I recently got a chance to have an interview with Fudge's Creative Director, Dan Weaver, and proceeded to bombard him with questions for the benefit and entertainment of you fine people. If you were wondering what goes into starting an animation studio or just curious about animation and think that you might have what it takes to make a career of it for yourself, this might just be the interview for you!
What inspired you to start an animation studio?
I suppose it started with a love of storytelling. Ever since I was young, I used to play at being a director, so I would start creating these little plays with my friends and directing them. I would produce comic strips and create stories all the time, so as I’ve grown up, I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I suppose I also have skills from a directive, artistic and technical point of view which all marry quite well into doing animation. Also I’ve always liked being an 'entrepreneur' - wanting to build something from the ground up, something big, and to create the films that are in my head.
Have you always had a preference for animation over live action?
I’d like to be able to work in all mediums and I’ve got ideas in both animation and live action. It’d be great to do some stuff in live action! - But right now the focus is on animation, which is amazing because if you want to put people on the moon, you just can. With live action putting people on the moon costs a fortune... even with special FX or CGI. One of the best things about animation is that you don't often have to say 'we can't do that' - you can let your imagination run. Animation is imagination.
What do you find to be the biggest challenge of your job?
The toughest thing is time, there's not enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do! I’m obviously *through gritted teeth* lucky enough to have a talented business partner who does take care of a lot of that, but I still find myself very involved. There’s just so much that we want to do at Fudge. For me to do creative stuff and also have a hand in general business stuff does take up a lot of time.
What do you think is your biggest weakness?
I want to say things that people say in interviews like “Oh, I’m a bit of a perfectionist.” Or “I can’t say no to things”. My biggest weakness… I don’t have any. I’m just very strong at everything. But if I had to pick something, probably my right arm.
What do you think is your biggest strength?
God, where do we start? It’s probably my left arm.
Seriously though, it’s most likely to be able to creatively envisage a concept. As soon as an idea comes into my head, it just grows and I often play the film and animation inside of my head for months over and over again refining it, thinking about how I can change it or improve it. Before it even becomes a storyboard, it’s already a very fleshed out film in my head. Having that visual projector in my mind that I can direct is a big asset in animation.
What were the challenges you faced in starting an animation studio?
I think one of the biggest challenges is the lack of portfolio. You’re starting from nothing, and you’re trying to convince people to let you create something. It helps if you’ve some reputation already and you have people that trust you. When Fudge started, everything was from referral, or repeat business. I wouldn’t say we were lucky, Fudge (and our work) impressed the people we already knew, so they really helped us to grow! If we didn’t have that, it would have been a real struggle, because we would’ve had no recommendations, no show reel and no work.
The other challenges are not having enough time in the days to do what you want to do. It’s taken us a year to get to the point where we’ve got an infrastructure that we’re happy with, setting up the accounts, banking and other systems. We’ve been trying to find our legs, to say who we are as business and how we talk about ourselves, all that type of stuff - we can’t do it in a month or so, it comes over a long time.
What do you think is the key to a good animation?
There’s so much to consider, there is no one thing that makes a good animation. It’s got to have a good story technically, real depth in the sound design, appropriate music or lack of music... Characters not only have to look, sound and behave in an appropriate way but you have to think about the subtleties of movement, how do their motifs and style fit with and enrich the story you are trying to tell? The best animations are those that have an immersive story which is enhanced by the style and supported by the technical aspects. These come together to create your atmosphere and therefore the impression it leaves on the people watching it.
Who is your idol?
I think I have idols in different places for different reasons. So from an animation perspective, you’re looking at the legends - Walt Disney, The Nine Old Men, those responsible for developing the art form. From a storytelling point of view, people like Robert Zemeckis. It’s his skill of telling a good story. He’s worked in animation with things like Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, really pioneering 3D animations, but he’s also produced live action including Forrest Gump and Back to the Future, which are up there with my favourite films. Even in a business context - people like Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs, and even people like Richard Branson, who have taken nothing, and turned it into an empire.
What is your favourite animated film of all time?
It would probably be WALL-E. It’s definitely my favourite Pixar film.
What advice would you give to anyone starting an animation studio?
Don’t. You know, there’s no point, you’re going to be competing with us - you may as well put your pencil down, and give up.
But if you seriously want to do it, I would say there are a lot of people who start out as a couple of creatives who want to create a business, and you often hear stories of those failing. You need to have the creative side there, that’s important, but you need to also understand business, and so I think the marriage of skills between myself and James has been the key to the success of our business. He takes care of the business side; I take care of the creative side. I don’t want to dabble in the stuff he does, and he doesn’t want to do the stuff I do. So it’s having that broad pool of experience. Just a creative person won’t be able to do it, you’d need to find yourself a James, just not my one!
What is your definition of success? And how would you relate that to yourself and the studio?
Success for me, simply put, involves setting goals and achieving them! We've had an incredible 12 months and have exceeded all of our expectations. There's a real buzz of excitement in the air at Fudge and I think we're all really enthusiastic about the coming months.
One last question: What famous person do people tell you that you most resemble?
Johnny Depp, obviously.
Hmmm, all right Dan…
That’s all for this one guys! Thanks for persevering this far in the interview, we hope you enjoyed reading it and any budding animators/animation entrepreneurs have gained some insight on what running an animation studio involves.
If you’ve got any burning questions that you’d like to ask us or Dan (maybe some of his scattergun sarcasm left you dissatisfied...) drop us a message and you’ll hear back from one of us soon!