I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Interview with Vince Collins on Animating

by Network Awesome
Jan. 12, 2013

For decades, Vince Collins has been one of our favorite experimental filmmakers. He's worked in everything from hand-drawn cartoons to complete CGI animation, and he's still at it, making the impossible happen on the screen. Vince agreed to talk to us about the various techniques he's used over the years, and the changing scene for animated film. 

NAmag: I'm curious about your decision to shift mediums with the development of new technology. Was that shift fueled by external pressure to evolve your art, or was it more of a personal decision?

The old hand-drawn method is so primitive and time consuming – inking and painting each frame - but that was the only way to do it. No video, no computers, and not much competition - not many people were doing this - you needed a professional lab to develop the film and prints, and a multi track film recording studio to do the soundtrack. And the mechanical equipment was embarrassing - splicers were identical to the splicers used in the '20s (maybe the same splicers...).

And there once was an Independent filmmaking scene - film sales and rentals - festival prizes and grants - lots of stuff happening and you could make a living off this. That disappeared overnight in the late 70's. The price of silver had skyrocketed and states took big budget cuts so schools could not afford to buy or rent films anymore.

So I got rid of all my film stuff and switched to *computers*. Which meant something like the Commodore 64 - named for it's awesome amount of RAM - 64K! not 64 Gigs, not 64 megs, but 64K - ONE MILLIONTH of the RAM that is available today... big chunky pixels - 16X16 sprites over chunky static backgrounds - you couldn't make a movie with this, but it was Computer Graphics!

NAmag: Are there aspects of the newer computer animation style you employ that you feel present advantages and/or shortcomings over the more traditional hand drawn style of your films from the 70s and 80s?
Some of the old 2D movies had a lot of geometrical stuff – actually hand-drawn 3D before there was 3D animation.

First 3D movie I saw was done by electronic engineering geniuses – way out of reach of what could be done by the "ordinary person". But things progressed pretty fast - with the Macintosh, you could make little black and white movies and there was interactivity - I spent a few years making "Multimedia CD ROMs" until that scene disappeared like traditional filmmaking did. But now you can finally make full motion HD movies - on affordable equipment.

NAmag: Do you still consider yourself part of an "animation community" (or something like it) and if so, how does that come about?

If I had stayed with making 2D drawn animation on film, that would have been my chance to continue to be a part of the "animation community". Even these days, there are people who have continued on that route successfully.  Animation festivals - especially the big ones - require 35mm prints for their showings. It would be an advantage to have originally done the work in film, rather than have a digital piece converted to film. Anyway, lots of people love the hand-drawn stuff. There are programs available which will convert your 3D computer graphics to look like they were done by hand(!). The community I would belong to these days would be independent personal 3D you can make on your home computer.

NAmag: Is there any particular place you'd say you find inspiration for your films? 

Basically, my goal is to do pure animation, rather than just have characters doing an exaggerated version of live action.

The early stuff is 60's style made in the 70's - the look that was everywhere in those days. The “Bicentennial” film had an actual theme - Americana - rather than being just totally wide-open. “Malice in Wonderland” already had a storyline to take off from, so I played off that. “Life is Flashing Before your Eyes” is an experiment in writing a song and having the animation in a tight counterpoint.

The new movies have loose themes - cars, cats, the history of prohibition - so they can go various directions from there on...

NAmag: I'm curious what you mean by "pure" animation. Do you just mean that the stuff you do couldn't be done any other way?

With animation, you can do *anything* - so why try to make an exaggerated version of live action (in fact, the acting in live action movies seems to have become exaggerated because of the influence of animation)? Especially 2D drawn animation - why make thousands of drawings of basically the same character, when they could be all completely different drawings?...

NAmag: A lot of your work has an interest in playing with perception. Do you think that technology has changed the way people perceive things or is it more practically a matter of what you can do with what techniques?

So we are back to animation being able to do "anything". The early cartoons really took advantage of those unlimited possibilities - impossible things happening one after the other - maybe over the years that has been regarded as the old slapstick Keystone Cops – dated! The newer films don't take those chances anymore and stay close to the model sheets which determine the character's behavior.  Now I'm trying to do more of that in CGI.

NAmag: I've noticed a few recurring images and motifs in your films (eyes, bodies, globes, etc). I'm wondering if you'd be willing to talk about some of these.

I guess those shapes that are just *asking* to be animated - like the duck flipping over to become a bell - that is an example of pure animation.

NAmag: I've also noticed that you obviously love your classic car (and your cat). Since it appears in a couple films, maybe you'd want to say something about that, how you ended up interested in it and what it means to you?

Yeah - I'd rather be driving my old Plymouth. Outside it's 2011 - inside it's 1930. Even the cat likes to ride in the car.

NAmag: Have you got any new, exciting projects you'd like to talk about for a minute or two?

There are several pieces in the works. After making multimedia, games, and illustration, I am finally using the computer to make movies again.


Questions by Network Awesome writers and editors. We're a lot of fun - you can find us at apocalypse-themed parties, museums of science and industry, and snarky media-obsessed websites.