What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Kevin D. A. Kurytnik and I am an animation writer/director who runs a small animation studio with my partner Carol Beecher called Fifteen Pound Pink Productions, named in honor of one of our magnificent cats. We tell our own stories in animation. I am also a permanent instructor who specializes in Animation, Motion Graphics and visual narrative instruction at the Alberta College of Art + Design in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Teaching infuses my animation with inspirations and energy and my personal creative work greatly informs my teaching.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Caricaturing in bars late into the night. The Horror. The Horror.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I am very fond of our first large project, Mr. Reaper’s Really Bad Morning, which I wrote, designed and co-directed. It opened a lot of doors for myself and our company. A 35mm film print is housed in the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, Ontario, and at the Cinémathèque québécoise in Montreal, Quebec. Kevin Schreck, the writer/director of the fantastic documentary The Persistence of Vision, on the making and unmaking of Richard Williams’ feature The Thief and the Cobbler recently commented that Mr. Reaper was one of the best animations he had seen in a while. Kind words with an interesting connection – Mr. Reaper was made after I took one of William’s last Animation Master Classes which took place in Los Angeles in 2000. Mr. Reaper’s Really Bad Morning was finished in 2004. It has a bit of that Williams spirit somehow I think.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from Norquay, a small town in Saskatchewan, a very flat prairie province. I was in the Visual Communications program taking graphic design and illustration at the Alberta College of Art (not yet +Design) when I got a short gig replacing an employee going on maternity leave at the patient information department at Foothills Hospital. I primarily did medical illustration while I was there. A video producer in the same department liked my work and secured some funds to do a Terry Gilliam type animation on the History of Anesthesia. He got me a membership at a place called the Quickdraw Animation Society which ran beginner’s animation classes. I liked making things move and gradually got more involved with Quickdraw helping to build it up into a resource centre for independent animators. Here is an experimental animated film I made while there, Abandon Bob Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here. It opened the Ottawa International Animation Festival in 2000 and got a really interesting audience reaction. My partner Carol Beecher and I formed Fifteen Pound Pink Productions in 1994 to do commercial work. Our first film TREES!, made for Trans Alta Utilities Arbour Day project, teaches elementary school children in rural communities how to plant and care for pine seedlings. It won a Silver Hugo award in 1995, and was one of 72 entries out of over a thousand films selected for competition at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival in 1996. This was our first experience attending an animation festival. It was amazing! We decided at that point to make our own short films and the rest is history.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
We are currently in storyboard/design process for a dramatic animated short for the National Film Board of Canada with the working title of True North, completion slated for mid 2015. I am in the middle of working with a storyboard artist, overseeing previz staging of shots using Maya, and resolving the final story events. I also spend a fair amount of time creating colour beat boards, more resolved images which represent key moments in the film. This early summer we are going to finalize the Maya/2D hybrid pipeline and the design which will be very gritty and textural with a lot of film noir type lighting. We will also confirm the length which appears to be coming in at around 12-15 minutes. (Pre-production images for True North ©2013 used by permission from the National Film Board of Canada North West Centre).
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like that I am directing, writing and designing the projects I am involved in. That is very satisfying.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Budgets. Our projects require a team and often our budgets are so low that we find ourselves at the mercy of having part time staff which makes creating certain work in a timely manner sometimes very difficult. The other challenge is time. I also teach so my days are often split between the studio and ACAD.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
Our primary animation software for the longest time has been the high end Toon Boom software, the most current of which is Harmony, along with After Effects which we use for compositing and effects. We made a series of little 2D drawing based shorts for the Canadian BRAVO arts channel, these little Sci-Fi cartoons are based on the NFB produced Hinterland Who’s Who interstitials for the Canadian Wildlife Service that we used to watch as kids in the 1970s, as well as being a cross between the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Looney Toons in tone. There has been some interest from both feature and TV series studios to develop these IWW shorts into something larger. I am currently working on a graphic novel that will flesh out the world and introduce many new characters and events, which will hopefully work as a first stage storyboard for a potential feature film. As well here is a commissioned project we did for the Animasivo Animation Forum of the Festival de Mexico that is primarily digital cut outs, as opposed to drawing, using Toon Boom and After Effects. Currently our True North film is our first 2D/3D hybrid project and so our studio is currently coming to grips with Z Brush creation of characters and rigging these for Maya and the whole pipeline challenge for managing and rendering 3D frames. Luckily we have great people at the NFB to help us out. So far the results have been very promising.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
We’re not really in the business, but the most difficult part for what we do is getting funding to make work. We’ve been quite fortunate over the years getting arts grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Canada Council for the Arts to create projects but we just came out of a period where we were heavily in debt to pay for our work, having maxed out our line of credit and the credit card. Getting to work with the NFB has been amazing and this is the biggest budget we’ve ever had with the added bonus of not having to empty our our savings and work for free.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Fredrick Back and Priit Parn both visited Quickdraw. We drove Mr. Back from Banff where he was receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Banff Centre Television Festival. Festivals are great places to brush up against greatness. We are friends with the great Bill Plympton and Wendy Tilby & Amanda Forbis, the creators of the amazing When The Day Breaks. We are also friends with Paul Dutton, a key animator on Triplets of Belleville and the co-director of the Tati scripted Sylvain Chomet feature The Illusionist. A non-animation brush with greatness happened years ago on a trip to New York. We were in the Strand bookshop and I was up the ladder in the William Blake section. An older gentleman asked me to pass down a specific book and it was Allen Ginsberg!
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
For a while when jobs were not coming and we owed money for one of our shorts I had to help Carol’s dad install carpets to make ends meet. That was a difficult time.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Our side projects are what we do! True North, which is taking up all our time currently, is a dramatic animation based loosely on the structure and events of the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner which is about a mariner who kills a bird who led his ship to safety in a storm and is punished by nature. The poem is a kind of amazing fever dream with fantastic supernatural imagery. We have transposed the setting to 1826 and have made a character loosely based on the Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company for our protagonist. He kills a Raven and goes on a similar journey. We start production in late summer. It will be done in mid 2015.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I am addicted to storytelling. I try to watch a feature or a series of TV episodes every day along with constantly reading and absorbing new and old comics, graphic novels and literature. I am seeing how much sequential storytelling I can fit in my brain.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? Three things: First heed the Joseph Campbell maxim “Follow your bliss.” If you do not love what you are doing you will always want to do something else. Life is too short for that shit. Grab life by the throat. The second is the animation maxim “You are only as good as your weakest frame.” Stage, animate and tell the stories you have to tell as best as you can. Everyone wants to work with a good storyteller. Work your stuff hard and opportunities will follow. The third piece of advice is from Ed Wood; “Shoot for the stars but if you only make it to Mars that is ok. Stars flicker in and out but Mars is a planet.” This last one makes more sense as I get older.http://vimeo.com/35524539 http://vimeo.com/35524821