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This is how Titmouse’s animators brought their 5 Second Night short films to life

Animation house Titmouse’s artists open up about participating in the studio’s 5 Second Night showcase.

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A tight shot of an undead man who has an ofuda attached to his forehead.
A scene from Jiangshi: Funky Kung Fu Grandma.
Image: Aaron Anderson

While this year’s 5 Second Night has come and gone, after our conversation with Titmouse co-founders Chris and Shannon Prynoski, we were very curious to hear from the studio’s animators about their experience putting together projects for the showcase.

Like every year, each artist who participated in Titmouse’s 5 Second Night this go around was given a few weeks’ heads-up and an entire day off from work to focus on nothing but creating a five-second-long animated film about whatever happened to strike their fancy. But while everyone had the same amount of time and was working toward the same ultimate goal, each of the animators we spoke with — Christian Weyne (Star Trek: Lower Decks), Bobby Richardson (Royal Crackers), Ahmed Quraishi (Star Trek: Lower Decks), Oso Osorio (Royal Crackers), Gracie May (The Hospital), Yuri Fain (Kiff), and Sean Covernton (Animaniacs: Masterclass) — tackled their 5 Second Night projects a little differently in ways you might not expect.

When and how did the idea for your 5 Second Night short come to you?

Christian Weyne: I live over near NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and like to walk along the path near the dam. With so much rain, there has been a ton of water in the basin. On a recent walk, I was looking at the basin, and the industrial complex was reflecting into the water. It was so pretty. It was there that the idea for the short came to me. A little mouse scurries out to look at the view, dreaming of being an astronaut.

Bobby Richardson: Originally, I had something completely different boarded that was a lot more cartoony. However, I really wanted to explore more ideas that spanned a wider range of genres. I wanted to have one idea that was cartoony, one idea that was more action, and one idea that was more cinematic and dramatic. I didn’t get to the third idea because the action one took so much of my time. Also, I realized that this was a great opportunity to practice action boarding and more extreme animation. So for me, 5 Second Day was about figuring out how I can practice what I want to practice while putting it in the context of this whole project.

Ahmed Quraishi: The idea came to me about two weeks before the deadline. I wanted to make a short that was fun to animate. It all came from a spider that was living in my bathroom. I had a hard time getting rid of him. So instead, I decided to make a short film about murder.

Oso Osorio: I actually didn’t even think about participating until the very last minute. When my producer asked me that morning if I was indeed participating or not, I had to come up with an idea on the spot. I looked around my desk, and there was this small anatomical plastic skull, so I told myself, ‘’I guess that will have to do. Why not?’’ 

Gracie May: It came together very last minute. My partner, Steve Gallant, and I will switch off which one of us is directing the short each year. It was my turn, and I was panicking because I had no ideas. I thought about how as a kid, I liked to jump around my room and pretend I was a superhero or something, but it was always embarrassing when people walked in on me. We were also watching a lot of shoujo anime at the time, so I thought a magical girl transformation would be a fun challenge.

Yuri Fain: It’s not an interesting story, haha. Part of the fun for me is coming up with the idea the morning of. I was making breakfast, wasn’t feeling creative and decided to just animate the process.

Sean Covernton: Like all ideas, it started in the bathtub. Then later, I was falling asleep listening to an album called “The Toad King” by Tales Under the Oak, and it fell into place.

What, to your mind, makes for a good piece of short, punchy animation that sticks with someone?

CW: Shorts are hard. You need a good hook and a strong payoff. You don’t have much time for a story. With these 5 Second Day shorts, it’s a little easier. All that you’re looking to do is surprise or delight the audience.

BR: Something funny or surprising that is also concise.

AQ: If you make something that sticks with you, chances are it’ll stick with someone else.

OO: I think the word short is key; short and sweet! 

GM: You should have clarity about what you want the audience to walk away feeling. Do you want them to laugh, be scared, wowed? That should be your North Star.

YF: It should be short, for sure. Otherwise, I don’t think there’s a formula. If the overall artistic style feels good and the gags hit, that’s it.

SC: That’s a million-dollar question! I have no idea. The stuff that I go away talking about is usually the really offbeat / weirdo stuff, but it’s hard to predict what’s going to resonate. I don’t worry too much about that and focus on doing something that makes me happy.

What challenges did you find yourself butting up against creating your short?

CW: The last time I used a camera was in film school a decade ago. I knew I wanted to create something with that “Roger Rabbit,” live-action plates / 2D animation style, but I totally underestimated how hard it would be to shoot footage with shifting daylight and then color time everything to match. I had to go out to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory a few times to get it right.

BR: Making sure I could tell enough of a story that was satisfying and didn’t seem like it was cut short, all within the time span I had, was the biggest challenge. For example, I had other scene ideas I wanted to add to make the fight feel more full, to make sure the story made sense and paced in a way that was satisfying. Balancing that with the due date was a fun challenge.

AQ: The idea came to me two weeks before the deadline. It was really ambitious for one animator, so I sought help from my colleague, Luisa Roscuata. It was hard juggling this short part-time while also working a full-time job. We almost didn’t make it.

OO: The greatest challenges are knowing when to put reins on the creative flow of ideas, keep the scope of the project realistic, move on to the production and finishing part. Realizing when to stop tweaking details is harder when it’s a personal project.

GM: Trying to do parts of the pipeline that I don’t normally do. As a board artist, I don’t usually touch sound. If the film had been less last minute, I definitely would have asked for more help.

YF: The sound effects. I wasted an entire evening trying to find the right sounds online and was getting nowhere. I ended up recording almost all of them on my iPhone using stuff in my apartment. I should have done that from the beginning.

SC: I was using a new (to me) program, so that was the main technical hurdle. The other thing was figuring out a style of timing that’s different from what I’d normally use to reflect the tone of the short.

What kept you inspired and pushing through the process?

CW: Animation, and storytelling in general, is always more fun when it’s collaborative. Amanda Donahue not only helped me get it done in time, she was my hero, helping me design the mouse and animating him as well. The acorn helmet was her idea, and it makes the whole short! I knew she was working just as hard on this little thing for me as I was, and that pushed me to make the best short I could.

BR: What kept me inspired during this was the music I had playing. I am always energized by some really great tunes. At the start of a work session, it gets the creative juices going for sure.

AQ: I really wanted to see my animation on the big screen and make something entertaining. That’s all.

OO: The fact this was my first 5 Second Day working on a short of my own, instead of working on someone else’s project, was very exciting and liberating, even if it meant more challenges and work.

GM: It’s all a learning experience, so that usually keeps me going. 

YF: I usually animate for fun several times a week, so I would have been doing this anyway. It’s therapeutic when there isn’t a particularly hard deadline. Also, it’s my style of animating, so the confidence was there.

SC: I love animation and I love drawing. This short was mostly focused on just enjoying doing the drawings rather than figuring out a lot of complicated problems, so it wasn’t a big struggle to get through. Also, I partnered with my friend, Alexi Ansell, and she did the backgrounds so beautifully that I wanted it to match her effort and care.

What’s the atmosphere like within Titmouse when everyone’s jamming on their shorts?

CW: Being new to the studio, this was my first time getting to participate in 5 Second Day. I was excited to hear what people were making. Some people wanted to talk through ideas; others were helping out friends on their shorts; a buddy wanted everyone to experience his film for the first time on show night. I had a moving conversation with someone dedicating their film to a loved one. People pour into this day for different reasons.

BR: It’s a very fresh and exciting atmosphere. Everyone is working on something that they are really excited about, and the mood helps get everyone jazzed while we are working.

AQ: Since the pandemic, Titmouse has allowed us to work from home. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to work side by side with my colleagues, but working on the same desk from your full-time job to a part-time project has its advantages. Hopefully I can do 5 Second Day at the studio in the future.

OO: There’s a buzzing energy to it, sort of like the start of a race; it’s contagious. Even working from home, you can feel it, with the added advantage that you can concentrate and work at your own pace, so it’s the best of both worlds.

GM: I have never been to a 5 Second Day that wasn’t during pandemic times, but the atmosphere around my apartment was bitchin.

YF: It’s great. Feels like a day at school when the teacher’s out and the substitute wheels in the giant TV / VHS cart. You know it’s gonna be a good day.

SC: I can’t wait for our first back-to-the-office 5 Second Day because it’s a really fun environment. There’s pressure to get stuff done, but everyone’s curious about what folks are doing, so there’s a lot of slowly meandering past desks and chatting. In a great way, it reminds me of the energy from school. Everyone’s tired but keeping at it, fueled entirely by dedication and caffeine. A home environment isn’t as exciting, but it’s nice to be able to work at your own pace and have more time to sit back and consider, “Is that ACTUALLY a good frame, or am I getting it done to get it done?”

How is it different from a regular workday?

CW: It not only brings more energy to you because you’re pumped to work on your own stuff, but it brings the crew fresh energy, too. For the rest of the week, I felt like everyone’s creative juices were flowing.

BR: It felt more like a busy Friday, haha. Work still needs to get done, but you have this excitement, and you feel more driven because it is your own project.

AQ: It’s always fun to start a new project with different characters and different styles. On 5 Second Day, you have full control over your film, from the script to the storyboards to the animation to the comp. Every process was in my domain; (regular studio) work definitely has limitations on what you can and can’t do. 

OO: A normal day on a long project is like a marathon — you want to keep your energy going for a long period of time. This is more like a sprint.

GM: We are more pushed for time but in a fun way. There are no stakes except what you make for yourself. If we didn’t make the deadline, we would have finished it on our own time and put it up in the work chat or something.

YF: My 5 Second Days are short and stripped down, so I don’t really feel the stress of a normal day. I come in, draw whatever, take a longer lunch, and hope by the end of that one day, I have all the hard stuff out of the way.

SC: There’s a different urgency. You still have to produce work, but it’s not as managed as a regular production since you’re the one governing the level of work and the short-term needs. More of a passion-fueled panic, haha.

Creating your short aside, what did you, personally, want to get out of this 5 Second Night?

CW: This is my first rodeo, so I was just excited to participate and see the creativity of my peers, see friends and meet new people at the event.

BR: Hmm, I’m not really sure, haha. I have never shown anything I have worked on in such a public setting before, so I am a bit nervous. I look forward to seeing all of the shorts and meeting new people. I am still pretty fresh to LA, and in these times, meeting new people in person is a bit hard.

AQ: I just want to sit back and enjoy the films of my fellow creative and talented colleagues. 

OO: I want to have a great time with my friends at the screening.

GM: I don’t really have any specific goals. It’ll be cool to see it on the big screen and talk to people about their films. Maybe go to House of Pies after?

YF: It’s always fun to hang out with everyone and watch all the great work cut together. With this pandemic, people I’d see on a regular basis disappeared, so it’s great to reconnect and go out partying afterward. 

SC: I want to have a great night at the fabulous Rio Theatre that includes having drinks and popcorn with a bunch of friends that I haven’t seen in a while and laughing about silly cartoons.