Pixar story artist Trevor Jimenez worked on his Annie-nominated short Weekends, on and off, for the past 10 years. Some would call that a ‘passion project’. But for the Canadian filmmaker, this story of a young boy dealing with life following the divorce of his parents is even more personal than that.
Jackson Murphy: Where were you when you found out you got the Annie nomination?
Trevor Jimenez: I was at the dentist, actually. I just started getting texts from friends. (laughs)
JM: Were you in the middle of surgery?
TJ: It was just a clean-up. I was in the chair checking my phone and started seeing text messages.
JM: That dentist must’ve been a little surprised.
TJ: If you’re in the animation community, you know about the Annies. But my dentist wouldn’t know. So I didn’t really tell him.
JM: Well maybe now you can convince your dentist to watch the Annie Awards livestream on Feb. 2nd to see if you’ll win. How do you think you’re going to feel that night?
TJ: Probably nervous. Those events are exciting. It’s definitely an honor to be included and nominated. It’s gonna be fun. I feel like I’m in really great company. The shorts in the category are all amazing. At this point I’m just happy to be a part of it – and whatever happens happens.
JM: You were previously Annie nominated two years ago for your storyboarding on “Finding Dory”. You also worked on Pixar’s “Coco”. Those films have very intimate family stories – and so does “Weekends”. What do you learn while making the Pixar films that you applied into “Weekends”?
TJ: They’re different processes. And “Weekends” has been a project that’s been on my table for 10 years. So this story and tone has been there with me. It’s all based on a lot of personal experiences. I would say that definitely working with some of the people I did on both of those films helped me as a filmmaker: the craft of it – the editing, and how I’m composing shots… cutting stuff out. It was all beneficial watching people that are really good at what they do.
JM: This is a story about a boy dealing with the separation of his parents and having to go back and forth – living in two different places. You say it’s based on personal experiences. What kind of real-life inspiration was there for you?
TJ: I grew up with divorced parents, like a lot friends I know. I did a drawing about 10 years ago for an animation portfolio – trying to get a job as a storyboard artist – of a kid walking from his mom’s house to his dad’s car. And that was based on a lot of specifics from my parents’ house – how it looked, how the parents looked, what kind of car the dad was driving, and based on the very strong feeling I had for my experiences.
And then from that point on, I started sharing memories from being at my dad’s, who lived in Toronto, at this apartment with antique samurai armor everywhere and paintings. And they made people laugh – they were amused. The [paintings] were a little quirky to them. I started to see this combination of this quirky, mundane feeling with this emotional experience as a kid going through a divorce and how disorienting that can be. So that was really the genesis, and then I started writing and developing for the last 10 years – on and off – whenever I could find spare time.
JM: Wow. I congratulate you on this short. I felt a lot of emotions while watching it. You’re with the boy – and at times situations are awkward. At times they’re sad. At times they’re scary (with those dream sequences). And there are hopeful moments. Because this has been so personal for you, what kinds of emotions were you experiencing during the process of making “Weekends”?
TJ: Thank you. Yeah, all the ones you mentioned. I think that divorce – it can be sad, obviously, because you’re breaking apart a family. But it’s so much more than that. You get into these unique situations that you would never get into if you had your family sticking together or your parents staying married. So these scenarios happen that would never occur. They’re surprising. I actually like treating the story like a mystery.
When my parents divorced, I was two, so everything that was happening was inexplicable. I didn’t understand things right away and then would figure out what they meant later. I really like that as a storytelling device and treating things like a mystery. Things would just happen, and you catch up to them after the fact. Growing up in a divorced family isn’t just sad. It’s funny. There are a lot of really great things that come out of it, too. You get a unique perspective.
JM: And you’re right how unique it is. Something very unique you see in “Weekends” is a horse. What is it about a horse that allows for so much depth and symbolism?
TJ: The horse is actually based on a childhood experience as well. My dad’s home is full of antiques, and in my bedroom I actually had a lacker wood red horse that I could sit on. I didn’t face out to the city skyline, but it was in my room. And it was kind of mine in a way. So for me, it was just this strange symbol that represented my relationship with my dad. And I thought it could be the same in this film – like this icon throughout the film.
JM: Story-wise: was it difficult to think about if you want both parents to have new partners? Only one? Neither? How did you come to that ultimate decision?
TJ: That’s a good question. Initially my first concept to this film was several different weekends over the course of a year with seasonality. And then when I actually went down to write a script that I could animate and storyboard and did my first cut, I tried to do one weekend – just to be able to finish it. The kid lived at the mom’s, went to the dad’s, had this insane nightmare about this man with a candle on his head burning everything to the ground – and came back to the mom’s and found the dad’s horse back.
And a lot of people didn’t understand what was going on because there wasn’t context. A lot of people thought that nightmare was about the dad. There were clarity issues. So that made me aware that I had to go back and basically plot out the parents’ lives so people had context – and kind of go back to what I initially intended, even though it was going to make the film longer and maybe harder to finish and execute. But I knew I wanted their lives to progress and see how two people change after a divorce. And that obviously involves finding new partners. So just finding the storylines for each one was part of the writing process.
JM: And you mention the man with the candle. That’s a big element. There’s a sequence involving that – as I was watching it – I was thinking that this had to be the most challenging thing you had to do in terms of animation and sound. Was it?
TJ: Yeah, easily. The hardest character with all the details to animate. The camera’s more dynamic. There’s effects animation. That was the most, technically, challenging. I had some help, too. My friend Xavier helped me animate that scene. We did it together. And I had a really great compositor, Philip Graham. He did all the comping for that sequence. And I had a whole team of artists helping me with the backgrounds, led by Chris Sasaki. Maria Yi is a great artist – actually keyed out that whole scene – all the paintings were mostly hers.
JM: And with “Weekends”, you’ve been able to go to all these film festivals. And you’ve been winning at Annecy, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, San Francisco… how has all of this been, and what have you seen from the audience and festival jury reactions?
TJ: It’s a trip, man. It’s overwhelming. I had this idea 10 years ago that was based on my childhood. And there was a point in time where I didn’t think anyone would really care because it was too specific to my own upbringing. And I didn’t want to make it. So to be here now and have it play so many places and be received so well, it’s incredible. Definitely a memorable year – one that I’ll never forget.
JM: So what’s next for you? Do you have any ideas that are as personal as “Weekends”?
TJ: Yeah, I have a few ideas that I’m developing right now. They’re all personal in some way – not as explicitly personal, but they definitely have elements that hit home. I can’t really help myself. I definitely want to do something else, and I’m trying to figure out which idea I want to pursue wholeheartedly.
from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/interview-trevor-jimenez-on-his-annie-nominated-short-weekends/