions of the films.
When the idea is accepted, the next step is to find a sponsor. Our studio is rather short of money and we can produce only very simple films. When the concept is interesting, and has commercial or artistic value, we approach TV or apply for state subsidy. This dissertation film is a good opportunity for a student to get out know the professional cinematography rules. That is why we pay special attention to descriptions of idea, storyboard, artistic design of characters and scenery.
Even at this very early stage, I want each student to express his idea clearly and to stress its value.
I am sure that you have all encountered a situation when a student presents a screenplay or an idea for an experimental or poetical film. In such cases, either a student himself doesn't know what he wants, or a film issue is so impressive, and includes so may nuances, that a discussion with its author is difficult.
I am very sceptically disposed towards all kinds of poetic, experimental films which require the audience to watch them on bended knees or at least with a real sense of reverence.
Of course, it's the privilege of youngsters to be critical toward the whole world. But ideas and screenplays of these films are very enigmatic and their structure is full of traps. It's difficult to discuss such elements with the author, because as an educator, I can't assume that this film will be unsuccessful. Instead, I have to persuade him that there are some audience rules which cannot be neglected.
In such a situation students usually argue that they want to invent something new. Then I have to be very tactful, because the student's idea is very personal. He expects me to feel it in the same way, which is impossible. To meet his requirements I would have to enter a completely different world.
Very often, despite these objections, I accept such projects, provided that the film is not very expensive in production. I think it's better for an artist to learn from his own mistakes.
Finally, I would like to stress once again that the role of educator supervising a dissertation is very important. Because of his experience, he is the only one who can judge two important features at the very early stage of film making. These are the degrees of difficulties in film producing and attractiveness. Usually they condition the quality of the dissertation.