An interview with Eric Schwartz

by Jason Jordache for CU Amiga

Survivor GW_Amiga
Taken from the July 1997 issue of CU Amiga

Eric Schwartz made his name in the late 80s as one of the Amiga's most innovative animators. Life, the Amiga and Eric have moved on...

CU:How did you first come across the Amiga and what prompted you to create your first Amiga animation?

ES:I've had an interest in the Amiga ever since the computer magazines covered it in 1985-86. Back then it was the only thing that was considered to be a 'graphics' computer, (I already had a Commodore 64 at the time) so my curiosity was naturally aroused. This eventually led to my parents getting an Amiga 500 at the very end of 1988 (At the time, my dad was pressuring me to consider something 'IBM-compatible', but has since changed his mind.) I wanted to create animation immediately, but it took a while to get the right software for the job (This was the time of Dpaint II). I created my first anim, "Stealthy Manoeuvre" shortly after buying a then-new piece of software called Moviesetter. The rest is history.

CU:Was the Amiga your first animation medium, or did you have previous experience with traditional animation techniques?

ES:I've been heavily into animation ever since I first grasped the concept. I have touched on such prerequisites as flip-books and super-8 film, and I did many crude early attempts with cut paper in a Terry Gilliam-ish fashion. I even tried out some very primitive animation software for the C-64 (all graphics for the entire animation had to fit on ONE screen). The Amiga allowed me the freedom to produce some quality work, and fuelled many improvements in style and technique. I'm quite far from as good as I'd like to be, but I'm satisfied with how far I've come in the past eight years.

CU:Name a couple of your favourite anims and tell us how long they took you to complete.

ES:It's hard to pinpoint specific animations that I would call my favourites, but there are several that tend to stand out. The Flip the Frog cartoons, Amy vs Walker 2, Anti-Lemmin's, and Aerotoons such as Gulf Conflict and Unsporting seem to hold up pretty well, even considering most of them are five years old or more. I have a special soft spot for the Sabrina cartoon 'Plight of the Artist' (on my CD-ROM), mainly because it took the most time and effort to make. You didn't specifically ask, but I consider my worst animation to be "At the Movies", because it doesn't pull off the jokes I intended.

The time it takes to do an animation varies a lot. Anywhere from six hours to six months. Most of what I consider my better works took from a few weeks to a few months, depending on length and complexity.

CU:Do you often look back and wish you'd changed bits around or are you generally happy with a finished animation?

ES:I'm usually pretty happy with an animation right when its finished. A lot of my older stuff looks crude to me now, because my abilities (artistically and technologically) have grown over time. I consider it history though, and I probably wouldn't rework them if given the opportunity.

CU:Where do your ideas come from? Have they come in dreams as with Bullfrog supremo Peter Molyneux?

ES:Not that I know of. Ideas have come from all sources and are pretty much random, from observations to suggestions from friends. Usually, most of my Ideas tend to stew for a while before anything comes from them, which is probably for the best, as it improves a good idea and weeds out the weak ideas.

CU:Where do you draw your inspiration from? Who were your cartoonist role models?

ES:I've always been a fan of the short cartoons of the 'forties and 'fifties, especially the work of Warner Bros. director Chuck Jones. Over time I've drawn inspiration from television animation such as Batman, Animaniacs, and the rare British show to appear in the US such as Dangermouse. I'm more taken with animated movies and shows that are entertaining and show personality and humour more than just artistry or technical proficiency. To give an example, a favourite Disney film of mine from the last few years was "A Goofy Movie", a low-budget film which I found more genuinely entertaining than their big musical spectacle films.

CU:Tell us how you put together a typical Amiga animation.

ES:My process for creating animations has changed over time, but it all starts out with an Idea, which is refined into a number of layout drawings and a rough storyboard to decide how the animation work itself will be done. Then the animation drawing commences, usually with the Disney Animation Studio software. I've done the actual drawing work several ways over the years, from drawing directly with the mouse to using a pen tablet or even drawing on the monitor and attempting to trace it. Nowadays I usually do all the drawing on punched paper and scanning the drawings. Once the line drawings are in the Amiga, I'll colour them with a paint package like Dpaint, Brilliance, or Personal Paint. If, like most of my work, it's a Moviesetter anim, I'll break the anims up into separate images and feed them into Moviesetter to create the animbrush-like 'sets'. The sets and background images are put together with sounds in Moviesetter to create a finished animation. Moviesetter is an old piece of software, but there's currently nothing else with its capacity for efficient hobbyist animation.

CU: Have you ever dabbled in 3D and if so how does it compare to drawing in 2D?

ES:I view 3D as just another tool, similar to the way many animation studios use 3D so they don't have to produce difficult drawings of vehicles and inanimate objects to use in 2D animation. I tend to prefer the look and freedom offered by 2D animation. for example it's possible to create images in 2D that are impossible to recreate in 3D, because a three-dimensional object has limits.

CU:Now the technology is upon us to create 3D models, and from those the animations, which look exactly as if they were drawn in the traditional 2D manner, what are the chances in the future of you creating your cartoons entirely in 3D?

ES:I tend to prefer the inherent freedom of 2D animation, but anything is possible. Currently, I don't have the skills in Lightwave to produce good character animation, but I may try in the future to produce some experimental 3D works.

CU:Will you be with the Amiga right till the end and where do you think the machine is headed?

ES:I plan to remain with the Amiga until my needs outgrow what it can provide. I have 'outgrown' a number of systems, but rarely have I run into a situation where I couldn't get by, and never have I hit a problem that required a PC or Macintosh to solve. I have gone from an A500 to A2000 to A1200 to A4000T (with CD-ROM, Jaz drive, Vlab Motion, CyberVision 64, 18 megs RAM and 3 gig of storage), and I look forward to expanding into PowerPC or whatever becomes the base for an Amiga future. It's too early now to tell what the future holds, but one benefit is that the Amiga's owners (Gateway 2000, now) are not the only force for the platform's development, so you have the option to pick the future that suits you best. Unfortunately, this is also a cost in that too much division between Phase V, PIOS, ProDAD, and Amiga Proper, can easily result in dividing up an already small market into several that can't possibly stand alone. I would hope everyone is smart enough not to compete their way to becoming boss of nothing.

CU:What's your philosophy in life?

ES:That's not an easy question to answer, so I'll just avoid it. Being an Amiga advocate takes up enough philosophy as it is.

CU:Have you managed to get a job as Director of Animation at Disney yet? What are your ambitions above and beyond what you have brought to the Amiga scene?

ES:Apart from trying out for an internship while in college, I've had little to no direct contact with Disney. Currently, I've been freelancing animation and graphics for game companies, advertisements, web sites and other things. My own (overly) lofty goal is to run my own video and animation studio, and have several talented people working for me with no goals of their own. (I haven't decided if that last statement is a joke or not).

Full name: Eric W. Schwartz

Age: 25, but I'll eventually be 26.

Computer setup: A4000T, With 18 megs, Vlab Motion, Tocatta, Cybervision 64, extra serial & parallel ports, big hard drives, and stickers on it. Also in the place there lives an A3000, A2500, A2000, A1200, A500, A1000, and a CD-32

Interests (other than Amiga): Model-building (almost abandoned) and drawing and cartooning in general. Oh yes, I own two pet Chinchillas, so I'm also a hobbyist chin breeder (not necessarily by choice).

Successes: Probably the biggest personal success is winning the Italian Bit.Movie contest (one category) enough times in a row that they asked me to take a break for a year or more.

Official ES Productions Web Site amyaward
Unofficial Eric Schwartz Web Site (US mirror)
Jason Jordache

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