It is always easier for me to write a review after learning about the ideas and decisions that went into making the series or film I’m about to write my thoughts on. Understanding what the creator and her/his was trying to do helps you get a better feel for how to examine the subject. Tomorrow I’ll be posting a review of My Life Me, so I thought that it would be a good idea to sit down with one of the series’ creators and ask her a couple of questions about her teenage slice-of-life comedy. Head below the jump for the Q&A.
RacattackForce: What was your childhood like?
JC Little: It was interesting. I’m mixed race, Italian and Chinese, so there was a strong multicultural undercurrent in my upbringing. I was surrounded by noodles. I lived in Hong Kong as a child; that was pretty cool and kind of uncommon (for a Canadian) in the early seventies. I have two brothers, we’re all a year apart and I’m in the middle. I spent a lot of time bossing them around.
I think I’ve always known that I would draw. My mom knew it too – other kids got toys for Christmas, and I got art supplies. I was drawing so much, my parents got me a gigantic roll of brown parcel paper to cope with my volume.
How did it factor into you entering animation?
Once my younger brother had this big operation and he was in a lot of pain recovering in the hospital. He was only 9 and I remember he had this cage thing on the bed to keep the blanket from touching his legs. I drew comics for him to try to cheer him up. That was probably the beginning of my using media to reach out to people. I loved cartoons but I had no inclination to get into animation specifically until I was in university in 1983. I met an animator from Heavy Metal, the movie, and he showed me how to do an ‘inbetween’. When I realized that I could make drawings move and speak, animation infected me like a virus. It’s an amazing feeling to make a drawing come alive.
I started working in animation in 1983 and never looked back. It was the pre-digital era – everything was hand drawn and inked. I’ve pushed thousands of drawings as an inbetweener and animator. Through the years I moved up to supervisory positions and then producer. My career took me from Montreal to London and Vancouver, and across Asia, working on feature films, TV series and commercials. After moving back to Montreal, I was producing TV ads and I grew tired of selling sugar. I decided to start a little company and become a content provider, creating and directing my own projects. My Life Me is one of these.
Where did the ideas for the series come from?
I was inspired by kids in the tween phase. They’re often propelled by their insecurities into hilarious situations as they try to navigate the perilous teen terrain. Universal concepts, right? But I wanted to amp it up, to raise the stakes, so to speak. So I put a lock on the characters. When you force four kids to work together who are not friends, conflict is inevitable. And where there’s conflict, there’s humour. That’s how I wrote my concept back in 2005; a comedy with conflict resolution at the heart.
In the wider concept there are other elements which help to drive the stories, such as the Birch/Liam manga artist/author team. Self-expression through drawing and writing is a common theme in my projects; I think that most kids like to illustrate their stories with drawings, and the fact that so many nowadays are drawing and writing manga is a natural extension of this.
Visually, I wanted to make a show that used comics as a storytelling device. I integrated the print-inspired styling: page turns, screen tones, and paneling. The manpu and chibis also fell into place as a way of depicting the manic mood shifts in adolescence. I liked the way Svetlana was using these in her Dramacon books and online comics like Night Silver. My Life Me was pitched and produced as “animated manga”, as opposed to traditional anime.
Where do Cindy and Svetlana factor into production?
After writing the initial treatment, I decided to collaborate with my two friends, Cindy Filipenko for the writing of the pitch and Svetlana Chmakova for the designs. They came on board as co-creators. Cindy added the tag line “How can I be myself, when I don’t even know who I am?” which was what caught the eye of the broadcaster when we pitched it. Once the show was greenlit for production, Cindy became one of two story editors leading the team of writers in Canada and France. Svetlana became the art director, and I was asked to lead the team as director.
What problems did you face during production?
I didn’t sleep for two years! Other than that….there was the challenge of combining the 2D digital animation with hand drawn embellishments and 3D backgrounds, essentially a hybrid technique that hadn’t really been done before. The ToonBoom Harmony character rigs had to be extremely complex in order to accommodate all the different expressions I wanted. Most of the episodes were animated in Montreal and some were done in France. The storyboarders in France and the animation team in Montreal were amazing. Integrating work from two teams on either side of the Atlantic brings it’s own special challenges, not least of which is a language difference. I often made gaffs while briefing the French team in my Anglo-Québecois, which sent them into fits of hysterics. I actually can’t repeat any of it here. So it wasn’t problem-free, but everyone worked hard and I feel lucky to have been a part of such a great team.
The show is receiving a lot of hate on the internet: how do you feel about this?
Yes, it certainly seems to have touched a nerve with the non-target audience. I make a clear distinction between hate and criticism. Swarming haters don’t really affect me. But I do take criticism on board, especially if it’s intelligently expressed. Folks are entitled to their own opinions in matters of taste, and I respect this. One can’t please everyone.
People sometimes tend to confuse the person with the product, not realizing that it takes a huge team to bring a TV series to broadcast, including the machine behind the money that pays for it. It’s way, way bigger than just me.
The good part is that there are also lots of fans out there who get the show in both the target audience and beyond…along with some pretty great ironic art!
Who are your biggest influences?
I was mainly influenced by those I was lucky enough to work closely with when I was a producer. Jamie Sutton, Alex Williams, Cordell Barker, Gabe Hordos, Rob Valley, Alexandre Petrov and not to forget Joseph Gilland, the animator who turned me on to animation. I tried to learn from their storytelling, timing and acting. You should IMDB these names, they’re amazing and award winning artists.
Looking back at everything you’ve done so far, is there anything you wish you could have changed?
I would have hired a maid. Never try to do housework when you’re directing a TV series. No, truly, this question has been kicking around inside my head all week. I don’t have any huge regrets about My Life Me; we had fun and everyone did the best they could with the schedule and resources we had. I suppose if there was anything more I’d like to try, it would be to do just one episode as a half-hour. It would allow us to build the tension and breath a little more, so the dynamics could really pick up during the pacier segments in story arc.
Thanks so much for this interview – great questions!
P.S. – If you guys are interested, YouChew.net also did an interview with JC, and they cover some things I didn’t ask her.