Interviews With Animators: Andy Kennedy, Slow WaveBlake Harris 06.16.2016
In this week’s installment, we speak with Brooklyn-based animator, filmmaker and musician extraordinaire Andy Kennedy…
Last month, Andy Kennedy’s mesmerizing short Slow Wave won “Best in Show” at the 47th ASIFA East Animation Festival awards ceremony. Today we got a chance to sit down with the animator himself to talk about his latest film, his work on HBO’s My Depression and how–after some initial reluctance–he got into animation in the first place.
Blake J. Harris: Andy, thanks so much for speaking with us!
Andy Kennedy: My pleasure.
Blake J. Harris: Before we talk about some of the great projects you’ve been working on recently, I was hoping we could go back in time for a bit. I’d love to hear about how you first developed a love for illustration and animation?
Andy Kennedy: Well, I grew up watching cartoons like everybody else. [laughing] Pretty terrible stuff, in retrospect. Like Ninja Turtles and The Smurfs. I also watched Disney’s Robin Hood fairly obsessively. That’s probably one of the only good things I watched early on
Blake J. Harris: That’s a great, re-watchable movie. And what about as a creator. When did you start animating yourself?
Andy Kennedy: I dabbled with animation in high school. We had an after school art club that had a Super 8 camera, so we got to play around a bit. I remember doing a clay experiment when I was a junior in high school. And our teacher showed us some Jan Švankmajer films, which I think had a big impact on me.
Blake J. Harris: If I recall correctly, you then attended the Rhode Island School of Design. Was animation your focus there?
Andy Kennedy: Actually, when I applied to art school, my plan was to do illustration. Because—my thinking was—that I wanted to do my own thing. And I knew that there were a lot of people involved with animation. I didn’t want to be a cog in the wheel, so to speak. But when I got to college, I was exposed to independent animation. And I got to see peers making films. So that really started to change my opinion. Also, I was (and still am) a musician, so once I started playing around with sounds and images, that’s what really hooked me.
Blake J. Harris: While exploring and experimenting with animation in college, was there any particular style that stood out?
Andy Kennedy: It was mostly stop-motion. My sophomore year—before I even started the animation program—I made a clay-animated short that I think still [laughing] is the longest movie I ever made. It’s like 11 minutes long.
Blake J. Harris: [laughing] And since I’m assuming that was a positive experience for you, I’m wondering what you liked most about that process?
Andy Kennedy: I just found it really satisfying to be able to do everything. I liked how many different disciplines it pulled in. And I had done a lot of model-making growing up, so I liked that I could build stuff. I liked that I could write music and score it. So it seemed like whatever I felt like doing I could pour into a film and that was really appealing to me.
Blake J. Harris: Yeah, a convergence of all your interests. That’s great. So you found your calling, as it were, but it’s always tough to figure out how to monetize that passion. What did you do after college? How did you “break in” to the animation industry?
Andy Kennedy: When I first got out of school, I spent the first year or two bouncing around. I had a lot of friends who were animators, who had moved to New York and were getting jobs at studios, so I decided to come here. And within a couple of days I encountered Animation Collective, which is a studio that’s not around any more. They were doing these really low-budget webisodes for AOL online—that’s how long ago this was—and they were looking for an animator. I found an ad on AWN, applied for the position and eventually got hired. After doing a couple of jobs for them, they got a few series—some Nick Jr. shows—so I ended up working there for 2 or 3 years and that’s kind of how I got my start in animation.
Blake J. Harris: Do you have any favorite projects from that time period?
Andy Kennedy: Honestly, I’m not really proud of any work from that period. It was really fast and dirty TV animation work. I don’t know. But I learned a lot.
Blake J. Harris: In what sense?
Andy Kennedy: Well, I just didn’t really know how to animate when I got out of college. I’d never spent days at a time just animating. So I think that’s where I learned to start doing character animation well and also just learned to work fast. Because they had these really aggressive quotas. To this day, one of the biggest challenges I face—or any animator, really—is how to do good work quickly. So that’s probably the best thing I got out of it. It was really small and young when I first got there. And within a year I was Assistant Directing a show because they suddenly got all this work. Everyone who was there just got put in charge of something, which was a really great learning experience for me. It was difficult. Right place at the right time…or wrong place at the wrong tie.
Blake J. Harris: [laughing] Flashing forward several years, you recently animated a sequence in My Depression, a movie based on the book by Elizabeth Swados, and which starred Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi and Fred Armisen. How did you get involved with that project?
Andy Kennedy: Interestingly enough, I had actually been talking about that book with a friend (who was helping someone they knew deal with depression) and, by coincidence, the studio contacted me. So, from the very beginning, I believed in the project a lot. I really liked the script and I thought they were doing a good job with it. I poured a lot of time into it because I thought it was a great project and it was really rewarding to do.
Blake J. Harris: One of my favorite things about that film is how great the tone of it is; how it manages to be fun and engaging while also being very serious and insightful. How did you go about striking that balance?
Andy Kennedy: I really just took the lead from Liz, who wrote the book and the script for the movie. It was basically there to begin with. And the song that I did was already written and recorded. Obviously it took a delicate hand, but I don’t think there were too many things that came up while I was making it. I think by the time it got to me, it was fairly clear what it was going to be like. It was pretty straightforward.
Blake J. Harris: Lastly, before we finish, tell me a little bit about your new film Slow Wave…
Blake J. Harris: How did that project begin? And what was it like to produce?
Andy Kennedy: I worked on it for about 5 years, but not continuously. Originally it started because I was living in an apartment that had this really terrible noise problem. The main one being this guy who lived below me, who would play music at all volumes, at all hours. And that really got me thinking about how sound can transform a space and the ways that you feel situated in that space. Also, at the time, I was listening to a lot of electronic music that was very ethereal. So I started thinking about it sonically, how you could sort of visualize this soundscape. And then I always have had various sleeping problems most of my life. Involving, mostly, sleepwalking and night terrors. So I just wanted to make something that captured that psychological space. Combining noise pollution and night terrors.
Blake J. Harris: Wow, that’s great. Talk to me about the style…
Andy Kennedy: I’d wanted to do something in 3D for a while. I’d sort of played around with Maya (the program I used) and 3D is a really good tool for architectural renderings. So basically, when I started, I didn’t really know how it was going to go. I just built a model of my whole apartment, because I didn’t know how to model yet, so I figured that was a good place to star. And then I just started making some sound and breaking the model I made; trying to get ideas of how I could visualize this movement I had in mind. So it sort of went from there, but it took a while because I was doing a lot of freelance as I was making it. And since I was learning everything, it was pretty slow-going. But eventually I dedicated most of 2015 to finishing it. I think I worked about 9 months of the year. I had done all the pre-production prior to that, but that’s when I started animating it.
Blake J. Harris: And when you finished, what did you do with it? Distribution-wise?
Andy Kennedy: I entered film festivals and put it online. I didn’t wait very long to put it online; I think only a month or two. It doesn’t seem to matter that much any more. There are a few festivals that you can’t submit to if you go online, but most of the big animation festivals don’t seem to care any more. It certainly doesn’t disqualify you.
Blake Harris: One more question before we finish up, as you kind of touched on it with regards to Slow Wave. I was wondering how you approach trying to juggle freelance work versus personal projects?
Andy Kennedy: Well, it’s really hard. I guess it’s the big question every artist faces. For me, what’s been sort of most successful, is I basically book myself on my own projects now. Since I do commercial freelance, the jobs are usually 3-5 weeks on average, so I can carve out pockets of time. I mean, you can only animate so much, right? The movie I animated before this, I did on nights and weekends and….that’s just no way to live. So this time around—once I got serious about production—I just made a schedule and was generally able to stick to it. But I don’t know. It’s a tough question. Maybe I’ll figure out some better way to do it in the future.
To check out more of Andy’s work, you can visit his website or Tumblr.