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10th July 2017
Generation Transitional
Title of film: Mr Carefree Butterfly
Director: Yonatan Tal
Production Company: CalArts Grad Film
Now working at Walt Disney Animation, Yonatan Tal talks to Benoit Berthe about the push-pull dilemmas of Gen Y which he explores so eloquently in his award-winning CalArts graduation film, Mr Carefree Butterfly

What was it about Generation Y that intrigued you to make this film?

Last summer I had a lot of time to hang out with my friends back in Israel. We’re all in our late 20s and we found ourselves in a position that we’ve never been in before: as ridiculous as it might sound, we feel like we are running out of time.

Let me phrase it less dramatically: since we entered the third decade of our life, we’ve been completely independent, we have traveled a lot, worked in temporary jobs, have been in and out of relationships, and it feels like all this will soon come to an end.

Our surroundings hint at us that it might be time to settle into the “conventional adult lifestyle” that has be determined by previous generations. For most of us this thought is terrifying. We don’t feel like we made the most out of this time, maybe simply because it’s a great time, and what’s on the other side doesn’t seem to be all that great.

I started to explore why this feeling is more common in my generation (millennials or Generation Y), whereas people from the last generation didn’t have much trouble settling down (my parents already had me when they were my age).

The generational differences have a lot to do with the internet, technology, culture, historical events, etc. There was a huge jump forward in many fields which made Gen Y be a “transitional generation”. My generation often struggles to fit into the current systems, and the systems, that are mostly run by Gen X, are frustrated with young employees. Gen Y is in a constant fight for liberation from conventions.

This fight comes in different forms such as the ongoing fight for LGBT rights, feminism, reconstructioning of markets based on new technologies and so on.

My research led me to a deep understanding of the cause of my feeling, but I had to ground it and attach it to personal experiences in order to even scratch the surface of the subjects in a five-minute long animated short. For me, there was no point in making an informational film about these high concepts if it lacks any emotional engagement. So I took it back to a more personal and character driven place.

The story telling of this story is really strong and touching and the main character looks like you. Is it a story directly inspired by real experiences you had?

Not exactly. Even though I can relate to the main character, Ben, my life is definitely more structured towards long-term goals than his. His friend Adam probably plays the role of my consciousness which tells me that I can’t just travel and party all the time (too bad), and reminds me that I have dreams to fulfill. These characters obviously represent two extreme personalities, but I definitely know people who are all the way one type or another.

I do believe that one should live life to the fullest, but I’m aware that it often doesn’t come hand in hand with long time goals (which take WORK to achieve).

So the story is made up, but I feel like it’s very likely to happen in reality.

The relationships and in particular LGBT love is often explored in your shorts.

Right. It might be because I’m gay. Maybe.

In my second year at CalArts I made a proper “gay film” that dealt with one of the struggles of being a closeted guy who’s secretly in a relationship with a guy. It was based on my first serious relationship which led me to confront my sexual orientation.

I’ve watched a lot of gay films to educate myself on the subject before making that film, as I felt like there was a big responsibility in conveying LGBT messages. Later I realized that as a gay man, all I need is to be genuine and express things the way I experience them.

I tend to get very personal with my films. In Mr. Carefree Butterfly, the sexual orientation of the main character wasn’t the point at all. But since I identify with him, it only made sense to me that he would find himself hooking up with a guy. I actually think he is bi though.

The point is that I think it’s crucial that as creators, we put LGBT individuals and relationships in the foreground. It doesn’t always have to be about it, but it should be there, proudly.

The sound and the music are really well thought out in your short, how did you work and collaborate to create the sound of your film?

Music and sound are 50 percent of the film. They hold the visuals together harmonically, set the tone and drive the emotional impact. On Mr. Carefree Butterfly, I worked with Daniel Markovich (who did the music production for the song made for my film last year, Nightmare in the Morning ) and with Florian Calmer who did the sound design.

I always make sure that the people I collaborate with understand the film and its motivations as much as I do, in order for them to bring something fresh from themselves to the creative mix. On this film, the challenge was to create a melodic theme and a sound that unify the different tones that the films has, and the emotional journey that the main character goes through.

Daniel did a fantastic job creating a diverse score that goes from an electronic dance club music at the beginning, all the way to a slow mellow piano at the end.

The other challenge was tailoring the music and sound to all of the quick transitions, the surreal visual metaphors and flashbacks. We had to go in and find specific solutions to every individual case (like the wedding scene).

Please tell us how you were drawn to animation and what your journey has been so far?

I’ve always been “the kid who draws” but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go all the way with it before the end of high school. I wanted to have a backup plan in case I wanted to have a “normal career”. So in high school I was the only student who majored in both Art and Physics. I just wanted to have all the doors open, so I studied like a big nerd and ended up having a transcript that could get me accepted to Harvard (maybe I’m exaggerating).

At the end of high school I realized that I loved art, I loved animation, and I wouldn’t be happier doing anything else in the world.

When I was in the army (military service is mandatory in Israel) I was very fortunate to join the film unit of the Air Force. I made instructional 3D animation for training and educational purposes.

After I was discharged, I took a year to travel and earn money (for tuition!) and then found myself at the Disney school (aka CalArts). The semester I had at Gobelins in my third year was definitely my favorite semester of all four years.

I could stay in Paris for much longer than six months. It’s beautiful, rich in culture, stylish and so easy to commute (try commuting in LA). Also, the people I met there in school and outside were amazing and I still hold them very close to my heart.

The school experience at Gobelins was very different than what I was used to at CalArts, especially since I was working in a group for the first time, as opposed to making an individual film.

Overall it was a very good educational experience. There were a lot of pushes and pulls between the different group members, both in English and in French, which taught me a lot about working with different personalities and creating a good atmosphere for everyone to express themselves. These were crucial tools for me to develop, especially now that I’m going out into the industry.

How was your experience at Cal-Arts, what brought you to this university?

To be completely honest, CalArts wasn’t my first choice, Ringling was. A year before I started at school I visited both campuses and something in the atmosphere at CalArts just felt mysteriously magical, weird and wild to me. I knew that if I chose to study there, it would take me on an unpredictable journey, which was exciting. And so it was.

I grew in ways I could never have imagined at CalArts. There’s a lot of good reasons why it has a reputation for being a creative hub where artists can really explore new ways of expression and be inspired by different art forms around them.

I tried to collaborate with students from other departments as much as possible. My voice actors and most of my musicians were from school and it’s always been a very positive experience to work with them.

Also clothes are optional on campus, which means that you can walk around naked. Not that I have, but some people do.

The Character Animation program is truly a wild ride. Every year is challenging in a different way: from the bootcamp of first year to building your final portfolio in fourth year. The workload is insane. You need to multitask so many things and still remember to eat. But it’s all totally worth it.

I think one of the big benefits of the program is the opportunity to make a film every year. It’s a rare chance to make as many mistakes as possible while being in the safe space of school. It pushes you to do your best in all stages of the filmmaking process, and above all, it’s the best way to explore who you are as an artist.

Where would you love to see yourself in 10 years time?

A loving husband. Two kids. Third kid on the way.

Directing animated features films that push the medium forward, and also I’ll have invested in future technologies that will change entertainment as we know forever. I feel like big companies are still careful when it comes to VR development, but I’m certain that it IS the future.

On that note, I feel like in the past decade, the mainstream animation industry got stuck in a very boring and uninspiring place. There are too many recycled ideas, stories, formulas, obvious executions, and flat jokes. It’s time to freshen it up.

Mr Carefree Butterfly Director / Animator: Yonatan Tal Music: Daniel Markovich Sound Design: Florian Clamer Actors: Caleb Fietsam, Ryan Masson, Henita Telo