Hi everyone, it is that time of the week again! This week, I interview PIXAR artist COLIN LEVY! I got to know Colin while (sort of) working on his film, The Secret Number. Since then, we've been bumping into each other at our school's labs late in the nights. Colin is a great guy and he even invited me as guest into Pixar studios recently!!! His journey towards a filmmaker is outstanding. I won't spoil too much of it for you. Just read on. (^__^)
Within weeks of its released, Sintel, an animated film directed by Colin,
reached 1 million viewship on YOUTUBE.
Rabbits: You became interested in photography when you were 11 and made your first short flim when you were 13 with apple's iMovie. How did that happen?
Colin: There’s a bit of magic in taking pictures. Most people, at some level or another, have a fascination with cameras. I felt this very early on, and always wanted to be the one taking family photos or home videos. When I got an SLR for my 10th birthday, I was hungry to learn more of the art and technique of picture-taking.
I don’t remember my first exposure to iMovie, but I remember knowing about the software before my family got one of those blue iMacs for my brothers and I. It could have been from a magazine or a school computer. When we got the iMac, I remember editing the backyard “home-video” footage that shipped with the computer and discovering slow-motion. It was so amazingly cool. My dad was still using a Hi8 video camera for home videos, and I knew I wanted to find a way to get videos we shot on the computer. It was a year or so later when we got a digital handycam, and from then on I was hooked.
Rabbits: While students your age were romancing and enjoying teen life, you were fully immersed in 3D at the age of 15. What kept you pursuing this path despite the distractions around you?
Colin: Haha... well, I always felt like a bit of an outsider. I’m still learning to deal with my anti-social tendancies. I definitely would enjoy spending time by myself more than going out to concerts or parties or just hang out. I guess I get some of these traits from my Dad, who’s definitely a workaholic and likes to always be Getting Things Done.
I also found a great deal of gratification from interacting with people who were interested in the same things I was interested in. And these people I found online! I would see a lot of 3D work, animation and film work that inspired me online, and it wasn’t long before I started thinking “maybe I could do that”.
I definitely have always liked to be a little different. And I was always searching for ways to separate myself from the crowd -- to be the “best” at something, or to be able to do things that others can’t. Maybe that’s why I taught myself to unicycle. Maybe that’s why I type in another keyboard layout (dvorak!). And I think when I found 3D it was exciting and complex and rewarding -- and an outlet for me to do something different.
Rabbits: You recently graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design majoring in film and televison. Could you tell us more about the school's program and why you choose SCAD since obviously there were various other film schools around.
Colin: Deciding what college to attend was actually incredibly agonizing decision. I knew what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted in a school. I ended up looking at a whole lot of places that had reputable film programs. I was super excited when I was actually accepted to Tisch at NYU... which of course is certainly of the best film schools out there. But yeah... it was a major decision to turn that down.
But I wanted to do Animation. And I wanted to do Visual Effects. AND I wanted to do Film.
It seemed like of all the places I looked at, SCAD made the best Venn Diagram. It offered all three as majors and their programs and curricula seemed solid. I liked that the Film program was fairly self-directed, with a lot of emphasis on production but with opportunity to explore writing and theory and history as well.
His last student film, The Secret Number, garnered more than $10,000USD
in funding from the acclaim website Kickstarter.
Rabbits: Your work has been inspiring winning lots of award from your shorts including Enroute, Sintel and The Secret Number. Could you talk more about your creative process?
Colin: Thank you! I’ve been pretty lucky to work with some very talented people on these projects. Each film I’ve been involved with has emerged in different ways, and I think my overall approach has certainly evolved over time as I’ve learned more about filmmaking. Some projects - like Sintel, for example - was mainly a huge opportunity and so I committed to the project before even knowing what the film was going to be about. The process of deveolping the story for Sintel was very very different from writing En Route.
But overall, there’s stuff I really respond to in movies and stories and things I look for when approaching a project. And that’s really what guides my decision-making. I like films that engage me emotionally. I like movies that have memorable characters and compelling drama. I like visual polish and strong images and sparse-dialogue, visual storytelling.
It’s interesting that all three of my recent short film projects have had major “reveals” at the end... so I guess I like twists too. I still am learning a whole lot about short films and storytelling in general, and I’ve certainly made some mistakes along the way. Hope this answers the question well enough!
Colin's student film: En Route bagged 3 awards in the 2010 Savannah Film Festival.
Rabbits: All your creations are professional,captivating and stunning. We particularly feel that Sintel stood out the most, mainly because it was a short feature that showcase the open software Blender and it involves lots of creative volunteers. Being the director of the 15 minute short that got over quarter millions of view in a few weeks after launch, what are the most important things you have taken from this project?
Colin: Oof, this is an impossible question. I spent a whole year on the film, and it was certainly the biggest growing experience of my life. I kinda felt like I grew up during the production -- it was my first real “professional” gig, first time people had real expectations of me, first time working with (sometimes following, sometimes leading) such a talented group of artists. I’ve learned a ton about working with others, about story, about cinematography, about CG animation. I also think some of my key beliefs have been reinforced, like John Lasseter’s saying, “Story is King”. When it comes to directing, I think in the future I’ll be better at knowing what is important to fight for -- when to push and when to let go.
Rabbits: After graduating from SCAD, you immediately got a residency position under the Camera & Staging Department in Pixar. A dream job for many! How is the experience so far?
Colin: It *has* been a dream! Every time I walk into the building I’ve got to pinch myself. I’ve been there a few months and I’m still getting into the swing of things, but the work is really great, the people are incredibly welcoming and the whole atmosphere has inspired me so much. The campus itself is just incredibly cool, and it’s awesome to see all these guys you’ve only seen on TV interviews and accepting Oscars actually walking around and chatting and eating lunch like real human beings.
There’s free movie screenings and filmmaker Q&As and a swimming pool and soccer field... yeah, I feel incredibly lucky!.
One of the perks at being Pixar; You become animated!
Rabbits: If you have the chance to go back in time and do everything again, what would you do besides film?
Colin: Hah, maybe a circus clown?
Hmm... if I didn’t do film I think I might have had a future in sound design or music composition. I studied violin for 11 years and have always had a pretty good ear. There was a short period of time when I was really into noodling around on a keyboard with some primitive MIDI music-creation software. But I didn’t pursue it seriously.
All in all,l I feel like I’ve been really fortunate to have found something I’m passionate about from a pretty early age. Sure, I’d do certain things differently but overall I’m pretty grateful for how things have turned out so far. We’ll see where it goes!
You can check out Colin's work over at his BLOG where he shares his trade secrets and daily life.