Interview: George Eckart
By Chris Karr in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 6, 2006 3:42PM
George Eckart is local animator who specializes in creating animated short films online. He’s been animating for the last several years, posting his work on a website called the produce section. In the film “The Clan”, Eckart takes a look at what happens when you start dating within your own ninjitsu dojo. “Monster” takes a look at what happens to the monster in the closet when children grow too old to believe in them. Both films can be viewed online.
We found out that George would be showing one of his newer shorts, "Time Traveler", at the Midwest Independent Film Festival tomorrow, so we sat down to chat with him this weekend.
Chicagoist: How many films have you shown at film festivals?
George Eckart: “Time Traveler” is going to be at the Midwest Indy and it’s been at the Chicago Short Comedy Video & Film Festival. That was shown this summer and took “Best in Fest”. Before that, I showed “The Clan” at a couple of different festivals. It was originally for a thing called “ Vidiocy”, which is a competition over at ImprovOlympic. You draw a name from a hat and then get twenty days to make a movie based on that name. I entered the “ Vidiocy II” competition with “The Clan” and it actually won. “Monster” was shown at the Chicago Improv Film Festival, and the Midwest Independent Film Festival. Both “Monster” and “The Clan” have been shown at the Chicago Short Film and Video Festival. So I’ve shown those three at a lot of the same festivals.
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Chicagoist: Can you tell us a bit about the film you’ll be showing at Tuesday’s Midwest Indy?
George: This one’s called “Time Traveler” and it’s written by Phillip Mottaz annd Mike Betette, who are part of a local sketch group called “Superpunk”. They wrote the script and brought on Matt Chapman - who’s the director. He was producing a project called “Consortium Productions” whose idea was to get different people from the Chicago sketch and improv communities together and create short film and short pieces of video. They came to me because they had seen some of my previous stuff and said that they wanted to animate it because it would be too tough to actually shoot it. So, that’s how I got involved with that.
The brief synopsis of the “Time Traveler” plot is that there’s this time traveler named Sy Waxer who comes from the future to stop a health care reform act from being signed by a senator that will lead to the destruction of the future. So, he’s coming back to stop that. What basically happens are his misadventures as he’s trying to stop this document from being signed, so it has a repetitive quality of time travel.
It’s about seven minutes. It’s a lot of fun and it was a lot of fun to work on.
Chicagoist: What’s your process of going from idea to a production?
George: I’ll take “Time Traveler” as an example. Most of the time, I get a script from somebody. They’ll give me scripts that are sketches - not really written for animation. I look at that and say, “That looks interesting. I could turn that into animation.” And then I basically do everything. I’ll sneak some voice talent time somewhere at a studio. I run the session and do all the sound. I used to put a lot of songs on there - it was just for fun. Now, with “Time Traveler”, we’re working with a lot of people. I have a director and between us we came up with the storyboards and stuff.
At the beginning the guys wrote the script and didn’t know that it was going to be animated. Matt came to me and we figured out that we had to visualize it a bit and talk about how we’d do it. And then the next step was the storyboards. We sat down and hammered out how each shot was going to look. At the same time, I’m working on character design - character sheets - so that I have a reference and know what they look like. Different angles and how they dress and everything. And once that’s done, I can start working on animation. A lot of that’s just me sitting in a room and animating. I do a lot of hand drawing and I scan that in. I clean it up in the computer and then bring it into Flash. In Flash, I color it and animate it. For “Time Traveler”, I’d export it as a file and give it to Matt, who would work on it in his video editing software. And then he worked with Alex Burke, who’s a really talented composer and accompanist who works in The Second City - that’s how we know him. Alex - with Matt - would compose the score and they’d do a little post-production - some sweetening of the special effects and audio. It’s great because it’s a really dense audio track with sound effects, which does a lot of the work for me. I get a lot of mileage out of background noise instead of having to over-animate. After that, we put some credits on it and it’s ready to go.
Chicagoist: If you had to estimate how many hours of work go into each minute of animation, what would that be?
George: That’s tough because sometimes with a client, there are scenes that don’t take a lot to animate once I get the drawings done. They’re just a back and forth - maybe two shots, or a close-up or something. And they’re just talking. So when I get the lips done and the head done, I can just do it. It doesn’t take that long. But there’s a fight scene in “The Clan” that lasts about a minute and there’s one shot that lasts a few seconds that took me a week to animate. It’s all very elaborate with a lot of movement.
So it depends. If there’s a lot of talking or it's just static - I always say that the pauses are the easiest things to animate - those don’t take that long. If someone says that they need a one-minute thing, I’ll tell them to give me a month. I’m not working on it solidly for a month, but it still takes a long time.
Chicagoist: What projects do you have in the pipeline now?
George: Mike Betette is out in LA and we now have a manager. He’s pitching “Time Traveler”, using our movie as a pilot. He’s created a bunch of spec scripts also, and they’ve been in different meetings with different properties pitching it. Right now, the most promising thing looks like Comedy Central, possibly doing it on their website. We’ll see and we’re going to talk to Cartoon Network, too. Also maybe MTV. We pitch it as an Internet series because it isn’t easy to get a TV show. We want to start off working on their web properties. That’s a way of getting into it. We’d like to do a series of “Time Traveler” adventures.
We’re eager to catch “Time Traveler” this Tuesday at the Midwest Indy. It’ll be showing along with five other short films. Check out this month’s Midwest Indy page for the gory details.