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Inside the Mind of a Animator: Ryan Whittal

Ryan Whittal One

Ryan Whittal is an emerging screenwriter for animation living in both the US and Canada. I never examined the differences between animation and live action before and wanted to learn more. I had the opportunity right after TIFF to discover some of those differences within the animation artform by chatting with Ryan.

Laura Anne Harris: How do you define as the art animation?

Ryan Whittal: I would define the art of animation as heightened storytelling within limitless worlds and characters who are utilized to express the common themes of our human experience.

LH: What attracts you to the art of animation?

RW: The freedom. It’s the excitement of knowing that, any world you can imagine, you can create and bring to life in the comfort of your own home or studio. This includes the weather elements of the world and the speed in which things can change and evolve.

LH: What makes animation storytelling different than live action storytelling?

RW: We enter the theatre of an animated film with a stronger sense of suspended disbelief. We aren’t trying to compare ourselves to, nor judge the performance of a real human on screen in their experience. Therefore [are] left more open to empathize and relate to a cartoon character, whether animal, human or inanimate object on their journey.

LH: Who are some of your influences?

RW: I am a huge fan of two storytellers in the animation world, Pete Docter and [composer] Alan Menken. Yes, Alan Menken. To me, he is a brilliant composer who easily captures the emotional tone of each heightened moment of a story, musically, while balancing a broad accessibility and relatability with artistic integrity, causing a perfect visceral experience for a global audience. I never get sick of listening to “Part of Your World” – the perfect example of an ‘I want…’ song.  And Pete Docter, come on, so good!  His heart fills, no, floods into each character that “stars” in his movies. It’s storytelling that combines adventure and character expansion, that we can relate to and truly care about during our time in the theatre.    

LH: What are some of your current projects you are working on?

RW: I am currently working on several projects at the moment. One, a spec script of the “Mindy Project” for my Second City Chicago writing class. Two, I am constantly re-tweeking a short film that I wrote and first time attempted to draw and animate called, “Power Outage”.

LH: What area of animation are you most excited working in?

RW: I LOVE VOICE OVER!!! I have a strong background in Musical Theatre as an actor and the skills are very transferable. In live action, it’s the eyes that say it all. In animation, the voice tells the story. The dynamics and pacing of the voice are what helps to deliver the emotional arc of each character. Singing and laughing are common tools to really bring an animated character to life.      

LH: What are your favourite films?

RW: Aladdin and Monster’s INC.

LH: Animation has grown from children’s stories to very adult themes, why do you think that is?

RW: This could possibly be because of the family dynamic of today vs the past.  As society has evolved and the speed in which information is delivered has increased, I feel that children have more access to adult themed content at home, at school, and on the internet. So, rather than fight against or try to shield children from the future challenges they may face, storytellers have become more upfront with these now more familiar storylines.

LH: What was the best piece of advice did you receive from an animator?  

RW: The best piece of advice I have received came from Pete Docter speaking at a TIFF event. He spoke of his time lines when working on “Monster’s Inc.” [and] said he would still be working on the movie today unless someone hadn’t told him, okay Pete, time’s up! The movie has to be produced now.  So, all of his questioning and tweaking and rethinking of ideas and how to tell the story had to be let go. He had to give in to the schedule and business side of production and just trust that he had done enough and made the right decisions.

LH: How can the art from continue to grow and develop?

RW: There’s always room for growth and expanding beyond the boundaries. I think if animation continues to approach and address some our current socially sensitive issues, it can assist in the natural progression of art imitating life.



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