Interview No. 148
Interview By: The-Great-One
Today's guest is one of the hardest working professional artist and animator out there today. Her works range from the funny with Science Kits At Play, to the darker tone with FLOWER, and to both with her acclaimed hit Help Wanted: Must Be Human. Her skills have taken her far throughout the art world and she has graced Newgrounds with her creativity. I am most pleased to welcome Meghan Luna.
Q: How did you find Newgrounds and why did you join?
A: I think I first stumbled upon Newgrounds when I was a little kid. I might have been 8 or 10 years old. I found this point and click investigator-type game set in… I want to say a hospital? I can’t remember the name of the game, but I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t really great at using the internet at that age, so I didn’t think to bookmark it. Thus that game and the site were lost to me for years. It actually wasn’t until the recent years that a lot of my animator friends recommended the site to me. I eventually signed up and I’m really enjoying it. The community is great and the feedback I get on my art is mostly helpful.
Q: When did you become interested in drawing?
A: Oooh, I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a crayon, haha! That's what a lot of artists say though. I started thinking more seriously about my style when a friend of mine in 4th grade showed me how she drew her characters step by step. Then I remember my Elementary School had a Scholastics Book Faire and I discovered manga. That definitely affected my style and for a while, up until High School, I was set on becoming a comic artist. I think it was in 11th grade that I realized I wanted to be an animator instead. Gifs were becoming more popular, and a lot of illustrators I followed were posting gifs of their characters blinking or something simple like that. I realized I’d much rather breathe life into my drawings than have them static.
Q: What affects did the works of Disney, Nickelodeon, and DreamWorks have on you and your works?
A: When I started thinking more about my style it was really close to when I discovered manga, so in terms of characters design I wasn’t that affected by them in my early stages, but I was definitely affected by some things. I've always loved the bizarre zaniness that came from Nickelodeon cartoons like Invader Zim. I loved the fantastical and heart yearning feeling you always get when you watch a Disney Movie. And I loved loved loved how grand DreamWork's Prince of Egypt was. Those feelings are things I'd like to replicate in my art. Something that's fantastic and zany, and something that, in it's own way, is grand and makes your heart want more of it.
Q: What brought you to The University of the Arts in Philadelphia? How much did your education attribute to your work?
A: When I was looking for colleges to go to, it looked like Uarts had a pretty good rep. It was closer to where I lived, one of my cousins had already gone there and said she really liked it, and I really wanted to learn animation at an art specific school. I really enjoyed my time at Uarts and would recommend it to anybody. You can certainly teach yourself animation at home, but it might take longer and certain doors might be closed to you unless you know people who are already into animation or media in general. I didn't know anyone who was doing what I wanted to do, so I definitely needed it. Also, being around so many artists is incredible. I've never improved so fast before in my art. At Uarts I was able to get connected with other animators, illustrators, musicians, singers, sound designers, and so on and so on. Animation is definitely a group thing and Uarts provided me with my first network and I still find myself working with my Uarts peeps today. If anyone reading this is looking to attend Uarts, feel free to ask me about the school.
Q: While at school you worked on different projects there, one being Wizard of Oz Guidelines. This was done for the Annals of Internal Medicine. How did you find out about this project? How did you become the Lead Character Designer? What made you decide to use the Wizard of Oz as the theme for this?
A: This was actually from an Internship lead by Professor John Serpentelli! He's really passionate about giving students opportunities to work with real clients so that their resumes look more appealing going out of college. When our team first met our client, they explained to us the project, said they wanted it to be Wizard of Oz themed, and had a whole script ready with characters! So we all started coming up with concept art for the characters. They really liked a lot of my designs, so that's how they decided I'd be the Lead Character Designer.
Q: Liv Rand is an underappreciated singer on the stage today. You were fortunate enough to work with her in Little Joy Cover (The Next Time Around). How did you come to meet Liv? You also stated that working with a singer and animation was a difficult task and you learned a lot from it. What difficulties did you have to overcome? What can you tell other animators and singers advice on their own projects involving the merging of the two that they can use?
A: Ooh Liv was awesome to work with! Her voice is so beautiful. I wish we had more time on this assignment so that I could have animated it. During one of our classes at Uarts, one of our assignments was to team up with somebody from the Music Department and make a music video. It wasn't extremely difficult to work with a singer, but there was a lot of things I didn't know. Like I didn't know how long it took to make a cover. I didn't think about her having to find someone to do the instrumentals. It's important to understand, even just a little bit, how other people and their professions work. We only had a month to work on this project and looking back, it would have been a lot smarter for me to have asked for a pre-existing song of hers instead of us scrambling to make a cover in the midst of us trying to keep up with our other classes.
Q: One of my absolute favorite pieces by you is your movie made for the Chemical Heritage Foundation for Science Kits Throughout the Ages entitled Science Kits At Play. How did you find out about this project? You were the Production Manager for this project. How did you become the Production Manager and what duties were you responsible for throughout the project?
A: Aaah! This was another Internship project lead by Professor John Serpentelli! After working on the Wizard of Oz one, John asked if I would lead this one. He wouldn't have asked me if I didn't prove myself on the last project. I'm very organized with my work and when I come across problems I always solve them. It's important, even if it's a school assignment, that you always do your best in whatever you do. You never know who's watching and how it can either hurt or benefit you. For this project I was responsible for communicating with the client, creating a production schedule, assigning work to everyone on the team and making sure they kept up with it, and working on my section of the film as well.
Q: Your first movie on Newgrounds is entitled FLOWER. This movie made me feel uneasy while watching it. You state that...
"It's a visual representation of the mind shutting down after being fatally injured."
I certainly see that through your movie. It was made as your Junior film while you were at university. Where did you come up with the idea and what was the process of making it? Also who is Miss Debbie?
A: Oh man, Miss Debbie blessed me in a very big way. I’ve known her and her family my whole life. When my family was looking for a place to live they actually housed us for a while. During my Freshman and Sophomore year I was borrowing a laptop to do my work, but it was old and by the end of my Sophomore year it was pretty much dead. So I had no laptop for my Junior year, which was when the real animation work was going to start. Miss Debbie felt it in her heart to buy me a laptop and without her I just would not have been able to do my work as well as I did. The school does have computers we can use, but classes are using those during the day and our school doesn't do 24 hour access until the end of the semester.
For how I came up with the idea for my Junior film, it actually spurred from a sound I heard in Caleb Wood's animated short, Rat Trap. You can hear the sound almost exactly on the 1 minute mark. When I heard that echoey, scratchy sound it made me visualize someone's brains blasting out the top of their head. That visual was really interesting to me and I wanted to use it. So I tried coming up with a deep story to justify it, haha. Re-watching his short makes me realize that I also took note on how he used moving stills to relay the anxious feeling the character has to the viewer. So I definitely used that too.
Q: Your Senior film while at University is about a young woman who applies for a job. It is entitled Help Wanted: Must Be Human. I love the idea behind this so much! How did you come up with it? What was the process you took into making it?
A: I'm glad you love it! Haha, ohman. It seems a lot of my ideas spur from sounds and imagery first instead of story ideas. Which sometimes is cool but sometimes it's not so helpful when you finally have to figure out a purpose for your visuals.
I got really into vaporwave music during my Senior year, so that whole aesthetic definitely inspired me. If you don't know what vaporwave is, it's basically sampled sounds from the 80s and 90s (wether it be from songs, movies, or commercials from that time), sliced up, mixed up, slowed down, and maybe with a few added beats here and there by whoever's making the mix. I'm sure there's a better explanation for what vaporwave is on the net. Aside from the music part of vaporwave, there's also an aesthetic, which includes, amongst many other things, old monster computers, 90s office spaces, long leafy plants, neon lights, glitches, and VHS tape distortions. I also have always loved bunnies, so I guess I wanted an excuse to have a bunny character in my film. Nickelodeon's Invader Zim definitely inspired me too. I love a cartoony look, and for me specifically, I love a cute cartoony look. And I loved how in that show, even though it was a zany cartoon for kids, it's bizarreness would always go towards the dark and creepy side, which I loved. The mix of something cute with something disturbing has always been fun to me.
So my film pretty much was a mold of all those things. I wanted to make something cute yet disturbing. I wanted an 90s office space with neon lights and potted plants. I wanted an excuse to make a bunny character, and since I wanted to add creepiness into the mix, why not make the bunny a villain? I wanted to include glitches and distortion, so why not a creepy virus ad that reels our poor protagonist in?
Once I figured out what visuals I wanted to have in the film, I tried connecting the empty spaces with a story. Which was pretty hard. I definitely recommend figuring out your story first before you start anything else on your project. That's something I didn't do. I had most of it figured out and I went right into boarding it. For a long time I struggled with figuring out how to justify why Tiffany was in this situation, what was Bunny Boss's deal, why were there body part in the employee lounge, how does Tiffany escape, and what does she do after she escapes? The story could have been a lot stronger. But you live and you learn. I'm definitely still learning. I think creating a solid story is where I struggle the most.
But anyways, I had weak story and I boarded. Made an animatic. Should have recorded the dialogue earlier than I did. Should have figured out exactly what the dialogue was earlier than I did. This is why it's important to have your story and script down before you do anything else. I should have gotten together with a sound designer earlier than I did (and the sound designer I paired up with was amazing! If you ever need sound design, contact Justin Titus). I eventually had to solidify my story and my boards because I was running out of time. When I finally did solidify them I made a list of how many backgrounds I needed, how I needed to arrange the layers of each background, and how they needed to be composited. I figured out which shots were easier and harder to animate and scheduled the ones that were harder to animate on my more free days and the easier shots on days that were more full. I actually made physical thumbnails representing each shot, cut them out, colored their borders with colors representing the shot's difficulty, and tapped different shots together into tassels. Each tassel represented the shots I'd work on each week. They were also organized by importance in the story. Sometimes I wouldn't complete all the shots for one week so I'd take those shot's thumbnails and tape it to another week.
I feel like it took me around 2 months to animate, color, and composite this short. I am proud of it, and I love the world and the characters I created for it, but looking back on it I know where I could have pushed myself farther. Especially in the story aspect.
Q: One of your specialties is making a storyboard. I can see that in your animation style. What is the transition of going from storyboard to animation? Is it the same as photography and filming or is it different? What storyboard advice do you have to give to artists and animators here on Newgrounds?
A: I've actually never made storyboards for live action film, but I assume it's pretty much the same. You'd just have to know their jargon. The transition between working off your boards to animating each shot is the animatic. An animatic is where you take your boards and put them into a video timeline with sound. Timing in your animatic is very important. The storyboards and the animatic are the maps for the animators. You need to make sure they're solid and detailed before you go into animation. The more clean and precise you are with the compositions, movements, and the timing, the easier it is for the animators to follow exactly what you want to convey. My boards have not always been clean and clear. I used to make boards that were only legible to me. But if you want a job in storyboarding you've got to make sure everyone can understand what they're seeing and that there's enough drawings there to convey the exact movements you want animated.
Q: What is in your opinion, the definition of art?
A: When someone expresses themselves by creating something. Some people argue that it's only art if you make it for yourself. I've definitely made "art" for clients that I wasn't totally interested in myself. And I can definitely say if you're not interested in it, it's no fun making it. During my Senior year, like many other students, I started to worry about wether or not I could make a living off my art. I was worried that my art might not be "sellable". Which is a horrible phase to go through, and a lot of people do go through it. You just can't please everyone with your art because people's tastes are so wildly different. I found myself, thank God only for a short while, changing my Senior film to what I thought other people wanted, and it was horrible. I didn't like what I was changing my film into. And I think that's when it hit me, all of a sudden I wasn't into my art, and I realized that when you're making art you should not be thinking about the audience. If they like it then that's great! If not, who cares, you didn't make it for them. It's not theirs. I guess I would say art has a scale to it. Your art is at it's artiest when you're be being self-indulgent, and at it's lowest when you're making something you hate for someone else.
Q: What can we expect from Meghan Luna in the future?
A: I actually worked on another Tiffany short with a bunch of my friends at the Barnhouse Collective! We just posted it today, so check it out! It was really cool seeing how everyone handled animating my characters. I'm definitely going to be making more of these soon!
I came across Meghan Luna the same way as I'm sure others have. Through the front page, with her submission Help Wanted: Must Be Human. It was something different from what I have seen on Newgrounds or anywhere else really. To think she waited so long to share these works with so many here. Her skills are amazing and I'm glad that she decided to share them with Newgrounds. Hopefully she will reach out to the other creators here and they will reach out to her as well. This kind of creative drive should not go unnoticed.