Anna Mantzaris, talks us through her career as a stop motion animation director, describing her approach to different projects and experiences from working on her own to having a full crew of animators.
She Drew That September 2019 Workshop
Organised by Hannah Lau-Walker
In collaboration with Julia Parfitt
Filmed at Nexus Studios
Q : Throughout my animation career, I’ve found that there are some things I like animating more than others, for instance, I love animating morphs making something really fluid and fun, whereas I find realistic walk cycles less exciting as they’re so technical. I was interested to know what it is you like to animate and how that relates to your work?
A : I like animating characters rather than objects and other stuff, and I love animating more emotional or crazy/cathartic stuff. I’m not sure how to describe it exactly, but the things that make you giggle, or feel something when you see it, more expressive things. I discovered it when I was making Enough, I found it very enjoyable to animate human emotions that are just a slight bit exaggerated, but still in the “real” world. I think it’s connected to the fact that I tend to work with themes that are more about humanity, and how we are as humans. There is something about it that I find tragicomic, and poetic at the same time, the big and small struggles we have in everyday life.
Q : Clients can vary from project to project, don’t feel like you need to name names, it would be great to get a sense of the difficulties that directors can face when interacting with clients. What’s one of the more frustrating things you’ve been asked by a client?
A : There are always challenges when working with a client, but it varies in what the challenges are.
With stop motion, it can sometimes be tricky for the client to imagine the final result, as there are so many steps in the process. I’m finding that the key is to find a language to speak with them, some people need a ton of reference photos to be able to imagine it, while some just need a flat colour sketch.
It also happens that clients want something edgy and fun, but then all the edgy and fun things get removed by them because they’re afraid and overly careful, which can be quite frustrating. I had some great character designs for a project where some characters had tattoos and pink hair etc, but it all got polished down to a much more standard and “safe” look.
Q : What’s something unexpected you’ve learned from making your own films? This may be something that you experienced in the making of your film or perhaps during the festival circuit.
I think one thing I’ve realised and learned is to trust my gut feeling more. When I’ve had an idea that I haven't managed to pitch in the classic “elevators pitch” method, and people have not really got it, it has made me hesitate on the idea as well. But then once I made it - it worked, and I regretted not to just trust more in what I had a good feeling about from the beginning. And the other way around as well, when I have felt like something isn’t really working with the story, but didn't really push the break to fix it, and later on, regretted it. I don't know exactly how unexpected that is, but I have come to learn to trust my gut feeling about my own work more.
Q : Everyone has low points on jobs, and I feel it’s important to turn those low points into something you can learn from and grow with. Have you learned something from a low point on a job that changed the way you worked?
A : I think I have been in situations in jobs where I’m thinking that I don't want to be here again. It can be either that I’m working way too much and thinking never again. From that, I have learned to be okay with delivering something that isn't my all-time best. It's fine, it’s what I can do with the time and budget that I got. But it’s not my life's work, and I’m okay with that.
Another thing I'm still learning and growing in is to direct a crew of people. As a stop motion director, you often work with a crew of modelmakers, animators, etc. In the beginning, I would maybe approve things that I regretted later not to be pickier with. I could struggle with being “annoying” and asking for changes, delaying stuff to make them more in the way that I wanted.
But I have learned to ask a bit more for what I want. I believe that as long as you do it in a respectful way, the crew is happy. I think, especially as a woman where we have been taught not to be annoying, it can be hard to be demanding and picky when other people work for you. Now I keep pushing myself to do that. Also by reading about how other directors work, and that it’s normal to be a bit demanding sometimes as a director.
Q : Freelancers can get stuck in making the same mistakes from job to job, what advice would you give a freelancer working today?
A : I would say to choose where you put your energy and to try to balance your work and your life. I think there is a tendency to think that I will just work this hard on this project, and then I will work normal days and have a balanced life after that. Then the next project comes and the deadline is really tight and you think ‘okay just this time’ ‘After this project I will start to take care of my health’ and it keeps repeating.
That we always want to do our 110% best, perform, or deliver the best possible we can, even if it means working overtime and doing much more than we are paid for.
Someone told me that the working habits you establish while you study are the ones you'll have for the rest of your life. I don't think it's exactly like that. But I think it's good to try to find a balanced way of working now, and not in the future.
I’m still working late hours sometimes, it’s almost unavoidable, but I’m learning to choose where it’s important to give that 110 %, and when it’s okay to just put the ambition-level accordingly to how much you get paid and how much time you have, and that it might not be the most amazing thing you have ever done, but it doesn't need to be.
Also if you don't work your ass off all the time, you will have more energy to take a step back and reflect on how you work, and what you want to do, and I think that will also help you grow.
Anna Mantzaris created this brief for our September Workshop. We use these styles frames as a jumping off point for our community to create animated work too. You can see the results of this animation challenge below.