My name is Eli Michael Copperman, freelance animator, part time restaurant worker, and BFA animation alumni from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Hailing from central New Jersey and currently residing in Baltimore, Maryland, I am a passionate, creative and hardworking artist who never lets any obstacles get in the way of tackling an ambitious project. Now that my senior thesis film from MICA, The Trail beyond Highland Road, has been selected for the Robinson Film Awards in 2022, it has been an absolute honor to allow this important narrative of acknowledging what has been left behind to be brought in the world of festivals and broad audiences.

Hi Eli, nice to meet you and thanks for granting us this interview.

How was born your passion for the world of cinema?

As far back as I can remember, I have been a deep admirer of film as both an art form and a medium to tell any kind of story. Growing up with a lot of movies, both live-action and animated, my tastes in cinema have never been defined by one specific genre, as I’ve learned overtime that the best types of films out there tackle subjects and themes beyond any conventional norms that the industry might say otherwise. I would argue that my passion really grew when I started to review movies for my high school newspaper, which would then continue on to sites like iMDB & Letterboxd. Upon entering college and being able to make whatever films we wanted given the deadlines and critiques, that’s when my love of cinema had officially piqued, and from then on, I knew I had to tell my own stories.

What was your first movie?

The oldest films to my recollection would have to be classic Disney films like Alice in Wonderland,

Dumbo, Robin Hood, Aladdin & Mulan, and the earlier films from Pixar like the Toy Story films, Monsters inc, Finding Nemo & The Incredibles. Most of these features would end up being some of my biggest inspirations in terms of character development, emotional storytelling, concise pacing & visual technique. It’s amazing how products that have been labeled as “kids movies” are actually a lot more adult than some cynics would give them credit for.

What is, for you, the main difficulties to create an animated movie?

Probably how time consuming the process is as a whole. I mainly work in 2D as opposed to the more industry standard 3D, and while it is less complicated to manage than the latter, a lot of concentration and thought must be put in before you waste a bunch of time drawing, be it on paper or in ToonBoom. The famous ex-Disney animator James “Shamus” Culhane once spent six whole months on the iconic sequence in Snow White of the seven dwarfs marching home, and many of Walt Disney’s nine old men would typically spend at least a day pondering over their scenes before putting anything from pencil to paper. Money is also a key factor, but fortunately, we now live in a day and age where we can make anything with what little we have, be it on a smartphone or an Adobe platform.

What are the particularities of the production of a movie without real actors?

The term “real actors” almost sounds like an unfair remark to the hard work animators put into their work, because voice acting is no different than regular acting and the crew have the insanely difficult task of recreating their incredible performances from scratch. That being said, having practiced a lot of timing boards to voices and actually animating said tracks, the most important element to keep in mind is that you’re putting on a performance, regardless of how many frames you add to a specific shot. What ends up happening in the production of a lot of shorts and movies is that the animators end up remembering the dialogue and music a lot more than the actors, mainly due to how long they have to listen to the soundtracks over and over again. That’s why the process of animating is a lot like raising a child; you have to pay extra attention every day until your time is up.

How would you describe your RFA Selected Animation Short Film “The Trail Beyond Highland Road”?

My film can best be described as a realistically hopeful reminder about the consequences of deforestation. The story is told through the perception of two residents from a prosperous suburban town, similar to where I grew up around in New Jersey.
Given how poorly my country has handled animal overpopulation, one of the main themes throughout the film, my main goal is to express my message of overdevelopment from a human perspective through the art of storytelling & animation. When I initially conceived the project, I wanted to reflect my inner frustrations with both urban developmental disasters and inner prejudice between humans and animals. Now seeing the film out in the open after revising it over and over again, I believe the journey to complete and release it out in the world has justified all my means since the beginning.

What are the main ingredients to create a good movie?

I would say the most essential ingredients in filmmaking are the story, characters, cinematography, shot composition, soundtrack & overall knowledge you obtain throughout the production. There’s always a higher chance the film you set out to make will end up vastly different once it’s finished, because even with the right amount of care and attention, the final product will go through constant trial and error. This is why it’s important to have just the right amount of resources in tact to make the movie work. It is, after all, just as hard to make a bad movie as it is a good one. So in the end, it really all boils down to what you know about the craft of moviemaking to then proceed forward.

Tell us something memorable and interesting during your career.

When the corona pandemic really started taking effect in March 2020, it felt like the whole world just flipped upside down on itself. I myself was still in my junior year of college when it looked as if over a thousand compromises had to be made for artists outside of the educational field. However, thanks to some close colleagues I made in both college and online, I was able to secure a paid freelance gig animating three segments for the underground ensemble documentary, Romantic Chorus. Although the project was made under a very tight four to six month schedule, me and all the other artists behind the film had a blast animating whatever we wanted to our individual interviews. We were given complete carte blanche and the directors were very easy going; some of the team I’m still in close contact with to this day. It was also thanks to co-producer & editor Aaron Gwynn that I was able to contact Rosetta Bachofner, the composer of my film, since he and director Jeff Giordano were both fans of her work. They were gracious enough to allow all of us to promote our animations individually, and my best segment, What Does it Mean to Accept Loneliness, became an award winning festival favorite. Had it not been for the pandemic killing most of my momentum, I might not have taken the chance on fulfilling my lifelong dream of working on a feature length film.

What are your future projects?

As of now, I’m putting together an animatic based on a short screenplay I made for Rad How to Class, the online animation school originated by Radford Sechrist, creator of Netflix’s Kipo & the Age of Wonderbeasts. The short stars my personal avatar Fernando Fox having to cope with his insecurities around college crowds and seeing who he fits in with. It’s currently being handled in Photoshop. I’ve also got a personal film project that I’ve been trying to fund for over a year now, and that’s been a very time consuming process. I have a script in tact with storyboards and character designs, all I need now is the right budget to bring it to life and pay any possible crew members. Other than that, mostly just client gigs, spots for ReAnimation collabs & the occasional movie review.

Any final thoughts at the end of this interview?

Looking back at my film several months following its initial release in May of 2021, I am definitely relieved that it turned out as satisfactory as intended. It was by no means easy to work on, as I did have to get through a fully remote senior year at MICA. The film did also go through a lot of dramatic changes throughout pre-production to the point where I was even doubting if it would be worth audience interest once completed. However, thanks to the wonderful advice my professors, classmates and even assistants gave me during development, I can safely confirm that I’m quite content in how far it has come over time. It is both a festival favorite and an award winning darling all on its own, so even after all the obstacles, it feels like an immense breath of fresh air to see your baby out in the world. Here’s to more wonderful things in my film’s future and thank you so much to the Robinson Film Awards for approving it on my behalf.