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Charcoal Dust: An Interview with Ian Dooley

Please tell us about the projects you worked on before making ‘Charcoal Dust’. How did you start, and how did you learn to make animations?

I started making animations in middle school using a primitive software called “Pencil 2D.” I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I had fun making silly little videos. As my interest in the medium grew, I ended up pursuing animation in college. I actually learned the basics of animation using 3D software. It was a good starting point, but I always had a love for traditional 2D animation. This led to me studying how to make animations that were hand-drawn. My earliest 2D animations from this period were somewhat experimental and typically under a minute long. Later, I collaborated with 3 other students to make a more traditional short film titled “The Busker,” about a street musician trying to find a place to play his guitar.


Tell us about ‘Charcoal Dust’. How do you describe it?

For Charcoal Dust, I wanted to make a short, animated film that was entirely made up of mundane activities. Around this time, I became fascinated by films that contained depictions of everyday life, specifically small actions that go unnoticed or forgotten. I wanted Charcoal Dust to act as a mediation of this idea.


Please tell us about your favorite animators.

I think the movie that made me want to study animation in college was Ralph Bakshi’s American Pop. It was so unlike anything I’d seen up to that point, and I remember it making me really excited about the medium. Studio Ghibli, specifically the work of Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, are also huge inspirations. Not only for their artistic direction (which is always beautiful), but also for the ethics and philosophy that they implement into their storytelling. Richard Williams is also one of my favorites. His book titled The Animator’s Survival Kit is practically essential reading, and watching clips of his intricate and technical approach to the medium is always a pick-me-up whenever I need motivation.

If you were given a good budget, what would be your ideal project?

I wrote a short comic titled The Little World about a year ago, about two kids making a time capsule with cassette tapes. If given the budget, I would love to take that idea and turn it into an animated film.


Describe how you would ensure that production is on schedule. What steps would you take?

I had about 6 months to make Charcoal Dust, as it was my senior thesis project and had to be completed before the class exhibition. After storyboarding, this left about 4 months to complete all the animation. Due to this time limit, many scenes had to be cut to ensure I would finish on time. This sounds like a downside, but on the other hand, it made me really consider which parts of the narrative were entirely essential to the film. In retrospect, the strict time limit may have made the film more focused than it would have been otherwise.


What was the hardest part of making ‘Charcoal Dust’.

Again, it was probably the time limit. Some of the scenes towards the end of the film had to be completed within a single day.


If possible, tell us about your next work. What plans do you have for your future work?

I haven’t started another big project yet, but I like to draw and write ideas down every day, even if they’re very simple.


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