Creativity in Five Seconds

Titmouse’s Five Second Day.

Example of visual using Adobe Animate.

by Ajay Shukla

posted on 03-05-2020

Studios are always hunting for new creative ideas that can be converted into full- length feature films, television shows, or YouTube series. This is easier said than done. On the other hand, Creative artists bubbling with ideas want an opportunity to work on their own concepts and showcase in front of everyone. What if the two could be brought together? That is exactly what Titmouse did when faced with the challenge, and thus emerged the “5-Second Day” tradition.

I spoke with Shannon Prynoski, VP, supervising producer, and co-founder of Titmouse Studios, and Parker Simmons, creator and executive producer of “Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart.” Here’s an excerpt.

Tell me a little bit about your work at Titmouse.

Shannon: I’m VP, supervising producer, and co-founder at Titmouse. My background is in filmmaking. I transitioned to animation as a self-taught editor and producer when Chris Prynoski, my husband, began getting commercial projects and interesting jobs like the one for the reality show “The Osbournes.” Chris and I formed Titmouse initially as a T-shirt company, but the “Freddy Got Fingered” project led to the formulation of the animation studio. Today, I mainly run the day-to-day operations in all our facilities from office moves to accounting.

Parker: I’ve been with Titmouse since 2009, when I started as an animator on the “Black Panther” series for BET. I had just gotten out of college and had only really done freelance gigs and a couple of short internet cartoons. Chris and Shannon, as I heard it, laughed at the work I had sent in and that was enough to get me an interview. Since that first gig, I’ve worked on everything from “Superjail!” to “Super Friends,” in every capacity from designer to director. And that’s only because Chris and Shannon continued to take chance after chance on me, something I’m acutely aware of to this day and am constantly trying to pay forward with new artists.

Shannon: From the Emmy Award-winning “Niko and the Sword of Light” to “Tigtone”, its been great to work on a wide range of series.

Parker: I’ve worked on “Metalocalypse” and “Superjail!,” the pilots for “Black Dynamite” and “China,” “Il,” “DC Super Friends,” “Turbo F.A.S.T.,” “Motorcity” (a personal favorite), and “OK K.O.: Let’s Be Heroes.” Sometimes as an animator, sometimes as a board artist, but always as someone who wants to be proud of what they do and have that sense of fulfillment and creative ownership. Each of these shows, especially “Motorcity” and “OK K.O.,” were proud to let their crews put as much of themselves as possible into their work.

I’ve heard a lot about the 5-Second Day. Can you please elaborate on what it is and how it came about?

Shannon: Five-Second Day came about as a way to make cartoons that we call can enjoy, but the tradition has evolved since it first came about in 2008. Everyone still gets one day off when we close the studio for a day so staff can make whatever project is swimming around in their heads.

The biggest change is the number of overall shorts submitted is lower than when the event started 12 years ago, but the complexity, length, and collaboration have skyrocketed. Some artists will work on ambitious ideas for months. In the end, they retain control of the short.

What are some of the success stories from 5 Second Day?

Shannon: For us, 5-Second Day is more than just a fun day of animation. It can help us spot new talent, foster series ideas like “Mao Mao,” and we’ve had some animators say it can be a turning point in their career. For example, Mike Carlo, an animation director at Titmouse, recalls that one of his 5-Second Day shorts led to an internal directing job working on Hot Wheels for Mattel.

And what’s even better is that we — Chris and myself — don’t preview the shorts. We are just as surprised as you are to see the animated goodies that show up on the screen.

I’ve heard “Mao Mao” was conceived as an idea that originated with the 5-Second Day. Tell me more about that evolution.

Parker: Originally, I came up with “Mao Mao” when someone had reached out to say I should pitch them a show. I just kinda drew what I was excited about, came up with a funny character dynamic, storyboarded a little sketch, and on 5-Second Day used the fantastic opportunity of having a full day of access to a soundbooth and friends to realize that sketch. It didn’t hurt that I knew the 5-Second Day shorts would be screened in a theater full of people (free focus testing!).

Here’s the first teaser for Mao Mao from the 5-Second Day.

How easy was it to adapt Mao Mao from the 5 second day proposal to the real deal?

Parker: I was fortunate in that I had a year after the 5-Second Day short to create a seven-minute short. I was able to expand upon some ideas in my spare time and really think about the characters and the world before we pitched it. If I hadn’t had that time and the support of Titmouse and some dear friends, I’m sure it would’ve been very difficult. Knowing what I wanted and pursuing it at a slow and steady pace made the task fairly organic. Basically before I knew it, it was a show!

How does Adobe Animate help you in your creative process?

Parker: Animate is all about optimization and automation. On “Mao Mao, Heroes of Pure Heart,” I’m always telling our team that we’re creating a traditionally animated show facilitated by digital tools, NOT a digitally animated show. What does that mean? Well, it’s all about using Animate to help ease the burden of hand-drawn animation by using things like symbols (in which we can embed head turns or a million mouth shapes) and tweens (which we can then put on 2s) to speed things up.

I am sure there are other tangible benefits from 5-Second Day other than real good stories (e.g., creative ideas, unique lighting, line styles, color combinations, etc.) Can you please talk a little bit about that?

Shannon: I love seeing what is in the minds of our artists. They work all day on other shows, and I like to think that 5-Second Day gives them their own freedom to just do what they want. Like in college when you only had to work on your own projects. It’s a breath of fresh air to see fun, crazy stuff.

Can you share some visual assets from the creative production process?

Parker: Sure. Here’s the character sketch for Adorabat:

Here are the facial expression designs:

Here’s the character definition for the Badger:

Finally, here’s a collage of six shots with the above characters:

Is 5 Second Day open only for employees or is it open for everyone?

Shannon: Only employees can submit shorts, but the screenings in Los Angeles, New York, and Vancouver are open to the public. Pick up your tickets now before the screenings sell out!

How can one participate/attend the event?

Shannon: Come to a screening (see the links above) or follow us on Instagram and Facebook where you’ll see 5-Second shorts pop up on occasion. You might be able to catch one of our “Best of 5-Second Day” productions at shows like Emerald City Comic Con, too.

Here’s one more for you to enjoy.

Any parting thoughts?

Parker: I think the reason Animate (formerly Flash) looms so large in all the work I’ve done is that it’s accessible. I’m pretty envious of younger artists today who have access to programs like this and other artists who are willing to teach them online. I’m also incredibly excited because more accessibility means more voices and chances to experience new stories and perspectives. Here’s hoping digital animation keeps helping more people share their art more easily!

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