Interviews With Animators: Jay Grandin, Giant AntBlake Harris 08.02.2016
In this week’s installment, we speak with Vancouver-based, Story-Lover Jay Grandin…
A couple weeks back, we featured an endearing and engaging explainer video about an on-going crisis that’s impacting three of Florida’s estuaries. Or, at least, that was the core of what that video was about. But with pitch-perfect narration and outstanding creative work from Giant Ant, the explainer felt like so much more; like both a love letter and cautionary tale about the passage of time and our relationship to place.
To learn more about how this explainer video was made (and how Giant Ant was made as well!), we spoke with the production studio’s co-founder: Jay Grandin.
Blake J. Harris: Hey, Jay! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat.
Jay Grandin: Many thank you’s for reaching out. I’m happy to tell you whatever you want to know!
Blake J. Harris: Excellent. Then why don’t we start at the beginning; or rather the beginning of Giant Ant I should say. How did the studio get started?
Jay Grandin: Giant Ant emerged out of creative collaboration between Leah and I, and slowly built into a company that required more brains (and hands) than just ours. From the beginning it’s been very important to us that everyone adds social value as much as they do creative value, which has turned out little team into a wonderful family. At our core, we’re a group of artists that care about one another, and who want to make better work… not just more work.
Blake J. Harris: I’d say that sentiment is on full display in your Fix Florida video. You made that project for Costa, so I was curious to hear about how that project began. And what was their (and your) initial vision for the project?
Jay Grandin: We’ve had a great relationship with Costa for a few years now. After giving a talk in Louisiana that was attended by one of their social media vendors, we were approached to tell the story of their conservation work in Guyana (below).
Jay Grandin: The success of that project led us to another film about the impact of plastics on our oceans and then to this most recent spot. Costa has always been very willing to let us drive the vision of how these spots come together, as long as the story is resonant. In this case, we were presented with a mountain of research that they commissioned, and given the brief to weave the information into a poetic story that would captivate people.
Blake J. Harris: Our review begins by talking about your explainer’s magical ability to transport the viewer to a different time and place, so I was curious how you guys on the team developed that sense of your own. Did you watch videos? Look at photos? Listen to any personal experiences?
Jay Grandin: We did look at a lot of imagery to get a good sense of the landscape, but we also really focused on how light or darkness can give us a sense of nostalgia or hope or sadness depending on how it’s used. We really wanted to push the compositing of the spot to make people feel like they could step into the video. We also watched a lot of Flip Pallot’s videos (our narrator). He’s kind of the David Attenborough of the Florida fishing community.
Blake J. Harris: Flip did an excellent job. I’ll have to check out some of those videos. What about that unique, single-cut storytelling device. How did you guys come up with that? And did executing on that lead to any unforeseen difficulties?
Jay Grandin: We wanted something that felt hypnotic and hard to look away from, and the single shot trope seemed to fit really well for this. Also, we wanted to give a sense of time passing and, with it, a sense of loss. So, the left to right movement felt appropriate since it’s the way we read stories in the western world, and also the way we visualize a timeline… so the movement into the future is implied in the structure.
We wanted something that felt hypnotic and hard to look away from, and the single shot trope seemed to fit really well for this.
Blake J. Harris: What were some of the biggest challenges on this project?
Jay Grandin: The biggest challenge was the script. We tried no script, we tried very poetic scripts, we tried a version that was almost erotic in the way that it personified the place. In the end we landed on a middle ground that retains some of the poetic language, but also delivers the guts of the story in a very sober and easy to grasp way. What’s so complex about Florida’s situation right now is that there are lots of things that need to be fixed, and they’re not all perfectly connected beyond their affect on the water. So, communicating the issues concisely was a bit tricky.
Blake J. Harris: What are you guys most proud of about the final product?
Jay Grandin: We feel really pleased with it as a whole, and how the various components add value to one another. The script, the music, the artwork, and the animation all do the appropriate amount of heavy lifting. The projects that seem the most successful always feel this way to us—where there is no clear hero.
Blake J. Harris: Since you guys work in both live-action and animation, I was wondering how (if at all) your storytelling approach to each format differed.
Jay Grandin: I’d say that our approach to every story differs, not just to each medium. When a brief arrives, we try not to rule anything out. And, sometimes, that means recommending live action or animation regardless of the brief to best tell the story. Even within those two buckets, we really try our best to let the content guide us to an execution that feels appropriate and unique to how we want the audience to respond — for example, an emotional response or an intellectual response require different kinds of approaches.
Blake J. Harris: Just one last question: What advice do you have for young animators out there?
Jay Grandin: Everything you put in the world is a statement of your taste. Let that guide you more than money.