I’m always fascinated by the opportunity for animation to work its way out of the standard realm of broadcast and into other avenues of consumption. The New York Times’ expansion of video and animated content is one that I find particularly interesting.
In the case of the Modern Love series, you have three artists’ interpretation of the same story all on the same page living together. You have the author’s column, the illustrator’s rendition and now, in recent months, the animator’s storytelling.
When I heard that NYC-based designer/animator Freddy Arenas would be doing the June edition of the Modern Love animation, I immediately knew it would be spectacular. To put it simply, Freddy did not disappoint. His work is beautiful and thoughtful, creating a truly timeless narrative that showcases not only excellent design and animation but also storytelling.
Having worked on the Modern Love series, I wanted to follow up with Freddy to see how his experience was and what he thought about the process.
Q&A with Freddy Arenas
First, congratulations! I had spoken with you while you were working on the piece and understand firsthand how ambitious this project can be to take on by yourself. Now that everything is finished, how do you feel about the experience?
Well thanks, it was really interesting to find out what I’m capable of achieving in this short amount of time. I’ve been trying to add a more narrative sense to my motion graphic pieces for a while now, but creating this really let me experiment with character development, storytelling, rhetorical figures, etc. Looking back now I’m really happy with the project.
Four weeks is not much time. Moving forward, do you think this experience will alter how you look at what can be done on other projects and timelines?
I always try to get one step further with my projects, learn something new and make it a little better. So of course for this one I envision maybe something that was out of the scope of what can be done in this amount of time by one person only.
So one thing I learned for sure is to be aware of my boundaries, a good percentage of the shots are the first version, when on most of my projects I might get up to nine or ten versions.
I really brushed up my project management skills too. Working shot by shot without losing sight of the whole project was challenging to say the least.
You have a great command of the medium and it shows in your work. In the Times piece, you combine the subtlety of traditional animation with the sense of scale and space you generally see with more 3D-centric projects. Could you elaborate a bit on your process? When you are working on more traditionally based projects do you find you are doing a good amount of pre-viz in 3D, or have you been diving more heavily right into frame by frame?
In most of my projects, and particularly in the Times piece, I start by analyzing the content, coming up with the ideas and creating a storyboard that will tell the story from beginning to end. With storyboard in hand, I’ll look at each shot, transition, and illustration individually to figure out which would be the technique that best fits my vision for the animation of that shot.
Sometimes it’s faster for me to have a 3D reference when there is heavy camera movement or scene rotations, some I just want the animation to be really fluid and expressive and I’ll do it straight up from my frame by frame drawings.
I also do a lot of secondary animation with After Effects or Cinema, mostly particles and background elements.
One thing that struck me about your piece was that it felt immensely personal. The tree scene in particular was very touching. Do you care to elaborate?
One thing that is really interesting to me is the use of rhetorical figures to create a more abstract or poetic result in my illustrations and animations. I thought humanizing the trees would make it simpler for viewers to relate to the emotions even if they haven’t being in that particular situation, just because somehow they are familiar with trees.
I think animation is an awesome tool to communicate emotions. When I was animating that shot I wanted people to feel her embracing him at first and at the same time I wanted to show how heavy the burden could be, to carry these big branches while being so fragile.
It seems like you have been going in a direction of doing more regular direct-to-client projects. What is next for you and do you have anything exciting on the horizon you would like to talk about?
Yes, lately I’ve been focusing on finding my directorial view. I’m very lucky to work with such talented people who are a big inspiration for me. I always look forward to working with them but every now and then I step out and try to get a couple of projects by myself to see if I can apply what I’ve learned from them.
I think it’s important to also keep ongoing personal projects. I have a tumblr site where I post quick animation and illustration exercises as well as a personal short film I’m trying to finally get done this summer. Hopefully I’ll get to share that with you soon!
For those who want to animate for The New York Times Modern Love video series, send your reels and some complete examples of your work to: email@example.com.