【DeTao Talks】Max Howard, DeTao Master of Animation Production: The Art of Story Telling in Animated Films

2016-11-13 16:47:04

Animations are vessels which spawn from the diverse imagination of human beings. They provide a magical kingdom, in which our thoughts can soar freely and our imaginations roam wildly. So what sort of professional interpretations do animation producers have towards this medium? Max Howard, DeTao Master of Animation Production, elaborated on the art in front of an audience at Shanghai Library at 14:00 on November 12, leading viewers on a detailed journey into the magical world of creativity.

Master Max Howard addresses the audience at Shanghai Library
Master Howard began his lecture with a clip before moving on to his background in animation production. He mentioned that producers should express their thoughts using a concise language when talking about the role of a producer. In his opinion, it was most effective to communicate with animation characters and find a balance between existing resources and animation production. Time and money were in constant shortage during the animation production process, because a good idea could occur at any moment and refined results must be sought at all times.

Master Howard shares his thoughts as a producer
‘An appealing story is the basis of any successful animation production’, commented Master Howard. ‘It must be believable and realistic, which evoke sympathy in the audience. The heroes depicted in animations always thrive under hardship, which is the same in real life, where nobody is born a hero. Believable characters thus remind the audience of both the real world and the fictional world, which is not entirely made-up, and that in which we live in.’

Master Howard explaining how a good animation remains realistic
To help the audience understand, Master Howard played a clip from Finding Nemo and explained the steps in animation production: starting with background introduction followed by an adventure, in which problems were met and solutions were found. An unexpected turn of events took place before the problems were solved and eventually the characters overcame the tough challenges to regain their confidence and grow.

The mesmerised audience
During the Q&A, Master Howard recounted numerous behind-the-scene stories during the production of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. A horse, unleashed, was brought in for close observation to ensure a more vivid rendition of the character – a potentially dangerous move. With regards to integrating Chinese mythology into animations, Howard stressed the combination of traditional Chinese culture to create elaborate stories.

Master Howard shares behind-the-scene stories during the production of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
Regarding the distinction between story creation and animation production, Master Howard explained that during the creation of a narrative, an author would normally focus on the overall structure of a story, while animation production placed greater emphasis on the creation of characters. The design of the dialogue helped the audience see into the mind of characters, yet careful attention was also paid to ensure how the characters’ dialogue maintained their realism. Howard answered each question from the audience in great detail.

Audience members pose their questions to Master Howard
【About the master】
Max Howard, an internationally renowned film producer, has been in the animation industry for over two decades. He became the animation director at Warner Bros. after his role as the vice president of Administration and Planning in Disney's Feature Animation Division for 7 years. He was also the co-producer at DreamWorks. Currently, he runs two independent film companies, namely Melwood Pictures and Max Howard Consulting Group. He partook in the production of classical animations such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, The Iron Giant, Space Jam and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Furthermore, he has produced a series of critical animations for Exodus Film Group, including Igor in 2008, The Hero of Color City in 2014 and the recently completed Bunyan and Babe. He was honoured with a Doctor of Arts degree from Teesside University in the United Kingdom in recognition for his services to the animation industry. Howard is also the Chancellor of Middlesbrough Children’s University, and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of the U.S. and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.