Some of the best advice we’ve heard for future filmmakers is that if you want to direct, start directing. Jason Rayner (B.F.A., animation, 2014) and his animated short, My Big Brother, about a boy sharing a room with his twenty-foot tall sibling, are proof that you don’t have to wait until you graduate to begin your best work. Jason produced and directed My Big Brother, winner of the 42nd annual Annie Award for Best Student Film, while studying animation at Savannah College of Art and Design. The film debuted in Cartoon Brew's Student Animation Festival and recently screened at aTVfest in Atlanta. The Pennsylvania native spoke to us from San Francisco, where he has worked as an animator and illustrator since completing the film in May 2014.
SCAD: What does winning the Annie Award mean to your career?
Jason Rayner: The Annie Awards were a fun, great experience. It meant a lot to me, as I’m being introduced into the animation industry. To be in the presence of such great talent and with animation leaders was so significant. Receiving the award made me feel like I was truly welcomed into the industry.
SCAD: How will it affect your future work?
JR: It was a motivating experience, definitely raised the standards I set for myself, and encouraged me to work more. I am hoping it will be a boost to my confidence.
S: What was the inspiration for the film?
JR: I grew up with two older brothers, and I tend to think about the past a lot. I immediately thought about what my family meant to me and growing up. My artistic inspiration was Ronald Daul’s book, BFG, and I love the dynamic of the characters. I reflected about what my artistic voice would be, dreaming about the future while thinking about the past. I wanted to create a character that I could relate to. I gave the little brother the personality of being in the background at times and coming to a point where he had to accept his life with a “big” brother."
S: How did you combine fantasy and reality into a coherent storyline?
JR: Since this was my first time writing, I talked to professors quite a bit about it. I am fascinated with the idea of a story that has one premise and then the rest of the story is true, with no questions asked. I then asked myself, “How does that one premise change his life, and how does it connect with a real person’s life and how it's relatable?” I was trying not to make the big brother a metaphor for something else, though it can be interpreted differently, depending on the viewer’s perspective.
S: Did you encounter any unexpected challenges?
JR: I didn’t expect that writing a story would be so hard. I had a lot of help with it from my friends and professors who helped me work on the structure and narrative of the story. I couldn’t believe how long animation takes. The short film project took three quarters of the year, which included the initial writing over the summer. Students all gathered together twice a quarter to present their progress on the project and we also received faculty and peer feedback.
S: What are some of your top lessons learned from the project?
JR: Not to stress about the project result, but to make the process enjoyable. Also that I couldn’t do it all alone. The support I received on lighting and music were a huge help. I found it hard to ask people to work for me, especially for free. I also had to be able to be gracious and understanding with people.
S: Which SCAD courses helped prepare you to make this film?
JR: I enjoyed taking an etching class, which got me away from the computer. I also liked the humor writing class and poetry classes. The concepts class, taught by Louis Cook, a requirement for all animation majors, was extremely helpful, as were the character animation courses. Those were crucial to my development.
S: You used the animation software Blender to make this project. How and when did you learn it?
JR: I was 11-years-old when I starting learning Blender. It was a long, slow-moving process. A lady at church who was an animator gave me a CD with Blender on it. I had just started using computers, so I initially tried to make games with the program. I experimented with it throughout high school, using it as a hobby. Blender has a great online community for learning through its forum posts and tutorials.
S: Are you still using Blender?
JR: Yes, I use it mostly for modeling, and it’s still the program that I’m most comfortable with. Because it’s an open-source program, it has an awesome set of features that continue to grow.
S: What are you working on now?
JR: I am currently a freelance project-based animator in San Francisco working on an encyclopedia picture studio. This project includes working with group of directors on music videos and a virtual realty film. I'm also working for two directors on musician Panda Bear's interactive music project.
S: What direction do you see your career taking?
JR: I really enjoy the place I’m at now, where everyone is able to speak in their own artistic voice. I’m part of a team of 10 people, and I work with one person in particular who was a big influencer on the style for My Big Brother. It’s hard to believe that now I’m working with him. I really like that I’m on a pioneering track of embracing all forms of media, such as using different mixing techniques on the Panda Bear music videos.