School of Motion

Don't Ever Let Go: A Chat with Animation Director Fabian Molina

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Fabian Molina of Buck talks with us about his passion project "Don't Ever Let Go" and he hopes it becomes a great conversation starter.

There are a lot of way that you can drive change in the world. For Fabian Molina it's gathering up a team of animators, combining artistic super powers, and creating a statement through animation.
Fabian is an art director at Buck in Los Angeles, California. His expertise and passion for animation can easily be seen in the work he creates.
His latest project, Don't Ever Let Go, is an animated short film that he's hoping will stir up conversations surrounding many topics near and dear to his heart. Here's a trailer for the project.
We reached out to Fabian to get a deeper look into the project and the message he's trying to convey.

Don’t Ever Let Go: An Interview with Animation Director Fabian Molina

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Your story centers around teens making tough decisions and taking risks, why do they need to hear this message?

Growing up we all face tough decisions. That goes without saying. Our teenage years are spent trying to fit in and figure out who we are. It all becomes so overwhelming. In fact, that I think many young adults begin to suppress feelings or emotions.
Young adults get so wrapped up in what others want for them that they start to let go of themselves. And, that's actually where the title of the film comes from. I don’t think people hear these phrases enough - Don't ever let go of who you are. Don't ever let go of those goals that you've set for yourself. Don’t ever let go of the people that love and support you.
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Your work often deals with empowering marginalized people. How does animation help bring a voice to people who aren’t typically heard?

A quote from Nina Simone comes to mind here: "An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times."
I really believe this. I think it goes without saying, that we as artists have an obligation to create work that says something about the world in which we live. Just like live actions films, our medium is one that can really make a change. Animation itself has an innate ability to open up a viewer’s capacity for wonder. That’s something that’s built into our medium.
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If we do our job right in creating opportunities for POC and women, whether the story itself is a call to action or it’s something subtle like casting a diverse pool of voice talent, I think animation can actually leave a longer lasting effect on people than live action. At that point it becomes more than just a cinematic experience, it becomes a human experience.

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What influences have shaped your storytelling style?

I’m influenced by so much in life that it’s hard to talk about them all, but one thing that really impacts me is music, or more specifically hip-hop.
If you take a look at it historically, hip-hop started out as a voice for the urban youth and quickly transformed into a powerful tool used in protests in the 70s. That was a natural evolution for the art form, and it hasn’t stopped evolving. That’s what I love about it.
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If you look at a couple of the modern geniuses of our time, Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean, along with telling stories about minorities and marginalized people, they are also pushing the art form forward by doing new and incredible things with how the songs are actually structured. They are removing choruses, adding multiple bridges and style shifts in a single song, and even using different voices to help tell a larger story. And, it’s this bending and transformation of what we think of as a ‘song’ that I’m learning to do in my own work, in animation and storytelling.
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To bring this full circle, I want to be part of the change that helps animation evolve from something in the hands of the youth to something that’s used to give voice to a culture. There are some amazingly talented people in our line of work that are doing just that and bending the rules of what a short film is, and what a short film is structured like. It’s really something to witness.

Can you talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion in animation? Where can our industry improve?

I can only speak on behalf of myself, but I feel that animation is going through similar struggles as Hollywood. There aren’t enough POC and women in leadership and creative director roles. I think this may not seem like a big issue, but everyone’s background dramatically affects the end product. If there was a more diverse range of people in these top positions, I guarantee that we’d see a shift in the output of the studios. I can’t say what that would be, but it could be as simple as a broader range of stories in commercial work to something more noticeable like more diversity of the characters on screen.
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It’s also my opinion that we need to be a bit more direct in the way we tell our stories. If we can create animated fantastical films about princesses in castles and movies about talking dogs, we can surely make films about a normal 16-year-old girl that's feeling lost and looking to make her next move.
These are everyday stories that better reflect what people are going through in their own lives. And if we start to see more ethnic minorities and marginalized people on screen, I’m sure that future generations will be positively affected. They will know that they too can become the hero in their own lives.
Talk about the team working on this project: Are they your friends? Acquaintances?
To be honest, most of the team are people that I met within the last year or so while working here at Buck in Los Angeles. After working on these commercial projects with people like Daniel Coutinho, Maggie Chiang, and Junyi Xiao, we started to build these great working relationships. Not only is the team extremely talented, but they are all passionate about telling a larger story in their work. That’s what I think bonded us the most.
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There are also a couple of people on that team that I’ve known for years. Darryl Kirchner, who helped me with some production needs, used to be my co-founder of our now closed Bloom Studios, a studio we started in San Francisco. Another team member, Brie Henderson, was even a student of mine when I taught at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. And now she’s on her own path to telling compelling stories. It’s really wild when you think about it. Whether we met recently or years ago, we’re bonded by storytelling. And whether they know it or not, we’re all beyond friends at this point - we’re family.

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It seems like this project has been quite the side-project. How is your approach different with this project vs. a typical client gig?

Well, no matter the project I tend to throw myself into it and go all in. I try to pull whatever I can from my life and past experiences to help me empathize with the client needs and project boundaries. But at the end of the day, my approach isn't too different between client work and personal work. I may have more meetings or deadlines for client work, but I'm still trying to reach a certain level of quality.

What tools are you using to accomplish this project?

In short, we’re using the Adobe Creative Suite. For style frames it’s Photoshop, for the cel animation we use Animate (previously Flash), and for post-production we use After Effects.
Going a bit further though, it’s been a learning experience, for me at least, animating in Animate. After a few years of animating in Photoshop, I learned quickly from the team at Buck what could be achieved through Animate. I fell in love with the ease of the pencil tool and the resulting clean lines. It really made my clean-up workflow faster. And now it’s pretty much all I use to animate. It comes with its fair share of issues, as we all know, but it’s a powerful tool.
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What do you feel will be the biggest obstacles standing in the way of this project?

I think that one of the biggest obstacles will be timing and budget. With the team having various schedules and a lot of us working full-time jobs it's going to be hard to find enough time to finish this. That's where the crowdfunding campaign comes in.
The funds from the Seed and Spark campaign will allow me to take time off from work and will also let me pay the other team members for their time. There are a lot of studio-backed passion projects going around at the moment, and they look lovely, but it's important to me that people know this isn't one of them. It's homemade. And, while I may work at Buck, people from different parts of the world and from different studios and freelance lives have come together to help out. It's a beautiful thing!
Currently we have 42 new people who are joining the team and making the film with us; we'd love to have you on board too. If you like what I said above and want to be a part of this, please consider helping.
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Support the Film

If you liked what you just read, you can help support Fabian with this project. Head on over to Donteverletgo.com, make a pledge, and then share it with a friend!