Photo by Marla Aufmuth Syd Garon at the Hammer Museum prior to the World Premiere of his new music video, The People Tree.
- Name: Syd Garon
- Created on: 1969-Nov-08, Rochester, NY
- Record last updated on: 2008-May-28
- Homepage: bobcentral.com
- Domain: Animation
- Location: Los Angeles, California
I was first introduced to Syd Garon’s work in 1997 when a friend at a San Francisco ad agency slipped me a just completed copy of Somebody Goofed, an animation crafted from a cut up Jack T. Chick gospel comic. The film co-directed by University of Miami friend and classmate Rodney Ascher had a very distinct, completely fresh look to it. Using the then fairly new tool After Effects, Syd and Rodney brought movement to still image in a magical way. At that time I’d only seen one thing close – Eric Henry’s short Wood Technology – so somehow it is not surprising that Syd would go on to collaborate with Eric on the epic (four years in the making) animated music film DJ Qbert’s Wavetwisters, which screened at Sundance and toured the world with RESFEST. I’ve had the pleasure to premiere multiple films from Syd over the years, he’s told me my deadlines are one of his biggest motivators for finishing a project. Of late he has been working with music producer Sam Spiegel, a longtime fan of Wavetwisers, on his most creatively ambitious project to date - to not only make videos for each track on the forthcoming album of NASA (Spiegel and DJ Zegon’s all-star jam), but to do each with a different visual artist. The project pairs top visual artists including Sage Vaughn, The Date Farmers, Marcel Dzama and Shepard Fairey with equally talented animators with Garon at the helm. While the technique he helped pioneer in the late 90’s is now ubiquitous, Garon has managed to advance his craft, so every new project he turns out is as dynamic and fresh as his first.
Can you take us through the series of events in your life that led you to: “filmmaker, that’s what I want to be.”
I wasn’t a lifelong film buff who had always dreamed of being a filmmaker, I was in school trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I took a bunch of math and science courses that were just brutal and some psychology and film classes that were a blast. My super 8 teacher deconstructed a sequence from Jaws one day in class and it blew me away. I saw there were rules and strategies and techniques that you can apply to make a good film. Filmmaking also incorporated pieces of everything I had been studying in school, there is a physics/engineering/chemistry angle to the film stock and cameras, a psychology and art component behind the camera, then post production has music, electronics and computers. Its a little bit of all of my interests.
Garon and Eric Henry co-directed the epic Wave Twisters (2001) in collaboration with illustrator Doug Cunningham. The film based on DJ Qbert’s turntablism album of the same name was acclaimed as a modern day Yellow Submarine
You’ve been one half of some celebrated filmmaking duos (”Rodney & Syd” and “Syd & Eric”). What have you found to be the advantages and disadvantages of creative partnerships?
I really enjoy working on projects with a friend. Working solo is like being in a band by yourself, it’s more fun with a partner in crime. A partner can give an honest opinion and a little friendly competition makes for a better project.It can be hard to balance the workload and sometimes you have to compromise on a favorite idea in the interests of harmony. But overall I find it better to split the glory with the work. I think a partnership also helps you to be more productive.
Still from Somebody Goofed (1997) directed by Syd and Rodney
The videos for “Way Down” and “The People Tree” are the result of a collaboration between yourself and visual artists Sage Vaughn and Marcel Dzama (respectively). Can you talk about the process of mixing these two disciplines together and what the experience was like? How did the collaborations originate and who was responsible for what?
The responsibilities are divided right down the middle. I do all of the animating and the artist does all the painting, the band helps with the story. I try to animate and move the existing painting rather than have them paint me animated moves or frame sequences. The process could be described as giving movement to a series of paintings rather than making an animation. I try hard to animate in a style that looks right for the painting, you have to constantly asking yourself “How would Marcel animate this?” What’s interesting is none of the artists I work with have any animation experience and I am an animator who can barely draw a stick figure.
Check out exclusive video of how the “Way Down” death spiral was created by artist Sage Vaughn and animator/director Syd Garon. DOWNLOAD QuickTime Movie
The biggest challenge is trying to figure out a story that relates to the song using mostly pre-existing paintings (just one of Sage’s paintings can take weeks to create, and I might use it on screen for only 5 seconds.) I try to be true to the song first, I don’t want to make my personal short film and slap it on to the song. I also have to make sure I don’t violate the rules of the artist’s universe. For example, Sage paints gang birds with tattoos but we can’t animate one of his birds driving a car or breakdancing because it’s not something Sage would paint. You can’t make a Marcel animation Pixar-style in 3D. You have to follow the meaning of the song and the rules of the art. I try to make sure their art works with the band’s song and tells a story. Only as a last resort do I ask them to paint something specific and if I do it’s should look like something they would have painted anyway.The collaborations originated with Sam Spiegel and his band NASA, I had access to 20 songs a year in advance and we really got to think about which of our favorite artists went with which song. I would make some test animations and we could tell right away if this artist was going to be right for that song. Sam and I would then show the test to the artist and see if they wanted to work with us. The artists love seeing their paintings animated and aside from the massive amount of work involved its a very pleasant experience.
A still image from the NASA “Way Down” music video (2007), directed and animated by Syd Garon in collaboration with artist Sage Vaughn.
“Way Down” is a bit of a love story, or gangland romance – like a modern day West Side Story told on the streets of California with birds. What do the birds represent, is there a message of peace?
You nailed it, West Side Story is absolutely the reference. The song lyrics are about a woman who falls in love with bad man (The RZA) and Sage had been making huge paintings of Crips and Bloods represented as Blue Jays and Cardinals. The song was a forbidden love song and if you imagine a Blood Cardinal in love with a Crip Blue Jay you almost can’t help but come up with West Side Story.
Is that Marcel Dzama’s personal sketchbook inserted into “The People Tree,” or one created specially for the video?
They are Marcel’s personal sketchbooks, we tried to find images in them that matched up with the lyrics. Marcel gave us total access to his archives but he was out of the country and preparing for a show so he wasn’t unable to create any new pieces specifically for the video. Marcel’s artwork is literally 20% drawings of people trees which comes in handy when you are working on a video called “The People Tree.” David Bryrne wrote the lyrics about the people tree and I found out he is a fan of Marcels work, I’m not sure if he was influenced by the images.
Dan the Automator’s Bear Witness III, was a post-Wave Twisters project by Syd and Eric Henry
You are best known for animated music videos. What do you like about music video and animation as mediums?
The music video is a short film that you have to extract from the music and lyrics. I love that the story is already in the track, you just have to find it.I feel like I found my voice with animation, my traditional filmmaking was fine but it never rose above the pack. With animation I was able to make things that looked completely different form anything else and do it more than once.
Where was your most memorable celebrity sighting? Who was it?
One time I saw a helicopter assisted high speed police chase. A van full of teenage girls running from the cops crashed into a parked car right in front of us while we were waiting for a cab. The girls backed up and sped away. Edward Norton walked by talking on his cell phone and said to us “That was awesome!”And recently the actor who played The Zodiac Killer was riding the miniature train at Griffith Park with my two year old.
Garon co-directed In the Mood for the experimental rock band To My Surprise
What are your goals for the future?
I have a screenplay for an animated feature that is on it’s third draft. I plan on putting that into production as soon as I finish the NASA movie.I have also been talking to Eric Henry and DJ Qbert about doing a 10th anniversary Wave Twisters in HD and on Blu-Ray.
What is your ultimate dream project, given that you have no budget, time or talent restrictions?
Both Wave Twisters and the NASA movie are dream projects. I have total freedom working with really creative people all with a relatively low stress deadline. The budget could be better but a lot more money would come with a whole set of new problems. My next film is a narrative animated film and I am hoping to get studio money behind it but not so much that it gives me an ulcer… I want John Hodgeman as the voice.
NASA | The People Tree (w/Johannes Gamble) (2008)
NASA | Way Down (2007)
Jack Chick’s Titanic (w/ Rodney Ascher) short film (2006)
Buckethead | We Are One (w/ Rodney Ascher) (2005)
Buckethead | Spokes for the Wheel of Torment (w/Eric Henry) (2004)
To My Surprise | In The Mood (w/Eric Henry) (2003)
Dan the Automator | Bear Witness III (w/Eric Henry) (2003)
DJ Qbert’s Wave Twisters (w/Eric Henry) feature film (2001)
Somebody Goofed (w/ Rodney Ascher) short film (1997)
Marilyn Manson | Lunch Box (w/ Rodney Ascher) (1994)
The True History of Crime: X=X (w/ Rodney Ascher) short film (1994)
Additional reporting by Gabrielle Rivera
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