Meet Our Director - Andrew Coats

An interview with Andrew Coats
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We chatted with Andrew Coats, Development Executive and Director for our original content endeavours, to learn all about his impressive animation and directing career. Andrew joined Luma less than a year ago from Pixar, where he worked on award-winning films like Incredibles 2 and Inside Out.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get started in your career?

I’ll give you the shortest answer of the long version: I was born in Peru of Colombian and Scottish parents and grew up around the world (Peru, Portugal, Venezuela, London) before settling in the US at the age of 16. I went to College at NYU, where I learned about the film program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and that I could combine my two interests in animation. I got a great education in filmmaking, but had to teach myself a lot of the craft of animation. Taking classes in cinema studies, learning about the language of film and directing my own shorts (both live action and animated), laid the foundation for me to become a director now.

 Out of school, my animation reel was mostly hand-drawn, but seeing that the 2d feature animation industry was dying (around 2005-06), I took some 3d rigging classes and managed to land a job modelling and rigging for a preschool TV show at Curious Pictures in NYC. In my spare time though, I kept working on my 3d animation skills, and in 2007, was lucky enough to land my first feature animated gig at Blue Sky Studios, on a very cartoony film, Horton Hears a Who, and got my animation career started.

 In the back of my mind though, my ultimate goal was to become a Director, so I always had short film ideas that I was developing on the side.

I felt very lucky to have been a part of a film that really changes the way we can relate to ourselves and the way we connect to our emotions.

From Blue Sky Studios you went on to work at Pixar. What was your favorite film to work on at Pixar and why?

That would have to be Inside Out. I started on the project early with a small team and was part of character development on the film so I felt like I contributed as much as I learned in the process.

But the real reason it was my favorite film was getting to work with Pete Docter (who is a very inspirational and emotionally connected Director) on a film that had a meaningful message about accepting sadness as a part of growing up in your life which was told in a profound way. I felt very lucky to have been a part of a film that really changes the way we can relate to ourselves and the way we connect to our emotions.

How do you go about the character development process?

Character development is all about empathy for me. I need to understand who they are, so for me, a lot of the process is looking both into examples from different movies/content that I have seen and people I know in my life. There’s a lot of work that goes into it, but overall character dev for me is a mix of deep diving the psychological elements that make a character tick, with how you outwardly represent that (whether it be in mannerisms, speech, quirks, clothes and all the way to their choices and actions in the story).

Borrowed Time Co-Directors Lou Hamou-Lhadj & Andrew Coats
Borrowed Time Co-Directors Lou Hamou-Lhadj & Andrew Coats

From Pixar, you went on to direct your own Oscar-nominated animated short, Borrowed Time. What was the transition from animator to director like?

It was challenging. Inherently, being an animator is a real deep dive into the motivations of character and learning to analyze not only why characters do what they do, but finding visual and clear ways to show that subtle complexity. It’s very detail oriented. But being a director is all about understanding the big picture of the film: why is this story worth telling? How are you building that and what are you focusing on in the direction? Who is the audience and how are you taking them on an emotional journey in a relatable way? Sure, there are moments that you deep dive different aspects of the film, but you have to have the big picture in mind and know how to keep a whole team of people towards those larger and hopefully simple goals so that they come across to the audience.

Can you describe the process of developing the story and how it came about?

Lou Hamou-Lhadj (who co-directed Borrowed Time with me) and I were a bit frustrated with the lack of breadth in stories told through animation in America, and we wanted to contribute to the medium by helping illustrate that it isn’t merely a children's film genre, as much of the public perceives it.  We wanted to champion American animation as a medium to tell any story.  What better way to do that than to target something uniquely American?  Westerns are irrefutably a genre, the way that horror is a genre. You can make an animated western or an animated horror film, and if you’re true to that, suddenly the “animation as a genre” argument falls away.  It’s just the vessel we use to bring that story to life. That said, westerns are ripe with opportunity.

The theme and specific story we chose, evolved quite a bit, but we both have had experiences in our lives where we attach a certain level of sentimentality to a common object.  Be it a touchstone to remember someone by or a reminder of deep regret. Ultimately those objects can serve as a source of catharsis, as they are endowed with emotion attached to a moment, a memory, or a piece of that person.  The story of losing someone and the guilt we feel when they are gone is universal: we are all going to lose loved ones around us and at our core, there is a sense of guilt that arises from the things left unsaid and the fact that we are still alive while they are gone.

We wanted to champion American animation as a medium to tell any story.
Scoring Borrowed Time
Scoring Borrowed Time
At the Oscars!
At the Oscars!

Let’s move on to where you are today. Why did you decide to join Luma?

Luckily my goals as a filmmaker and the goals that Luma has for the slate of content they wanted to make lined up nearly perfectly. It honestly felt too good to be true at the time, and thankfully that feeling has not gone away.

What excites you most about working with Luma’s original content team?

The potential for the types of films that we are trying to make is extremely exciting. There are not a lot of studios that are putting storytelling and meaningful content first, and using the visually imaginative and fantastic elements in service of that story (they usually put the spectacle and marketability of films first). So we have a huge challenge in front of us with the bar set extremely high. But we are all here to hit that bar.

What sort of stories are you interested in telling now?

I have always been interested in stories that explore something real that we all have to deal with in life and are emotionally compelling. Stories that deal with our flaws and how we come to terms with them. Stories about the irony and the grey that we must navigate in ourselves and in the people around us.

What is the best advice you have received that has significantly helped you in this industry?

Staying humble, curious and treating everyone around you with respect. There is also never be afraid of failure.  Failing is an important part of learning and growing.  If you are not failing, then you are not putting yourself out there and giving it your all.