From Claymation to Digital Media: An Interview with MDM Faculty Larry Bafia, Part 1
Not everyone can say they started their accomplished careers molding characters out of clay.
But that’s exactly how Larry Bafia’s career began. His profession has spanned many mediums and huge technological shifts—from creating characters with clay to teaching leading-edge digital media skills to graduate students.
Larry started his career in stop motion and claymation with the Will Vinton Studios in 1987, working on projects such as the California Raisins, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and The Globeheads.
California Raisins, courtesy of Will Vinton Studios.
A foam latex animation model of Spike the Rabbit for Michael Jackson’s Speed Demon music video.
Larry planning and pre-visualizing the Christmas square set for A Claymation Christmas Celebration with writer Ralph Liddle. The street is a piece of construction paper and the building is a cardboard box with pieces of garbage bags for windows.
Larry setting up a shot for the production of A Claymation Christmas Celebration.
Larry moved on to to work in CGI, first at the Vinton CG Commercial Group where he animated characters for Chips Ahoy! Raid and Fanta, then becoming the Commercial Animation Director at PDI/Dreamworks. He directed commercials for Coca-Cola, Sega, Intel, Kraft and Target. Larry was a Sequence Lead Animator for the movies Antz and Batman & Robin, and was also on the effects team for Mission Impossible II and Forces of Nature.
Soon after Larry moved to Warner Brothers, where he was the Lead Animator for the Stop Motion Division on the development of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks.
Creating Fanta Man replacements.
In 2003, Larry was recruited by Vancouver Film School to be the Department Head of Animation and Visual Effects and in 2009 he became a full-time faculty member at the Centre for Digital Media.
I sat down to talk to Larry about the technological changes that he’s seen throughout his career and his transition into teaching. In Part 2, we discuss his involvement in an interactive exhibit with the Vancouver Maritime Museum this past summer.
You started your career in stop motion and claymation with the Will Vinton Studios, working on projects like the California Raisins. What was that like? How was it different than today?
People in digital media tend to skip over the pre-visualization and the planning side of things. I miss some of that.
Back when I was making a puppet for a film, I had to think through what was going to happen in 24 frames for 1 second of footage. I had to think about the big picture and boil it down to a single detail. That could take all day—but if that second really works it’s a great day.
Shooting animation is much more thoughtful than the work in digital media today.
In digital media, your first attempt may fail and you can try again. In stop motion, if you fail it’s very painful.
I was lucky to be involved with 2 great studios—both Will Vinton and PDI/Dreamworks. It really was a golden era, people still talk about it. These were places where creativity and collaboration came together and it showed in the work that we were having fun.
That time had a big effect on me. Now I know to look for chemistry in a team, the importance of sharing knowledge and how successful teams work.
Did you think that you’d move into teaching?
The first time I was teaching, I was recruited by VFS. I quickly realized that teaching was very similar to my previous job as a director. Unless you’re very clear, you’re not going to get the visuals or story—the results—that you want. It’s important not take anything for granted.
I always prefer to teach with something tangible. When I teach process I want to apply the process to something hands on in front of the students. Sometimes I see whole portfolios from undergrads and they’ve only worked with with their own singular vision, it’s all about their process and theory.
But it’s different with teaching teamwork and collaboration. The artist needs to be able to share and accept ideas from others. Hands-on teaching is what’s important to making this kind of industry-focused program work.
Stayed tuned for Part 2 of our interview next week, where we discuss Larry’s current projects with Master of Digital Media students.