Master animator Dermot O'Connor recently published his video tutorials for Toon Boom Animate on Lynda.com, so we decided to catch up with him. This is the first of a two part interview by Shelley Jacobson.
Dermot was introduced to the world of animation in Ireland, by his uncle in 1988, and as luck would have it, a weird turn in his life completely changed the arc of his career.
At the time, Dermot was working for his uncle, meticulously setting Letraset type by hand. One day he tuned into a local radio interview featuring Don Bluth, who was talking about his latest release, All Dogs Go To Heaven.
As he listened intently, his uncle suggested, "Why don't you apply for a job there?" Dermot immediately responded, "It sounds like a sweatshop," to which his uncle affirmed, "Maybe it is, but they can pay you more than I can and you'll get some kind of skill out of it."
Dermot called up Don Bluth's studio, did a rough in-between test, and received a call a few days later confirming he got the job.
To this day, Dermot reflects on how that radio interview changed his life and noted, "If somebody walked into my uncle's office when that Don Bluth interview was happening and switched the radio off, that career path would never have happened."
Dermot worked on four of Bluth’s feature films, all created traditionally with pencil and paper, and then hand-painted onto cel. Once computers came along, Dermot's life and career path would once again change.
After directing computer game titles for Creative Capers Entertainment and Disney Interactive with properties that included Timon and Pumbaa and Hunchback of Notre Dame', Dermot could see the writing on the wall as modern computer animation techniques emerged.
Once Dermot was introduced to Flash, he loved the fact that the software would allow him to do traditional animation with the benefits of working on a computer. It was great for a while and it was the heyday of Flash. But the appeal began to wear off once the software that Dermot depended on seemed to plateau in functionality.
Dermot said, "With Flash CC, Adobe actually began taking out features. They took out the bones tool and just gave up on it and pulled it out. They also removed Object-level undo. So now the user only has one undo history, threaded throughout their entire library. It would be as if Photoshop only allowed one undo history over multiple drawing windows. Crazy! For me, Object-level is essential to workflow."
When Dermot was approached by Lynda.com to design a Toon Boom course, his frustration with Adobe Flash made it easy for him to embrace the opportunity to get on board with an animation software that includes drawing tools.
Dermot explained, "Toon Boom is heavily involved with drawing more so than Flash." He continued, "Unlike Flash, it has so many beautiful drawing tools that I think would dovetail with a lot of student needs."
He added, "Don Bluth used to say that with animation, being able to draw well is fundamental - as fundamental as holding a spoon. You can’t enjoy your meal if you don’t know how to hold your spoon!"
Dermot has a wealth of advice on how to approach an animation project.
"The big question I ask myself when I start a project is, does the world need another one of these?" He continued, "Cats chasing mice, It’s been done, you’ll never beat Tom and Jerry. Why would you make another one of those? The question should always be, has the world seen this yet, or am I just doing something for the sake of redoing it?"
That's not an argument against re-using those old tropes, or working with a theme that's already well trod, but you should always be looking for something different or fresh, instead of just another re-hash.
In part 2 of our article, "Animation Tips On How To Become A Better Animator," Dermot discusses why he thinks animators limit their imaginations with design, why the clean-up stage is so critical and how animators can push themselves to reach the next level.