AN INTERVIEW WITH LANESSA MILLER, DIRECTOR & ANIMATOR OF "STORYBOOK MAN"
Winner: Best Female Director Super Short Film - May 2021 Edition
Nominee: Best Music Video - Best Original Song
DIRECTOR & ANIMATOR
For more than 20 years Lanessa Miller has been answering the call for art. She specializes in traditional realism and has illustrated books, web, newspaper, and magazine over the last six years.
While earning her BFA at Austin Peay State University, Lanessa learned a bit about motion in design. Her talented son, Fox Coulon joins her to collaborate on the music video for "Baptized" in Jordan.
You can usually find Lanessa in her home studio, drawing and painting portrait commissions, cartooning, and now animating!
Thank you Lanessa you for having us. First things first, would you tell us a bit more about yourself, and how you became an Animator?
Hi, thank you for the question. It was by providence that I was discovered and put to work animating my illustrations. A couple of years ago, I was doing mostly realistic pastel and oil portraits, lots of pet portraits.
I had also illustrated a couple of books in a line drawing cartoon style which attracted the attention of songwriter, Dwight L. Wilcox II. Originally, he wanted a slide show of still illustrations to play during his song. I had taken a single animation class in college many years ago, so I knew we could pull off much more than a slideshow. I offered to make it a full music video and that was five films ago. We've been working together ever since. So a huge thank you to Dwight, who puts me up to all this.
How would you describe your work?
The most obvious thing about my films is the unique visual style of illustration. I use hand-drawn outlines in a dark color accented with a minimal but bright color palette to complement the tone of the song. My films looks like a print page except for the motion.
By using paper textures I hope to give the feel of print media with colors separated for screenprinting or offset printing. This lends a graphic design quality. I tell an effective and complete story with the most efficient and minimal animation. The stories are usually of someone pining for love with an ambiguous ending.
What are your favorite subjects or topics to draw?
My favorite subject is the figure. I love telling a story through body language, especially when the subjects are adults. I like portraying the feelings that go along with relationships. Dwight's songs are always about just this, so it is a perfect match.
I like creating little moments where the character has an unexpected interaction and is surprised, so I probably sprinkle those in quite a bit. I'm intrigued by the way a person's appearance, expression, and stance can put their beliefs and attitudes on display.
Dwight's songs give away some of the story, but as the director and animator, I love filling in the details with my own interpretation.
Where do you get your ideas or inspiration from? Is Music one of your favorite sources of creativity?
Music has been the foremost inspiration for all my films. Before I started animating for Dwight's songs, I really had no call for interpreting music visually. This is very fresh and fun for me. I spend a lot of time wearing headphones listening to the song and just visualizing all the possible ways I could interpret a verse, chorus, or instrumental break. I get my ideas for color from the instrumentals. I get my basic character from the lyrics. From the vocals, I can imagine more about who the singer is and what happens to them.
How long does it normally take you to complete a project? Do you know when a work is finished, or are you constantly tweaking?
It used to take me a few months to do a music video, but now it only takes a few weeks. It depends on the scope of the project, how long the song is, and how efficiently I work. I take a lot of thinking time as I am figuring out the character design, storyline, and pacing. In this stage, I do a lot of tweaking my ideas.
I use Illustrator and a Wacom tablet to create still elements in a line drawing style. I use Adobe Animate to add lip-sync, occasional frame-by-frame motions, object motions and camera work. Once I begin in Animate, I have to commit within each scene as I go. Skipping around is problematic. I work from start to finish with no going back and tweaking actions after they are laid down. It's not like editing and re-editing live-action footage.
I like working this way because it captures fresh energy in the drawings. It prevents me from changing my mind midstream or worrying over minor details. Everything works together to serve the story and most often those tweaks are just not necessary to the film.
Who are your favorite Artists, whether in Animation or in other forms (comics, painting…), and why so?
My favorite artist of all time is Albrecht Dürer. He was working at the time the printing press was invented. He did amazing drawings and paintings, but it is his black and white mass-produced woodcuts that fascinate me. Imagine the first printed materials coming out and how momentous that was.
Dürer's compositions keep the eye busy by filling his images with details to the brim. He extended the viewing time just as film does. The viewer essentially is panning across the image as in a comic book. I like that he was one of the first artists in print and a popular crowd-pleaser in his time like Shakespeare. His popularity would have rivaled the biggest comic book artist of today. His work is full of expressive figures and emotion. Other than the printed look, my films really don't resemble his style, but he is still my favorite.
What tips do you have for aspiring artists and designers?
My experience learning animation in college was so limited and so long ago that I was basically starting from scratch as an older person. I used Google and YouTube to learn Adobe Animate. If you are not in school, don't let that stop you from learning. If you are still in school, pay attention to your teachers, one day you'll miss them!
Short statement describing your vision of the post-Covid cinema, do you think there will be notable changes?
As a filmmaker with a story to tell, there is one important question I do have to ask myself when moving forward. Is this story is happening before, during, or outside of our Covid reality?
As an animator working physically alone, I cannot attest to changes in live-action cinema filming processes post-Covid. Tracks come to me from songwriter Dwight L. Wilcox II. The singer and instrumentalists will have each recorded their part separately. Animation is all the more useful when people cannot record together.
For big movies, Covid hastened the demise of the theatrical release system as the rise of streaming platforms created the perfect venue for us all to relax at home and binge-watch through quarantine. Even new releases went straight to streaming and that is not likely to go away post-Covid.