This interview was originally published in Spanish the (currently gone) PocasPulgas.com website.This week I rescued a copy and already republished,but I thought that many of you out there who don't speak Spanish may be interested in reading it —so,here it is,the original version in English.
First things first:Could you please introduce yourself?
Ronnie del Carmen. Parents had me christened as Ronaldo del Carmen but insisted on the American nickname of Ronnie (we lived close to Sangley Point, a U.S. Naval base across the bay from Manila) since it was the convention then with most parents in Cavite City, so you end up with improbable name pairings. It stuck, so I live with it.
I work as a story person in animated features. Did the job first at Dreamworks back in '95 on "Prince of Eqypt" and then Story Supervisor for their next two traditional animated films, "Road to El Dorado" and "Spirit." (we went on a junket to rural Mexico for "El Dorado" and was so impressed with the people and all those ancient ruins. The food was excellent and country was beautiful. Wish I could go back sometime soon).
Currently, I am working for Pixar. I just finished a Story Supervisor stint on "Finding Nemo," next summer's (2003) Pixar digital feature. I am working on another movie to be released in 2006. These things take a long time make, eh?
I started as a storyboard artist back in '91 working on the landmark show, Batman: The Animated Series for Warner Bros. Stayed there for nearly five years, working on storyboarding, character design, directing. The lone directing job was for Freakazoid (1996-97 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class-Animated Program. I got a statue as one of the series directors) (1).
Bruce Timm used to nudge me to do a comic book while I was there at WB. I didn't think I was ready but I gave in and sent a sample to Dark Horse for a marginal Alien character, Herk Mondo. I got the job and that started my spotty career in comics that include two Herk Mondo books, two Harley & Ivy 8-page shorts, covers and pin-ups and finally to publishing my own stories and characters in PaperBiscuit
Now,What exactly brought you into animation? What attracted you and made you say "this is what I want to do"?
Believe it or not but I had wanted to have nothing to do with animation. I had a lousy animation teacher back in college and he's responsible for my resolve to never work in animation. I mean, twenty-four drawings per second? Forget it. Too hard.
I worked in an art department in Burbank when I started out in California. They supplied comps for local art directors pitching movie poster designs and they also did story boards for ad agencies. I was one of the grunts there and every now and then we'd get the overflow from some sad animated production that wanted a script storyboarded. The one guy who said he knew how to do one didn't really have a clue and we all bungled our way through it.
But times were hard and animation was the only game in town it seemed. I fell into animation anyway and found more knowlegeable people to teach me on the job. I learned how to the work by doing it. I just got the hang of it, I guess.
Why hang around so long? Well, there are very talented artists around these studios and if you're not careful you could end up wanting to learn from them. I mean every day was a priceless lesson in Character design, storyboard, animation, timing, acting, storytelling, staging, lighting, scene dynamics, layout, comedy, drama...you name it, if it had anything to do with making a show, you learned it. And learning was addicting after a while because, well...you got good at it. And people take notice. And then you start having notions of telling stories in the discipline of writers and hang out with producers and directors who share your desire to tell stories that can matter or move you through characters' emotions. Next, these very same people want you to make your personal brand of magic part of their endeavor, well, that can just make your career, boy. I guess I'm hanging around a little while longer.
As a visual storyteller (both animation and comics),you have done super-heroes,action,comedy,adventure...a
Unrealized stories? Well, just the ones I come up with all the time that I reserve for when I can self-publish with quiet abandon. I'd rather do comedy (your Jingle Belles, Harley & Ivy, Herk Mondo) and supernatural stories ( Neil Gaiman/ Vertigo stuff)in comics. Animation? I like telling stories that Miyazaki tells. I don't like action/adventures because most of the ones being made are droll and uninspired and they tend to go to for the spectacle rather than character and story. I'd rather do comedy in animation and stories with great characters.
I'd like to do a feature on one of Neil Gaiman's stories.
What are your non-animation/non-comics related inspirations? By the way,What's yourfavorite kind of music?
Good books. I read a lot. Historical books. Biographies. Magazines. Fiction: Joyce Carol Oates, E.L. Doctorow, Michael Chabon. Art: Illustrators and painters. From Abstract Expressionists like Motherwell to paperback illustrators like Rober McGuinness. Music? Mainstream Jazz, Cannonball Aderly, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis. Classical music: Debussy, Eric Satie, Mozart. Operas. Whew.
Comics? Carl Barks. I mean, really take a look at the masterful way he made those adventures. Drawn virtuosity. Jack Kirby. He ain't king for nuthin'. Alex Toth, Frank Robbins, too good. More, too many to list.
Now,you mention characters as an important thing in visual narrative stories.In your opinion,What exactly makes the difference between a great and a poor character?
There are so many pitfalls to avoid, and most of them are obvious, that it is a wonder any good characters come about. But my experience has made me familiar with these: The angst ridden hero who's haunted by --insert tragic loss of a loved one here--and will not head to the call to adventure or do the right thing. The girl/boy least likely to succeed but has a dream of escaping -- insert hum drum locale and/or social class here--but has an innate talent to make it elsewhere in a field that is in total opposition to where she/he originates. Both examples can be reverse engineered to have the hero be on a kick of vengeance but will come to realize that he needs to move on; and the girl/boy might want so fervently to go adventuring but comes to realize that all he/she needs was right at home.
What's wrong with those examples? Nothing. Good characterization does not exclude the possibility of being in any of the above mentioned templates. Casablanca has Rick as a haunted hero who is stricken with a lost love and is not heeding the call to do the right thing but I dare anyone not to enjoy seeing that character eventually turn and go on that adventure. The Sound of Music has an orphan Maria singing how she longs for adventure though this frightens her. She goes eventually and in so doing gains a family.
Good characterization? This is rare in a field where forms and templates are easy to sell and recognize. The studios want to make money so they make things that people recognize and go to (no shortage of action flicks with the IQ of a hammer. Or romantic comedies with believable romance only seen in pet rocks). The characters are going through the motions and have situations that seem to have big signs saying exactly how crudely we crafted this awkward moment to demonstrate a beat in a template.
My observation of what becomes engaging in a character is thought. To watch a character think. Performing and writing a character that you respect enough to have thought enough about how they can think as they do. What becomes unbelievable are the easy answers: A hero is haunted by a lost loved one and you show him staring sadly at a picture of said lost love he keeps in his wallet. What did you just watch? A scene where the film makers are stupid enough to think that the audience is too stupid to be given a scene with more sophistication, without risking that the point could be missed. Most of us humans are always trying NOT to let on what is going on inside us. It would be more telling if this character is visited by a friend and there are NO reminders of a lost loved one and he doesn't engage the conversations leading to remembering this. Not the only solution but I challenge you to choose the former over the latter and make a better emotional statement.
I could go on but this subject always gets me on my high horse.
In regards to all those stories you have done both in animation and comics,What are you most proud of?
I am proud of some moments that I boarded in the features that I love having stumbled on. Prince of Egypt: The brothers Moses and Rameses near the end as the plagues have ravaged the city. We wanted a sad confrontation between the young ruler of Egypt and his half brother Moses in the same place they grew up in. The scene was written with Rameses sitting on the throne left by his father, glowering in the shadows amidst the ruins of his temple.
Moses enters and tries to appeal to the brother he knew years earlier.
I couldn't make the scene work better without it being a comic book scene where the evil emperor will rage at our simple hero. I saw Rameses as a frightened boy who retreats to the shadows whenever his father had scolded him. Up high on the lap of one of the stone gods that line the temple where no one will find him. Only Moses knew where his hiding place was as children. This is where Moses finds the adult Rameses. Hiding from the enormity of the responsibility left by his father and wishing to be comforted in the lap of the parent gods.
In Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron, the railway scene as he is being brought to the farthest reaches of the railroad. I originally boarded that sequence to a song stand-in, Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen. The song had the emotion that the scene needed. The full range of images and shots that was to evoke the loss of Spirit and how his trip to the darkest of places will be his inevitable end. The original structure and pace of the sequence was going to work with that song...only. And just as in the above example and with this the sequence, both got altered as a consequence of being made into a movie. Some of the original intent remained some went away but both had an enormous emotional impact on the small audience I pitch them to and then we went on to make the rest of the movie.
There you have it. There are other examples, in Batman the animated series, but I am late for something right now so, this may be for another time.
Let's talk now about your creator-owned project,Paper Biscuit.Where did the idea for this book came from? (2)
Paper Biscuit is meant to be an anthology vehicle for whatever creative fascination I may be pursuing. "Half-life," starring Nina, is one of several planned for it. Another version of the format would have her be like the host of the book. She could become the gateway from which other stories will be explored. I've yet to decide and hope the exploration reveals the right way to go.
The idea for "Half-life" is based ultimately on me. I have a peculiar sleeping condition that had plagued me since I was a boy and it remains a mystery to me. Although there are various possibilities as to why it happens the landscape is replete with conflicting scenarios. "Sleep Paralysis" is a phrase what I latch onto since it only describes the symptoms. Look up the phrase on the net and you can see what the general coda of that experience can be.
Why a girl? I love to draw girls, the female form is more pleasing to draw. Her name is not an accident. The story that I work with is that Nina has no memory of her past. She remembers herself being always nineteen. She can't remember her parents though she can feel close to a memory of a father. Her dreams seem to be a simple bizzare nuisance though begins to hint at something more. Al Hirschfeld, who recently passed away, is an idol of mine -- and don't we all marvel at his control of the line and form-- began a tradition of hiding his daughter's name in various patterns of the illustration he draws. So, besides enjoying his art, the public can have the added treat of hunting for the craftilly hidden name. His daughter's name is Nina.
Besides having fun writing and drawing your own stories,What are your plans for this book? Can you drop any hints as to what's in store for the further adventures of Nina (and Peg)?
The books and stories will probably not take the comic book route, though I'm not sure of this, I intend to find out. So, the form it takes may stray from the usual sequential form. That is, it may look more like children's books or have more copy than usual comics fare.(3) As for further adventures, there is only one hint that I hold onto: Look at the words in the cloud of dust as the mysterious figure disappears in from the horizon just before she wakes up. It utters, "Get coffeeeeee.....!" She will be drinking a lot of coffee and making the rounds of many coffee shops before the next story is done.(4)
And Peg? She has more to her story as well and I should ask you: do you get the impression that Peg is Nina's "cat?" Mr. Bandy-kerl, that creature she beheads, is now free to do what it pleases though that is not the worst of Nina's concerns.
Finally,there're many newbies out there that I'm sure are hoping to do comics or animation,and would like to hear words from a pro like you.So,do you have something to tell them?
Yes, and this may sound very esoteric or new age but I feel compelled to say it anyway. Mind your journey as a personal one as well as a community endeavor. Personal because you should follow your adventures and goals as an artist keeping your intentions true to youself. Learn from others and be bold to take risks and learn from successes and failures. There will always be better and lesser people than yourself in various stages of their own journey. Community because you cannot do a lone wolf on this job. Or any job for that matter if you are to stay vital and human. Be sharp and fast at being useful and take the initiative to show what you can do or learn to do it quick.
Be patient. Do not be goal oriented and instead concentrate on the journey. Movies and stories are not predetermined products, if they were then we'd have made millions of them by now and no one would care. It will be a surprise and an adventure to make and hopefully, if we do our jobs right, it will be the same for the audience.
Keep a an artists sketchbook with you at all times. Carry it everywhere. Write and draw on it whatever is on your mind. Get used to documenting your thoughts. Those same notions are the ones you'll have to use to describe what you want to hapen in your movie or book. You can't use it all but it all matters. At the end of each year, sit down and look back at what you have accomplished in those sketchbooks. It is a work of artistry and a personal one. It is yours and no one can do what you do.
If you follow these you will become taller, richer, acne free, have rose petal breath and men and women will flock to where you are at all hours of the day.
If not, you can be calm in the notion that you have lived as an artist and happy for the art you made from your self and for those who can appreciate it.
Ronnie Del Carmen currently lives in northern California and works at Pixar.
More of his works can be seen at his personal website:www.ronniedelcarmen.com.
For more of his interesting points of view,dont forget to visit his blog,Tirade! (tirade_)