Jotta has a fascinating conversation with lead 3D animator at The Mill, James Farrington about his journey from traditional animation to computer generated animation.
While these days James Farrington works for London's top visual effects agency, The Mill, on cutting-edge animated features like Where the Wild Things Are and Harry Potter, he has been in the animation bizz for over 26 years, back when animation was still "drawing with a pencil and paper, Disney style."
There are not many animators with a history as vast as Farrington, who are still working at the forefront of the field. "My very first attempt at animation was when I was about 14 years old, I made a little film for TV." Farrington tells Jotta, "When I went to college I went initially to study fine art - about half way through I remembered I'd done this film."
Farrington transferred from Fine Art to study on the only animation course in London, with his childhood inspiration Bob Godfrey as his tutor. Godfrey is the creator of children's TV classics Roobarb and Custard, and a programme called Do It Yourself Animation. "His ethic was that anyone can have a bash at it and that's what stayed with me, however slick and amazing an animation can look, its still been made by somebody."
Godfrey's show, which made animation accessible to the masses by taking the mystery out of the production process, was vastly influential and inspired an entire generation of kids in England, as well as James Farrington, there was Nick Park, who created Wallace & Gromit and Jan Pinkava, who directed the Pixar short Geri's Game.
The defining moment for Farrington was leaving college and discovering that there was actual work in animation. Farrington joined an animation studio working for none other than his childhood idol and college tutor, Bob Godfrey, a testament to just how small the industry was at the time.
"People just weren't aware of it. I picked it up and became sort of obsessed." It's that obsession which Farrington suggests is a prerequisite for the job, "You don't meet people in animation who haven't got that - there's always this feeling that you're in love with trying to find out more about the process of animation."
Eventually Farrington crossed over into computer animation when technology took a flying leap into the future. He describes the atmosphere while working at Dream Works in LA, "There was a feeling that you had to learn and change with the new technology, it was very daunting. But in essence all the same rules applied - the same principles of weight and timing and trying to get life into everything."
"All it really took was getting the opportunity to work on a job for a TV show. They trained me up on the computer, and instead of years it took about 3 months."
While it may be easier to learn the skills, there are few inlets into the industry, it's either traditionally, through the college route, "or you get a job as a runner, start making teas and work your way up through the industry, get a job as a tracker and hopefully pick it up as you go. Now even the runners have college degrees."
Farrington talks passionately about the science of animation, and the 4th dimension of time. "The thing that draws me to animation is almost a Doctor Frankenstein feeling, you're creating something that seems to have a life of its own, animation has often been described as the process of creating the illusion of life."
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