"Writing the story is only one step in the journey. Visualizing it is a whole new beast!"
Christina Christie is a 3D artist and animator based in Orlando, Florida. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s degree in Character Animation and intends to continue her studies at the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, where she completed her directorial debut "Tiffany"- an animated short that recently won Best Picture award at Festigious.
We invited Christina to join us for an interview, to learn about the two-year long process of making Tiffany.
Christina, congratulations on winning Best Picture with the fantastic animated film, Tiffany. Before we talk about the film, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from and how did you get into animation?
I’m a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida; I spent a lot of my early childhood in North Carolina, but seeing as my father was in the military, we eventually moved down to another base down near Tampa. I’ve spent just over half my life in the Sunshine State!
As for what got me into animation… do you remember the TV channel “Boomerang”? It used to showcase a lot of the classic cartoons like “Tom and Jerry”, “The Snorks”, and “Richie Rich”!
Where do you find your inspiration?
I’ve always been inspired by the works of other artists. I’m a huge art history nerd—The inspiration for “Tiffany” came from the local Morse Museum of stained glass, which most prominently features the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
What are some of your favorite films and who are your favorite filmmakers?
I’m a huge fan of cinematographers and directors who bring color and flare to the screen. Matthew J. Lloyd is fantastic at shooting action sequences and composing shots, which is something I admire, and I love the unique, quirky style of Wes Anderson films. Moonrise Kingdom is one of my favorites. Of course, my favorite film of all time is the Road to El Dorado.I think it strikes the perfect balance of tension and humor! I watch it at least once a year to remind myself of what I love in film.
How did you come up with the unique idea of a stained glass sculpture that comes to life? And how did the story evolve with time? Can you take us through the writing process?
There’s a museum near the University of Central Florida—it’s the Morse Museum of stained glass. During one of my courses, a professor of mine took my small Honors Art History class downtown to see it firsthand. I’ve been several times since, and every time I visited I sat down and thought, “Isn’t a shame that you don’t get to be in the sun? I wonder if you’d walk outside if you could.”
That was the fundamental premise of Tiffany, and that scaffolding never really changed. However, the elements surrounding her journey evolved almost every day. In our program, everyone has a voice in the process; everyone can point out flaws and suggest new routes for the story to take, and sifting through these ideas (and there were hundreds!) was a good part of pre-production. As we got down to the wire, a third character was introduced; the grandmother. That gave Pauline a new depth, and our story started striking a more emotional chord.
Of course, writing the story is only one step in the journey. Visualizing it (through storyboards) is a whole new beast!
Tell us about the experience of leading such a big team of talented writers, animators, visual effects artists and more. Is this the first time you’re directing something of this scope? Did you have any mentors to guide you through it?
Wow, it was a fantastic experience! Our team had fourteen members in total, and we were all students. We all started not knowing anything, and in two years we produced this short. Thankfully, we weren’t flying blind; we had a staff of talented industry veterans to guide us, including JoAnne Adams, Cheryl Briggs, Phil Peters, and our supervising advisor, Darlene Hadrika. They taught us how to make his film a reality and provided advice and feedback every time we got stumped. Darlene in particular worked closely with me to make our short what it is today—she poured as much of her own time and heart into this project as the rest of us!
What was the most challenging part of the process for you?
By far, it was the technical demands of our film. The Character Animation Program at the University of Central Florida takes 30 students every year (to put that into perspective, the University boasts a student body of 60,000!) and our resources were often limited. We don’t have the processing power of some schools that are dedicated to art and animation… In fact, a lot of our rendering was done in a closet.
Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Cheryl Briggs, one of our four faculty supervisors, we’re constantly getting access to new and better technology.
Let’s talk about the perfect film score that composer Tim Carlos wrote for Tiffany. How did he come on board and when did you start working on music? Did you use any temp music or references? What was the scoring process like?
Oh, I will never forget the day we got Tim’s score! Absolute goosebumps! Until he got on board (which was about a year into production), we had only seen Tiffany backed by bits and pieces of music cut together to get the feeling that we wanted.
Getting our film scored took a while. Our university partnered up with students from University of North Carolina (for the first time!) this year. We sent their faculty the brief synopses of our films as well as a few pieces of our layout (layout is a very primitive first pass at blocking and cinematography), and Tim picked us up! Our sound lead (Taylor Estape) worked back and forth with him for months while we finished the animation and rendering to make sure the mood would be just right, though Tim’s samples rarely needed adjustment.
Who are other important crew members you couldn't have done this without?
To be perfectly honest, every single person on our team gave this film their all. It was grueling work, and everyone made in their personal lives to see it come to fruition; near the end, some people were pulling eighty hour work weeks. Can you imagine? All these people, motivated by pure determination and passion? Without a promise of a paycheck at the end of the week? It’s a lot to ask of anyone.
Our Production Manager (and Compositing Lead), Lauren Gisewhite poured her heart into this film. She went above and beyond her station, and every time things started to look impossible, she’d keep our team grounded. I can say with absolute certainty that our film would not have ever been made if she hadn’t been at the wheel!
Our Technical Director (Genesis Laboy Rivera) used this film as a means to better her understanding of the tools every single day. She’s the reason the glass looks as good as she does, and she’s the reason Tiffany refracts light properly. One of our biggest hurdles was getting that glass and leading to look right—if we couldn’t manage it, we wouldn’t have a film. She made it happen.
And our Environment Team, lead by Savannah Berry and Megan Burbach, made the stage on which Tiffany takes place. Honestly, the environment is probably the most time consuming part of a production; more people completed individual tasks there than almost any other facet of production, and it took a lot of work for our modeling team lead by (Austin Royal and Beryl Van Ness) and texturing team (lead by Ky Campbell) to get everything looking sharp.
How was the film received so far?
Generally, very well. We’ve been seeing success internationally and domestically and won several festivals already! It’s a good start—I hope to see the trends continue.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the making of Tiffany? Do you have any advice to animators who are just starting out?
Teamwork makes the dream work, as they say. A project of this scope can’t be done alone, not only because of the sheer amount of work but also because the more eyes you have on a project, the better it will become. If I had to give advice, I’d say make sure your work is being seen! You can’t grow your skills if you only operate in a safe bubble.
What is your dream project? Let’s assume you have unlimited resources: what is the logline of the story, and who would you have on your team (for cast and crew)?
I would love to work on a feature length animated film. I think that animation as a medium has been underutilized for more mature audiences (not so much in the sense that I’d love to see more rated R animated films, but more-so in the sense that I feel that mature and gripping stories could be told using animation), and I’d love to see a tumultuous fantasy tale told with stylized, visual splendor. Beyond that, I couldn’t truly tell you who I’d want to cast until I understood the characters, though I think I’m more a champion of fresh talent than tried-and-true veterans.
What do you wish to focus on in the future or where do you see yourself in 10 years? Are you planning to work for one of the big studios like Pixar or Dreamworks?
After being invited to represent the University of Central Florida at Walt Disney Animation Studios this past year, I would really love to work there! I’ll admit it may be how starstruck I was, but getting to sit down and talk to the employees really made me feel like I was in a workplace I could truly be comfortable in. I’m also a huge team player, so any studio that thrives on teamwork is where I want to be!
Tell us about upcoming projects, are you currently developing something new?
I am, actually! “Puddlehopper”. The media that the story will be told in is still up in the air, but the story is there. Honestly, I’m constantly developing new ideas; it’s a very chaotic process. Things are created, stripped down, crashed together with other, older ideas, refined… if you asked me this question in a year, I’d likely have a totally different answer.
Is there anything you wish to add, or anyone you’d like to thank?
Please take the time to search for the other members of our team! They have phenomenal work, and though they’re not being individually recognized here, they certainly deserve the spotlight as much as I do.
Where can our readers follow more of your work?
christinachristie.weebly.com There you can see my full filmography, illustration work, and animation.
Tiffany on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/TiffanyTheFilm/
Tiffany on Instagram: @tiffanythefilm
Tiffany - Teaser