Wednesday, January 13, 2016


One night, late last year, I was accosted by a passive aggressive animator.

I took it in good humour, given the stakes of the entire interaction were so low. But still, it left an impression.

Animators are an interesting bunch. Combine the beauty of artistic flair with the OCD-inducing nature of their vocation and then, in some cases, a 'I'm a unique snowflake of genius' arrogance, and you'll understand why they can sometimes be a bit...prickly.

Not all bad, of course. And when you stumble onto a group that are simply passionate about their craft, there is a righteous joy to their work.

And yet.

So, there I was, enjoying an innocent beer with some work colleagues, when a twenty-thirty something started rolling a cigarette and speaking in our general direction.

There is a nonchalance to hand-rolled cigarettes that implies a status level of mature cool. That cachet is hard to maintain, however, when one chooses to wear a DC comic superhero t-shirt and drink cider in the smoking section of a local pub. This fact seemed entirely lost on him.

"What are you guys up to tonight?" he asked, maintaining his cool by not making eye contact, while helping himself to my friend's cigarette lighter. Groovy.

We exchanged pleasantries, and he ingratiated himself into our gathering. We're not a precious bunch, so we opened the circle and welcomed this new line of conversation. Eventually, predictably, we came to the subject of profession. Filmmaking, of varying degrees was mentioned on our side. His face lit up.

"I'm a CGI animator", he glowed.

What followed was actually exceedingly pleasant. He asked about the kind of films we made and we inquired about his animation work. The discourse appeared to be heading in a positive direction.

And then, the conversation turned to animation's relationship with filmmaking at large.

Quickly, our new acquaintance's perspective became more domineering. Animation is the present and future, we were told. Actors would be irrelevant, we were informed. Everything would be a digital recreation straight from the vision of the creatives and the animator, we were enlightened.

In the midst of his pupils-dilated, spittle-infused diatribe, I politely disagreed.

Yes, animation had created incredible work and advanced in ways that almost defied imagination.

He nodded, puffing his latest cigarette.

However, I added, there are many benefits to the organic process of working with actors, to develop a character for a film, that have nothing to do with 'control'.

He laughed. A small pointed laugh.

And we both know, I pressed, that there are still limitations to what animation can deliver in film, with regards to what audiences will accept.

A louder laugh. Agitation as he stubbed out the last of his cigarette. A swift rejoinder.

"You're not up to date with your knowledge of CGI."


I tried to explain that I had been researching this extensively recently, for a specific purpose. He wouldn't have it. A few moments passed of simplified chatter, as he gathered his possessions, and he politely took his leave.

My two colleagues and I shrugged at each other, as another of life's bizarre moments passed us by. We finished our drinks, and I headed to the bar for another round, via the gents.

When I finally approached the bar, I passed our animator friend and the posse he had clearly been killing time waiting for. He called me over.

As I arrived, I instantly noted that he was significantly, almost overbearingly, more sure of himself. He quickly introduced me to his group, fellow animators, and then launched into the reason he summoned me.

"So this guy," he started, pointing at me, "says that CGI is still limited, for films".

The group mumbled disapprovingly. Our animator friend was buoyed by the tacit support. He smiled a broad smile and scanned the faces of his friends.

"I know, right?" he trilled, thumbing at me incredulously.

I started up in my own defense, explaining that I was from a more traditional filmmaking background, but that I could see the amazing potential of animation. His posse seemed eminently more reasonable. They listened to my perspective, thoughtfully.

Our animator friend didn't like where this was heading. He interjected.

"There's nothing that can't be replicated with CGI, right now"

A clear message on his face: Check. Mate.

I replied innocently, as a broad question to the group.

"Can CGI perfectly replicate a photo-real human actor and their performance?"

His face dropped on a dime.

The posse, again demonstrating a tact that was genuine, grinned and politely replied: "No."

I smiled my own broad smile at our animator friend. Storm clouds in his eyes.

I shared this smile with his posse, and stepped away.

"Have a good night everyone."

I turned for the bar again. A perfect ending.


Our animator friend power-walked around the table and cut me off. He even tried to grab my arm to spin me back to the group. Wounded pride is clearly a powerful motivator.

He started up with a new line of attack. Spittle again. Something incoherent about my understanding of the latest animation software and hardware. He looked to his posse, expectantly.

They shrugged and changed the subject.

Our animator friend scowled into my face, one last time, then sighed disappointedly and shuffled back to his place in the group.

A free man at last, I finally made my pass at the bar, rejoined my friends, and didn't give him another thought. Until now.

I reflected on our peculiar animator friend, and his posse. I considered them in the broad spectrum of people I have met since I started making films.

I remembered a producer on my first gig, when I was volunteering on a TV pilot shoot. Having spent multiple days toiling for this guy, with no pay, he turned to me and said, "You need to change your whole personality. It's totally wrong."


While that feedback bothered me momentarily, I soon realised that he was simply a guy that liked to lord over people, in front of others. For good measure, my suspicions about this particular producer's ego trip were later confirmed by a multitude of people that had worked with him.

And, in that moment of reminiscence, I realised that I was being unfair to animators en masse.

In any group of practitioners, there is THAT person. The one that even the other animators roll their eyes at. The one who jumps into unwinnable arguments, with people who don't really care in the first place, so that he or she can show someone up and validate themselves in a group setting.

Until it backfires spectacularly, of course.

Then the instigator turns passive aggressive, while you simply want to buy a beer for your friends.

They become a cautionary tale: make sure you are following this path for the right reasons, because pride comes before the fall.

Or: that you shouldn't judge an entire group by their one outlandish pariah.

But most of all, and I really mean most of all, for the love of all that is sacred to you, there is one insight you should take from this tale above all others.

Don't be THAT guy.

People have long memories, and it's a smaller world than you think.

- - - - - - - - -