The trailer above is for one of the 2013 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts called Adam and Dog. I have not seen the final film, which runs about 15 minutes, but you don’t really have to look farther than the trailer to see the incredible amount of talent that went into producing this Traditional hand-drawn short. I know a few of the people who worked on this short, and they are all incredibly talented animators.
However, yesterday on Facebook, one of my friends posted this brief LA Times article about the film: Article Link
Here’s the sentence right away that caught my attention and has me a little concerned: “When a filmmaker pays $25,000 of his own money, and when the crew members are all volunteers…”
Call me cynical if you wish, but anytime I hear the words “animators” and “volunteers” in the same sentence, my alert system activates regardless of how professional the people are who work with each other. The alert is activated in me because there are a few things I’ve learned about animators over the years. One of them is that animators are not terribly good business people. Even for these volunteers to join someone as talented as Minkyu Lee and get behind his film, and Minkyu clearly proves his talent with the highest honor of an Oscar nomination, the big question is now that those volunteers have helped Minkyu raise his status in the industry, what are those people getting in return for working on his film?
The LA Times Article kind of promotes the ideal fantasy of a rag-tag band of animators getting together to make a film to help 2D animation, which for sure makes a great story…and hey, I would love to see 2D animation return in a new and exciting way. But I don’t know how much the people who worked on this film are protecting their own interests now that Minkyu may win an Oscar for his film. The real truth is, regardless of what most people want to believe: If your a creator and other people are helping you achieve your success, it’s going to come with a price, and those people working for you are going to expect something in return. It always works this way. This is Hollywood we’re talking about here. I would be interested to know if Minkyu made some kind of deal with these animators or what he promised in return for helping him, whether its a portion of profits the film receives, or if maybe this is part of a plan to have these people on crew for a future project or what. But if the volunteer work was done simply on the promise that it would lead to some unknown project in the future, I think there’s something kind of dicey about that, and a gamble on a promise that may not be fulfilled. As you can see in the trailer, these animators didn’t simply knock off a scene in a day. There’s a lot of craftsmanship and emotional investment in the work in the trailer, and the results are extraordinarily beautiful. This is not simply about helping out a pal, the people who worked on this are expecting to follow Minkyu somewhere in the future. There is too much work put into this not to believe that the animators involved want no investment in it.
There are other things that confuse me regarding the making of the film. One of the volunteer animators who worked on the film posted this quote about the making of it: “(This was) a 15 minute film done 90% done by one man in two years“
Well, if 90% of the film was done by Minkyu himself, why didn’t he just finish the last 10% on his own? What’s the rush to get it done so soon? I can see by the quality of the film why other animators would want to get in on the action. But I judging by the premise, and the trailer, I don’t see anything about this film that tells me it’s going to influence any change that 2D animation will return by storm. For one, the premise for the Adam and Dog story is way too simple for a film with such overly complex visuals. According to the premise in the LA Times Article: “Adam and Dog” is a hand-drawn, 15-minute animation short that tells the story of the world’s first dog (named Dog) and his relationship with Adam in the Garden of Eden. The short, Lee said, tries to explain why dogs are so special to humankind.”
There’s another Oscar nominated short competing with this film that this film reminds me of. It’s called Paperman, 2D/3D hybrid short film created by Walt Disney Feature Animation. Visually they are completely different, but have the same level of technical complexity, mixed in with an overly simple story. The real truth however is that much of the time people who are looking at the film are more engaged by the visuals and technical innovations of the film as opposed to what the story has to say. You can see the same thing in the Adam and Dog trailer. The trailer, for the most part, is selling people on the visuals. I was stunned by the visuals of Paperman too, that is until I saw the final film and the story turned out to be very contrived and all on the surface. The story of Paperman does not break any boundaries, and it’s simply comes off as being cute. I have to see Adam and Dog for myself, but honestly from the premise and the trailer, I’m expecting pretty much the same feeling I got from Paperman, which is a lot of stunning visuals covering for a story that’s overly simple.
I don’t know Minkyu well enough to know what kind of person he is, and I’m not suggesting he’s the kind of person conning people to do work for him so he can take all the credit. But I sense some naivety going on here by all parties involved, because like I said, animators are not very business savvy people. They can be easily led on promises that can’t be kept, no matter how good or talented the leader of the project is. In Hollywood, nothing every comes cheap…there’s a price for everything. The people who worked on Adam and Dog will expect something in return for helping Minkyu raise his status in the industry (if he does indeed win the Oscar). And based on what I’ve heard, I don’t understand why he needed volunteers if he just had a small portion of the film he could have finished on his own.
But I was not there and I don’t know the whole story. I don’t know all the facts behind the making of the film. If somebody who worked on Adam and Dog wants to come on and clarify if there was an offer made by Minkyu, or if this is really the result of volunteers who simply worked on it out of the goodness of their hearts, I would like to know what the real story is. But there are patterns I’ve seen before with animators related to this story. I’ve heard about people getting taken advantage of in these sort of situations, especially when the artists are riding on the backs of other people, not nessicerily doing it because they believe in the film, but they are fulfilling an emotional need to want to feel they’re a part of something. It’s a lot of time and energy goes into doing something for someone else, and for these volunteers who are professionals, I really feel they should have put more of their energy into summoning their own courage, and work on their own projects that are important to them.