» Interview: Zachary Rich

One of the amazing things about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the sheer breadth and depth of the fan productions following in its wake. From fan-spun stories, artwork, games, and music, the amount of otherwise free time people have poured into remixes and fan content is simply staggering. There’s even been a few original fan animations floating around, but most haven’t been longer than a few minutes. Animation is a labor intensive project requiring many skills and a lot of time, which necessarily keeps these things short.

Zachary Rich, also known as flamingo1986, produced a short film last year, Present Prank featuring Pinkie Pie. The community loved the short and asked for more. Not satisfied with a short film, Zach’s next project was far more ambitious: his own full-length episode. Earlier today, Zach’s animation team launched a website dedicated to their fan-made episode, Double Rainboom, in anticipation of increased interest from fans during the Long Ponyless Summer.

Zach agreed to sit down with us at The Round Stable to talk about his work—past, present, and future. Read on to find out.

About You

When did you first get involved in art and how long have you been an artist?

Would it be surprising if I told you that I never really got involved in art until I started attending college in 2008? That’s right! I’ve spent most of my life writing and acting – with drawing as more of a hobby than a passion. Most of my High School days (2001-2005) were focused on debate, forensics, drama, and creative writing. I was pretty good at it too! I went to the nationals for Humorous Interpretation (basically a one-man play where you are confined to three square-feet and you act out every character) during my Senior year – and placed 9th and 6th in the nation for the reading of Prose and Poetry (respectively). So I had every intention to pursue an acting career once I left my High School.

But as fate would have it, I ended up being introduced to anime right around that time and I fell in love with it. That also introduced me to all of the other great cartoon shows out there, and before long I was opening up Flash and dabbling in frame-by-frame animation with stickmen. It took me two weeks to realize two things: 1) I absolutely adored animating, and 2) I had no idea what the hell I was doing. So it was off to college with me!

You’re currently going to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) for animation. Was that your first choice of major and if not, how did you get into animation?

My first quarter of SCAD was during early Winter of 2008, and I entered the doors from the beginning knowing that I would be an animator. Specifically, I want to be an animation director, which is a pretty hard thing to do given only about 5% of those in the animation industry ever get the chance to direct.

What are your tools of choice, and how do they affect your particular workflow?

I prefer thumbnailing and sketching out ideas on paper, and then continuing digitally from there through my Wacom Cintiq 21UX. Now don’t misunderstand me—I enjoy animating traditionally with paper/pencil (the “Disney Way”) and I greatly respect it, but I just don’t see the usefulness of it in today’s modern pipeline. I’ll admit that if you wanted to learn how to animate then starting with paper/pencil is the best way to learn. But once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, then pure digital is the way to go. It’s faster, cleaner, and cheaper, and those are three things that make a huge difference in the success of an animated film.

As far as software goes, I prefer using Adobe Flash CS5.5 for most of my work, but I’ll be teaching myself Toonboom Harmony later on this year for my second Senior film.

Once you’re done with school, where do you aspire to work?

That’s a really good question! I’d love to work anywhere that would hire me on as anything related to the directing/producing side of things, but I’d also enjoy working as a storyboard artist as well. At the core of it all, I just really enjoy telling stories and whether that be through animation or through other mediums I’m happy so long as I’m doing it. This means that I wouldn’t enjoy just being another animator on a show—I want to direct. I want to help guide a large group of creative minds all towards one singular vision! This is why Double Rainboom is such a necessary part of my educational experience.

I’ve spent the last few years though gearing my skillset towards the television industry and will most likely end up there. I would love to work at Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, DHX Media Vancouver, Disney, or any other network/studio willing to have me.

Ballad of Mecha Pinkie Pie Logo

The Ballad of Mecha Pinkie Pie

Can be seen at DeviantArt: http://flamingo1986.deviantart.com/gallery/30180616

What was the inspiration behind The Ballad of Mecha Pinkie Pie?

My love for all things pony was freed from the shadowy confines of my subconscious (where apparently my Y chromosomes were keeping it prisoner) when a fellow animation student—female, of course—approached me during February of 2011 asking whether or not I had seen the new My Little Pony show that had, at the time, just recently come out.

Being a guy, I of course answered that “no” I had not, and that I would rather die than subject myself to the horrors of young girls’ television programming. You see, there are certain unwritten rules about male society that are subtly instilled into all of us from birth: never hug another man, no crying at movies, and most importantly: no ponies. Period.

However, after goading me with promises of delicious honey buns, and now that I think about it, some very acute manipulative convincing she soon had me in front of a computer and watching the first episode on YouTube. And before I knew what had happened, it was the next day and I had finished watching everything that had been released up to that point.

I spent a very long time afterwards huddled in a ball, hands wrapped around my knees, weeping, and questioning my place in the universe and my once apparent sexual preferences. It was like someone had told me that there was no such thing as gravity and then proved it by throwing me into the sky where I promptly began to fall up. But at the end of the day I couldn’t deny it. My Little Pony was good. In fact it was more than good, it was phenomenal!

So I decided that for my next school assignment, I would put ponies in it!

And it just so happened that this next assignment required that I draw a background that took place in a science lab. So BAM! The first picture of the Mecha Pinkie Pie was made and posted online.

It took about two hours before Equestria Daily featured it and my brand spanking new deviantART page was flooded with bronies. So, feeling a little light-headed, I decided that my next assignment (a horizontal pan that required no less than 12 characters in it) would ALSO feature ponies. This background, once finished, also flooded my DA page with bronies.

It was then that I realized that I could use this. I could spend the next year teaching myself Flash and production-quality skills – all while creating pony artwork that would build up my name and reputation, preparing for the day when I would finally graduate and enter the industry. Thus the Ballad of Mecha Pinkie Pie was born and has been going on ever since.

What do you use to create the artwork? Are you doing it all in Flash, or do you do your still work in Illustrator?

Since my over-arching goal behind my storybook was (and is) to teach myself Flash, I’ve created every single panel exclusively in the program.

Will we see more of the story or is it on hold due to the animation projects?

It’s currently on hold due to the massive workload that is Double Rainboom, but once things settle down here in a week or two, I’ll be able to get back to regular weekly updates. I have a three-act story written for it, and by Celestia I won’t rest until it’s all out there for you bronies to read and enjoy!

Present Prank

Can be seen on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xz2hsvByNno

The Present Prank video really caused a splash. Were you trying to reverse engineer the methods used in the show, or were you trying to create a similar look using your own construction methods?

I was definitely trying to reverse engineer DHX Media’s methods. The Ballad of Mecha Pinkie Pie was designed to teach me about the Flash interface as well as production quality staging, layout, and coloring techniques. Once I had gained a working knowledge in those areas, the next logical step was to teach myself puppet animation and Present Prank was designed with that purpose in mind. I spent days going through each episode frame-by-frame, studying DHX Media’s puppets and learning how they moved. It was through spotting their mistakes that I was able to reverse engineer how the puppets were made. Even though now, looking back on that first Pinkie Pie puppet rig I was still way off in a few areas.

Relating to that, what problems did you run into in trying to emulate the show, and how did you overcome them?

Looking back on the short, I honestly didn’t run into that many problems. Because I made sure to approach it in a careful manner, making sure to build up a proper foundation of skillsets and making sure to spend enough time studying the show, most of the problems I had were very minute and revolved around technical issues like Flash crashing on me. I can’t overemphasize how important it is to spend the necessary amount of time preparing for animation (we call it “preproduction”). Jumping right into something as complicated as animation is a sure-fire way to tank your entire film.

Did anyone from DHX or other show staff contact you about it?

Not directly. When EqD featured the short, Sibsy commented that I should apply to DHX Media. But as far as I know, that’s the only contact I’ve ever had from anyone on the staff.

Double Rainboom

When did you decide to take on the task of creating your own episode?

After Present Prank was completed and released on the interwebz, my plans were to downplay my pony artwork and move on to other things. However, because of how popular the short was I decided that if I was going to end my pony drawing career, then by golly I’d go out with a bang! So about a month after the short was released around October of 2011, I set about writing out the screenplay for another short. After finishing, I quickly realized that there was no way I could create Double Rainboom without not only gathering a very large crew of skilled artists, but also only if I could create the episode as part of my college curriculum—because managing a film this size AND working on other non-related college work would have been impossible.

Luckily, everything fell snugly into place and preproduction began earlier this year.

Do you fear a cease-and-desist from Hasbro on this?

I would… if I didn’t have a letter from their legal department giving me permission to use their characters, which luckily I have. /)^3^(\ [Ed.: That's good news indeed!]

What’s your production workflow like? Can you walk our readers through your total process for creating a full episode of animation?

In the Entertainment Industry, the step-by-step process for creating a film is called the “pipeline”. This is a very specific linear path that all production must take in order for a quality piece of work to get created. Think of dirty water flowing through a purification pipeline, or an automobile getting created in a factory. There is a beginning, middle, and end, and to start one without first doing the other would be disastrous.

Now this pipeline changes depending on what kind of entertainment you’re trying to create (e.g. Live-action movie, animation, commercial, etc.), but overall everything follows a basic skeleton:

IDEA ► SCREENPLAY ► STORYBOARDS ► ANIMATICS ► PRODUCTION ► POST-PRODUCTION

Below, I’ve embedded the pipeline we’re currently using for Double Rainboom.

 

How many people besides yourself are involved in the production? What are the challenges of being a director versus being a straight-up animator?

Currently we have thirty eight official crew members composed of both a local crew made up of animation students here at the Savannah College of Art & Design, and an online crew made up of bronies all across the world. Aside from that, we also have about forty more animators who are waiting for puppets to be finished so we can hand them shots.

That said, this crew is massive, and the challenges that result from directing & producing such a large group of people are numerous. I have to keep track of every aspect of the film—from what backgrounds need handing out to who has a background assigned to them to setting up critique dates and deadlines and hosting workshops to teach what I’ve learned to my crew to gathering puppet assets and finalizing timing on animatics, et cetera.

A straight-up animator doesn’t deal with any of this. Life is very simple for a straight-up animator. Everything they need is handed out to them when they are given a shot to animate. The screenplay, the storyboards, the character model sheets, the puppet rig, et cetera, and all they have to worry about is animating what is placed before them.

A director, on the other hand, has to keep production flowing, and has to constantly check up on every crew member to make sure that the film is being channeled towards a singular artistic vision. It’s a pretty demanding job that requires good organizational and multitasking skills, as well as a very extroverted and outgoing personality. There’s a reason why only five percent of the animators out there in the industry ever get to try out directing!

That said, my assistant producer, Cara Murray, has taken a lot of the workload off of my plate by taking care of emails, crewmember recruitment, website hosting, and other general tasks which gives me more time to spend on the artistic side of things.

That said, I absolutely love directing & producing!

Other projects

Any other projects you’re working on that you’d like to comment on?

I would if I had any other projects aside from this one. Double Rainboom takes up all of my time, and I usually work twelve-hour days, seven days a week. However, following this film, I will be starting up another project that will focus on a 1930s steampunk, gothic-noir world populated entirely by stickmen. So stay tuned for that!

When you’re not working on ponies, what other subjects do you explore with your art?

When I’m not working on ponies? That’s a tough one! Well… every Friday I spend three hours and teach 4th & 5th graders about cartooning and animation. But other than that, well, it’s all ponies.

If you had the green-light, what would your own original animated series be about?

Since most of my life prior to animation was spent writing, I have about a dozen original concepts that I’d love to see animated. But those are the kinds of things that I’ll keep to myself for now. If anything, I’d love to get my stickmen world off the ground before anything else.

If there’s anyone/anything you’d like to plug, go right ahead.

If you’d like to learn more about Double Rainboom, then feel free to visit our official website at www.doublerainboom.com. If you would like to contribute to the episode either through animating select shots or through creating backgrounds, send your requests to the production crew directly at DoubleRainboomCrew@gmail.com. Providing examples of your best work through attachments or links to existing sites is strongly advised.

You can also visit my personal website at flamingo1986.deviantart.com

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