Rauch Brothers Animation, operated by Brooklyn-based Mike and Tim Rauch, epitomizes all that is good about New York animation. A couple years ago, they started producing self-funded animated shorts based on audio recorded by the StoryCorps oral history project. These films inspired an entire series of shorts commissioned by the PBS documentary program POV. The Rauch Brothers are now producing their second season of StoryCorps shorts for POV.
I conducted an interview via e-mail with Mike and Tim to learn more about their unconventional background and how their passion project evolved into a full-time job. They will also be presenting their work TONIGHT (4/20) in New York at an ASIFA-East program. In addition to previewing some unaired shorts, they’ll be discussing the process of producing these shorts. The screening begins 7pm at the School of Visual Arts (209 East 23rd Street, 5th Floor, Rm 502). Admission is FREE.
CARTOON BREW: Tell me a little bit about your backgrounds. Neither of you studied animation in school, right?
MIKE RAUCH: We both drew voraciously in grade school, and studied animation and drawing on our own throughout grade school, junior high, and high school. Our teenage brotherÂ knew we were into cartoons, and in 1992 he took us to see Beauty and the Beast at a dollar cinema that showed movies after their initial run. When we left the theater, we were both convinced that animation was our future.Â
TIM RAUCH: The more we got to know about Disney animation, the more we came to respect the role of traditional draftsmanship skills in creating hand-drawn animation. Eventually, we discovered the work of Aardman Animations and the film Going Equipped in particular. Seeing an ex-convict tell his life story through quiet, carefully observed acting was very powerful for us and we began to think about using animation to tell stories about the human condition.
MIKE:Â I had dreamed about going to a school like CalArts since the age of 12. However, with six kids to send off, our parents sent us to whatever school offered the most scholarship money. For both me and Tim that turned out to be St. John’s University in Queens. Â
TIM: St. John’s didn’t have any animation courses and the focus was very much on traditional visual arts training. By the time I finally got back around to trying my hand at animation in my senior year, I had spent a good deal of time studying master drawings and sketching people in the subway. As when I was a kid, I was more interested in using small adjustments in posture or little facial ticks to act out a story than bigger, louder movements. With our current work, I am still very interested in these subtleties but we are also beginning to embrace clearer staging and broader acting when it can enhance the story.
MIKE: Self-study and self-directed work has always been a major part of our lives, so we never consideredÂ not having a formal training in animation as a limitation. In fact, I think the reverse can sometimes be true. I studied graphic design in college and enjoyed it, but after four years of school I found that all the rules and practices I learned were holding me back. When I sat down to a blank page, there was a war in my head. I found myself overly concerned with the “right way” to do things.
I eventually landed at StoryCorps, where I helped record interviews with everyday people and edit them for radio broadcast. It was a really exciting time for me because I was learning how to shape stories in a much more organic, experiential way than I had learned design. I learned a lot by simply using my ears, my intuition, and then getting feedback from my editor. While I was working for StoryCorps, Tim and I started to work collaboratively, returning to our long-running interest in animation.