'Feast' Director Patrick Osborne Has 9 Tips For Aspiring Animators

"The biggest thing in the way is someone's willingness to just start," says Osborne.

It's hard not to smile at the sight of Winston, the adorable Boston Terrier at the heart of Patrick Osborne's Oscar-nominated Disney animated short, "Feast." The six-minute short film chronicles a man's love life through the endless appetite of his pup, from the very first fry to that iconic bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. (Osborne assured MTV News that Winston is a very healthy dog... off screen.)

Osborne, who joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2008 as an animator on "Bolt," worked on the 2012 Oscar-winning short "Paperman," which then landed him his dream job as the co-head of animation for the studio's next big release, "Big Hero 6." That all changed, however, when he pitched the idea for "Feast," a project he'd been thinking about for years -- way before Winston was even in the picture. Not only was there no dog in the film, Osborne told MTV News, he was picturing it as a live-action film.

Once Osborne got the green light to direct "Feast" from studio boss John Lasseter, he gave up his dream job with no guarantee that his short would even get made. Luckily for us, it did. And it debuted alongside his former opus "Big Hero 6." Osborne's risk paid off -- big time. "Feast" is the front-runner to win the Oscar for Best Animated Short during tonight's big show. For the first-time director, it's a pretty exciting time to be at the forefront of animation.

"You can do anything," Osborne said. "You can make it look totally real or completely imaginary. So I think the exciting thing is making artistic choices that help the story and push it forward that are different, that are things that we can't get in the real world -- things that have magic and have whimsy."

It's taken 12 years for Osborne to turn his dream of directing his own animated film into a reality, so we decided to pick his brain to see what aspiring animators can do to break into the industry -- and ultimately turn their doodles into Oscar gold.

  1. Have a strong support system.
    Walt Disney Animation Studios

    For Osborne, art has been a part of his life since he was a child. "I always liked to draw," he said. "My dad was a toy designer for Kenner -- like 'Star Wars' toys and Care Bears and 'Strawberry Shortcake,' stuff like that -- in the '80s, and I used to draw with him. My parents encouraged it, which is the first step, just having support from people who don't think it's weird and crazy that you like to draw."

    "I went to school at Ringling -- it's a school in Florida -- for animation," he added. "There's a bunch of ways to learn animation now, even from online. Disney pulls a lot of people from online classes. We care about talent, not about what your credentials are."

  2. Just start drawing.

    Procrastination. We've all been there. And usually, to overcome it, you just have to start doing. According to Osborne, it's the same with animation. If you want to be an animator, you have to start drawing (and preferably never stop).

    "The biggest thing in the way is someone's willingness to just start," he told us. "With any creative project, once you start writing something down, there's something to tell people and read back to people and try to get help. It becomes real. Just starting is the hardest part. That's even hard advice to take, yourself. Because it's easier to sit and do nothing than to actually put an idea down on paper. But once you have something -- something that inspires you -- you can expand on it."

  3. Find the heart of your idea.
    Walt Disney Animation Studios

    Once you find your inspiration, find its heart. "Feast" was originally conceived as a possible live-action film -- a far cry from the animated short it became, but the heart has always remained the same: food.

    "For 'Feast,' the heart of it was I thought it would be cool to tell a story through dinners," Osborne said. "I had this idea that a meal a single guy eats looks a bit different than when he's on a first date and trying really hard. Then, when you're comfortable in a relationship your meals kind of change, and when you get dumped, they look different. And there was no dog in it at that time. I didn't even think it would be animated. I thought maybe it was a live-action indie film I could make one day."

    That all changed the more Osborne started drawing. "When I started drawing pictures of those meals, I noticed there was always this space around the table," he added. "I thought it would be cute to put a dog under the table, and maybe it would fit into what Disney might do. So I thought about it, and every once in a while, I'd revisit this idea. I was already working on 'Big Hero 6' as one of the heads of animation at the time, so even though I was busy with that, it's good to have things in the background bubbling that might turn into something later if you find some sort of human connection for them."

  4. Don't give up.
    Walt Disney Animation Studio

    "You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you." -- Walt Disney

    We're going to be real with you: animation is hard. Like most things, it takes years of practice to master. "You have to remember, and I heard Ira Glass say this, that your taste is going to be better than your ability for awhile," Osborne said. "Don't give up because you're not living up to what you think is good yet. As you practice -- drawing takes a lot of practice -- you will get better at doing it. So don't let the distance between what you think is good and your ability stop you at first. If you have a passion for something, I think most people can put their minds to it and get there."

    And it doesn't even have to cost you any money. No, really! "Most software is free, or there are versions of it that are free or very accessible," Osborne said. "You just need the drive and to start doing it."

    So when in doubt, listen to Dory: just keep swimming.

  5. It's all about the pitch.
    Pixar

    So you have an idea. Now what? It's time to put together a pitch. For Osborne, that meant submitting three possible ideas for a short -- "You don't want to put all of your ideas into one basket," said Osborne -- then honing in on his best idea, and making a formal pitch to Lasseter. And what sets a good pitch apart from a lackluster pitch is simple: you.

    "Because we're in an environment where someone like John Lasseter doesn't know you personally, it's good to pitch to him a broad representation of yourself or to whoever it is you are asking for the time to making something from," Osborne said. "You want to make sure there's a personal connection to the story."

  6. Assemble your Avengers.

    It took a team of people to bring Winston and his owner to life. "Animation is still very collaborative," said Osborne. "You can't really do it by yourself because it takes so much time."

    So how can you assemble your own super team? First, you need to establish yourself as a leader, and fine-tune those cheerleading skills. "The limit is always going to be how many people can you get to help out with whatever this project is -- and whether that's by creating a Kickstarter, raising money and paying them or actually being so good at your pitch that people do not want to do anything but help you," he said. "It's one of those two angles for people getting into animation. The reason a studio works so well is because you can pool a bunch of talent together to collaborate on one thing and reward everybody for it."

    "So you need to find some other way to do the same thing because animation is never going to be fast," Osborne added. "It takes a long time because it's frame-by-frame movie-making. Film-making in general is a lot easier because cameras are cheap, quality has completely democratized itself. You can make great looking stuff for not much money. Animation just takes time. It's not necessarily money, but it is people's time, so they have to feel like they're doing something worthwhile. If you're a charismatic person with a great idea, you can cheerlead enough to get people behind you. Even in a studio like Disney, not everybody works on a short. You have to cheerlead internally. You have to pitch your idea, and make posters. There's a lot of great projects people could volunteer for, and you want people to want to work with you and collaborate."

  7. But don't get too attached.

    When Osborne left his position as head animator on "Big Hero 6" to work on "Feast" full-time, he faced a bit of a dilemma. He needed to build a new team from scratch. "It was a little bit of a weird thing because I had just brought on a lot of the people I admired and liked to work with for 'Big Hero,' and then 'Feast' was greenlit, so I had to leave 'Big Hero,'" he said. "Those were all of the people I liked to work with! But Disney is full of talent, so it wasn't had to assemble a new team, people who were really excited by this idea. And those are the kind of people you want on your team."

  8. Pick your animation style.
    Walt Disney Animation Studios

    As an animator, it's important to be familiar with different styles of animation, from hand-drawn to the painstakingly tedious stop motion to character rigging. Disney's Oscar-winning 2D-3D hybrid "Paperman," which Osborne served as the animation supervisor on, seamlessly blended hand-drawn and computer-generated imagery by mapping 2D animation on top of a 3D format. And Osborne further blurred the line between 2D and 3D with "Feast."

    "It's not a requirement, but there is a pressure you feel that [the film] has to be unique in some way, visually," he said. "With 'Feast,' I wanted to push this idea of 3D animation looking graphic and designed and simple in shape, instead of realistic. I think it should feel like a real world, and pull you in, but it doesn't have to look real."

  9. And most importantly, have fun!
    Raymond Persi

    It's not all work and no play for animators. In fact, sometimes your job is to play. "We had Feast Fridays every week," Osborne said. "We'd eat one of the foods and play with it, throw it on the floor and stuff. And we'd throw a little party and show everyone's work from the week. We ate everything in the film, too. The carrots and celery days were less popular than the waffle days. I don't know why!"


VMAs 2017