Bye-Bye Bin Laden!


Q: Tell us a little about BYE-BYE BIN LADEN, the full-length animated film you recently completed.

A: It was written and directed by Prof. Scott Sublett.

Q: I know him. Wait! I AM him. It is I!

A: Um, yes. Well, he thought we could make a movie based on the heart-warming tale of a cockroach boy and his dead tutor who take a trip down Memory Lane to figure out what caused the end of the world — all wrapped up in a musical comedy. At least that's what it is if you ignore its messages about the effects of religious extremism, misappropriation of power, intolerance and what happens if your president can't pronounce 'nuclear'. And then you invited me along to help advise the production and direct the animators, so I'm helping define production schedules, guide visual development, establish production practices and I'll be working with the animators.

Q: What are some of the tasks through which you guided the students?

A: There's a lot to animating a feature. You have to design the characters, draw the backgrounds, the props the characters hold. You have to do layouts and storyboards — storyboards being sketches of all the various shots in the film. And one has to develop an overall style — a look — and make sure that all the various elements work together to add up to that look. For example, if you have simple, elegant character designs, the backgrounds and props can't be fussy and full of unnecessary detail.

Q: Do you know of any other universities that have produced feature-length animation with students?

A: I don't know of any that are even contemplating it. I'm a bit surprised that we were in a position to actually do it. It's difficult to come up with a strong enough story and the student talent to pull it off. I think we actually had both here.

Q: Tell us a little about the process of putting together an animated feature.

A: We started with a solid script. It was already in place when I came on board. The first step from there was story and visual development. Story on an animated production is directing and editing rolled into one. The script is realized visually shot by shot — the storyboard I mentioned earlier — and then timed to the audio. That becomes the blueprint for the entire film — the story boards combined with the already-recorded sound. We call that an "animatic." Visual development establishes the look of the film, defining the stylistic language for the characters and locations. From there the scenes move to shot-planning and layout which work out the particular requirements of each shot and establish a clear plan of execution. Once all of the necessary assets such as characters, backgrounds and props are in place, the actual animation begins. Then it's off to post for final timing and audio.

Q: How does actually assembling a feature-length animated film provide a unique educational opportunity?

A: A feature project really is a huge undertaking. The only way for it to succeed is through a lot of teamwork and collaboration on a very large scale. It demands that the students give their best but also requires that effort be focused within the context of the film. No egos, everyone working toward a common goal. Additionally the students have the opportunity to pitch-in in a number of different areas, gaining experience and insight with disciplines which might not be their main strengths. In the end, by working on a full-length animated film all together as a team, the students get an overview of the filmmaking process and al its various parts that is impossible to impart in a book or a classroom.

Q: What do you think of the SJSU students you worked with on the project?

A: Talented and focused. And not just the animation and film students, the music department has been creating some amazing stuff for this project.

Q: When did you first get interested in animation and how did that lead to a career in animation?

A: It was "Speed Racer" and anything by Disney. I was hooked as a kid. I was here as a student before the animation program got started so it took me a while to find my way but the love of the art form was always there.

Q: Do you have a favorite animated film?

A: Yep, Miyazaki's "Porco Rosso." Not many people can pull off a drama about a porcine aviator in proto-fascist Italy. Plus it has airplanes animated by hand. I'm a sucker for airplanes.