Animating the incredibles: Andrew Gordon on 15 years at Pixar

How do you manage a balance between creativity and getting the job done?

"Every animator wants to work on his or her shot until it's perfect but the reality is that you have to get the footage done and, at some point, let the work go. We want our animators to concentrate on the acting, so when we say 'ok, final', the shot goes through another clean up process that takes care of things they might not have gotten to.

You have to have a broad vision of the whole movie and then pick your battles

"In terms of when you want to let it go – there’s certain things you have to fight for. You have to have a broad vision of the whole movie, where that shot might fall in that whole sequence, where that sequence fits in the movie, etc and then pick your battles. Is this one worth going a week over for or is it so quick no one is going to see it? You really have to think about that and know where to spend your money in a sense. It’s all about how you approach and think about it - what you can bring to that shot, what's the most entertaining and best way of doing it? "

Gordon's animation expertise has been put to good use on many of Pixar's feature films, including Finding Nemo

What do you prefer about 3D animation vs 2D?

"I think that 2D is a little simpler to get an idea up and running with. You can just get some drawings of a character and then hand it off to an animator and they can just start animating it. But with 3D everything takes a lot more time.

I like the subtlety of acting and the very small minutia that you are able to get in 3D animation

"You have to build and rig the character then go through the whole process of testing the rig to make sure all the controls work, the textures, building the world, etc. It’s a lot more work upfront but once you have everything built you have a little bit more freedom to change and revise, so I like that aspect. But I also like, as an animator, the subtlety of acting that you can get and the very small minutia of what you are able to get in 3D animation.

Using 3D characters means Gordon and the team of animators at Pixar can add minute detail to each performance

"The polish level and the physicality and really feeling so much like you feel what that character is feeling. Something as simple as an eye dart or a blink, that could be the difference between a thought and another thought. In 2D animation you can do that but you have to be at an incredibly high level of your game. So, in some ways, 3D animation levels the playing field a bit because you’re not relying on your drawing skills as much, you’re thinking more about performance.

"I’ve always liked that because I’m not Milt Kahl. Milt Kahl was one of Disney's Nine Old Men and able to achieve a level that hardly anyone was ever able to get to because of his craftsmanship. In 3D animation, there are a lot of people that can’t draw a stick figure but, man, they are good actors."

What are you working on now?

"Right now, I'm directing animator on an upcoming Pixar film, which is a lot of fun. I’m also the department chair of a new animation program with The Art Department, which is just in its first semester. What I was saying earlier about having traditional skills, this is the difference between this school and other online schools - we are really going for a certain type of animator. Someone who really wants to have a whole traditional foundation background then get into the higher level animation.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

"I love coming in and sitting in a review watching a sequence. I often think ‘Wow, this is so cool’. But it’s not only about the end product; it’s the people that you work with. I love working with people that care so much about the craft and are at the top of their game.

I love working with people that care so much about the craft and are at the top of their game

"Movie making is really hard, it takes a long time so you have to be very into what you’re doing. You have to be really into the characters, you have to sink yourself into that world. But I enjoy that part, helping out other animators and, obviously, I love animating when I get the chance."

From concept to the finished animation, the Pixar team are 100% dedicated to creating great products

Who has been the most influential person on your career?

"Since working here, I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of people as I have this secret room within my office, the Lucky Seven Lounge. I met Glen Keane and I gave him a demo of what I was working on at the time, which was Monsters Inc and I was working on a Mike shot.

Glen Keane opened my eyes and made me see things in a different way

"We became friends and he gave a talk here, which basically opened my eyes and made me see things in a different way. That was kind of a catalyst for me teaching. Seeing him and the way he presented and talked about his work was very inspirational for me.

Many famous faces have frequented the Lucky 7 Lounge - a secret room in Andrew Gordon's office

"Pixar has such a dedication to education and so we're spoiled with the amount of great people coming through constantly. Hayao Miyazaki, for example, his films are incredible and the way he talks about his work is on another level. He’s thinking about it on such a high level and you have to just respect that.

I think you have to stay curious. That’s the key

"That’s why I did these things called Spline casts, on this website that I run called Spline Doctors. I would do these podcasts with people because I was curious about how they did things. It wasn’t for hits or advertising it was more that I just wanted to hear these people talk. I think you have to stay curious that’s the key."

The Lucky 7 Lounge is accessed through this secret button. Awesome.

What's your worst art habit?

"Probably going into a shot without planning. As much as i would say never do it when I teach, there are times when I have to jump in quickly and when I do that, every time I fail. I don't remember that I forgot to think about the shot before I started messing about with it. And then it becomes very difficult to get it back on track. So that's probably the worse thing you could do - not plan a shot properly."

Who is your favourite Pixar character?

"Mike, just because I have a connection to him. It was the first character that I really got to lead. The mannerisms of Billy Crystal and the way Mike acts is very similar to the way I would act. And how my family is. So he’s my favourite. But there's so many great ones so it’s hard to pick!"

Little green monster Mike Wazowski is Gordon's favourite Pixar character due to him having similar mannerism and personality to the animator

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