Image courtesy of Chainwheel Productions

Untold Stories: Frank Abney’s Canvas

Last modification: 17 Mar, 2020
6 mins

Slowly but surely, new voices are being heard within the film industry, new stories being told. It’s been a long and painful process, and there is still much room for improvement, but the successful funding of a recent Kickstarter project has generated a lot of excitement, as well as optimism about the potential positive change it brings.


Canvas film by Frank Abney using Autodesk Maya.


Frank Abney is an animator with more than a decade of experience across various mediums, from television to movies and video games, including stints at some of the world’s most prestigious companies: Walt Disney, Dreamworks, and Pixar. He began work on Canvas, his animated short film, more than five years ago, first as a pitch to a studio that declined to produce it, and later as a passion project, worked on in his spare time. Now, five years later, his dream is about to be realized.

 On the strength of his reputation and a handful of sketches, Abney started a Kickstarter project with an initial goal of raising $40,000, and a stretch goal of $55,000. As of this writing, no fewer than 850 people have pledged a combined $62,893 to helping him realize his dream and bring the story of Canvas to a wide audience.

In an interview with us, Frank shared details about the project and its genesis, as well as what it takes to successfully crowdfund your art.


The Birth of Canvas


Frank Abney III: I had the idea for Canvas about five years ago, actually. It’s kind of a personal story – the characters are a mixture of my mom, my grandpa, my niece, and a little of myself – about how we deal with loss and how it effects our passions. The story itself centers around a grandfather who’s trying to get his passion back after suffering a loss.


Canvas film by Frank Abney using Autodesk Maya.


Frank first pitched the story in 2014, which gave legal ownership of the story to the studio, but a year later he was able to secure the rights and take back creative control. But owing to the personal nature of the work, he wanted it to have a professional polish, and that meant bringing on a talented creative team.


Frank: I’ve been doing side projects since I was in school, but this was one of things where I wanted to do something special, wanted to bring a professional quality to it. That meant not doing it all myself, and so I had to go out and start finding people that I wanted to be a part of it, whether it was people I used to work with or people I admired online.


But creating a team meant paying people for their work, and that required a budget. That’s when Frank turned to Kickstarter.


The Crowdfunding Project


With little more than some character models, artistic designs, and a teaser trailer – not to mention Frank’s reputation as one of the world’s leading animators, Frank began a Kickstarter project to help fund his pet project. Less than two weeks later, his initial funding goal was met.

One important key to his crowdfunding success lay in the nature of his story. People of color are still hugely under-represented, not only within the industry but in film and television more broadly. And one of the first images of Canvas that Frank chose to share was a character model of a young black girl with kinky hair:


Canvas film by Frank Abney using Autodesk Maya.


Animating hair in general is difficult, but creating realistic kinky hair is even more so, and social media users – so unaccustomed to seeing black representation in animation – eagerly shared the image far and wide.


Frank: There’s something different about Canvas. We’re highlighting African-American characters, which you don’t see a whole lot of, and we’re trying to bring a certain quality to this project that you don’t often see in a smaller work. I think having that teaser trailer helped a lot, because it gave people a sense of what they were contributing towards. There’s also an emotional aspect to it. Without revealing too much of the plot, the trailer shows a character that’s dealing with a serious issue and trying to overcome it, which I think everyone can relate to in some way; we’re all overcoming things every day. So seeing that, in the context of animation, with characters we don’t get to see that often, I think all of that put together was something refreshing, and helped contribute to its crowdfunding success.


"We’re highlighting African-American characters, which you don’t see a whole lot of, and we’re trying to bring a certain quality to this project that you don’t often see in a smaller work."


Advice for Others Looking to Crowdfund


Having run a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign, Frank shared some insight into what other people can do to mimic his success.


Frank: Remember what you love about the project, and try to convey to others how much you care about the project, because I think your passion can rub off on others. Also, treat it like a full-time job; it certainly felt like another job. Be prepared to be on top of it, and make sure you leverage social media to let others know where you’re at with the project. Finally, keep a goal in mind, because that’s going to be the fuel to keep you pushing through it.


The Takeaway Message


Despite having created waves and inspired so many people already, before Canvas has even been released, Frank left us with a modest message of hope and perseverance in the face of adversity.


Canvas film by Frank Abney using Autodesk Maya.


Frank: What I hope people take away from Canvas is that, no matter what you’re going through, you can get through it and you don’t always have to do it alone. And for those people out there doing creative work: if you have an idea, if you have something you want to work on, you owe it to yourself to try to make it happen. Put yourself into it, because people will see it and connect with it in some way. Just find a way to do it.

For more Canvas info and updates, follow Frank on Twitter.



We are proud to support this project.

Learn more about how Frank and the team used Maya to create realistic hair for characters in Canvas.

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