JULY 10 - JULY 13, 2024

Interview | Meet Cute

Movie: Meet Cute
Director: Shawn Patrick Tilling

 

 

Hii Shawn! Welcome to the SIFF!

 

1.Tell us something about your journey in the film!

Firstly, thanks so much for having me! My journey into filmmaking has been a long and winding road, haha. I started watching children’s shows at a young age, with shows like Tadeusz Wilkosz’s “Colargol” taking me away to other worlds filled with wonder and adventure. I loved the idea of creating worlds like this myself, but I thought at the time you needed a lot of money and people to do this. I had neither, so for me it was only one of my many dreams.

 There was a moment though, that I strongly remember, that led me into animation. I was sitting in a movie theater ready to watch a low budget fantasy movie in the late 1980s when Pixar’s “Luxo Jr.” started to play on the big screen. It was my very first time seeing a 3D animation. It was a beautiful film, but more than that, I imagined that this could be done by a single person in the future. The medium was new, but so was I, and so I thought I could grow and develop along with the technology and someday make my own films myself for all to see! I already had some computer experience, as my parents got me an Atari 600XL when I was 8 years old. I learned basic programming and did simple plot-based graphics on it for years. I also loved to draw comics and loved creating stories throughout my teens. I decided then and there, in that theater, that this is what I would do with my future.

 And so, I started! Being an avid movie fan, I knew the first thing to do was to study the language of film, so I took a cinematography class. Then I needed to know about the hardware and software, so I studied that and got myself the best computer I could afford. I decided that I would learn as I go, so I started just creating short 3D animated films. After my second short, I started working in the industry, as lead artist on Emmy Award winning visual effects shows, pushing myself to learn and improve as the industry evolved.

 After a few years I also started to teach and found a good balance of working in production to pay the bills and continue to develop my skills, teaching in the classroom to understand and communicate all the ideas of the art and technology of 3D animation, and to produce at least one short 3D animation per year as an artist. And over the last 30 years this has been my wonderful life!

2.Which part of films attracts you the most as a filmmaker?

This is a difficult question, as I love all aspects of filmmaking. I understood early on that films need to emotionally resonate with the audience for it to be memorable, and that there were many ways to achieve this. Beautiful cinematography to frame unique worlds filled with interesting characters doing interesting things for interesting reasons, all to express an overall idea or theme. I needed to learn how to do all of that. And I am still learning, haha!

 From a practical standpoint, I love the development stage most. Writing and visually developing the story through character design and storyboarding, researching places, costumes, personalities, and then going through each step of the creative and technical process to finally finish something original is very satisfying.

 I really love acting as well and spend a lot of time developing personalities and performances for my characters. I enjoy 3D modeling, texturing, and lighting. Animation itself takes me a while as it’s challenging to do, but when you finally have a performance that works and feels right then it’s a great feeling. Compositing and editing at the end are the best though, as you are close to being done!

 The only thing I hate is when I notice that something can be improved just as I finish, and knowing that if I can make it better, then I should make it better. The “see a problem, fix a problem” mentality. So, I make life hard on myself and force myself to do better, even if that means lots of late nights redoing a lot of work that has already been done. It can be pretty painful, but it makes my work and myself better, so I think it’s worth it.

3.Shawn, “Meet Cute” was extremely adorable and light. How did you end up making it?

Aww, thanks so much! I really try to be universal in all my work. I have a strong belief that you should do something that you care about, that really means something to you or that you have strong feelings towards.  I also believe in the commonality of humanity, that we all have shared experiences in life we can all relate too. This commonality binds us together. It makes us appreciate our lives. And there is a power and weight to that.

 “Meet Cute” was born from this. I had never tried to make a romantic short film before, so I asked myself a simple question, “What do I find romantic?” I remembered experiences in my life I thought were lovely, that made me have that romantic feeling. I felt that kindness, caring, respect and consideration for the sake of others really resonated with me. So, from this I very quickly thought of the premise of “Meet Cute”. The image of characters standing in the rain sharing an umbrella is iconic, but for me it was just as practical. I needed a situation to show the characters interacting in a considerate way, and a rainy street just felt right. And classic.

 Now that I had the general idea, I then went through my process. The first step is to do research. I always try to put my stories into a time and place that would best suit the topic. This adds flavor and depth to the short and can help inform a lot of the creative choices to come. So, for “Meet Cute” I immediately felt the 1920s and 1930s was a good time, and since I’m Canadian, a street from that time with maple trees would be a good place for the story.

 As for all my characters, I try to make them as cute and charming as possible. The characters for “Meet Cute” were a little different though. I first played around with their shapes and details from there, trying to be original and not basing it off anything I did before. I then researched hairstyles and clothing of the time period, things like hats, suits, skirts, stockings, shoes, etc. I absolutely love costume design, so it was super fun for me. I had the opportunity to travel to London and photographed old buildings, gardens, brick walls, gates and streets as reference as well and that really helped me develop the location.

 I then storyboarded the short. If I have one secret to creating good art, it would be “contrast”. I wanted the main character to come out a little tired and transition through many emotions ending in happiness. How to do that? I thought of the characters, and their personalities and developed the performance from there. I then filmed myself for animation reference, acting out both parts. Fun!

 Then the real work began. Modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, lighting, rendering, and editing all took a great deal of time. I also designed a whole font package for the titles, which I didn’t end up using. I would normally take 4 months off to work straight through a short film but for “Meet Cute” I ended up being extremely busy on many other projects, so it took a very long while to finish.

 There were three things that happened to make me finally finish “Meet Cute”. Firstly, I taught a course on “The History of Animation” as well as “The History of Cinematography”, and realized how influential old movies were to me, and how “Meet Cute” naturally reflected this. This got me excited to work on it. The second was the Covid lockdown, which left me A LOT of time to actually work on it. And thirdly, I just turned 50 years old this year and I feel strongly that I should stop what I was currently doing and go back to working on my own shorts, to try to do one a year, for the rest of my life. I’m very happy to say that “Meet Cute” is the first of these projects!

 

4.What are the disadvantages of storytelling via animation? And what are the advantages ??

Animation is a strange thing. The biggest disadvantage is time and effort. As a storytelling medium it is one of the most time-consuming things you can possibly do. There are also a lot of limitations inherent in the art and craft of animation, both technically and artistically. If you are doing it mostly by yourself, like what I do, then the amount of knowledge and experience you need is a huge investment. And the motivation and willpower to see it all through to the end is also very challenging. Thinking about it, I chuckle a laugh, because something like “Meet Cute” could be filmed with actors on location in a day, with a few weeks of prep.

 So why do I do it this way? For one, the beauty and simplicity of animation is much more universal, and as such can be a better medium for expression. It’s timeless and ageless and can appeal across all cultures. You can create whole new worlds and you have the freedom to explore stories in any way you can imagine them. And the time and effort that goes into making the animation makes it so we can consider every aspect of the film to great effect. Animation is also a very personal medium, like writing a novel. An artist can express themselves and create something special to them. I think animation is a wonderfully artistic medium and one that I deeply love.

5.Meet Cute reminds us of the silent era movies. Were they your inspirations as well?

Very much so! I watched so many movies as a child. Being from northern Canada, it is cold and dark for a good part of the year, and I spent a lot of time in front of the tv or in the theaters escaping to other worlds. I was watching two movies a night, and three or four on the weekends for years and years and years. A lot of the films I saw were old films. Films by Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, and the Three Stooges. I loved Charlie Chaplin as well, but my absolute favorite was Buster Keaton. Not only were his films full of incredible action sequences but they were filled with a kindness and earnestness that we have seemed to have lost today. When I asked myself “what is romantic to me?”, these old movies and how the characters interacted with each other came immediately to mind.

 My acting and character performance was also influenced by Keaton, something I didn’t realize until I started to rewatch his films. For the cinematography, most films of the time were shot with a standard 50mm and framed like a stage play, as this was what the audiences were used to at the time. The cameras of the era were all big, sensitive, and hard to move around. So, I framed “Meet Cute” in the standard way for early 1920 films. As for color, the animation medium is generally super saturated and contrasty, but I have always shied away from that. I chose more of a washed out feel to also invoke early silent films.

 The funniest thing is, when “Meet Cute” was almost finished, Siddarth Sadashiv and I were talking about the music and sound design, we went back to old 1920s movies for reference. One film in particular, the beginning of Keaton’s “Seven Chances”, was so like what I did it was scary, haha! Almost the same camera placement, a man and woman center frame with love as a theme. Similar clothing choices as per the time period. The story and characters were completely different, but the influence on my early development as an artist and as a person, and as such on “Meet Cute”, however indirectly, is undeniable.

6.Shawn, as a filmmaker, what kinds of films do you wish to make?

I ask myself this question every day, haha! I am very fortunate, as since I do almost everything myself, I am free to create works that I find either interesting or challenging, without having to worry about commercial viability or pitches or relying on others to start. With that being said, the works that I try to create are universally appealing, about topics people all over the world can relate to, told in interesting and beautiful ways.

I have never done an action oriented short, so I recently wrote something with a dynamic chase sequence, but with an interesting ending. Another project is about how people can change the world around them. And I have another, a longer film about making choices about life that can take you into different directions. Lots and lots of wonderful ideas, haha!

 And as for style, I have done a little 2D animation in the past as well as stop motion, and I want to continue to expand my style. When it comes to story development, I first have a story to tell, then find the best way to artistically express it. My only concern is time, as I’m just one person. I also must work for a living so depending on what I’m doing it does take both time and energy away from my shorts. I must manage my time and plan accordingly, and that is always challenging.

7.Which are your most favorite animated works? It would be great if you could share them with our readers!

Where to begin? Any work from Yuri Norstein is truly wonderful, especially “Hedgehog in the Fog”. The Japanese animation “Hotarubi no Mori e” was beautiful. The sword fight at the end of “Sword of the Stranger” is stunningly good. Walt Disney’s “The Old Mill” is an often missed classic and important technical achievement. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as well as “James and the Giant Peach” were both inspirational to me at the time. Mostly I love simple, textural works that reflect a small part of life in a beautiful or emotional way.

 

8.Shawn, the movie was so great that it naturally made all of us crave for more. Would you like to extend the story in future? Something like a follow-up.

Maybe! Usually most of my work is a one-off. The sad thing is I still have all my characters modeled, rigged and ready to animate. The look development is already done as well so in retrospect, doing another short with the same characters would be much easier then starting something from scratch. Depending on how popular “Meet Cute” is, I may be inspired to do more stories. Once I start to think about it, there are many things I could do with them. Follow them as they start a family, showing those simple but important moments of life in charming and beautiful ways.

And as with most artists, the idea of a short film becoming popular and successful enough to transition into an ongoing series is very attractive to me. We will see what the future holds for us!

9.Lastly, we would love to know if you have planned your next project. If yes, then, what is it? When can we expect to see it?

The next project I am doing is called “Li Sa So” and is about a cute little robot wandering around an empty park drawing all the interesting places and creatures it sees. The idea is exploration and discovery and appreciating all the wonderful things around us.

It has a companion piece called “Silaby Saliby So”, also about robots, but is more focused on friendship. It’s a visual effects project and I have already shot all the plates, modeled, textured and rigged all the characters and props already. I just need to animate it and render it all out. I would like to have “Li Sa So” finished by summer 2023. Wish me luck! 

 

It was nice talking to you, Shawn! Thank you for your time!

 

It was my pleasure! Sorry for the long answers as I love telling stories, haha! To see some of my earlier works and to see updates on my current progress please feel free to check out my website at www.studioshon.com

 

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