Chris Sullivan

Chris Sullivan wants you to think big

Chris Sullivan

Chris Sullivan from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

I’ve been listening to the Frenzer Foreman Animation Forum podcast recently and one of the people that influenced their journey through animation was Chris Sullivan.

Professor Sullivan teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

He has some brilliant things to say about expectations for student work.

I share with my students that their art heroes are also their colleagues; they should be striving at that level.

Wow. He’s right of course.

You can’t be working at a “student” level and expect to get your dream job at your favorite animation studio.

I do not believe in making student work, or taking little jabs at art. I let my students start small in size if they need to, but never small in goals.

Another lightbulb moment!

You should be aspiring to create professional projects, but just with a limited scale if you need to.

In Chris Sullivan’s mind, short and important beats long and frivolous.

Artists learn more from failed attempts at something important, than from easy successes.

From my experience, all the animation I “learned” from a book or a lecture didn’t really sink in until I made it myself – including all the mistakes along the way.

The most important thing I share with my students is that I am as unsure about my art as they are about theirs. At times, your work feels like a burnt offering that does not live up to your expectations, and when you try to make important work, it sometimes feels like a complex mixture of hits and misses. When you do get it right, and your impossible thought becomes visible, it is an amazing feeling.

Making important work has more risk involved because you can’t just say: “Well, I was really only doing that for fun. It doesn’t really matter.”

Except it does matter.

So… Have you got some important project you should be working on?

Meet Buck


Meet Buck

Meet Buck (2010)

I had an idea for a short film recently.

I’m thinking of a quirky, European-style, animated film with an elaborate chase sequence as the action set piece.

Turns out – I might be too late to get on that particular bandwagon.

There have been quite a few excellent films released recently that could easily borrow that same description.

And then I thought: I’ve discovered a new sub-genre!

I think I’ll call it “quirkyeurochasemation”.

At the heart of the quirkyeurochasemation movement are the students from two of the great French animation schools: Gobelins and Supinfocom.

Here are some beautiful examples of quirkyeurochasemation (with links so you can watch them).

Burning Safari



Salesman Pete

Meet Buck

Apr├Ęs la pluie (After the rain)

Any other examples of quirkyeurochasemation that I forgot to add to the list?

Let me know in the comments.

Phil Willis Mentor Map

My animation influences

Phil Willis Mentor Map

Phil Willis - Influence Map

Who are your influences?

Who are the masters and mentors that had a significant impact on your art?

Fox Orion has created an Influence Map Template so you can put together and showcase the people the had a big effect on your work.

So here’s mine.

Each one of these animators has had a massive and direct input into my ongoing animation education.

For starters, there are the founders of Animation Mentor, the online animation school: Bobby “Boom” Beck, Shawn Kelly and Carlos Baena.

It is no exaggeration to say that these three guys have done more to raise the standard of entry-level graduate animators across the world than anyone else.

Next are my own teachers and mentors: Jason Ryan (from Jason Ryan Animation) and Jalil Sadool, Jon Collins, Nicole Herr, Michelle Meeker, Kenny Roy and Jason Taylor – all from Animation Mentor. I have to thank these wonderful people for their practical advice, feedback and instruction on the technique of animation.

Finally, but not least is Rob Coleman – my current animation director. Rob is a giant in the industry and is completely dedicated to making great movies and developing talent.

And just to close the loop full circle: according an interview with Bobby Beck, a chance meeting with Rob Coleman was the reason Bobby decided to get into animation in the first place.

Thank you all so much for your contribution.


Who are your influences?

Post a comment and tell us who makes your list.

24 Animations in 24 Hours

What’s your first reaction to the challenge: “Make 24 animations in 24 hours”?

If you’re anything like me, the words “why”, “how” and finally “wow” come to mind – especially when you see the result.

Animator and musician duo James and Hania Lee responded to the challenge and came up with this mind-blowing effort.

I was lucky enough to see their animated short Tarboy at a festival in Sydney a while ago, and it’s obvious that these guys are genuine ninjas.

So many beautiful ideas and short concepts.

Some of them work. Some don’t. But when you’re working at this speed, it hardly matters.

Congratulations on the outstanding work.

So. What’s your next animation challenge?

Story vs Artwork

Two biggest mistakes made by animated filmmakers

Story vs Artwork

Short films based on story and artwork

Last weekend I went to the Sydney International Animation Festival and did one of my favorite things:

I sat in the dark and watched animated short films.

For hours and hours and hours.

I have to say – a lot of them were good. A few of them were outstanding.

For the record, my top picks were The Man in the Blue Gordini, The Art of Drowning, Le Petit Dragon, Orgesticulanismus and The Lost Thing, but enough about the good films.

Let’s talk about the crummy ones.

The terrible ones.

The painfully slow and woeful ones.

The common theme to the ones the audience disliked the most could all be summarised by the animators making one of two crucial errors.

And the worst of the worst made both mistakes!

1. The film looks ugly

If you’re working on an animated short – you don’t have to be able to draw like Michaelangelo, but it is your responsibility to make the film look as good as it can be.

That’s not to say that it can’t be intentionally ugly or crude on purpose for dramatic effect, but I would caution going out of your way to do it.

If you want to do animation in the rudimentary style of South Park: that’s fine, but at least those guys are telling a story.

If it’s ugly on purpose though, you’d better not make rookie mistake number two, which is:

2. The film doesn’t tell a story

You must have a point of view and you must be prepared to communicate it as clearly as you can.

Can you make a non-narrative film? Sure.

A poetic meditation on a single leaf falling from an oak tree? Absolutely!

But it had better be one stunning, incredibly rendered, beautiful tree.

I know artists want to break boundaries and challenge audiences, but for the sake of your viewers, please do what you can to inject as much beauty and clarity as you possibly can.

Avoid those two mistakes (especially in combination), and I promise you: your audience will thank you.

You might even get a standing ovation at your next screening.

Related posts

Get your film in front of an audience

Short film advice from the makers of The Cat Piano

Five reasons to enter animation competitions

UTS: Sydney International Animation Festival

Get your film in front of an audience

UTS: Sydney International Animation Festival

Previously I had written that there were 5 reasons to enter animation competitions.

Turns out I was wrong.

At least one more reason to enter is the opportunity to see your work with a live audience.

I was lucky enough to be a finalist in the Sixty40 Proto Ninja competition at the Sydney International Animation Festival, which meant that I got to see my animation along with a packed house of 300 or so animation fans.

I have to say: there is no feeling like it.

Imagine it.

You’ve already seen the film a million times, so instead of watching the animation: you are entirely concentrating on the noises and reaction from the crowd.

Every laugh, snigger, breath, sigh and the final moment of applause is just amazing.

If you’re working on a short animated film, please do what ever you can to get it screened.

We want to see it. And it’s well worth it.

Related posts

Two biggest mistakes made by animated filmmakers

Short film advice from the makers of The Cat Piano

Five reasons to enter animation competitions

Storyboard image

Color Theory by Mark Kennedy

Storyboard image
Storyboard sketch by: Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy from the Temple of the Seven Golden Camels blog has a brilliant series of posts on color theory.

I didn’t come to animation from a fine arts background, so these articles do a great job of summarizing important color theory ideas like tone and value.

So far, Mark has posts on:

Things I didn’t know about color

A quick primer on values

Color is value

I’m not sure how many articles he has planned for the series, but this is definitely a great place to start to improve your art, your storyboards and your animation.

Two types of creative time

How much time do you have left until your next deadline?

Careful! There are two answers to that question.

Creative work takes two different types of time.

There is the time in hours it takes to produce and polish the work. I guess you could call that “clock time”.

But there is also the time in days, weeks and months you need to generate ideas – or “calendar time”.

Maybe it’s different for you, but I can’t cram creativity into the last minute. I can’t rely on setting my watch and expect the muse to show up.

Which means you have to leave plenty of calendar time for ideas to grow.

My approach?

Spread out the early phases of a creative project over as long a period of calendar time as possible.

Doing even small amounts of work on a personal project regularly spread over a week or two is always preferably to doing the same number of hours in a continuous block.

Solutions to difficult problems are often born in the spaces between the times when you’re “working”.

In the shower. Just after waking up. On the bus. During a meal.

It’s no coincidence that people talk about “sleeping on a problem”. Give your subconscious a chance to help you out.

But once you know what you’re doing, and you’re into the details of the work: go for it.

At this point, there is no substitute for “clock time” on task.

Log out of email and switch off your phone – because now all you really need to focus on is getting the work done. And this is the kind of work measured in hours, not days.

Give yourself plenty of both kinds of time and best of luck meeting your next deadline.

Related posts

Connecting with your animation network

Four goals of animation school

Six reasons to work for free