Shane Acker: I originally came from Florida. I did my undergraduate there, at the University of Florida, studying architecture. Even though I was living in a state that housed a major animation studio, I didn't know that there were jobs in animation, and that you could actually make a living at it. I'd always been a cartoonist my whole life, an artist, and I took a lot of drafting classes at high school, so I figured I'd combine my art with a professional degree and I went into architecture. So I did my undergraduate there, and actually came out to UCLA to do my graduate studies in architecture, and I was almost done with my studies in the last year and I had a few electives to fill, so I was like, "Oh, I'll go take this class in animation over at the film school. Why not?" And it was that experience in that class that really, like, I got the bug right off the bat, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and that was animation. So as soon as my architecture degree was up, I was over there taking the full-track animation program for an MFA.
What was it about that that made you think, I have to start doing this?
See, architecture was able to combine several of my artistic pursuits: drawing, sculpture, and in a certain sense even though it's abstract it's spatial, it's about making buildings. But when I took animation, I saw the limitless possibilities to combine all my artistic pursuits all into one medium that also encompassed film, sculpture, set design, character, performance, painting, everything is all there. It's limitless. You're never going to get sued because the film isn't good, you know what I'm saying? In architecture so many people have so many hands in the pot and they're all adjusting the designs you can make, that in the end it becomes watered down, it's all about codes and making sure that something stands up and all these things. In animation you can create worlds. Not only can you create the worlds, but you can put these characters in the worlds and sort of play God with their fate, and really affect an audience on an emotional level. And I thought that that's really, really appealing to me, the possibilities of that medium.
You mentioned yesterday that some of the inspiration behind 9 was the German film Balance, from 1989. Did you see that movie as a result of your schooling, or is it just that you liked to go to the animation festivals, or just being in L.A...?
I'd actually been exposed to a fair amount of film while I was in architecture school. I was always a sort of a cinephile, and watched lots of movies. And I came across the movies of the Brothers Quay. Just these hauntingly beautiful films. Unfortunately, I'm not smart enough to understand a lot of what's going on in them [laughs], but I think they're sort of like sculpture or like performance art, in which they might not have a concrete meaning, but you've just kind of got to get into the space of them and sort of let the imagery wash over you and you begin to construct your own narrative. But you definitely get sort of the emotional resonance that is trying to come across in the film. And that really inspired me, that you could have such an abstract experience in a medium that was designed to deliver a narrative. So then, when I went into the animation school I started getting exposed to all these amazing animations from both past and the present, and that's when I came across the film Balance.
The funny thing about—when you're in school, you're very ambitious, you have all these big ideas. But it's really about economy. It's like, what can I really get done in the time that I have? And so it's always sort of about cutting corners, and this particular film really resonated with me, because of the economy of it. But the economy of it, and the way that it's made, it doesn't short-change the story. It still has a very emotional impact, and it has a very interesting and intriguing story to tell. But it's very, very economical, and I drew a lot of inspiration from that as I went into constructing my own 3D film. I like that fact that it's not exactly concrete, that you're allowed to read in and create your own meaning for a lot of it, too. I mean, it does have a very specific story and you get it, but it also has all this wonderful rich metaphoric imagery as well, so it was a very inspirational film.
Do you think the lack of dialogue helps with that? It's not being defined for you, what it's about, that makes you freer to interpret it any way you want.
I think so, I think so. What's great about that film is that it really challenges the audience, they really have to participate. They have to really pay attention to follow what's going on, because there is no dialogue explaining concretely what's happening, and you're constructing the narrative as it develops, and it's always rewarding you for participating, because it reveals more information about the plot and how it's developing. So I took that idea to heart too. And again, it's about economy. You choose the battles you want to fight. If you can cut dialogue out, then you cut a whole technological side, a whole technical challenge out of the film. And also it's sort of like minimalist art, in which the more you confine yourself into a box, the more creative you have to be and the more you focus on what you actually are putting onto the screen, that it has some kind of meaning for the whole. That it's just there to serve the purpose of the story. I think it's good to put yourself in this kind of confined situation, because it makes you really focus and get creative and do creative problem-solving.