"One Man Band," two Pixar geniuses, and "The Iron Giant" revisited

Sean Uyehara October 13, 2006

Mark Andrews and Andrew Jimenez co-wrote and co-directed the unexpected, surprisingly funny short “One Man Band.” It recently debuted as an opener before Pixar’s “Cars.” The short features two musicians vying for a single coin from an unsuspecting young girl. Before communicating with Mark and Andrew, I imagined that each musician in the film represented one or the other, and I was determined to figure out who was which. They never did tell me, but they were gracious enough to answer a few questions that I emailed to them. Both Andrews and Jimenez will be on hand at the inaugural San Francisco International Animation Showcase at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Oct. 15 to discuss their work on “One Man Band” and on the cult classic “The Iron Giant,” which will also be screened.

SF360: How long have you been in animation? What was your path to getting there?

Mark Andrews: Thirteen years. I kind of fell into it. I discovered a class in City College called ‘animation,’ and took it, thinking it would be fun being that I’m a big fan of anime. That class turned me on to Cal Arts, and that’s when I first thought of animation as a career.

Andrew Jimenez: I’ve been working in animation for the last 12 years. I’ve wanted to make movies though since I was six years old. All I did as a kid was draw and paint and make movies with my friends. I went to film school at San Diego State. It was a tough road not growing up or going to school in L.A., because when I got out of college, I realized that L.A. doesn’t care about anyone and it’s a tough place to find work in film. It took some bold tactics to break in. Things like putting on a suit and just showing up at production houses saying I had an interview scheduled. More often than not, I actually got in the door to talk to someone, even though there were never any actual scheduled interviews. I was using the computer a lot to design titles for an insurance company I was working for in San Diego, and when I landed at Warner Bros. for an interview, they saw I could draw but also knew how to use a computer. I pitched the idea of moving storyboards to them, something Brad Bird was already trying to put together, so it was a good combination.

Andrew Jimenez

SF360: How long have you been at Pixar?

Jimenez: Six years.

Andrews: Six years.

SF360: Can you give us any inside info about upcoming projects?

Jimenez: Nothing really except they are all VERY COOL.

Andrews: No way in hell except that they will be awesome!

SF360: How did you get involved in ‘One Man Band?’

Andrews: Pixar asked me if I would like to direct a short. I said, ‘Of course.’ They then asked me if I’d like to direct with Andy. I said ‘sure.’

Jimenez: Nothing has played a bigger role in inspiring me to write and make movies than music. When I was a kid, music was a place to escape and become a dreamer. This continues even when I am working on films today. I think of bits of music when I am timing and pacing the emotional beats of a scene. I’ve always wanted to make a film where music is not just the inspiration or something that added to what was already there, but rather comprises the story itself. A story where the characters do not speak and convey everything they want to say through music. This was something that so many of the old shorts I watched as a kid did so well.

SF360: You wrote and directed it together. What is that kind collaboration like? How do you guys work together?

Jimenez: Honestly, I don’t know how we really work together other than to say very well. We never consciously divided up duties or anything like that. We just got to work and tried to make the best story possible. I’ve worked with Mark for the last 10 years so we hit the ground running on ‘One Man Band.’

Andrews: Andy and I work very well together because we’re not afraid of being honest and working ideas out together or trying to convince the other that one idea is better. Because it’s not about ego, it’s about making a good film.

Jimenez: The only way the dual director thing works is if the ideas come from both directors. Filmmaking is already a compromise so you don’t want to compromise with your fellow director.

SF360: One of the really fantastic aspects of ‘One Man Band’ is the way that it keeps going deeper and deeper into the unexpected. As the guys duel and keep pulling out the stops it gets more and more absurd, and then the little girl turns out to be so much more than first expected as well. Was that your strategy going in? Or did it develop as you talked? Or something else entirely?

Andrews: Yes the simple idea of competing or dueling one man bands was the inspiration. And that kind of fight has to build.

Mark Andrews

Jimenez: The little girl (Tippy) was actually not in the story at first. The basic idea of the film had never changed from day one to film out, but we did play with several different ways to end the film. I think we were trying to find a way to subtly say that if two people keep quarreling about something, they are going to lose the goal, and someone who you never saw coming is going to take it and surprise everyone. Is this an analogy to the animation community and the big studios in L.A.? Maybe.

SF360: What were your respective roles on ‘The Iron Giant?’

Andrews: Storyboard artist.

Jimenez: I was a digital story artist doing animatics for the story reel. I then moved into the scene-planning department, replicating my story reel work with actual shots in the film. I then moved into the digital effects department, adding lasers and making stuff blow up.

SF360: When ‘The Iron Giant’ came out it made a huge impression on those who follow animation, and many refer to it these days as a cult classic. I think it is a bit of a masterpiece. Still, the box office for the film was pretty grim. Was it a bittersweet experience in that way?

Jimenez: It was bittersweet, and I wish it did better. It’s like we created this thing that we want to do well and I felt bad for the film and for Brad that it didn’t have a bigger audience. Movies fail all the time. The thing is, it’s so hard to make a good movie and I think we did that. To have it fail at the box office because of lack of promotion was like running a relay marathon only to find out no one was there to take the baton.

Andrews: Yeah. You work on something you know is great and to find out that it didn’t perform that way is a let down. You think, ‘How could I have been wrong?’ But it’s not the film’s fault. The film is in everyone’s DVD library. The fault lies somewhere else. The thing is you can’t be in this business and feel you are ‘entitled,’ just because it’s good.

SF360: Do you follow how the films do in the theaters?

Jimenez: I went and saw ‘The Iron Giant’ 11 days in a row because I was just fascinated at the process. It was a real movie being projected on the screen. It was the first feature I got the chance to work on and to see it up on the big screen the same way I saw movies up there as a kid. Well, it was blast.

Andrews: No, only as a glancing curiosity mostly. I make films to MAKE FILMS. I’m not really interested in box office. That’s not what inspires me to make films.

SF360: What did you take from the film moving forward?

Andrews: It’s a great film regardless of its box office. I mean are you going to love your kid less because he lost a race??? Its one of the best animated movies of all time and I was a part of it.

SF360: The story for ‘The Iron Giant’ was adapted from a novella by Ted Hughes. It is said the story was written to placate Hughes’ children following his wife Sylvia Plath’s suicide. How was it decided to adapt this particular story?

Andrews: Ask Brad.

SF360: Hughes died in 1998. Do you know if he knew about this adaptation and how he felt about it?

Andrews: Yes. I believe he did and I think that he liked it.

Jimenez: He did know about the adaptation. Brad did have a different take for the story but you’d have to ask Brad about that. I think the core of the story and it’s heart never changed.

SF360: There is a program of student produced animation in the SF Int’l Animation Showcase. Any advice you want to give students out there trying to break into the field?

Jimenez: Look for unique ways to get in. What I mean by this is that animation and how we make these films is constantly evolving. If you can get in on the cusp of one of these changes, it’s a way to stand out because you have a unique approach or skill. Most importantly, surround yourself by creative people that challenge you. Every thing that has happened to me has happened largely because of the good group of people I met back on ‘Iron Giant.’

Andrews: Draw a lot and watch a lot of movies.