‘Animal Behaviour’: Special Oscar-Week Miniflix Interview

Directors Alison Snowden & David Fine On Making Their 2019 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short

Feb 20, 2019 · 5 min read
Alison Snowden & David Fine just received their fourth Oscar nominations for “Animal Behaviour.” (Credit: NFB.CA)

When it comes to the Oscars, this is not Alison Snowden or David Fine’s first rodeo. The animating duo are now four-time Academy-Award-nominated directors, something you rarely find happening in the short film categories (or any category). Their previous short film to win the Oscar, “Bob’s Birthday”, was in 1995. Though much in the field of animation has changed since then (like the dominance of Pixar), the incredible combination of wit and compassion on display in their filmmaking has not wavered one bit.

Both directors spend a few minutes with us to talk about the making of “Animal Behaviour”, the incredible amount of generous support they’ve received, and what it feels like to go to the Oscar again!

Miniflix Interviewer: Unlike some of your past work (thinking of “George and Rosemary” and “Bob’s Birthday”), “Animal Behaviour” has a much more de-saturated color palette and a monochromatic environment. Was this decision made because of the story you were telling, because you wanted to try something different, or another reason?

Alison Snowden & David Fine: Yes, we particularly chose to give the film a more mature look (as mature as it could be with silly animals) and chose to go with a more limited colour palette, as distinct from our earlier work.

Miniflix: Something that really comes across all your shorts is the use of sound effects for humor. Every footstep, squeak and creak has a resonant life of their own. When you’re putting together the story or hand-drawing the frames, how much are you thinking about sound? Or does sound play more of a part later, as a way of filling out the animation?

Alison & David: Oh yes, we always think so much about sound and music too. We imagine all those details and to a rough track with the animatic as we work. We love squeaky chairs and all those little details which really enrich the atmosphere. We were very lucky to work with Olivier Calvert, who did a fantastic job with the sound design. Judith Gruber Stitzer did the music and we love what she brought to it. We had a lot of specific ideas for sound and music and both of them delivered and also brought their own angles, so it was a great collaboration.

“Animal Behaviour” is a quirky and heartwarming animated comedy about therapy for animals (Credit: NFB.CA)

M: What was the decision process like of pairing animal/insect types with their corresponding personalities and ticks? Did some come more naturally than others?

A & D: We chose the particular animals because their traits had common ground with human issues. We also wanted an interesting and comedic visual, so the notion of a tiny little leech and a giant ape was fun and would give us interesting angles. We wanted some of the characters to tell their story and some to display it in the room, without an explanation. Hence, the obsessive compulsive cat licking herself and the pig eating all the time.

M: One of the most unique parts of “Animal Behaviour” was the relationship that the Dog, Dr. Clement, had with his group. Most therapists represented in films feel distant, erudite and above the situation. However, this film gives us a vulnerable perspective on the therapist and shows him using his “animal” nature, or truly empathetic humanity, to relate to his group members in a deeper way. How important was it for you two that Dr. Clement feel more fleshed out than the typical stock character of the psychiatrist?

A & D: Yeah, we really wanted everyone to have some kind of issue and by giving the therapist his own ticks, meant he was more human, if you will. I happen to know some therapists personally and they are by no means perfect people, and why should they be? So we thought it completely appropriate to show that.

M: Because of your decades of experience animating short films and television shows, does it ever get easier to start something new from scratch? Or does each new project feel like starting from zero (in both a good and challenging way)?

A & D: Every time there is a blank page to start writing, it’s always intimidating and every new film means a new approach and new challenges. It’s never easy and we don’t take anything for granted.

The voice actors of “Animal Behaviour” beside the characters they help bring to life (Credit:: NFB.CA)

M: “Animal Behaviour” truly rewards viewers who go back and watch again. Literally every moment is filled with some humorous action or interaction. How much of the little moments (the pig going back for bagels, the cat compulsively licking) are written down before animating and how much of it is found in the creating itself? Do both of you ever ‘workshop’ bits, try things that may or may not work — or do you make sure the script and everything that happens is 100% good to go before drawing and animating?

A & D: Thank you. Most everything is written in the script because the visual comedic beats are very much part of the storytelling, but the precise timing is played with and honed and we do discover small things at animation stage. But mostly, it’s all in the script. We do a detailed animatic with a guide track and then the real track. We animate once the voices are edited and then we continue to tweak the timing.

M: Having already won an Oscar before, what part of the whole Oscar-nominee experience do you appreciate the most?

A & D: Being nominated is the biggest deal, because with that you get to participate in all the fun. Of course winning is great too, but somehow the nomination feels like the more important thing. We really enjoy the profile the film gets and how proud friends, family and the NFB are of the film. That means so much. We worked really hard on the film and our producer, Michael Fukushima, supported this film through some tricky times, for which we are so grateful, so being able to share this with him and the NFB is really nice.

Watch the entire film for free (for a limited time) here.

The 2019 Oscar ceremony is Sunday night, 2/24/19. Watch it to see if the directors of “Animal Behaviour” will be called up to the stage.


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