Paul Griffin – iacc interview


iacc’s Chris Colman took a few moments with Hollywood animation director Paul Griffin to discuss animation and his role with the iacc.

What’s the best thing about working in animation?

The fact that you can do anything.  There is nothing you cannot do.  Every day when I come in as an animator, depending on the project, I get to put on a completely different suit.  I can be a digital dinosaur, or an alien from Men in Black, I can be something from Star Wars.  I can be a fantastic creature or have human beings doing things that they physically couldn’t do in any other way.  I can do more than live-action actors can do.  I get to be behind the camera, I don’t have to be in front where there is a lot of pressure. It doesn’t matter that I’m getting older – I’m 52 years old – I could be any age, it doesn’t matter, I’m still the same actor.  I have that ability to look at performances and analyse them like I’ve never been able to do before and understand what needs to happen to get a great performance out of characters.  Being so varied and so flexible in what we do, it’s fantastic.

And it’s a lot of fun.  We get to bring a lot of entertainment and joy to people. We can make people laugh, we can bring drama or portray great sadness.  There are a tremendous range of emotions that can be explored.

Animated story telling, I feel, is currently the best work in terms of story production, that’s being done in the world.  The stories are very well-crafted and entertaining and very meticulous in how they’re put together.  They ‘re not formulaic.  The attention to detail makes animated stories much stronger than any other stories being told in the world today I feel.

Why should somebody come to train with iacc DeTao?

I think it’s important that any animator or any visual artist has people in their lives that are visionaries and mentors who can help them to learn beyond what they can discover on their own.  Having the benefit of somebody else’s experience is extremely valuable –  I know it has been for me. There have been a great many animators and artists that I look up to who have brought their vast wealth of experience and taught me things that I could never have learnt in a lifetime. I’ve been able to build on what they’ve learnt through my own experience.

With iacc and DeTao, we’re bringing together some very experienced people who can help in that regard.  I think the opportunity to move forward quickly is extremely valuable.

What specific skills can somebody learn at iacc, and why are they important?

There are many schools out there that offer to teach how to use specific software and how to do things technically, and those skills are useful.  But what iacc offers that is much more beneficial in the long term for people who want to work in animation and vfx, is the ability to be involved in filmmaking and understanding that process.  It is second tier learning that is well beyond what you might learn in community college, learning how to operate software packages such as Maya or Nuke. There’s a whole creative process that, if you want to advance, to become a Director or a Producer or someone involved at the top-end of animation and vfx, you’ll need to learn.  iacc can offer that.


“DeTao in Shanghai is like how Paris was back in the 1930s, when a great many artists and sculptors and creative people from all genres converged”


Why did you join iacc DeTao?

Robin King approached me around two years ago.  He described the opportunity to be involved in something exciting that was happening in China and as we talked about it, the more interested I became.  The vision we discussed involved working with other Masters who are the best in their fields around the world.  When he told me about this, what came to mind was something like how Paris was back in the 1930s, when a great many artists and sculptors and creative people from all genres converged and it was a very exciting time.  I’d like to see that repeat itself here. I don’t know that it would be possible for that to happen in too many other places –  it seems China is very receptive to doing that because they want to advance in a great many fields.

I was impressed with the DeTao vision, with the level of philanthropy. I was intrigued by it.  They aim to bring the best of the best from around the world in various disciplines and share that with the Chinese people. What DeTao is doing is giving back and helping to bolster China’s future.  I’m very happy to be part of it.


iacc is still growing, continually adding more Masters to the roster of professors.  What’s the appeal of being a Master in this organisation?

The first thing obvious to say would be ‘you get to come to China’.  It’s a chance to have an in-depth experience with a completely different culture that’s 5000 years old, but also fresh, growing and exploding.

Another positive aspect is the chance to associate with the many other DeTao Masters, having the potential to collaborate and learn from them.  I feel like I can always improve my art, and my technique. There are ways of looking at things that are uniquely someone else’s and I’d like to be able to understand and look through that window and get that perspective on their art and their world.  I’m looking forward to exploring the creative synergies between the different Masters and disciplines.

The Chinese film and animation industry is growing rapidly.  What’s your perspective on the current situation?

It wasn’t that long ago that you looked at the market and it was not at a world-class standard, but that’s really starting to change.  Just in the past year or so, in the process of consulting with companies, we’ve done some research into what’s happening in China currently, and we found that there are at least 6 major studios that are able to produce work on a world-class level.

That’s very exciting and a big change from the way it used to be.  It may not seem like a lot, having 6 studios across a country of this size, but it’s a start and I think we’ll see a better standard of work start to proliferate as we see artists move from company to company.

We’re starting to see work being done for feature films, not just visual effects – and we’re starting to see animation develop.  I think the work in China has really improved in leaps and bounds.


“I find that there is a tremendous amount of creative talent in China….and a tremendous hunger to learn. “


How is the future of Chinese animation looking?

The potential to be able to make global films is definitely on the horizon.  People are interested in doing that, and they’re hungry for producing that type of film.  As a result, it’s important that we tailor our iacc programs to feed that, and to foster and nurture that type of filmmaking.  They may be Chinese stories or they may be more general.  But I think China can tell stories to the world and be successful at it.

How about your relationship with China in the future?

I definitely hope I get to come to China on a more regular basis.  I enjoy coming here, I enjoy meeting people.  I find that there is a tremendous amount of creative talent.  One thing I really enjoy about the industry here is that there is a tremendous hunger to learn.  There are quite a few companies I have worked with in North America where they have an attitude that they know everything and they will only do things a certain way.  In my opinion they have ceased to grow, and when you cease to grow you die.  But I think in China there is a very vibrant interest in doing things in better ways.  So yes, I hope to be here more regularly, maybe 3 or 4 times per year going forward.

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