Click here for Part 1
By Seana Sperling
The following is an interview with Amanda Forbis, formerly on
National Film Board, and part of the very
talented Film making team of Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby. Their
animated short, "When the Day Breaks,"
was nominated for an Academy Award last
winter. Fim maker/Animator, Amanda Forbis gives insight into how this
innovative film incorporates live action film with painted images, giving
it a fine art look.
Q: When you and Wendy work together, do you divide up the areas: concept
and script, drawings, coloring, etc.
AMANDA: When we started work together we had a one page outline of the
idea of, "When the Day Breaks." From that point, we both hashed over each
storyboard frame, each concept change and practically every frame of
finished film. We both created the artwork (after many months of
amalgamating our styles) and we went through the post-production process
as a team. We had our disagreements, but the partnership was incredibly
Q: Each frame is delicately painted and the blurred edges give it a
kinetic sense. Can you describe the technique you use to get this effect?
AMANDA: First we shot live action on a High 8 video camera (nothing
fancy). We used our friends or ourselves as actors to get the basic
movement without worrying too much about the aesthetics of the video. Then
we went back to the studio and selectively printed out frames of the
action using a video printer, which creates small 4x3 thermal black and
white prints. We usually manipulated the action, speeding it up, slowing
it down or sometimes reversing the order. After that we photocopied the
whole shot and painted over the action using oil sticks and pencil,
turning humans into animals. It sounds complex, but basically you end up
doing a lot of painting, which suited us both just fine, though it was
very time consuming.
The section of the film that features the physical connections of a
city--the pipes and wires, etc. was drawn on paper by our friend Martin
Rose in Vancouver. That was flipped into a negative image on the
Cineon computer at the National Film Board.
Q: How long did it take to make this film?
AMANDA: Four years. We had some interruptions and the Board had some
Q: The movement of some of the characters is very natural looking. For
instance, the shot of the manís retreating back as he crosses the
street. Do you have a technique for this?
AMANDA: Sometimes, if the original video shoot was really successful, we
would keep elements of the background, as in the shot of the chicken
crossing the road. There you can see some of the apartment buildings
behind him, rendered in a soft gray. You get a ghost of the real
background through. We were attracted to the spooky combination of an
animal/cartoony-type character and a recognizable, naturally moving, human
character. We had to work hard to get the correct balance.
Q: Judith Gruber Stitzen and David Gossage wrote the score for, ďWhen the
Day Breaks,Ē Did you and Wendy have a set idea for the music or did you
leave that to the composers?
We had a lot of pre-set ideas and we worked really closely with
Judith on the song composition. As a matter of fact we wrote the
lyrics to it.
Judith wrote the score and David helped her arrange it. We were very
clear that we wanted something from the 30íor 40ís--swing/big band
style. Each of the pieces needed to have a particular mood, so the first
song is blatantly happy and the last, wistful. That was the hardest to get
the right tone for. The middle song, is just sad and discombobulated and
that one Judith just took and ran with. She did a marvelous job.
Q: In another area, there is a horse running in a yellow wheat field. The
style is very different here and has the look of landscape painting. When
I was watching this I thought, Iíll bet these were shots/paintings they
really liked and just decided to use them somewhere. Why the shift in
The doomed Mr. Chicken.
AMANDA: Well, itís colorful for one thing and that was deliberate.
It took us awhile to place that shot, but it comes before you
see the ambulance drive away. To us it was a transcendent moment in the
life of the chicken. Either it was his favorite place or his happy
hunting grounds or the place where he was born.
Many of us have some sort of pastoral or perfect memory in our lives that
we remember as golden and beautiful and we hoped thatís what that would
convey. Something special.
Also, we really did like the shot and itís linked with the third song,
ďPrarie Blue,Ē which directly relates to those images as well. It was a
repetition of those pastoral themes, city vs. country. The city in this
film, is a character, and at one point itís a threatening and horrifying
place for Ruby the pig to be. She comes to terms with it in the end, but
she has what we all have, a notion of a simpler life that is usually
aligned with country living. A sense of human community still exists in
the city, but itís just different.
Q: ďWhen the Day Breaks,Ē is the story of a pig named Ruby whose routine
life is disrupted after witnessing a fatal traffic accident. What inspired
AMANDA: Wendy actually wrote the story and it came out of a number of
things for her. Originally there were no animal characters other than the
dogs chasing the ambulance and it wasnít a musical. Sheíd gone through a
couple of ideas that didnít gel too quickly. One idea was to show the sum
of the parts of a human being--bones, blood cells, memories,
thoughts. This was to demonstrate that a human being is as much made up of
ideas as they are of flesh and blood. That translated into the scene where
we see Mr. Chicken's life, strewn out on the road and we get some sense of
who he was and what he was made of.
Another concern that fed into "When the Day Breaks" was a dangerous street
corner near to where Wendy lived in Montreal. There were near misses
almost every day and several times pedestrians had been knocked
down. One elderly woman was killed. Every time Wendy heard screeching
tires she wondered if someone's life had been radically changed or had
even ended in that moment, and who else would feel the reverberations of
that event? Much of, "When the Day Breaks," is about how we are affected
by the life of our community; that we are all connected even though we
Q: You avoid primary colors and everything is hybrid, from the sparsely
used magenta to a pale apricot. This gives it a fine art sense and makes
me wonder if you studied painting.
AMANDA: I did go to art school, in fact Wendy and I both went to the
Emily Carr College of Art which is now called the Emily Carr Institute of
Art and Design in Vancouver. For the colors, we worked really hard for a
limited palette. We were really attracted to rich deep blacks and strong
whites with a kind of patinated quality about them.
Q: Do you consider yourself a painter?
AMANDA: No, but more so than I did before. Four years of painting will
help. Iím more interested in sequential movement and story--the kind of
ideas that go with film making than I am in creating single images.
Q: Are you more interested in being a film maker or an animator? Or both?
AMANDA: I think I'd say I am more interested in being a film
maker. I do find animation very interesting and challenging though.
Q: Do other styles of animation interest you such as, Stop Action?
AMANDA: Definitely not Stop Action. We might experiment with different
techniques in the future but they will be
2-D techniques Iím sure. I did a film in Vancouver using Cut-Out Animation
and I really like that. Thatís an area where I enjoyed the animating
because you do it under the camera so youíre committed to the move you
just made each time you take a frame. Itís like a type of performance
because you have a certain amount of time and you create something and
then itís over. I miss it.
Q: What about Computer Animation?
AMANDA: No. Iím definitely interested in what the computer can do to
augment the creation of art, but the computer as an end product for a
visual look, I donít like at all. I was just at the Ottawa International
Festival of Animation in September, and noticed computer films are getting
better. People are using them in more aesthetically pleasing ways, but I
tend to find them kind of revolting.
Q: So many talented people are working in paint stores, waiting tables,
driving cabs, etc. Thereís this image of the starving artist that has its
basis in reality. How do you usually pay the rent? Are you able to support
yourself through creative efforts or are you teaching art or something
AMANDA: This is where Canadians have it good compared to Americans, in
the sense that I worked at the National Film Board and they paid me to
make that film. Not that all or even many Candians have had the same
opportunity as I have, but at least there are possibilities open. This
is something thatís much harder to
find down here in the States. It makes me appreciate how lucky I
Q: Have you ever taught?
AMANDA: Iíve taught a lot of kidís classes. Kids from about 12- 17. I
just did a couple workshops in Saskatchewan. I enjoyed that and I enjoy it
more now than I used to. I feel like Iím getting more of a grip on
teaching techniques, how to teach and how to be with students in a
classroom. As a result, Iíve really enjoyed my latest forays into
Q: What is the most bizarre/non art-related job youíve ever had?
AMANDA: Thatís a cruel question. I donít even know if I should admit to
this. The worst job I ever had was my three days as a Dickie Dee ice cream
vendor. It was a terrible job because they robbed us blind and you went
out on those little bicycles with the bells. You have to have huge thighs
just to peddle those things around.
It was a brutal job and I managed to crack my tailbone too. I was using
one of those three wheeled automobiles and when I ran back to the truck to
get some change for a customer. I threw myself into the truck and
hit the ledge square on. It was months before I could sit down without
That was sort of a low point for me.
Q: What are you doing in Boston?
AMANDA: Iím supposed to have
been helping Wendy do a trailer for the Harvard archives.
She's teaching Animation there. It is a non-
paying job, but we thought it might be the means of getting up to speed on
some computer programs. We are way behind and weíre interested in using
programs like Photoshop and After Effect to help us in our work . Thereís
no denying that the computer is just a fantastic tool. I donít know if it
could do what we did for, ďWhen the Day Breaks,Ē but it can do other
things that are great. So, Iíve been learning programs.
Seana Sperling is a freelance waiter, uh, writer,
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