TED Conversations

Julian Grey

Director & Partner, Head Gear Animation

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Live Q&A with Julian Grey - Combining Animation and Poetry

Julian Grey, co-founder and animation director at Head Gear Animation in Toronto, created several of the beautiful animations featured in Billy Collin's recent TED Talk. As Billy says in his Talk, "It took a long time to put animation and poetry together. But then again, it took us a long time to put the wheel and the suitcase together."

Are you curious about how these videos were created? Are there other poems you'd love to see animated? Do you want to know more about careers in animation? Post a question for Julian in the comment box below!

( and if you know an animator who would like to get involved with TED, please let us know! http://ed.ted.com/get_involved )

Topics: animation art poetry
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Closing Statement from Julian Grey

Thanks to all for your thoughtful questions.
I hope I was able to clarify the project a bit, how it came about and what went into it.
Of course many people were involved in the creation of these pieces besides myself.
From bouncing initial ideas around with other directors here and discussing the treatment with creatives at J Walter Thompson, to working with animators, prop and model builders, actors, composers and lighting people....
A full list of credits can be seen at:
http://www.headgearanimation.com/work/show?project_alias=sundance_action_poetry_series

  • Apr 26 2012: Thanks Julian awesome work!
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    Apr 26 2012: Hi Julian, Great work... When you first read the poetry do attain an image in your head or does it take mutiple readings before you get that first image?
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      Apr 26 2012: I think you always gets some instant images in your head...you mull them over, some you chuck out and one some you keep. Of course multiple readings bring on more ideas which may cancel your original genius thoughts!
  • Apr 26 2012: In my youth, I was a big fan of Ogden Nash. Any thoughts in that direction?
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      Apr 26 2012: His light verse would probably be a delight to do animation for.
      Maybe after I do Edward Lear I'll try him...

      If called by a panther / Don't anther";
      "Who wants my jellyfish? / I'm not sellyfish!"
  • Apr 26 2012: Hi Julian, I was wondering how long it took for you to complete each animation. With the recent domination of Computer-based Animation in the industry, it's refreshing to see traditional methods still be used today. Do you plan to continue down this path, or have you looked into using 3D animation in your work? I find that while I love what I do (I'm currently at a small video game company where we're creating 3D games for facebook, iPads, etc.), I always find myself taking out my animation paper and hand animating whenever I get the chance. Is it more of a personal preference for you to use traditional methods? (Thank you for your time to talk with all of us!)
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      Apr 26 2012: I guess it is personal preference. My background in art was printmaking, so I've always approached project wiith a collagist's mentality. A prime influence was, is Rauschenberg...
      I suppose I'm a little old for the 3D revolution so am a little leary of it, but happy to work with younger artists to put pieces together...
      Also with new cheap technology people are able to experiment freely like never before unhindered by cost.
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    Apr 26 2012: Hi Julian, incredible work! If you're ever interested in helping with animation work for The Paradigm Shift Project's documentary films on social and environmental justice, please drop me a line! You can check out the films at www.theparadigmshiftproject.org.
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      Apr 26 2012: Thank you!
      Will check out the site for sure...
  • Apr 26 2012: I'm a recent graduate of Full Sail University with a degree in computer animation. I'm trying to get my foot int he door with the industry and was just wondering whats the best first step i should make towards finding a job or work?
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      Apr 26 2012: Knock on every door.
      Build a really strong reel.
      Create your own work.
      Never stop experimenting.
      Learn to tell a simple story (re: Pixar's Luxo Lamp)
      • Apr 26 2012: I have a student reel that i spent 7 months creating with the help of some very knowledgable professors, all worked for the Disney during the 2d animation years. I love to experiment with my work and pushing myself to increase my skills as a lighting artist and 3d animator. I would love if you gave my demo reel a quick look! www.wix.com/doubled1212/dustin-ursillo
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    Apr 26 2012: Your stuff reminds me of Shel Silverstein. Any influence there?
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      Apr 26 2012: Silverstein's stuff is great, but no influence there...
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    Apr 26 2012: Hi Julian! (I'm Stephanie from the TED-Ed team.) We loved your animation and Billy's Talk! Out of curiosity, how long did it take to complete the project?
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      Apr 26 2012: Thank you!
      Each piece took about four to six weeks, but they were worked on simultaneously so it's hard to say exactly...
  • Apr 26 2012: What is your favorite method for creating animations? And what are you're top softwares that you enjoying working with?
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      Apr 26 2012: I usually veer towards traditional "old school" animation...cel, stop-motion...and composite in After Effects, which itself is a great animation tool...
      • Apr 26 2012: What camera do you use? And during production do you use any software like Dragonframe or Stop Motion Pro?
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      Apr 26 2012: This stuff was done before Dragon Frame existed...
      These days we use Dragon and shoot on A Canon D5...
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    Apr 26 2012: I love them! Especially Forgetfulness. I'm very curious about the copyright agreement you and Billy came to? Can you explain how you went about getting his permission and what was his response to your animations?
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      Apr 26 2012: See below for how I ended up working on these poems...
      Billy Collins did finally send me a lovely e-mail a couple of years later that said gracious things about the pieces...

      The copyright for the animations is owned by J Walter Thompson who commissioned them.
  • Apr 26 2012: Your animation was interesting, a nice combination of stop motion and traditional overlaid. What program did you use to make it? i recently used to Flash to make an animated version of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpRSmMnx1MU

    What animators are you inspired by?
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      Apr 26 2012: Everything was composited in After Effects...but all the poems were using traditional animation methods...
  • Apr 26 2012: Julian, how did you get started in animation? Did you go to school for it? Have you studied a lot of traditional art too?
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      Apr 26 2012: Went to art school, also worked as a graphic designer before moving into animation...Trial by fire, learned as I went along...
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      Apr 26 2012: I only write poetry to my mum, my daughter and my wife...
  • Apr 26 2012: Who is the cutest, animation or poetry? How do they compete in your work?
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      Apr 26 2012: Animation is definitely the cutest.
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    Apr 26 2012: Hi Julian. I enjoyed your animated accompaniment to some of Billy Collins' work. 'Budapest' was particularly lovely. I have some questions regarding your feelings toward the synthesis of poetry and animation I would like to ask you if I may...

    To what extent did you collaborate with Collins? Is the visualisation just a response to the written word or did you have the opportunity to meet with the poet and discuss a visual approach beforehand or..?

    Immediate parallels can be drawn between the use of animation to accompany poetry and the use of animation in music videos. As the animator, do you feel that there is a difference in how you respond to the lyrical, as opposed to the purely poetic?

    Last, the work produced via this kind of artistic collaboration is obviously very different to work produced to satisfy a commercial brief. Do you favour a particular approach to creative production...?
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      Apr 26 2012: Didn't collaborate with Collins...would've been nice I suppose, but also approaching his poetry unhindered by anyone was a good thing. I was well aware that as a poet he might have some heebiejeebs about the imagery, but I also tried to put myself in his shoes in coming up with ideas...

      I think the line between lyrical and poetic is pretty blurred...ask Bob Dylan...or Ginsberg...music videos are the perfect parallel...

      The differences between this type of work and a commercial brief are not as opposed as you might imagine
      . The creative process is quite similiar really, the big difference here is Collins' language inspires tons of ffantastic possibilities...

      Order of creative process:
      Treatment.
      Storyboard
      Receive audio of Billy reading
      Build an animatic (timing storyboard images images to the read)
      Start shooting the storyboard scenes
      Edit scenes together
      Add sound FX and music.
      Et voila.
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        Apr 26 2012: Blurred indeed. I was intrigued by Collins' statement above in which he considers the marriage of animation and poetry as a long time coming. I consider the lyrical as poetic, therefore to my mind, there's a considerable history of these two art forms in synthesis... But then I'm not a poet!

        Well, I agree, up to a point... :) My personal feeling is that it is the agenda behind the work is the key consideration... Now, there's nothing wrong at all with the commercial brief, but it doesn't quite have the potential for complete and unfettered self-expression as, of course, the clients' objectives must always be met. They are both very exciting realms, I'm sure you agree - but also quite different to my mind.

        I'm guessing this brief was a combination of the two - how very exciting :)
  • Apr 26 2012: Also, do you read much poetry yourself? Did working on these projects make you want to read more? Billy's poetry is so much more accessible than the stuff I remember being forced to read in high school, I actually went out and picked up one of his books after I saw his talk. Love it!
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      Apr 26 2012: My mum taught Poetry so I had early experience with the likes of William Blake, Keats, Yeats, etc..
  • Apr 26 2012: Wow, I loved these animations! The poetry is great, but the visuals really brought it to life for me. Did Billy pretty much tell you what he wanted the animations to be, or was it all your idea?
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      Apr 26 2012: No Billy involvement. All my ideas...of course I hoped he'd be into them...
  • Apr 26 2012: Is there another poet that you would like to work with in the future that you think your animation style would work well with?
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      Apr 26 2012: I would love to do the Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear.
  • Apr 26 2012: Hi Julian,

    I'm studying animation and I'm a huge fan of TED, and I'd love to work on projects like this someday! How did you get involved in this talk? Did Billy Collins come to you asking for animation?
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      Apr 26 2012: J Walter Thompson, an ad agency came to Head Gear (where I work) with a project involving Collins' poetry. They gave us an pile of his poems to sift through and I picked three. They were doing this through the Sundance Channel. Was there money in it? No.