Up-and-coming animation director David Chartier has yet to make a commercial through an ad agency, but he's already got a fair amount of nifty TV work to his credit. "For the past three years, I've been doing direct-to-client stuff with cable networks, building my reel that way," he explains. It's working. The standout so far is his series of stop-motion promos for Bravo's Moonlighting reruns, in which Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis figures fuss and fume just like they do on the show. The claylike characters are "foam, kind of a cross between a PJs technique and a Celebrity Deathmatch technique," Chartier notes. "The concept came out of the show itself. We pulled bits of actual dialogue and created scenarios around that."
It's a great idea, but stop motion is just one style in the 32-year-old Chartier's bag of tricks. He's got freaky stop motion/live action IDs for HBO that are takeoffs of Godzilla and The Godfather; colorfully silly cel work for Noggin, Nickelodeon and Disney; and a heavily layered mixed-media ID for MTV that looks a bit like CGI but isn't. In fact, computer animation is the one thing he hasn't gotten to yet. "There are plenty of people out there who already have that covered," he laughs, but he's sure to tackle it eventually. "I have no intention of specializing in any one area," he insists. "I get kind of restless. It is a bit unusual to have many different kinds of animation on a reel, and it can be a sticking point in terms of how to represent me. Reps and producers need some sort of shorthand for what each director is about. `He's the stop-motion guy, he's the cell guy . . .' I usually became `,' which can be cumbersome. On the other hand, when working direct, people seem to respect the fact that I have lot of tricks up my sleeve and a good understanding of different types of animation."
But Chartier's not necessarily working direct anymore, and his visibility in the industry is surely on the upswing. Since 1997, he's been partnered with co-executive producers Avi Weider and Stephen Kijak at Brooklyn-based Loop Filmworks (see loopfilmworks.com), and six months ago he got major repping in the form of Nancy Jacobs at Batya Communications, who handles the likes of Aardman and Klasky-Csupo. "We'd never pursued commercials in any hard-hitting way till we signed with her," he says.
Not that Chartier's a newcomer to the field. The New Hampshire native first got seriously involved in animation when he made a short Gulf War-inspired film at the Massachusetts College of Art, in "all kinds of animation styles," of course, which landed him an internship at Boston's Olive Jar. The highlight of his four years there is his animation director's credit on the acclaimed MTV "Wilding" PSA, in which stop-motion newspaper cutouts re-enact the Rodney King riots. He later spent a year with
Curious Pictures and also was unsuccessfully affiliated with Optic Nerve and Complete Pandemonium for a time.
But that was then and this is now, and the same can be said of the overall animation scene. "I feel so old school, like I'm the old guy," Chartier says only half-jokingly. "I'm still building puppets, drawing and pushing actual things around. Over the past 10 years I've seen my fine-art sensibility get eclipsed by all the software and systems out there. So I'm constantly mixing and matching the old with the new, and I think this hybrid style remains pertinent. We're still appealing to audiences who grew up on the classic soft-and-fuzzy stop motion seen in all the holiday specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but you can throw that style 15 degrees off and have a stop-motion character who's rude, for instance, or who has a real attitude problem, and play with the tradition. You can throw around any idea today and it'll get people thinking."
Chartier's animation thinking has been inspired by the usual suspects like the Quays, Warner Bros. and Disney, "but a lot of my inspiration comes from the theater," he says. "I'm really starting to focus on the acting in animation. About 20 percent of animation is craftsmanship; all the rest is the nuances of performance. Having a secure sense of timing is essential to a great project."
So is being in the right marketplace. Chartier says he's eager to get his hands on agency boards, and the animation style doesn't matter, just like size doesn't matter. "Loop is staying small," he notes, but it's thinking big. No need to staff up, "we can hire from the huge freelance animation pool in New York. The facilities and the talent are right around the corner."
It's a good bet that so are some big-time commercials.