Slamdance, Goblins, and Nerve: A Talk with Moody Alum Ethan Dirks and Troy Dewinne
TXADPR had the opportunity to sit down (virtually) with UT Moody alums Troy DeWinne and Ethan Dirks, the creators of Chef Giants. Their animated short has been a festival hit, screening at FilmQuest (2020), Animation Block (2020), and this year's Slamdance Film Festival (2021). Dewinnie and Dirks share how their respective experiences in Moody's Radio-Television-Film program and Texas Creative have shaped their path toward creating a world where goblins are protagonists and maybe even pop stars.
TXADPR: How has your time at Moody influenced your creative process and overall careers?
Ethan: I went through the Texas Creative sequence and graduated in December 2015. While you're not making animated shorts in Texas Creative, the one thing that was the most important for me in that whole sequence was learning how to make something from start to finish. It's so easy to start things and get lost halfway through it or get demotivated. But being able to have an idea and execute it from beginning to end is not an easy skill, and in Texas Creative, they drill that into you. Just that work ethic that I developed bled into [my creative process].
TXADPR: What lessons did you take away from your major, and how have they influenced the way you approached the film industry?
Troy: UT has been fantastic in helping me understand the film industry as a whole. I didn't take any animation classes, but I'm doing an animation. Like I was mainly doing live-action stuff. I learned very early on when it comes to directing that it's better to know everything so that when you communicate with your crew, you know what hardships they're going through. If you know everything that's in the film industry, you can go anywhere. There are so many avenues you can do; you just have to learn them first.
TXADPR: I love the idea of creating a space where Goblins get to experience the happenings of Rock N' Roll too. What has been the most gratifying part of creating Chef Giants?
Troy: The goblins started when we were back at UT. That very quickly evolved into a world we were trying to create. The reason why I love them so much is that the world itself feels very ours.
Ethan: The thing about goblins that is so attractive is that they are the ultimate underdogs. They are the faceless enemies that are killed by the hundreds, and that's it. We wanted to tell the story of a couple of those goblins and make them right at the front and center of the world.
TXADPR: Within the current media landscape, a lot of advertising tactics and entertainment tools are meshing. How has advertising influenced your art?
Ethan: It's all connected. The mindset you get into in advertising is creating something with a purpose. You don't just make something. You make something because you have a goal in mind or [are] trying to reach a specific group of people. Working within that mindset could expand so much beyond advertising. You can apply that same mindset to be successful in lots of different areas.
TXADPR: Please tell me more about the virtual Chef Giants party on February 5th?
Ethan: Slamdance is virtual this year. On the one hand, that really sucks because one of the great parts about film festivals is networking and celebrating your success with all these other filmmakers. Troy and I decided to make our own virtual festival that promotes Chef Giants and all the other Slamdance filmmakers this year. We've created an animated website that includes a hand-drawn rendition of every filmmaker from Slamdance's film roster. It was 145 people. Anyone could visit the virtual party!
TXADPR: What has creating an animation as recent graduates taught you that can benefit current Moody students?
Troy: We did not expect to get into Slamdance. You're a lot meaner to your projects than other people. I wouldn't talk too down to a project you did if people are talking about it. Have hope for your projects more!
Ethan: My biggest enemy since graduating is self-doubt. You have to get past that; you can't listen to the voice in your head because it is very wrong a lot of times.