This is the ninth in our series of interviews with those animators whose work has particularly appealed to our students here at South Axholme. Each interview is available in a more colourful format, along with suitable illustrations, on our website. Liam's will be posted there next week.
Liam Oades interviews Aidan Gibbons
First of all, what first got you into animation?
I've had a passion for animation and visual effects since I was a young boy. When I was about 15 (part time and over summer), I started working as a runner in my Uncle's Graphic Design, Dynamo in Dublin. I started using Photoshop and Illustrator and getting my head around how 2D logos are made. I then started to learn Flash which is primarily a website software but also a great 2D animation tool. Then, one of the employees started to use a 3D package to animate television commercials. Suddenly, the whole world of animation and visual effects opened up for me. I began to animate and create things in 3D and animate them in 3 dimensions. The possibilities were endless. It was then that I began to realise that this hobby of mine was what I wanted to do for a living. I wanted to study this in University and possibly work on television commercials or even films. So when I was 18, I finished my Irish exams and went to the UK, to the University of Hertfordshire. I did this because Ireland did not have much to offer in terms of digital animation. I made 'The Piano' in my second year of my course.
Roughly how long did it take you to complete "The Piano"? Did you have time for a social life?
'The Piano' was basically one of four modules in my 2nd year at Herts. I made the entire film from initial sketches to final product over a 5 month period. I mainly worked from home and worked 7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day. I still somehow found time for a social life however!
Obviously you are not an elderly man so where did your idea come from to show his life through flashbacks at the piano?
The idea for the film came purely by coincidence. I was actually listening to the 'Amelie' soundtrack. I don't know if you aware, but the music in 'The Piano' that is given to teachers across the UK does not have the original music on it. The original music is actually a song called 'Comtine D'Une Ature Ete' by Yann Tiersen, who made the music for the French film, Amelie. The original film with the original music can be downloaded from my site. Basically, the dept. of Education was not able to attain rights for the music so they had similar music composed instead. Whilst listening to Yann Tiersen's track, the whole story just unravelled in my mind! The music just screamed out the theme of reminiscing, reflections and retrospection. I also have a grandfather who lives alone but was in the Army so this was a big inspiration too.
In your animation the movement of the fingers on the piano matches the music. How did you achieve this feat?
If you are watching the original film (found on my site), then the fingers match perfectly. In fact if you play those exact keys, you will be playing Yann Tiersen's song. The Dept. of Education version does not match perfectly. In any case, I simply filmed my sister play the sheet music to Yann's song and used that as a reference for each finger movement… quite a laborious task!
The movie has three main events – the man's wife, his dying comrade and the grandson. Had you had the time what other scenes might you have added?
Good question! I think even if I had the time, I would not include another event. I simply feel that three is enough and if I went on and on, then it might lose its magic. Short and sweet!
If you had a chance to do "The Piano" again is there anything you would do differently?
Yes definitely. The Piano was the first bit of real animation I've ever done but I am not happy with the animation standard. I've learnt a lot since then, so If I could go back I would definitely work on the animation and maybe clean up the models and environment too.
What does the music add to the animation and how did you find it?
Well, like I said earlier, the music inspired me so without it, the film wouldn't exist! It is a track on the Amelie Soundtrack.
Why did you set the war scene in such a minimal setting – a wall?
There's two reasons for this. The first reason for this was because I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to tell a story and not get caught up in huge and intricate environments. The second reason is purely practical – since I only had roughly 3 weeks to model everything, modelling just a single wall fitted into my schedule very well.
We have had a lot of animators from the USA describing their training in our interviews. Could you tell me something about your own university course and training?
I went to University in Hertfordshire and attended the 3 year BA(HONS) degree in Digital Animation. The course was very intensive throughout. The first year was all about learning the 3D software (3d studio Max) and also life drawing and painting. The second year involved taking the skills we learned in the first year and applying them to our first short film. This film was really meant to be a test run for our final film in 3rd year. We were taught about directing and cinematography also. Our final year involved making our final year film, writing a dissertation and learning more about film directing and cinematography.
This is a related question to the previous one. "The Piano" clearly required a lot of work. How much freedom, time and support did you have at university to create it?
I had a lot of freedom in fact. I think I went in only 2 days a week. We did have workshops but I preferred working from home in peace and quiet. We always had the workshops to raise any questions or problems we had during the course of making the film
I understand that the movie is to be distributed to schools? What can students learn from it and has it changed your career plans?
I believe the film has already been distributed across the UK. I hope that the film might inspire students to do their own animations. I also think that it could be a good tool for literacy and storytelling. To be honest I'm just happy if students just like watching the film! The success of the film has helped I think with my career. It spurred me on to do more and work harder.
Are there any differences between the ways your personal or professional animations are made? Can commercials be works of art?
There's not many differences. The main difference is that in commercials, we tend to work in a group of 2-6 people. Yes, we do use different software but it's all the same techniques really. I do think commercials can be works of art. I think it's a great way of getting your creativity out to the public. British commercials are becoming more and more diverse and imaginative to the point where sometimes you don't even know what product was advertised! I am still working on my own stuff in my free time however.
Is your professional work all you or is it a team effort?
I rarely work on my own on a commercial, it's usually in a team of 2-6 people.
Do you think that you have to be a talented artist to be an animator?
I think that if you have a good imagination and are very observant of the world around you, then you have a good grounding to be an animator. I can't actually draw very well myself, I don't think it's a big necessity.
Are there any animators that you admire or who influence you?
John Lasseter, Chuck Jones and Nick Park are very big animation influences for me. Also film directors such as David Fincher, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Spike Jones, Jonathan Glazer and Dante Ariola are big inspirations.
We see a lot of foreign animations in our course. How big is animation in the UK?
Animation in the UK is pretty big. There's an increasing number of animation degrees coming out of the UK. London has a very large animation industry. Not just 'pure' toy-story-like animation, but animation in games, films and commercials.
Have you got anything interesting in the works at the moment?
I'm currently working on a Guinness commercial which is really creative and I think it's going to look great when it's finished. I'm also working on a script for a new short film.
Thanks for your help in answering all my questions.
Thank you for the interest! I've been more than happy to take part in your interview and help out in any way I can. Keep up the great work Liam.
Aidan’s ’s website is http://www.aidangibbons.com/
His work is previewed on our website