N.A.S.A - Syd Garon
As part of the Animac festival Syd Garon comes to the CCCB to talk about his work with N.A.S.A's The Spirit of Apollo project.
He's there to present the documentary made over the five-year venture. CCCB, Friday 11th February, 7.30pm. We sent over some e-mail questions to find out what he's been up to since finishing.
Can you tell us about your role in The Spirit of Apollo project and what made you take on such an ambitious project?
I am the co-director with Sam Spiegel, and I also animated many of the videos and parts of the documentary. Sam and I collaborated on everything, but Sam was more responsible for the documentary while I concentrated on the animation. The producer, Susan Applegate, and I spent a tremendous amount of time tracking down people who's work we loved, and trying to convince them to work on our project. Matt Murphy, the main editor, was in many respects a third director. He focused the documentary and was the third opinion when Sam and I had the rare opposing opinions.
I fell into making the film almost by accident. Sam was one of the first people I met when I moved to L.A. He was a fan of my film Wave Twisters and he introduced himself and invited me to hang out with him. We just started making a movie without a master plan, and we figured it out as we went along. The next thing I knew, five years had passed and we were almost done. I'm glad I didn't realize how hard it would be when I started!
How many videos did you end up directing and which was your favourite to do? Mine was definitely the 'Way Down' - such beautiful images.
I directed four of the videos—'Way Down', 'Money', 'The People Tree', and 'N.A.S.A. Music'—as well as much of the documentary animation. I also tried on two separate occasions to direct and animate the 'Strange Enough' video, but I failed both times. Eventually Lorna T and Terence Teh collaborated with a Brazilian artist named Calma and did a fantastic job.
I'm glad you like the 'Way Down' video! That is my favorite as well. It was the first video I completed, and I loved working with Sage Vaughn. It was important to do a great job on 'Way Down', since it was the video that I used to get other directors, animators and artist interested in working on the project. The N.A.S.A project would take another four years to complete if I had to do all the videos by myself.
How did you get started in animation and who are your creative influences?
I used to be a live action director, but I discovered my animation work was much more interesting to people and I had more fun animating than I did on the set. I was making computer animation on consumer quality machines pretty early on the curve. I didn't start animating because I was a fan of watching animation- I started animating because I enjoyed creating it. Res Magazine, Res Fest and D-film were huge influences and at the time San Francisco had huge a DIY (Do It Yourself) film making scene. Punk Rock used to be my main creative influence. Now I would say that art influences me the most.
Why did the Spirit of Apollo project take so long to complete, can you still listen to any of the music or have you ruined it for yourself?
The film took so long to make partly because it was animated, but mostly because everyone was working for free. People would have to work on the videos and film when they weren't trying to make a living, myself included. Videos or editing would get put on hold for months at a time. There are quite a few videos and animations that were started, but never completed because people were just too busy to finish. As an animator you have to be incredibly patient so no, the songs are not completely ruined for me. Generally when I am working on a video I only hear the same couple of seconds for a day or two. Often it doesn't even sound like a song when you listen in tiny pieces like that. That being said, I absolutely will not do a video for song I do not like, and it will probably take a few years before I put the record on just for fun. The problem is compounded by the fact that after I finish a song I can "see" the video every time I hear the song- they are forever linked.
Do you prefer taking the creative director's seat or do you still relish a more hands on role?
I am a commercial director, but I find it impossible to only direct. I end up animating on everything I do. I would like to try and only direct- I might be able to get more things done- but I find animating really enjoyable. I just like being hands on.
The new documentary shows the making of TSOA…was it difficult to remember and revisit the process of making something you began over 5 years ago?
It's been a blur. When I look at the film I realize how many friends I have made because of N.A.S.A. I literally started the project as soon as I moved to L.A. I don't have any memories of my time here without N.A.S.A. Looking back I was expecting my first child when the project began, now I have two and the oldest is five! To be honest, I am sad it is over.
You famously used After Effects to make still images move, how have animation techniques changed since you started?
I think 3D animation has progressed to the point where you can't tell the difference between reality and animation in certain circumstances. 3D animation has also become much more complicated and specialized, to the point where it's almost impossible to be an expert in all the different aspects (modeling, lighting, camera movement, character animation, etc). I used to have a passing knowledge of Lightwave back on the Commodore Amiga but the software has progressed so much I am having a really hard time relearning it.
After Effects is a lot more powerful but it's still fundamentally the same program it was when I started back in version one or two. I use After Effects almost every single day of my life, but I still need to do tutorials and read ‘how to's’. It's an incredibly powerful program. One of the biggest changes to After Effects was the addition of 3D layers. When I did Wave Twisters, everything moving in 3D space had to be faked in 2D by scaling. It's so much easier now. As for general animation techniques, it seems like 99 percent of everything is still scaling, and positioning things over time. What’s really new is the variety of looks you can achieve and all of the procedural effects, like growing hair or creating fire.
You frequently work in collaboration, how does that work, who has been your favourite person to work with and who would be your dream partner?
I collaborate on almost everything. It's more fun that way. I learn new things and new techniques, and everything I do ends up with a slightly different look. I recently changed my commercial directing name to "Syd+1", because when you hire me to direct I will probably bring on a collaborator. I am committed to the collaborative process. Nothing beats having a trusted friend to work with.
Sage Vaughn is probably my favorite collaborator. We met while making the 'Way Down' video and he has become one of my best friends. We have a good time, and we do great work together. In the last year, I have collaborated with Johannes Gable in Santa Monica, Paul Griswold in Ft Wayne Indiana, Travis Blaise in Orlando Florida and Simon C. Page in England- all of them are great guys. I learned so much working with Sam. He has an aura of positivity and possibility that is infectious. Even after days of all night editing we are laughing and generally having a blast. Hang out with Sam and you will learn that anything is possible.
You've worked with great artists such as Shepard Fairey and Sage Vaughn, do you take an interest in art and what hangs in your house?
I love art and attend as many shows as I can. I have art from most of the artists in the film- Sage Vaughn, Barry McGee, Marcel Dzama, The Date Farmers. When ever possible I trade my services for art. I animated the title sequence for Beautiful Losers, and the director paid me in art. I'm going to see if I can beg a painting from Shepard Fairy next time I see him.
What’s next in the pipeline? More music videos or something completely different?
It takes me two to four months to make an animated music video, so I only get to do one or two a year. Music videos are also a terrible way to make a living. I get creative freedom and I'm always happy with the results, but you can't earn a living doing them. I always say that this is my last music video, but then I will hear a great song and I start all over again. I have a finished script for an animated feature film that I think is rather unique, so I am going to spend the next year trying to get it made. We haven't talked about it yet, but Sam is working on new music...