Cordell Barker

An Animator’s Life: Time and Distractions

I’m very aware of time. I’m always pulling out my stopwatch to time actions and then multiplying by the repetitions to find the average and calculate the completion. That is especially true when time is running very short. I’m in Montreal, racing to finish up all of my stop-motion animation before my six weeks here run out on December 4th.

I assume I must be a fairly driven person. All animators need to be. My films always develop into a difficult exhausting challenge but I keep on bashing away at them. I see everyone around me enjoying their evenings and weekends: sitting in the sun, eating, strolling, more eating, etc. My neighbour is a very sociable type and is frequently hosting social gatherings. He hails me from his deck, watching me spending my weekend nights, on my porch, assembling little props – lately, gluing bits of paper to other bits of paper with piano wire attached, and then repeating the process 239 times in a row (all timed with a stop-watch). It’s at those moments that I wonder what on earth I’m doing. It all seems a bit ridiculous and more than slightly anti-social.

Time is a currency that I seem to be spending on ego.

To survive this process, I need to be able to turn off the time awareness.

My biggest time-awareness distraction is playing tennis. I view it as a dog going after a bone. At that moment, there is only the bone. Everything else disappears, and I end up moving some blood through my veins and burning off stress as an added bonus. I could never play golf. Golf would just be me walking around in the woods, looking for my ball and thinking about my film and looming deadlines.

My other main distraction is playing my banjo! I love playing it. I even love the look of it. And it’s heavy, you could kill an ox with that thing. I’ll work for an hour, pick up the banjo and play “Old Aunt Jenny With Her Night Cap On,” or my personal favourite “Little Sadie,” and then get right back to work. There’s something very grounded and earthy about a banjo. And just playing music in general. I approach film musically – always aware of the rhythms and tempo of the story and action. Even on sections where there isn’t any music. But mostly, it’s that playing music is like playing tennis: it’s a complete escape from the awareness of time and my film.

Back in my sailboat building days (I built an 18 foot wooden sailboat in the mid 90’s – a Swampscott dory if you must know), I was overwhelmed by how much work there was in putting it together. This was while I was juggling work on my second film, Strange Invaders, doing endless commercial work on a 2-and-a-half-year Bell Telephone campaign, and doing my bit to help generate and mould 3 very small boys.

I would puzzle over why I was taking on the extra burden (the boat, not the boys) since I had NO time as it was. I was mad about anything sailboat related and I remember reading a story in a sailing magazine about a guy somewhere in the American Midwest, 1000 miles from any coast, who was building a classic wooden ocean-going sailboat. It was big. He had been working on it for 20 years with more than a few years yet to go. When asked why he took on such an enormous time commitment, his response was, “Well, I suppose I could have spent the 20 years not making the sailboat.”

The quote has stuck firmly in my head. There’s no stopping time and it will catch up to me – or stop and wait for me – I’m not sure how it all works. But I want to have something more than high video game scores to show for all the time I’ve been here. There’s that ego thing again.

I know from experience, that when this film is finished, and if it’s successful, time will slow down for a while and I can enjoy the moment. But only very briefly.