Rising Animators Spring Into Motion

July 26th, 2013

There’s an apocryphal story about a director on “The Simpsons” who didn’t like the way a scene looked and asked to see the other two camera angles. If you don’t understand the absurdity of that anecdote, well, you’re not alone. Lots of people don’t understand how animation works, how time consuming it can be, how every single thing on screen has to be meticulously planned and often assembled over months (if not years).

So it takes a combination of dedication and Job-like patience for any artists working in animation today to elevate themselves above the pack.

In search of this year’s rising stars, we canvassed industry sources, academics, fans and others before settling on this list of five faces to watch: Rebecca Sugar, who helped create the romantic misadventures of a weird-looking boy and a flame-spewing princess; Minkyu Lee, who shows the Fall of Man wasn’t all bad, damnation aside; Timothy Reckart, who lived with his characters for a year, in slow motion; Justin Roiland, who hit on his idea by angering lawyers; and Jason Ruiz, who likens his bumbling detective hero to “Scooby-Doo solving murders.”

These up-and-comers have already garnered prizes, Oscar nods and Hollywood deals, but other names came up and are worth noting as well (like Enrico Casarosa of Pixar, the Oscar winner John Kahrs and the Canadian independent Nick Cross).

Sure, there’s plenty for animation fans this summer and even this weekend (when the international extravaganza that is the Animation Block Party gets under way in Brooklyn and Fox’s “Animation Domination High Def” has its official premiere).

But keep one eye on the horizon. ROBERT ITO

Mark Hill\Cartoon Network

Rebecca Sugar

‘Adventure Time’ Episodes

In “It Came From the Nightosphere,” an episode of the Cartoon Network series “Adventure Time,” Marceline, a vampire over 1,000 years old but who looks 19, sings a tender ballad about feeling betrayed by her father, who also happens to be an unkillable, soul-sucking demon. The Emmy-nominated episode was co-written by Rebecca Sugar, and so was the ballad “Daddy, Why Did You Eat My Fries?”

A graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York, Ms. Sugar was wooed by the network after her self-published comics, created while in high school in Maryland, caught the eye of Pendleton Ward, the creator of “Adventure Time.”

Since then, Ms. Sugar has created 21 episodes, including celebrated ones like “Fionna and Cake,” in which the heroes switch genders, and “Lady and Peebles,” featuring a unicorn speaking in long passages of untranslated Korean.

This fall, Ms. Sugar will get her own series, “Steven Universe,” about a pudgy 12-ish boy whose closest friends are a team of space-spanning women with magical powers. The boy is loosely based on Ms. Sugar’s brother, Steven, now 22, who draws backgrounds for the show and whom Ms. Sugar, 26, clearly adores. “We were best-friend siblings, and people would tell us, ‘Oh, um, that’s unusual,’ ” she said. “I tried to make the character like him, where you’re so comfortable in your life because you get all the attention, but you also want to rise up and not be the little brother.”

With “Steven Universe,” Ms. Sugar becomes the first solo female show creator at Cartoon Network. Talk about expectations. “I’m under so much pressure making this show,” she said. “If there’s added pressure, I’m not sure I can feel it.” ROBERT ITO

Minkyu Lee

“Adam and Dog”

Minkyu Lee

Heidi Gilbert

‘Adam and Dog’

In Minkyu Lee’s retelling of the Garden of Eden story, a bat-eared mutt is the central figure, Eve is something of an afterthought, and the fall occurs offstage.

The pacing of the tale, “Adam and Dog,” his first animated short, is glacial compared with your typical feature — Mr. Lee cites Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard and Terrence Malick as influences — the message and story, subtle.

“You’d be surprised at how many people don’t get that it’s the Adam and Eve story,” Mr. Lee said. “I’ll ask them: ‘So what did you think the story was about? A naked man frolicking around the forest with a dog?’ ”

Mr. Lee, a 27-year-old graduate of the California Institute for the Arts, worked on the film for two and a half years, laboring nights and weekends when he wasn’t working at Walt Disney Animation Studios on projects like “Tangled” and “The Princess and the Frog.”

His independently produced short earned an Academy Award nomination this year, alongside entries from powerhouses like Disney and Fox.

Not bad considering he was new to creating cartoon animals. “I’d never actually animated a quadruped,” he said.

Jennifer Hager, a friend and quadruped pro, helped with the dog; also pitching in were colleagues from CalArts and Disney.

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