In addition to his duties as VP creative director of art and design at TV Land, Michael Waldron teaches graduate and undergraduate classes at the New School in New York, where “there’s one thing I always tell everybody,” he told Brief: “When you’re designing storyboards and starting off in animation, it’s relatively easy to design some great frames and it’s fairly easy to make some animation. What separates good work from great work is amazing transitions.”
In June, at the annual motion conference in Santa Fe, Waldron unveiled the second installment of a project he directed that seems designed to prove his point. The Exquisite Corpse project draws its name from a classic parlor game (possibly invented by the surrealists) in which a creative collaboration is achieved by passing a work-in-progress from one person to the next. Applying the concept to animation, Waldron invited a hand-picked roster of 18 elite artists and companies to create 3-5-second original works around the theme of “balance.”
Each contributor could interpret the theme any way they liked, but the catch was, they weren’t allowed to see any other snippets except for the ones that would come directly before and after them in the final sequence – and part of their completed piece had to include the transition from the preceding clip.
“As an artist it’s always great to have opportunities to do whatever you want to do and not have to work with a client,” said Waldron. “I was the client in some ways in terms of directing this whole thing but I didn’t want to be too overbearing with it… Some interpreted the theme literally while others more abstractly. That’s the fun of it—you never know how it’s going to turn out until it’s finished.”
For the first round of Exquisite Corpse, which he directed last year, Waldron pulled from the staffers on his in-house marketing team at TV Land. But for Round 2 he broadened his ambition to a global scale, inviting motion designers from Iceland, Korea, South Africa, Brazil, and beyond. The resulting lineup of recruits reads like a best-of list of creative forces that have been featured on Brief, including Roger, Loyalkaspar, Transistor Studios and Justin Harder.
It was a given that each and everyone one of these 18 invitees (17 ultimately committed to the project) were going to do something worth watching – what makes Exquisite Corpse so fun is seeing how their equally watchable transitions turn those disparate pieces into a seamless whole. In one section, an adorable man in a scarf disintegrates into bones and dust, which then transform into the next designer’s segment – a tower of household objects precariously balanced atop a woman wearing a sari. From there, what appears to be a gooey green eyeball shoots from behind the woman toward the camera, smoothly transitioning us into yet another segment involving a hard-drivin’ biker guy.
It’s fascinating to watch unfold, as the brain strives to forge connections between seemingly disparate parts. In directing the video, Waldron said he had no idea what each contributor would do for their part, but that the order they appeared in was determined in advance based on a combination of stylistic similarities and logistics. Roger and Transistor, for instance, “do a lot of interesting cel animation,” said Waldron, so were aligned together in the sequence. Meanwhile, contributing designers Dae Hyuk Park, Sung I. Sohn and Jie Yun Roe are all Korean, and since each artist was required to communicate with the one preceding them, they got paired up so there wouldn’t be a language barrier.
In the traditional Exquisite Corpse conceit, the work in question is passed to the next person, but time constraints made that impossible for Waldron.
“If I was to actually do it how I wanted to do it, it would be a 12-month long project where I would give each person three weeks and then they would design it, shoot it, animate it and be done, then hand it off to the next person,” he said. “But because I didn’t have that kind of time frame, everybody had to work simultaneously and what we did was, everyone submitted storyboards to which I gave feedback and added direction, and then they were supposed to share [their board] with the person before and after them… and over time they would get the animation.”
Round 2 of Exquisite Corpse was made a Vimeo Staff Pick and was such a hit at the motion conference that Waldron has asked to do a third installment that will kick off the entire event in 2016. While he’s excited about the prospect of yet another transitions-driven exercise showcasing the power of collaboration across a competitive industry, he told Brief the third time will be “ the final installment. It’s going to be a trilogy and that’s it. Let’s hope we don’t pull a Godfather and totally bomb on the third one.”
Exquisite Corpse Artists & Studios:
John Camalick :: Super Fresh
Gerald Mark Soto
Jonas & Co.
Dae Hyuk Park
Sung I. Sohn
Jie Yun Roe
Ben Kahle (Music)
John Wilkinson (Sound Design)