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"The bear finally committing to the relationship mirrored my willingness to become a better ani

Catching The L Train is probably the most adorable, heart-warming animation you've seen in a while. That's why our lead judge, Jackie Moore, described it as a "perfect short film".

In the following interview, animator and director Eric Raingruber shares his 18-months process of bringing this unique story into life.

Eric Raingruber

Where did the idea/inspiration for the story come from? Is this based on true (human) events?

This project started with a test charter I created to improve my skills working with a particular fur plug in. When it came time for me to commit to making a short, I realized that I could see building a world around this guy.

The story really didn't interest me until I saw the theme in terms of what I wanted and what I was willing to do to get there. The bear finally committing to the relationship and risking everything mirrored my willingness to work nights until all hours to get the film made and, hopefully, become a better animator.

CATCHING THE L TRAIN - Making An Animated Short

Why bears?

I chose bears for two reasons; first, because I have always enjoyed the tactile took and appeal that fur on a character offers, and secondly, humans are hard to pull off. I seriously didn't want a human character to distract from the heart of the story. While I am getting better at animating human characters, I'm still not quite satisfied with my designs.

From the initial concept to final execution, how long did it take to create the animation?

This was an 18-month project. I would start on it after dinner and work until 2 a.m. every night without a break. Because a big part of this project was unlearning bad habits developed in my commercial work and seriously attempting to improve my animation skills, the performance was the most time consuming part.

As for the art, I can go on indefinitely designing, modeling, texturing and expanding this world. But for performance, there is no shortcut moving from "hack" to "animator". One shot in particular took probably a half dozen different tries just staging it and a full month to believably get that bear over the railing. By the end I got pretty fast and became far more intuitive about the connection between the technical and the performance.

We love that the film is so detailed. Even when the characters text each other, they are using Bear Emoticons. SO CUTE! Are you going to release those emoticons on some platform?

I'm so glad you like that! I created all of the bear smilies in Adobe Illustrator, so I might have to share a custom emoji set!

Your credits include producing and directing other shorts, both live action and animation. What role do you enjoy the most?

Can I say, "all of it"? I love creating a story and a world together. Art is critical. For me a good story where the art direction is overlooked is almost a crime. Even a sad or dark world should have appeal. Working with actors can be incredibly collaborative and energizing. I also love working with a small team. As a director, I have learned that fostering an environment where good ideas are quickly incorporated gets everyone giving their best.

Your composer, Daniel Beja, was also recognized for his fabulous score on Catching the L Train, giving it emotion, speed, excitement and what not. Can you talk a little bit about the collaboration? When did you bring him on board, and how was the communication like (since he is based in Paris)?

I had a tough time finding a composer locally as the project was winding down. Finally, after listening to hundreds of tracks online, I licensed some of Daniel Beja's music from an online music library. It had the charm I wanted, but it obviously wasn't timed out to the action. On a lark, I tried to track down the original composer. We connected right away on Facebook. He jumped in with both feet and worked incredibly fast. Daniel treated this project like he had been a part of it from the start. We would sometimes IM at 1 AM California time, but mostly communication was delayed. For a about three weeks I would often start my day with a new section of music waiting in my inbox. Though I gave him a few notes, he had such great instincts that it was easy to let him have at it.

Was any of the music recorded live? If so, where was it recorded?

Daniel is a gifted guitarist and composer. I know he created much of the score in the computer and recorded some of the tracks later, but I don't know which ones it all sounds so good!

At what stage of the process did you and Stephanie Davis (Paula) record the voices for the characters?

Stephanie is a friend who has done some on-camera work for me over the years, so I knew she would give me the right emotional tone for the character. We recorded her lines in two sessions pretty early on for Catching the L Train.

As for the main bear, I have done a lot of character voice work for TV and radio in our area, so I chose to voice that character myself. Yes, that sounds ridiculous to take the film-auteur role that far, but it was a strategic decision. I could record a new line every day if I needed and make improvements to the script throughout production.

Catching the L Train is SO impressive! It's almost hard to believe it's an indie film. What was the whole budget of the project? How many pages were in the script?

Thank you! It was really mostly my time. I had good friend build a 12-computer render farm and my main work station/suite long before this production, so hardware was not a cost concern.

Originally, the script was four pages. That grew to about six half-way through production at the encouragement of some filmmaker friends. This added months in production, but was worth it.

What is the most important thing you learned by bringing this beautiful animation to life?

Hard work is lonely and wonderful.

What's next for you?

I am developing a short and a few features, including one live action project. Whatever comes next, I will be busy.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Thank you for a fantastic festival experience!

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