Interviews With Animators: Andrew FoersterBlake Harris 05.11.2016
In this week’s installment, we speak with talented, Toronto-based animator Andrew Foerster…
Back in February, as part of our PICK OF THE WEEK series, we wrote about an exceptional explainer video that taught us about how miscommunication happens. One reason that video worked so well is because–despite its subject matter–animator Andrew Foerster showed a real talent for communication. So to learn more about the art of a well-communicated explainer video, we spoke with Andrew at length about approach, aesthetics and his path into the animation industry.
Blake Harris: Andrew, before we talk about How Miscommunication Happens and some of your other explainer videos, I wanted to first hear about how you got into animation. Was that something you were interested in at a young age?
Andrew Foerster: My mom was in animation for a long time when I was growing up and exposed my brother and I to some fantastic cartoons. She worked for Disney and a lot of companies as an animator and project manager. Because of that, I had a lot of access to the 3D programs they’d use and had an opportunity to play around with 3D Max and professional stop motion cameras…but, maybe surprisingly, I didn’t really want to pursue that as a career path.
Blake Harris: Oh really? Interesting.
Blake Harris: So when did you actually start gravitating towards animation?
Andrew Foerster: I decided to pursue illustration at OCAD in Toronto. While I was there, I took an animation class (Animated Illustration) that was taught by a very talented illustrator/animator, Hector Herrera. He taught us After Effects and I started to realize that this is what I’m interested in doing.
Blake Harris: How did Hector Herrera (and After Effects) change your perspective?
Andrew Foerster: I really enjoyed the class, though I didn’t really do that well in the class. My animation was kind of crummy.
Blake Harris: Ha!
Andrew Foerster: But I really liked playing around with After Effects and brining my illustrations to live. When I left school, I continued doing animation; putting out animation tests and doing some music videos.
Andrew Foerster: I kept doing little projects like that and then one of my old professors introduced me to a friend of hers, who was looking for someone to work on an explainer video. And that was pretty much the start of that.
Blake Harris: Your fateful entry into the world of explainer videos!
Andrew Foerster: [laughing] Yeah. I went back to Hector because I wanted to learn more about After Effects and asked if I could be a TA in his class. He didn’t say yes right away, though he didn’t say no either. So I e-mailed him again, and again, and I kept e-mailing him and e-mailing him until he said yes.
Blake Harris: Persistence, once again, pays off.
Andrew Foerster: He ended up really enjoying having me in the class and I taught with him for five semesters. As I helped Hector in the classroom I was able to gain more knowledge and experience with the program, and thus was able to help the students learn it better as well.
Blake Harris: And how did you get involved with making explainers for TED-Ed?
Andrew Foerster: When I first started doing freelance work—around the time I started as a TA—I reached out to them. The day I got my first TED video, I was going to see Hector that evening——I thought [laughing]: oh man, I’m going to brag to him: “I’m going to work with TED Talks!” But right after I told him he said, “Oh yeah, they emailed us today too, we’re going to work with them!”
Blake Harris: That’s great.
Andrew Foerster: That was in 2013 and I’ve done over 15 videos for them now.
Blake Harris: Tell me about how your process has changed and evolved over the years?
Andrew Foerster: Just refining, you know? Learning new tools and figuring out a way to do things faster. Hector continued to help me with things, which was a game-changer. Like with rigging. I don’t know if you’re familiar with rigging in After Effects but it adds a whole new dimension to it.
Blake Harris: Yup, absolutely.
Andrew Foerster: And always, in every video, I try to do something I haven’t done before. Sometimes it’s drastic, or sometimes it’s just doing characters in a certain style. Asking myself: how can I make this better, or how can I try this differently? Because there’s no point in continuously putting out videos without challenging yourself. I feel that’s important.
Blake Harris: Completely agree. Since you’ve now done 15 videos for TED-Ed, can you tell me how the process for How Miscommunication Happens compared to some of the others you done?
Andrew Foerster: The trick with that one was to come up with characters and situations that express the verbal concepts of communication and miscommunication. It is different than something like The Origins of Gold…
Andrew Foerster: That was a really fun one, but it had a lot of scientific facts that needed to be represented accurately. In that case, I can’t just say to myself: I’m going to draw it like this.
Blake Harris: Right. So how do you equip yourself with the necessary information?
Andrew Foerster: TED does a great job of putting the animators and the educators in contact. For The Origins of Gold video, I set up a Skype call with the educator and he walked me through the script and the science behind it for about an hour. Then, he followed up with articles, references and videos to show me how I might want to represent different things and make sure I got it.
Blake Harris: Sticking with The Origins of Gold explainer video—since that’s obviously a more complex topic to the layperson than others—what’s your approach to making the topic more accessible? What tricks have you learned animation-wise? What techniques?
Andrew Foerster: I think that’s where my training as a concept illustrator comes into play because I can take dry information and find a way to make it interesting. But generally speaking, Rule #1 is never have something static on the screen. The stuff on your screen should always be moving.
Blake Harris: Ah, that makes sense. And just one last question, character animation. I really like your characters, so I was wondering if you happen to have a favorite?
Andrew Foerster: Hmmm….I really like the Mole Guy, who appears in The Origins of Gold video.
Andrew Foerster: Another favorite to work on was probably the Brain Parasites in How Parasite’s Change Their Host’s Behavior because I got a chance to characterize all those different kinds of diseases in funny ways.
Blake Harris: They look straight out of Rick and Morty
Andrew Foerster: Thanks! That’s a great show! I’ve always loved doing character design and animation, it’s always been a passion of mine. I enjoy coming up with the gags for each video. I try to bring it to a degree of total silliness. And sometimes it works out better than others. But it really depends on the content.
To check out more of Foerster’s wonderful work, visit his website: http://www.rewfoe.com/