Hannah Collins & George Kochell — about «A Day in the Life of a Pig» and being animation artists

/Interview by Natalia Dukhovnikova/

«A Day in the Life of a Pig» is a project of young Hannah Collins. It is a very cute animation, that was made with the aim to make people feel happy. We talked to Hannah about it, discussed her hobbies, interest in animation and creative plans. We also had a chance to have a conversation with George Kochell, her teacher and very experienced animation artist.

Hannah Collins

Why have you chosen a pig as a main character for your animation?

Well it’s not my favorite pet from all but I just thought it looked really cute with the animation. And originally I wanted to make people feel like they don’t need to eat meat as much because it’s a cute little pig and you don’t really need to eat it. But this message didn’t appear in animation but I’m fine with that. I like the final version.

And what about you, do you pay attention to what you eat?

Yes, it’s important to me. When I was about 6 years old, I realized where the meat comes from and it made me really sad. So I became a vegetarian and I’ve been it ever since. 

Caption from «A Day in the Life of a Pig»

How long did it take to make this film?

I think it might had been a little longer than 12 weeks.

Let’s move on to discussing your creative experience in general. How did you decide to start animating?

Actually it was almost an accident. I heard about George’s class and I thought it sounded fun. And I signed up. It was in 2017. My first animation was called «Growing» and it was about a little plant with a mouth. He was drinking water a lot, sucking all the sunlight. So that he grew really tall. 

And what do you like about animation?

I think it’s a funny thing to do, to take your drawings and make them come to life.

What is your favorite type of animation to draw then?

I like all types honestly. I just do whatever interests me. I like to animate people. I even made a video of myself to look how naturally I move and then make animation based on that.

What are main difficulties for you during the animating process?

For me the main difficulty is in the fact of not being sure how exactly the software works, how to do things you want when using it. And I also find not easy the process of making your animation look natural. 

Hannah during working process

And do you draw after or before George’s lessons?

I definitely make some drawings in my free time but I create animation only in class.

So, do you think that cartoons should always contain serious subjects?

Not necessarily. I mean what you need is something fun, something people want to watch. That can be a really deep story that you worked on for days or it can be just something that came up in the top of your head when you start animating. As i said before, I find animations very funny but I like sad deep stories too.

In your opinion, is it important to go to USA to make a career in the sphere of animation?

I really think that people should just get started wherever they are. I mean, there are no specific places where you have to be to do animation.

What do your like else about cinematography?

I like watching movies and visiting live theaters very much. And I love listening to audiobooks. It’s amazing to hear someone bringing a book to life. I like action books that can get me excited such as “Ranger’s Apprentice” by John Flanagan.

Do you have any hobbies besides drawing?

I like music so I play guitar and sing. And I like making friendship bracelets. It’s a nice way to relax. When I was about 12, I started to study in the local theater. And I do figure skating although I don’t know if we can count it as a hobby. 

From a working program

Have you already made any plans for the near future?

Well, I like animating but I am not sure if I want to do it as a job. I want to enter a college and major in theater. I want to become a stage actress. But as I said, I’ve not decided everything yet because I still have a couple of years more at school. 

As a young animation artist, do you follow or watch any other people from this sphere of art?

I watch a lot of YouTube videos about video editing, stop motion and flip-book making.

Now we are moving on to George Kochell, with whom we have talked about animation from the point of view of an experienced artist and teacher.

George Kochell

How many years are you working in this sphere, George?

I started the class in 1998 so I’m in about 23 years. I never got to college, I was a cartoonist, worked on creating comics a little and then I got into teaching children. I had a dear friend whose daughter was taking the comic book class and one day she suddenly asked “How about animation?”. Although at that moment I only had experience animating 5 finished seconds of animation, I agreed. We started with stop-motion and cut-paper. Then the Flash application became available, and using it seemed the fastest way to teach young children some animation. One of my main objectives is to allow young animators to share their work with festivals -and to get them a head start on being ready for college.

How does your class work?

It’s a paid after school class, it’s not an accredited school. It’s a little class based in our community. I make an effort to track everybody, to help them enter college by writing recommendation letters for them and getting portfolio pieces together. I have students of various ages among my students.

Another main thing we do in the class is teaching younger people to use professional applications. We start with Adobe products to show them keyboarding, interfaces, a little bit of navigation in graphic arts programs.

How did you help Hannah during work on her project?

This was a very self-directed project. Hannah started with her idea and created a storyboard. After inking the drawings on the storyboard, we scanned them. Mostly I was helping Hannah learn how to click and fill in color on the computer. And that’s all I did. We had only one problem with multiple backgrounds but we had solved it. 

By the end of the first day of class, Hannah was already working on the computer. She knew what she was doing!

What do you like more to teach someone or to draw yourself?

I’m leaning toward more teaching right now. It’s a rewarding job. But I do like to draw myself. 

Art of George Kochell

I your opinion, what skills does a person have to have for becoming an animation artist?

I would say drawing well enough to communicate your ideas in a visual way, or the ability to write. The most important thing is to be able to generate ideas and be ready to share your work with other people. 

Is it necessary for a student to practice animation drawing in free time?

Definitely. I think if you draw, you should draw as much as possible. You also should write everything that comes to your mind in sketchbook. 

How has COVID-19 changed your studying process?

Our class ended on March 13, the building was locked down and we haven’t been back since. And I’ve not really found a satisfactory way to teach online. We are all waiting for schools and buildings to be opened in November so we can get together again in one place.

Do all your students take part in festivals?

Here we have two local film festivals that I can enter all our films in. And if the films have a more engaging quality, I’ll submit them to festivals using Filmfreeway. Our students have the opportunity to share their films around the world, continent by continent! I hope that will count for something on each of their résumés someday!

And what can you say about festival experience in general?

One thing I learned when I actually attended festivals is that no matter who you are, the experience in the theater is always the same: the lights go down, the film dissolves up from black, and it happens. The audience decides by their reactions whether you have made a «good» film. It could be the most technically wonderful film – but if the audience has no reaction and is not engaged, then all your efforts have failed. The real success is when people enjoy the film.

Art of George Kochell

Do you take part in festivals as an artist yourself?

Recently I was a judge for the Florida animation festival. Previously I traveled around the country a couple of times to attend festivals. And of course I try to keep life-long learning. 

Is it important to have a mentor when learning to draw?

I think a teacher or school experience saves you a lot of time and helps you focus and get through your artistic process faster. But of course it depends on a person. There are self-taught people who have just been successful from the beginning and get it done. 

Do your students usually become professional animation artists?

I have 3 students who have become professional animators that I know of. One student sold his character designs to a gaming company while still in class. Several students have turned out to become gallery artists, photographers or writers. Others have become coders, and at least one has gone on to work with Microsoft! From time to time I check on people who graduate. My students were already creative and learning to be successful before they took my class!