Emud Mokhberi, Oscar-nominated co-director, Oktapodi

We had the chance to catch up with animator Emud Mokhberi, co-director of the Oscar-nominated short Oktapodi, which has also received numerous awards on the festival circuit in the past year. The talented 31-year old director is a graduate of UCLA School of Film, Theater and TV as well as the prestigious Gobelins school of animation in France. Emud was hired by Sony Pictures Imageworks soon after he graduated from Gobelins and is currently working as a character animator on the upcoming movie G-Force.

Animag Online: First of all, congrats on the Oscar nomination and the huge buzz your short has been generating all over the world! We understand that you and the other Animated Shorts nominees are just wrapping a whirlwind tour of the studios in Northern California.

Emud Mokhberi: It’s been kind of crazy. We went from Pixar to PDI to Skywalker Rance and ILM and we’re heading over to ASIFA in San Francisco. Ever since we got the Oscar nomination, there has been a huge outpouring of attention from the mainstream press. We had a lot of coverage from the press in France, because it’s a French project which has been nominated for an Oscar, and also, I got a lot of attention from the Iranian press [Emud was raised in Sweden and Los Angeles, while his parents are Iranian-born.] It’s been a bit hard to juggle work with the travel and the press.

While you were at UCLA, you learned to work on your own projects, but the Gobelins’ method emphasizes the collaborative process with five other student directors. Can you talk about the differences between the two approaches?

E.M.: There are a lot of different little things that I take from both experiences. At UCLA, we learned a lot about film history, directing, editing, cinematography, perspective’while at Gobelins, it was a completely collaborative environment. You have to trust other people and convince your teammate about your choices. At UCLA, you have a one-film, one-director situation and it’s very easy to developm the mentality that you do what you want to do. But when you work in a team, you learn to listen and trust other people and take their direction in a shot, even if you don’t agree with them 100 percent.

You first studied computer science at UCLA’s School of Engineering before getting into visual effects and animation. Tell us about your change of plans.

E.M.: I love working in animation, because of the bigger community that animators tend to form with one another. It’s very easy to be collaborative. I got out of computer programming because I wanted more interaction with my peers. I didn’t want to stay in my room all day. Everyone at Sony has been really fantastic. There’s a sense that artists are there to help each other, and you really don’t get this competitive environment. You’re all trying to learn and create the best shots possible.

What have you learned in the past six months as part of your big Oscar media blitz?

E.M.: It’s really hard to tell right now, because it’s been such a rollercoaster ride. One thing I learned is that audiences can pay too much attention to the title of the projects. I noticed that there are a lot of questions about why Konstantin Bronzit’s Russian Oscar-nominated short Lavatory Lovestory has an English title while Kunyo Kato’s Japanese short La Maison en Petits Cubes has a French name. I had no idea that would be the source of so many questions.

What kind of career advice would you give animators who want to follow in your footsteps?

E.M.: Don’t follow in my footsteps! I don’t advise anyone to do what I did. None of the directions I took were intentional’seriously, one thing just led to another like the domino effect. I think you face the opportunity and make the best of it. I enjoyed computer science and the challenges it offered, but I also wanted to expand in other directions. It’s important to keep your eyes open, meet people and learn as much as you can and don’t be afraid to go on the fringes. Don’t just study Disney and Warner Bros. Learn about experimental animators too. Study the NFB films and acquaint yourself with the great animation that’s done in Russia and Hungary. I knew about the Gobelins program because I had seen some great shorts that were created there. So when I decided to join my wife in Paris’where she was studying French history’I applied for the program at Gobelins.

Did you always have an interest in animation?

E.M.: I never really thought about animation as a career choice. I used to think of myself in non-artistic terms. I was good at problem-solving. I worked at Digital Domain for a year and that was a huge help. That’s when I started to think about computer graphics and met a lot of artists. I learned that being an artist requires a lot of practice too. You may not become Picasso, but being a good artist has a lot to do with practicing and applying yourself.

When I was growing up in Sweden, I was more practical and didn’t even consider a career in animation a possibility, but I did love Disney features such as The Sword in Stone and The Jungle Book. They when I was at UCLA, I noticed that the students were studying The Sword in Stone, and I thought, ‘Hey I would like to do that!’ The works that I like come from all kinds of different places’I admire the films of Wes Anderson, Alfred Hitchock, Kurasawa, Spielberg, Kubrick and really love the works of Russian animator Yuri Norstein.

One final question before we let you go. You recently had a chance to meet all the other Oscar nominees at the Academy’s annual luncheon. Who brought out the fanboy in you the most?

E.M.: Oh, man, there were so many people there that I was both intimidated and inspired by..just off the top of my head, Ed Catmull, directors David Finch and Danny Boyle’and of course, there was the glamour of seeing Penelope Cruz, live in person!

You can find out more about Emud and his many talents at www.emud.org. You can also catch the Oscar-nominated Oktapodi at www.oktapodi.com/film.html.