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10 Questions with Swain Fuller, Director/ Animation Director of Elephant Room Studios

As many of our readers know, animation comes in a number of different forms. The same can be said for those who dedicate their lives to creating and pushing the medium to new heights. Each bringing their own thoughts and vision on how to expand visual storytelling. Whether it's the work of an entire studio or an independent production (sometimes even a single individual), we here at Animation for Adults love to hear the stories of the people in our community who follow their passions to make their animated dreams a reality.

One such story, I came across during my time in New York at Animation Nights New York: Best of Fest. Swain Fuller, animation director of Elephant Room Studio, was also in attendance and we had the to opportunity to chat about the animation on display, our enthusiasm for the medium and even a bit of information regarding his own work and upcoming feature length film.

A film based on a young adult book he authored himself, entitled "Ani & Tetisheri"

"Ani & Tetisheri takes places on Planet Geb. The main character Ani discovers an elixir in a museum among the new exhibit of lost treasures discovered in a underground river, and cave system. Ani then tries to discover the secrets behind the glowing elixir, which gives powers with one drop. He encounters Tetisheri, who is a geneticist that lets him know the elixir is a two part chemical potion, with his genetics being the other half. Furthermore, she goes on to tell him, that the waters of the elixir, are from the ancient flood waters when the gods rained down on humanity for the consequential judgment of their ways, and that the elixir waters all turned back to regular water, except for a few hidden rivers on the planet. Ani & Tetisheri, embark on a journey, to rediscover the secrets of the ancient flood, while learning how to deal with their newly acquired spiritual abilities like being able to see spirits, and angels."

While the story itself is an unique blend of genres, Swain plans on bringing this fantastic story to life using an interesting blend of watercolor artwork and animation techniques.

Swain Fuller (right) getting a photo opportunity
with the background artist of
Kiki's Delivery Service, Kenji Kamiyama (left).

Fortunately, AFA had the opportunity for an official interview with Swain to get some more details on Elephant Room Studios first feature film.

AFA: The one question we always like to start with, What first inspired you to create your own animation? Could you give us some examples of artwork/animation that greatly influenced your watercolor based style. 

I was first inspired to do illustration when I was introduced to children’s book between the ages of 6 and 7 because my father wanted to encourage me to read more. One of the children’s books I could not stop looking at was the Disney Three Musketeers with Donald Duck, Goofy, and Mickey Mouse. One of the pages had the three characters walking through the streets, and I kept looking at the drawing and the painting style of the castle, and I really wanted to create something like that. So I stopped reading it, and kept focusing on the illustrations of the entire book. Then I started to draw a lot. I created my own characters that were going on adventures in helicopters, with rounded square-like heads. A few months later the Lion King movie launched its trailer on television. I was in love with the trailer, and saw it was the same company that did the book. Later on I grew up watching mainly the Boomerang Channel and really was inspired story and art wise by Jonny Quest from the 1960s, and early morning cartoon anime from Japan. In addition, through schooling, I learned fine art and animation together at different stages, and I saw many relations.

 AFA: The film “Ani & Tetisheri” is based off a book you wrote. Was the plan for your first feature length film always this particular story? Or were there other candidates/ideas that you considered? 

I wrote Ani & Tetisheri as a screenplay for my first animated movie while in college earning my undergraduate degree in Fall 2010. Then after a series of rough drafts of the outline, I began to type up the script. However, I first thought of the character Ani traveling through a fantasy world in 2008, which I turned into a painting on a old white small cabinet door that was going into the garbage, since I did not have a canvas at the time I was inspired. 

AFA: Could you give our readers an idea of how ElephantRoom Studio came to be? Has it been more of a solo effort or did you have support? If the latter, can you name a few of your supporters? 

Once I had my script finished in 2013, I wanted to see what was the normal route that writers, and artists did to get a movie made from imagination to film, or written work to film. I already studied economics independently, and various business models on my own, since I found it to be interesting. Once I realized that when a script is sent off, the creative control is also given away I knew I had to form my own studio, because of my background in drawing and painting I already knew the visual style that would work best for the animation. I wanted to create a truly great studio, and also a great company that could put out top quality work. Fine art drawings and painting styles brought to life in animation, designed and marketed for a large audience. 

AFA: You describe the animation style used as a combination of “Rotoscoping & Inbetweening”. How much experience have you had with these styles of animation prior to working on this project? 

Prior to working on this project I have had 4 years of experience creating short animations, filpbooks, and animated gifs. I first learned inbetweening in a 2D imaging college course I took in 2013, and the following year I learned rotoscoping. 

AFA: Has this style of animation presented any particular challenges during the film’s ongoing development? 

This style of animation is very detailed, and it requires a lot of interplay between knowing when to use the computer, and when to use ink, watercolor, or gouache on paper to achieve to desired look and feel. 

AFA: The story of “Ani & Tetisheri” is described as ‘high fantasy’ but from the synopsis there seems to be a lot of science fiction elements as well. Can you elaborate on this? 

Ani & Tetisheri is based on a lot of conversations about life, and spirituality [I had] while at church, and while studying in college. There are a lot of elements based on real events, and real locations. However, I added a lot to real stories to create a whole other world so that viewers, could jump in to the story and feel as if they could experience it for themselves objectively and gain insights to their own lives. I wanted to continue with the fantasy elements in the machinery, and architecture, trying to explain some of the more tangible elements of power from an unseen source (like the way the elixir made from flood water works, and Ani’s hoverbike) so that is where the science fiction elements came into play. 

AFA: While this promises to be the first feature film for ElephantRoom Studios, you and your team have created quite a few short animations as well. Can you tell us a little bit about their creation? 

The short animations were a big uphill battle because I used the creation of them to carve out different obstacles we would face while doing the full-length film. The hardest part was to create a cohesive background style for each scene, and how to visually tell the story through design, editing, sound, and music. I realized that it is good to use rotoscoping for certain movements and inbetweening for others. Then we had to decide which computer program would work best, and how to incorporate special FX from 3D software without taking away from the painterly 2D fineart style. Sea Birds, and Butterfly are very popular shorts that we show to everyone with amazing feedback, and Sea Birds the Indian Goose and Butterfly got in the 10 second International Animation festival in South Korea with great feedback. 

AFA: As this is an adaptation of an existing book, how much of the book will be incorporated into the film? Since it is your story, how are you approaching the transition from the written word to visual storytelling? 

Through advice from an animator from Disney that formally worked as an animator on the Lion King, and many people from my design team. I have decided to take each page of story as 1 minute of screen time, and there are 113 pages. Within each minute, I have decided to extrapolate the existing dialogue with added dialogue specifically for the film to add more depth to the visuals. In addition to using the descriptive elements of each paragraph to design a great scene composition visually, and a nostalgic feel animation wise, with sound and music where appropriate. We have decided to cut out unnecessary animated movements, in order describe a lot without adding in too much unnecessary scenes. 

AFA: The film is still very much in its early stages, when can people expect to receive more information on the film’s status? 

Audiences can expect to receive more information on the film’s status in October 2017, and we will be buying advertisements for the film this summer. 

AFA: Do you have anything you would like to say to our readers in regards to Elephant Room Studio’s mission? 

Hello readers. I would like to say that Elephant Room Studio is here to present to you and the public classic animation stories told through a painterly fine art animation style. The mission of Elephant Room Studio is to inspire creativity, and enrich cultures with stories of depth, and visual richness.

If you are interested in finding out more about Elephant Room Studio, please follow this link to the official website.

Check out their Youtube page to check out some of their animated shorts.