CtrlGeekGirl Interview with Alan Becker (Creator of ‘Animator vs Animation’)
Animator vs Animation — the video that all of us have encountered at one point during our procrastination. There is not just one video, but three epic ‘Animator vs Animation’ videos. But the question is, who is the genius behind the videos and what is he doing now?
Back in 2006, seventeen-year-old Alan Becker was merely experimenting with Macromedia Flash. He then produced one of Internet’s most viral animated videos ‘Animator vs Animation’, ultimately attracting millions of views from around the world. Alan went on to hone his talent and skills as a freelance animator, with his recent ‘Minecraft-Spirited Away’ project making headlines in the media.
CtrlGeekGirl recently got the chance to interview Alan the mastermind himself (@alanthebecker) as we discussed success, inspiration and projects. Enjoy!
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Above: Animator vs Animation I (The Original) Video: Alan Becker
Q: Looking back, what it was like when you watched the number of views go up on your Animator vs Animation videos?
AB: Didn’t expect it at all. I made an animation before it, a simple stick figure fight called Pink Army, it didn’t do bad but it didn’t get that popular, so I had low expectations for Animator vs. Animation. It completely surpassed my expectations.
Q: Not only did Animator vs Animation receive millions of views, but media coverage as well. Are you still surprised by the amount of interest and success your work has achieved?
AB: Yeah it’s pretty amazing, I’ve become somewhat of a celebrity, because I’ll ask random people if they’ve seen it before and more than 1/2 the time they have.
Q: People are still discovering that you’re the creator behind the animation videos. Why do you think people love Animator vs Animation so much?
AB: I think people appreciate the fact that I’ve taken a familiar environment and put a twist on it. It’s almost like I’m making a parody of computer interfaces.
Above: Animator vs Animation II (Original) Video: Alan Becker
Q: What can we expect from the upcoming Animator vs Animation project? Are you feeling the pressure for this project to be the best?
AB: Don’t watch it expecting a certain thing to be featured in it because I can’t please everybody. I try not to succumb to pressure as I usually do things the way I feel is best.
Q: When you were 17 and still in high school, what made you become interested in animation?
AB: I saw that a whole movement was starting on the internet, that people were using this amazing program called ‘Flash‘ to make stick figure animations. When I found out how easy the program made it, I had to give it a try.
Q: Besides animation, you’re also interested in photography and illustration. What other hobbies do you have? And what would you do if you weren’t an animator?
AB: I’m not much of an illustrator, but I do like photography, particularly 3D photography. I’ve taken an interest in virtual reality lately. If I weren’t an animator, I can see myself being a programmer and making games.
Above: Animator vs Animation III (Original) Video: Alan Becker
It has been many years since Alan first dabbled into the world of animation. For those who don’t know, Alan’s current project is recreating the entire world of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away down to the smallest possible detail. And what better way to do this than through Minecraft?
With constructions based on thousands of screenshots and conceptual illustrations, this has been Alan’s ultimate project for the last two years. With the help of his friends such as Sean (aka Natokill4), they recreated everything from scratch in this Minecraft-Spirited Away world from the train station entrance, to the ghost town, and right into the bathhouse.
Above: Minecraft-Spirited Away Trailer
Q: Let’s talk about your Minecraft-Spirited Away project. Why the world of Spirited Away, of all things?
AB: I watched Spirited Away once and really felt the desire to wander through a bathhouse like that. I felt like I’d wandered through similar large buildings in my dreams. I was playing Minecraft at the time and realized I could use it to bring this enchanting environment to reality. If I could recreate the bathhouse using another program that was easier than Minecraft, I would use it. But Minecraft has proven to be the most powerful method.
Q: While you were developing the world on Minecraft, have you discovered anything interesting about Miyazaki’s world? What is your most favourite and less favourite feature to create in the world?
AB: In the movies, Miyazaki always figure out a way to make huge spaces seem even bigger. When viewing the bathhouse from the front, it doesn’t look that big. But when you are inside, some rooms are enormous. The back side of it is ridiculously big. It is hard to match all the views to make everything accurate to the movie.
Q: The amount of detail in your Spirited World world is absolutely amazing. Not only have you captured the essence of buildings and sceneries quite well, but you’ve also added details like shadows, textures and depth to the world. You’ve worked on the project for a few years now — How has the design of the world changed/transformed from when you first began the project?
AB: Not only has my project evolved throughout the years, but so has the game of Minecraft itself. That is what has allowed me to take advantage of all the new objects, blocks, textures and such. When I started the project, I was more concerned with getting the basic shapes and locations there. Now I’m much more concerned with digging into the juicy details and giving everything that dirty, weathered look.
Q: What compels you to begin these long-term projects, and how do you keep motivated? What do you do if you get a creative block?
AB: I’ll be driven by a feeling that I want to feel. In this case, I want the feeling of being able to completely immerse myself into Miyazaki’s world, with the illusion that it’s real. If that feeling isn’t there yet, then I keep going. If that feeling could be stronger, make it stronger. I haven’t gotten a creative block with this project yet.
Above: Spirited Away Tour Part 1: From the beginning to the Ghost Town Video: Alan Becker
Q: What has been your favourite project to date? We often see animators aspiring to become part of Disney-Pixar and other animation companies — What about you? What would be the ultimate animation-related role or project for you?
AB: My friends ask me when I’m going to work for Pixar, and I feel the pressure, but I also know that I work better when I’m solo. My skill set makes me more fit to be a freelancer because I do many things well instead of doing ONE thing EXTREMELY well, which is what Pixar wants. My ideal job is perfecting the art of freelance.
Q: What type of animation style do you personally like? (e.g. 3D animation, stop-motion etc) And what style would you like to experiment in the near future?
AB: I like animation where you can see the pencil lines, the messy style where the animator doesn’t erase his construction lines. When you clean it up, you get so used to the character that you forget that someone spent hours making it come to life. That’s why I like seeing the work-in-progress animation shots, whether it’s 3D or stop motion. It looks really cool.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring animators out there who look up to you?
AB: When you’re animating characters, break things down into the simplest forms. Instead of drawing the whole character at once, do just the body parts that carry the whole motion, the legs for example. Then add body parts when the legs look perfect etc.
Q: And finally, describe Alan Becker in a few words:
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