From the moment she took her first animation course as an undergrad at USC, Daniela Sherer was hooked. “I was immediately like, I have to take more classes like this,” she recalls with a smile.
Since then, she’s honed her craft further, earning a Masters in animation from Royal College of Art and creating an impressive portfolio that includes music videos, independent films, and a long list of commissions for clients like NPR, Cartoon Network, and Harvard – to name a few.
Through it all, Daniela has stayed true to her signature minimalist style, which is equal parts narrative, abstract, and delightful. We sat down to learn how she’s done it — and to get her tips for aspiring filmmakers.
Which came first: Drawing or filmmaking?
Drawing definitely came first. I was always a drawer, and then I became a filmmaker. You always hear people say they wanted to put their drawings in motion. Animation is the perfect medium for that. It pulls a lot of different things together, like filmmaking, drawing, and puppetry.
What do you love about animation as a medium?
Animation brings stories to life in a very personal way. You’re basically bound by what you can draw. It’s such a blend of art forms; it crosses many lines. For example, if I want to do a story that’s half narrative, half abstract, I can do that in whichever drawing method I choose and it works — as long as it has an internal voice. As long as it’s true to itself. With other art forms, there are different rules you have to follow in order for the work to be coherent. Animation gives you a lot of freedom.
Tell us about your creative process.
If I have a script, I’ll start sketching out frames, ideas, or compositions really roughly so I can see what’s happening. I draw on a Wacom tablet directly; it’s very immediate. It sounds computerized, but it’s me drawing, only it frames in the computer. I use an animation program called TVPaint, which is specifically for animation. Every frame is a frame I drew.
How does your process differ for client work vs. personal work?
Usually clients contact me, and I feel really blessed for that. I have clients that I’ve been doing things with for several years, so I know the people. Working with clients, you just want to see that you’re on the same page with them. Usually they have a script ready and they want me to direct that script, so I make the storyboard and the animation. Sometimes the client wants more control, sometimes less. But basically, I’m following their script and interpreting it. Then, of course, we make some changes. It’s a give and take.
When I work on my own project, it’s a little different. It’s hard to say where I get ideas—it could be from something I read, or some funky color I saw. Usually I process that for a bit and see where it leads me. Maybe I have an image that I know I want to use and then I build things around it. It’s a different kind of exploration.
How did you develop your voice and style as an artist?
In terms of developing my voice, it had a lot to do with school. But as we get older, we change and certain things become more important. I think style develops when you’re persistent and you continue making things. Until you get the confidence to do what you really want to do, it takes a long time. In the beginning, some things are trendy or some things you feel like you should be doing them, but then you let go of expectations and go with what excites you — what you want to do. I think a lot of it has to do with the years passing and figuring out which stories turn you on and how you want to explore them.
Can you say more about following trends vs. sticking with your gut?
I wouldn’t say it’s wrong to go with a certain trend, but it’s always important to stick with your gut. Your gut is usually trying to say something through you. For example, lots of people in my year of grad school used to draw these triangle noses. It was a thing. I liked them and I took them with me; I made them my own. I think that’s what’s important, to make things your own and do things the way you want to do them. Trends pass; I don’t think you can put all your money on trends. Your work can’t just be that. It has to have something extra that stays with you for years.
What does Vimeo mean to you?
I can say for a fact that it’s influenced my career very much. I got to know a lot of artists through Vimeo; once one of my films got Staff Picked, I got a really high level of exposure. It opened my artistic horizons. Also, work-wise, a lot of clients came in because of my Staff Picks.
Advice for aspiring filmmakers?
My advice to up-and-coming filmmakers would be to keep going. Attend festivals, send your film everywhere. Definitely put your films on Vimeo for everybody to see. It can be intimidating to make your own work and post it online, but Vimeo is a very respecting community. Above all, just keep on making work. If nobody gets it now, they’ll get it later. Once you make more of it, you express yourself a little better each time. Keep making films. The more you make, the more you realize what it is you want to say.
Video by Anthony Arfi.