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ABOVE: Richard Condie, The Big Snit, National Film Board animated short (10 min), NFB animation still, 1985. Collection of Archives & Special Collections, University of Manitoba Libraries, Winnipeg.
Richard Condie interviewed by Cliff Eyland
Cliff Eyland: What sparked your interest in animation and music. I would assume it might be Saturday morning cartoons?
Richard Condie: I have always been a musician first. Have gone through 13 guitars, 4 keyboards, a 5 string banjo, and a mandolin. I found out that I froze up playing in front of an audience so I decided to keep music in a semi amateur status (even though I did some scores for some NFB documentaries). Somewhere in the early 70's I decided to try animation and I can't remember the turning point but I guess I must have thought at some time to combine both interests......art and sound. Was drawing cartoons since elementary school. I don't remember watching Sat morning cartoons so I guess they had no influence.
Cliff Eyland: Can you tell us any stories about your education in art and music?
Richard Condie: I have no formal education in art or music so I have no stories about such. Just to say I was in a bunch of bands including a bluegrass one. As mentioned I was drawing cartoons since I can remember. Just took a BA at the U of M. I remember looking out the window of various classrooms to the School of Art and the Music school and wondering why I didn't enter either as I had so much longing to be in both.
Cliff Eyland: I wonder if you could tell me about how you managed to get into the business without having gone to a film or animation school. Is that unusual?
Richard Condie: I started making films in the early 70's and at that time there was only one film production place on St Mary's Ave. which did KTel stuff and odds and ends. I worked there for a while learning my craft. No one I know including the major animators in Winnipeg went to any animation school as there wasn't any. Also, very few if any other film makers I know in Canada went to any animation school. From about 1988 there was this big proliferation of animation schools spawned by the new 3D tech. They were promising that everyone could become an animator -- it was just a big huge scam as dozens of "animation schools" all of a sudden were born. I was once asked to be on the board of one such school in Vancouver with the "carrot" being that we would have all our board meetings in exotic places like Hawaii etc. I turned them down.
Cliff Eyland: I moved to Winnipeg in 1994, and sometimes I think that being shut up for the winter here has made me and other artists more productive. Does the winter here help artists develop their fantasies by shutting them in?
Richard Condie: I'm not completely convinced that the winters keep us indoors thereby inviting us to be more creative but speaking personally, if it's 25 below I'd rather be doing art or making music than going for a walk. Other cities across Canada have produced excellent artists in milder climates, especially cities to the east of us. However, Winnipeg has always enjoyed and supported the arts proportionately more that other cities for as long as I can remember in theatre, dance, painting, music, and film -- most notably the NFB studio and the Winnipeg Film group.
Cliff Eyland: Do you start a project by making a storyboard? There are obviously so many steps between an idea and the final animated film. Could you give me a sense of the step-by-step process of making a film like The Big Snit.
Richard Condie: First I wrote in pencil all the scenes, then made a storyboard, then fine tuned it and edited it, then drew the pencil drawings. After that, the pencil drawings were inked on one side of the acetate cels and then painted with a special acrylic paint on the other side. After the cels were painted, they were put under an animation camera and shot according to the dope sheets (sheets that had camera instructions, cel levels, and notes on holds and zooms etc). After all that, the film came back in 35 mm and I made more fine tuning editing -- cutting sometimes only one frame for the perfect timing I was after. Following that was music and sound effects (one of my favorite parts). Finally there's the mix, which involves taking the working copy of the film and all the sound tracks and directing the mixer as to what levels for each sound. After that came deep depression that the film was junk. Then came prizes, festivals and the media: a real rollercoaster.
Cliff Eyland: Could you tell us something about how animated films are distributed? What are the rules of the game?
Richard Condie: There are a plethora of animation production places and I don't know about their distribution. I know just one thing -- the biggest weakness of the NFB was and still is, distribution. I know of no "rules" of the "game." Animation lovers have to hunt down the classy stuff. There have always been limited animation TV series. One has to go to an actual animation festival like in Annecy (France), or cinematheque art houses to see the good stuff, or go online and find what's out there. Sometimes an animated film still gets exposure by being coupled with a feature.
Cliff Eyland: You seem to have had no problem moving from traditional animation techniques to computer animation -- did that follow from your familiarity with the technical side of musical recording?
Richard Condie: Actually there was a huge problem in the change. I, (Mr Toad) had to try every new thing, and while 3D was fascinating at first it was a real challenge to learn the program and the manuals which when stacked up, came up to my waist. I was making a film with a mouse and keyboard commands and as I remember I was on the phone to customer support almost every day. During this time I had a midi keyboard and I started to become tired of being in "binary land" and put away the keyboard and returned to my flamenco guitar so there was something "earthy" as opposed to the zero and one binary thing. In the end I liked the look of the film but I still like 2D better as I missed the tactile thing of having a pencil and paint brush etc. The first time I was involved with digital recording was for the sound FX for the IMAX film Heartland (1987). We were using samplers and other digital equipment which proved to be quite a lot of fun. I had a much easier time adjusting to the new way of making music and sound digitally -- way more enjoyable, as the recording and editing is much easier and faster.
Cliff Eyland: Whenever I think of the title The Cat Came Back it is impossible to get it out of my head. What's the secret behind that kind of song writing?
Richard Condie: I don't know. A good song has to have a good "hook" either in the refrain or a good melody. Bought a book on recurring melody long time ago but it was so academic and technical that it said nothing...sort of like trying to analyze humour. Sorry -- just can't help you in this question.